April 26, 2013

I’d been dreading the prospect of replacing my pool filter for the past few years but knew I wasn’t going to avoid it much longer. For one thing, we had the loudest filter motor in the neighborhood – I mean, you could hear it running behind the wall when you were standing out in the driveway; it sounded like river with class 4 rapids! Just about everyone around us has a pool, and you never hear when their filters were running. When you live in a subdivision worth of The Monkees’ Pleasant Valley Sunday, the one thing you don’t want to be noticed for is that kind of thing. Secondly, the filter cartridges had long outlived their usefulness – after sixteen years of chlorinated water they’d become brittle and clogged, and the straps holding them together were all breaking.

So, when the local pool place had a sale on filters and I discovered that the replacement cost for my cartridges wasn’t much less than the cost of a new sand filter I decided to bite the bullet. Now, the one thing you need to know about swimming pools is that owning them is like owning a boat, in that everything associated with them – and I do mean everything is expensive. I’m guessing it’s because equipment associated with pools (like boats) isn’t interchangeable with anything else. The pool and pool supply manufacturers know this, as well as the fact that you’re only going to replace equipment a handful of times (or less) over a lifetime of use, so they gotta get you while the getting is good.

I figured replacing the filter only (I wasn’t ready to replace the loud motor yet because that would send my replacement cost from the 1K range to more than $2,500) would be the easiest way to go – take the old filter out, put the new one in – but, as with everything associated with this house, nothing is or has ever been that easy. Oh, taking the filter out wasn’t a problem – the installer had that sitting alone and discarded in twenty minutes’ time. It was the knock on the back door that aroused my suspicion that something was up – after all, he shouldn’t have been done that quick.

“Got some bad news for you”, says he. “The concrete slab your filter sits on is cracked – in fact, its in pieces. Needs to be replaced so the filter will sit flush on a hard surface. What do you wanna do?”

I knew “throw up” was not the kind of answer he was looking for, but I couldn’t help but feel like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, sitting on the department Santa’s lap and not being able to remember the BB gun he wanted for Christmas. Out to the back yard I go. Sure enough, where the filter used to be is the 3 X 4 X 1″ slab of concrete in pieces. It had served its purpose, I guess, for sixteen years, but 1″ think concrete is pretty shoddy work if you ask me. The original installers obviously cut a few corners to save cost.

Here in Arizona, I’ve learned there are five kinds of people you can’t do without: a good auto repair guy, a reliable electrician, a responsive plumber, an expert A/C guy, and a good mortar man. With all the stucco and concrete around here, #5 is nearly as indispensable as #s 1-4. And it occurred to me I had a great concrete/mortar guy just across the street from me – my neighbor and good friend John. After all, it was John who did a great job building the half-wall on my patio; surely, he’d be willing to help in my hour of need. So, at ten AM on a Saturday morning, after a quick dash across the street and a humble knock on his door, John’s here in my yard sizing up my situation.

“You need at least three inches of concrete to do it right.”, says he.

“I’m all about that.”, I reply. “When can you do it?”

“If you do the prep work, I’ll be here same time tomorrow.”

You can’t beat having neighbors like that, I’ll tell you.

That problem resolved, we’re back to the filter replacement effort at hand. Alan the pool guy is looking forlornly at the filter motor, now sitting all by its lonesome on the grass where no self-respecting filter motor should ever find itself.

“How old’s your motor?”, he asks. I hate that question, because I know exactly where this conversation is headed.

“We replaced it two years ago”, says I. “I know it sounds like a jet engine…”

Alan tells me it’s worse than that. I learn that next to your A/C, attic insulation, and the lack of energy-efficient windows, an inefficient pool fiter is one of your bigger wasters of energy, and out here in the Valley of the Sun, that’s become a big no-no.

“I know I can’t force you to…”, he starts, but I don’t let him finish the obvious rest of his sentence. I’m looking at my filter in pieces and my concrete slab in pieces and realize I’m the one whose turn it is to be cutting corners in order to save cost. As much as I hate to invest more money in this suburban renewal project, the guy is just making plain sense – I mean, the new variable-speed, high-efficiency filter pumps are the obvious way to go. I mean, I’m replacing my pool water, I’m replacing my filter, might as well go the whole nine yards and do it right while the opportunity is there.

“You won’t have a better chance than this, and you won’t regret it”, he says. (Actually, he’s the first of three people that day to tell me the same thing.) The whole operation (pool drain, new water, new chemicals, new filter, new filter pump) will cost a hair over $2,5009, I can pay him in cash, and know in my heart of hearts it’s the right thing to do. So come Monday, our pool filter enters the 21st century in terms of technology.

But first, there’s Sunday. And a lot of work to do.

Pouring concrete is as much science as it is art. After all, you can’t just make a hole, mix the concrete and pour. Everything has to be precise so that the new solution is flush with the existing infrastructure. You have to dig the area, flatten it out so it’s all plumb, and make sure the surface of the new concrete was 7 1/4″ from the existing pipework. And John was a master craftsman at it – me, I was good at the manual work of digging and clearing, he was the one making sure the forms fit, the surfaces would be even, and the concrete was mixed, poured, and smoothed properly. I have a great deal of respect for workers who do manual work with such precision and care. When all was said and done it was a beautiful job, and worth every bit of the $50 John charged me for materials. You can see his work where the new filter is going to sit:

The rest of the operation went like clockwork. Alan and Andy were there bright and early on Monday, and everything was up and running in a matter of hours. The equipment is space age, the maintenance time and effort a fraction of what the old equipment required, and it will be vastly cheaper to run ($50 less a month they say). When the opportunity presents itself, it’s no time to be penny wise and pound foolish. And here’s what the new beauty looks like:

Chalk up yet another replacement project for the house. We figure the only major renovation projects left are the roof (hopefully will last another ten years), the hot water heater (definitely on the endangered species list), the windows (they’re next), and resurfacing both the pool deck (probably next year) and the pool itself (gotta think on those). But having the filter out of the way is very satisfying. And boy, does it run quiet!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:13 | Comments Off on Suburban Renewal – Human Style
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