1. Turn everything on. If your pool equipment hasn't run all winter, turn it on now to see if it's still quiet and leak-free. Look at the concrete pad under the pump to see whether it gets wet. It's cheaper and easier to repair leaks when they're small.
2. Test the water. Test the level of "total dissolved solids," such as calcium, in the water to determine whether you need to drain and refill your pool. Arizona's water is so "hard" (or laden with calcium and minerals) that the buildup can prevent your pool chemicals from doing their job.
In some cases, the TDS levels are so high that a pool needs draining and refilling with clean water that will respond to the chemicals in appropriate amounts. A pool service will charge about $125 for a thorough full-service inspection of your pool and equipment, including a TDS test.
3. Drain the pool. Pools usually need to be drained every three to five years, as TDS levels get too high. Hire a pool pro to place an oversize submersible pump on the bottom of the pool. Expect to pay about $150.
4. Clean up. While the pool is empty, ask the pool service to acid-wash and polish the pool surface and tile to get rid of that white, hard-water-induced ring at the waterline. A light cleaning will start at about $400.
5. Add salt. If your pool is salt-chlorinated, check salt levels and clean the cells regularly, especially if the salt system stops producing when the weather cools off (most stop automatically at about 52 degrees).
6. Stay safe. Check that your pool's safety features are in good condition. Inspect the fence or wall that keeps children from wandering into the pool; the self-closing, self-latching gate; and the rescue and first-aid equipment near the pool. Update your list of emergency numbers.
7. "Shock" it. Raise the chlorine level above 5.0. You can do this yourself with oxidizer (called shock) from your pool dealer. Choose a product that's compatible with your filter system. The shock will oxidize "dead" material that the chlorine has killed, such as bacteria, algae and skin cells. Shock the pool regularly during swim season or invest about $500 in an ozone generator, which will continually shock your pool.
8. Call an electrician. To be safe, call a licensed electrician to install ground fault circuit interrupters on all outlets that power outdoor electrical equipment and to check that your pool's wiring and installation are up to code and pose no safety hazards.
9. Inspect. Inspect handrails, diving boards, ladders and slides and secure anything that's shaky or damaged.
10. Do weekly upkeep. If you don't have a pool service, devote time every week to a thorough cleaning of the pool, which involves netting out the debris, vacuuming, brushing the pool down, emptying the skimmer and pump baskets, and chemically treating the water. A great helper is an automatic pool cleaner, which vacuums the pool daily so you don't have to. New robotic cleaners, which you drop into the pool as needed, are proving to be thorough cleaners that suck up nearly anything.
11. Tend to the pump. You probably run your pool pump all year, so maintenance on it should be ongoing. Inspect the strainer basket regularly for cracks, which can let debris pass through. A pump can last 20 years, depending on its quality, how many hours a day it runs and how well you maintain it.
12. Change lightbulbs. The easiest time to change underwater lightbulbs is when the pool is dry. Still, it's possible to unscrew an underwater fixture from the wall and lift it up to the deck even if there's water in the pool. Before you replace another bulb, though, consider switching to LEDs, which use up to 75 percent less energy than your traditional incandescent underwater lights. LEDs last for years and come in multiple colors.
13. Keep chemicals in balance. If you don't, your filter can run all day and night and the water will never sparkle.
14. Clean filters. You can do this yourself if you're mechanically inclined, or you can call a pro, who can do it correctly and quickly. At a minimum, maintain your diatomaceous-earth filters twice a year: right before swim season and again right after. If you use a cartridge filter, clean it at least three times a year. Clogged baskets and filters can prevent the water from flowing freely, making the pump work harder to keep the pool clean. Also, check filters for wear and tear so you'll know when they need replacing. Many filters will last 10 or more years.
15. Clean deck. Use a leaf blower or hose, and clean up spills as soon as they occur to prevent staining. Scrub acrylic or Kool Deck with soap or laundry detergent and water. If the deck is natural stone, seal it every year. This is a messy do-it-yourself job that most of us leave to the pros.
16. Upgrade the pump. Your pool pump is likely to last for 10 years, but you could save a bundle if you replace your single-speed pump now. New high-performance variable-speed models run on "low" most of the time and crank up bit by bit only when they need more power to run your accessories. Manufacturers claim the pumps use 90 percent less energy. Check with your electric utility for rebates.
17. Replace the drain cover. An anti-entrapment cover will help prevent the drain's suctioning power from trapping someone underwater. Public pools already use them.
18. Replace the deck. A pool deck can last 15 or 20 years. You'll know it's time to replace it when it looks stained, cracked or worn.
19. Resurface. Depending on the material of your pool surface, it might need resurfacing as often as every seven years or as infrequently as every 20. Old plaster, for instance, seems to hold up longer than today's plaster. Depending on the size of the pool and product you choose, resurfacing starts at about $3,000. You'll know when it's time to resurface when you see chips around steps, benches and drains.
20. Hire help. Consider hiring a pool service to stop by every week. Then, the only thing you'll have to do is enjoy swimming in your clean, well-maintained swimming pool.