Thank you so much to everyone on this board. My pool maintenance went from a nightmare last year where it seemed like I could never EVER get away from the algae to literally spending about 15-20 minutes a day this year along with maybe an hour cleaning during the weekend.
Here are some things I've learned that may help others:
1. Pool replacement items are incredibly cheap but incredibly important to keep in good shape. Skimmer baskets, a working PSI gauge, rubber gasket around pump basket, skimmer lids, nets, vacuum heads, etc all cost under $20 each and can LITERALLY make the difference between a great pool season and disaster. If you inherit an existing pool, go ahead & budget a couple hundred dollars and replace all the 'easy' stuff that is probably brittle from the sun or age.
2. I kept my pool pump running 24/7 from April to September last year (much to the dismay of my electric bill) out of fear my pool would get 'stagnant' and having fought with algae the entire year, I assumed it needed to run that much. This year I bought an $80 Intermatic CA3750 zwave switch and it was WORTH. EVERY. PENNY. I am using a WINK hub to control it and my pump literally runs for 2 hours 3x over a 24 hour period and the pool is happy and fine and I haven't had a single issue.
3. As a corollary to #2, keep an eye on the pressure gauge, if it drops dramatically, your pump basket is likely clogged, if it goes up a few PSI your sand filter probably needs backwashed. Its so easy once you feel you have your pool 'dialed in'! I saw my PSI way down last weekend, emptied the pump basket, turned it back on and noticed it was 3-4 PSI HIGHER than normal, did a quick backwash and then it was back happy & running like a champ.
4. Never let your pool water level drop to the point your strainer bin starts sucking in air. The best way to limit your pool's chlorine hunger is to trap the stuff that falls in there and not let it drop to the bottom of the pool because the water level is too low to use the strainer instead of the drain. You want the leaves & stuff to go into the strainer and not fall apart into tiny debris on the bottom of the pool!
5. Speaking of chlorine, I feel like an idiot for not realizing I was pouring money down the drain (literally) by putting liquid chlorine in in the mornings. The sun bakes all the chlorine out (especially with the muggy 90+ degree days we've had for over a month here) and so its not going to work on the sunscreen and organic matter in the pool. Putting the chlorine in at night has made all the difference in the world. It will clean all night and there will still be a significant amount left by midmorning. By the time I come home from work, the chlorine is virtually gone so I put another gallon in before bed. After experimenting, it seems my pool wants to drink at least a gallon a day right now which I'm guessing has to do with the humidity and heat.
6. $50 for a hose strainer is the best money you can spend. My pump basket is old and I would rather not wear it out (plus its freaking hard to open) so if you manually vacuum your pool, its much easier to empty a hose basket (plus you can tell when its getting full and reducing suction) rather than shutting the whole system down and opening the pump basket. Think of this as an additional line of defense before pool garbage gets all the way into the impeller.
7. After a good vacuum/cleaning, I highly recommend backwashing your sand filter immediately. I can clean my pool and come out a few hours later & see black stuff in little piles near the liner edges on the bottom of the pool particularly near my outflows and it finally dawned on me it was stuff getting through the sand back into the pool. I have some DE but haven't had the nerve to try adding it yet so I've found if you backwash IMMEDIATELY after vacuuming your pool, that will significantly reduce the smaller debris from going right back into the pool.
8. 15-20 minutes EVERY DAY! No excuses! Net the pool, test & add chlorine, and check the PSI to ensure everything is within range.
9. Baking soda, muriatic acid and liquid chlorine has been all i've needed to keep the pool in shape. The PH seems to slowly rise over time and so about once every couple months I need to add some acid then it takes a day or 2 to get the akalalinty back up (it drops dramatically no matter how careful I try to be with the acid) but once its back in shape, its back to daily chlorine.
10. I didn't close my pool last year (live in Nashville) so I didn't have to play 'whats under the cover' this past spring. Once the temp dropped, I never added chlorine but kept the leaves & debris cleared out. If the temp was going below freezing overnight, i'd go ahead & run the pump overnight until the temp got above freezing to keep water moving but since those pipes are UNDER the pool/ground there was less chance they would freeze. Once April hit my pool was looking AMAZING before anyone else ever rolled their covers back. The only question at that time was how brave I was to jump in the icy water.
I'm sure there's more I'm leaving out, but thanks to this place, the pool went from my most HATED part of the house we bought to something that can be maintained about as easily as a lawn.