I'm another of the "just bought a house with a pool; have never had a pool before" crowd. I've read through the pool school links (and probably need to read it again after letting it stew a bit) and several threads, and have found exactly what I was hoping I would: that pools are just like aquariums in that the average user is sold a suite of overpriced chemicals that simply aren't necessary. That being said, I do have some (hopefully) quick questions that I haven't yet found answers for.
I'm between Houston and Galveston, so no freeze issues and limited access to liquid chlorine. I calculate the pool to be right around 20k gallons, I have a DE4820 filter, a 1.5HP 18A pump, and a Kreepy Krauly (which was immediately dubbed "Mr. Slurpy"). I don't have a test kit yet; for right now all I have to go with is a fresh bottle of strips. pH, TA, and CYA are all near the top of the test range, and I think Leslie's said the CH was around 330 (no test for this). I have a couple of week-old pucks in the pool, and I've just been starting to test daily and add bleach to keep FC at 3-5.
I know I need to get rid of my CYA, and I want to do a sizable water change, but I don't know how to open the main drain! There's an octagon in my skimmer that, from what I'm reading, must be the plug to the main drain, but I can't turn it by hand. I have learned through experience that one does not take a wrench to a piece of plastic without someone telling you that it will, indeed, unscrew, and which way it's threaded. So is this it, or is there a valve somewhere I need to find?
Speaking of valves--when I put my 6-way into the waste position, I get two pinhole sprays of water out the side opposite the sight glass. Is there an effective way to patch this? My first thought is to dab some E-6000 on it, but I don't know what might be a better fit. Either way, I'm assuming this means the valve is on its last legs and needs to be replaced soon. If I have to start cutting stuff out, is there anything obvious I should be changing?
Finally (for now), I'm seeing a ton of mentions of opening/closing a pool, and I really don't know how that applies to this area. I bought the house at the end of November, and spent the entire winter raking and pulling oak leaf clogs out of Slurpy. Then I spent the early spring scooping out pine pollen thingys. Late spring has been the oak pollen. It's been unseasonably cool down here (not complaining!) so we've barely gotten to use the pool, and I'm really wondering if all this mess is worth it--so if there's a way to avoid all that work this winter (not to mention the expense of running the pump), then I want to look into it. Is there a good post about closing in a southern climate?