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Thread: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

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    A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    It is an unfortunate fact that most tap water used to fill swimming pools is often soft, aggressive, and somewhat harmful to a new plaster surface. Therefore, in order to not damage a new plaster surface, the tap water needs to be “balanced” before it comes into contact with the new plaster.

    That is the purpose of a Bicarb start-up. By “balancing” the tap water before it enters the pool, brand new plaster is protected from being dissolved and losing some cement material from the surface. When plaster material is removed from the surface, it creates roughness and porosity, and consequently, it loses some durability and long-term resistance to wear and tear. A Bicarb start-up generally preserves a very smooth, dense, and durable plaster finish, without any plaster-dust to deal with.

    In order to protect and help new plaster cure properly, the CSI of the tap water should be about +0.3 to +0.7 for about 2 to 3 weeks. This can be accomplished by adding sufficient alkalinity (in this case, sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda or Bicarb) to the tap water so that the water is not aggressive to new plaster. A minimum of 200 ppm of total alkalinity (TA) is required, but a higher TA amount may be needed based on the calcium content of the tap water.

    The equipment needed for this program is a 55 gallon barrel (drum), several water hoses, and some water hose connection fittings. A test kit that has “Acid Demand” capability and a pH meter would be helpful when the pH of the water is above 8.2.

    If desired, the following information is a guideline for pool owners to perform a Bicarb start-up. It is applicable to all newly plastered pools, including, colored, quartz, and pebble aggregate finishes. There are no guarantees due to the many variables of swimming pools, quality of plastering, and tap water conditions and resources. But research has shown that this program is beneficial to a new plaster pool. Many pool plastering and pool service firms are using this start-up method and are having good success.

    Step 1 – Pre-testing the Fill Water
    Test the chemistry of the tap water that will be used to fill the pool. The key parameters to test and record are the pH, TA, Calcium Hardness (CH).

    Step 2 – Calculating the Chemical Dose for adding sodium bicarbonate (Bicarb)
    Add the Alkalinity and the Hardness numbers together. Then we subtract that number from 500. The result is the amount of sodium bicarbonate in ppm to add. For example, if the fill water Alkalinity is 90 and the fill water CH is 200, then 210 ppm of new bicarbonate needs to be added: 500 – (90 + 200) = 210
    Use TFP’s “Pool Calculator” to determine amount of sodium bicarbonate to add to the barrel based on gallonage of the pool.

    If the combined levels of the alkalinity and the calcium hardness of the fill water is 500 ppm or higher, and the pH is between 7.2 and 8.2, then no addition of sodium bicarbonate is necessary. Just fill with that water - it is already perfect for new plaster pools.

    Step 3 – Setting up the Delivery System
    The 55-gallon plastic barrel will need garden hose connections installed, and the specific modifications are as follows:
    An 8 to 10 inch hole (or larger) cut in the top of the barrel to facilitate adding the Bicarb.
    A female hose connector mounted halfway up the “back” or “deck” side of the barrel for the tap (source) water hose to be attached to.
    Three male hose connectors mounted about 4 inches below the top lip on the “pool” side of the barrel, enough to make sure that sufficient output hoses are provided to handle the pressurized input from the tap without overflowing the barrel.
    A hose is run from the home water faucet to the deck-side fitting, and three hoses are fun from the top pool-side fittings to the bottom of the pool, and the ends of each hose in the bottom of the pool is wrapped in cloth and taped to prevent the cloth from coming off during filling. Bicarb is added to the barrel before the water is turned on.

    Step 4 – pH Adjustment
    If the pH of the tap or fill water is below 8.3, no adjustment is necessary.
    Tap or fill water that is higher than 8.3 is somewhat problematic; however, one can slowly add a pint of acid to the water barrel to lower the pH in the barrel of water. But be careful, there can be a problem due to off-gassing (a lot of bubbles or foaming) of carbon dioxide inside the barrel. If the pool owner is comfortable doing this, then a pint of acid can be added to the barrel after every 4,000 to 5,000 gallons of water is added to the pool.

    Step 5 – Determining Fill Delay, Turning On the Water
    In consultation with the plasterer or contractor, decide when the water will be turned on after the crew finishes the pool. It is advisable to allow 6 hours between final troweling and turning on the water.
    When the water is turned on, the barrel will fill, and will gravity-flow out the top three hoses and into the pool. The Bicarb powder should slowly dissolve as the pool fills.
    At the pre-determined time, ensure that the water is turned on and that the flow through the barrel to the pool is working properly, without leaks.
    Ensure that the water fills uninterrupted from main drain to surface tile.

    Step 6 – Making Adjustments
    Once the pool is filled, check the pH, which will probably be at or near 8.3.
    Test the Alkalinity, which could be anywhere from 150 to 350 ppm.
    If the pH is higher than 8.0 (which is likely), add acid to adjust the pH down to around 7.6 using the “Acid Demand” test.

    Step 7 – Monitoring the Progress
    Over the course of the following 4 weeks, ensure that the pool is being brushed and filtered per the plasterer’s guidelines, and chemically maintained per TFP guidelines, except for the TA which is to remain higher than normal.
    If the Calcium hardness level is below 150 ppm, add calcium chloride as needed, using the Pool Calculator for dosage amount. But be sure the pH is below 8.0 before adding calcium chloride.
    For the first month of the Bicarb program, it is better to use Dichlor, or more preferably, Trichlor tabs for sanitizing, instead of liquid bleach or Cal Hypo to help reduce the natural pH rise.
    The TA can remain high for one month as long as the pH is maintained below 8.2.
    Use the “Acid Demand” test to adjust pH (when it rises to 8.0) downward to around 7.6.

    Step 8 – Final Balancing
    After 3 to 4 weeks, begin lowering the TA to the proper range as recommended by TFP. Use the Acid Demand test for proper dosages of acid.
    As long as the pH remains below 8.2, there should not be plaster dust or scale formation.
    A continued brushing regiment is always beneficial and recommended.
    If water tanks are brought in by trucks for filling of pool, Bicarb can be added to the tankers for same program and results.

    P.S. An important step for a superior plaster finish and water chemistry start-up is to wait at least six hours before turning on the water to fill the pool. If filled too early, some plaster material dissolves from the surface, leaving it slightly porous and more susceptible to further erosion and staining.

    Even if the tap water is CSI balanced, it is still aggressive to new plaster and will remove some plaster material from the surface (as evidence by the plaster dust) and negatively affect the long-term durability due to increased porosity of the surface. After the new plaster pool is a month old, maintaining a balanced CSI is recommended from that point forward. Far more damage can occur to a new plaster surface during filling than during the following two weeks, even if not perfectly balanced. And months later, when the plaster surface looks aged, dull, and dirty, no one will suspect it was due to the improper or ineffective fill and start-up program the pool received.

    Because the Bicarb start-up preserves a smoother, denser, and more durable plaster surface (without plaster dust), it is easier to remove mineral stains, and stands up better to future acid washes. Dark colored plaster stays darker and does not become blotchy or lighter in color. Long-term aesthetics is improved.

    Unfortunately, some pool builders and plasterers give quartz aggregate pool finishes an "acid type treatment" (to supposedly bring out the color) before or after the pool is filled with water. Acid treatments simply makes the surface etched and more porous. An acid treatment can cause increased plaster dust and streaking, and it simply ages the pool. It will not last as long as it could have.

    For the past 15 years, many pool plasterers and service techs report having great success with the Bicarb start-up method.

    For a further explanation: The Bicarb Start-up and Why it Works

    Also might be worth reading: research-reveals-need-for-pool-plastering-standards-t57338.html
    And ten-guidelines-for-quality-pool-plaster-t42957.html

    Questions may be directed to onBalance at TFP
    And Thanks to JasonLion for consultation and suggestions.

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    JasonLion's Avatar
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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    Thank you onBalance! An instant sticky!
    19K gal, vinyl, 1/2 HP WhisperFlo pump, 200 sqft cartridge filter, AutoPilot Digital SWG, Dolphin Dynamic cleaning robot
    Creator of PoolMath and Pool Calculator. Other handy links: Support this site, TF Test Kits, Pool School

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    Great job! That answered a lot of questions, even for me.

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    Would this apply for a quartz finish, our pool is being plastered next week and the PB mentioned when they apply the quartz finish they do a light acid wash to wash away some of the plaster and expose the quartz.
    26,000 gallon gunite IGP with 50 sq ft Spa, Jandy VS FloPro 2hp Pump, Jandy DEV48 Filter, Jandy AquaPure SWG, Jandy AquaLink PDA-PS6 Controller, RayPak R406A Heater, Polaris 380 Cleaner, completed April 2013

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    Big Funky, with my replaster I found that it matters that they totally and completely neutralize the acid. In the spa they left it somewhat acidic, in the pool it was completely neutralized. I think it made a difference. You may be able to encourage them to be really generous with the baking soda they use. The difference between my tap water and the filled pool TA was equivalent to them adding 20 lbs of baking soda in the pool beyond that needed to neutralize the acid. The filled pool had a TA of 300 and I have NO DUST, anywhere, not a spec.

    The spa had some dust, but not the pool. (Probably should have circulated the spa separately to get that out but I just wasn't certain that was the way to go.)
    23,000 gallon in ground pool with rock waterfall and spillover spa, Aqualink control system, Polaris 380 cleaner, Purex Triton Clean&Clear Plus cartridge filter. Located in The Woodlands, Texas.

    Pool owner since Nov 2008, Trouble Free since April 2009. Happy to help when I can.

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    If the quartz plaster is troweled in the right way when applied the quartz can be exposed by troweling and an acid wash is not required. Even if an acid wash ends up being required you still get some benefit from having done a bicarb startup.
    19K gal, vinyl, 1/2 HP WhisperFlo pump, 200 sqft cartridge filter, AutoPilot Digital SWG, Dolphin Dynamic cleaning robot
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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    The material my builder is using requires a light acid was several hours after the finish has sufficiently hardened. I was going to try to talk to them about proper troweling and avoiding the acid wash but I'm not sure I'll be successful since the instructions call for an acid wash.

    http://clindustries.com/wp-content/u...one-Select.pdf
    26,000 gallon gunite IGP with 50 sq ft Spa, Jandy VS FloPro 2hp Pump, Jandy DEV48 Filter, Jandy AquaPure SWG, Jandy AquaLink PDA-PS6 Controller, RayPak R406A Heater, Polaris 380 Cleaner, completed April 2013

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    My TA is 60 and the CH is 130 so I need to add 500 - (60 + 130) = 310 ppm of baking soda, based on a 26,500 gallon pool how do I know how much to add? I cannot find it on the Pool Calculator...
    26,000 gallon gunite IGP with 50 sq ft Spa, Jandy VS FloPro 2hp Pump, Jandy DEV48 Filter, Jandy AquaPure SWG, Jandy AquaLink PDA-PS6 Controller, RayPak R406A Heater, Polaris 380 Cleaner, completed April 2013

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    In the Pool Calculator, setup your pool size, set your initial TA level to zero and your target TA level to 310. It will then show you how much baking soda you need to use in the right hand side of the TA section.
    19K gal, vinyl, 1/2 HP WhisperFlo pump, 200 sqft cartridge filter, AutoPilot Digital SWG, Dolphin Dynamic cleaning robot
    Creator of PoolMath and Pool Calculator. Other handy links: Support this site, TF Test Kits, Pool School

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    BF, I have found that pool gallonage is often over estimated, due to not subtracting for step areas, rounded and sloped walls, etc. It may be that your pool may only be about 24,000 gallons. And one nice thing about a Bicarb start-up, one can undershoot or overshoot the baking soda addition by 50 ppm and it won't be a problem. It doesn't have to be exactly precise. Therefore, to simplify, I figure about 100 pounds of baking soda will do the job for your pool. You might want to keep an eye on the dissolving rate of the bicarb and not allow it to dissolve all 100 pounds into the first 10,000 gallons of fill water.

    The other thing in regards to the plastering, and as Jason mentioned earlier, when the plasterer is performing the final troweling (hard troweling), some cement "cream" is gathered onto their trowels. Rather than re-applying that cream onto the plaster surface, they could simply scrape it off into their buckets. That way the quartz color does not get covered up, and then there is no need for an acid wash. An auto pool cleaner can continue to polish the plaster finish and exposing quartz color over time. The other thing to consider is that if you aren't happy with the final color, an acid wash can always be performed later to bring out the color, which really is the better way to go. Often an acid wash at first causes some streaking or uneveness - too much aggregate exposed or under-exposed in certain areas. And then to correct that, another acid wash is performed several weeks later, which can just lead to more issues.

    So maybe you can convinced your plasterer to wait on the acid wash until later.

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    I called the CL Industries Regional Rep this morning asking him about the startup procedure and bicarb to see what he said. He happens to be very familiar with the plastering company and raved about their work which makes me feel good. He says they will do a very dilute acid wash to expose the quartz because the quartz they use is very small (See link for pics http://clindustries.com/quartz-pool-...nstone-select/) and cannot be exposed with just troweling. That is also what their instructions say so I guess I will be doing a modified bicarb startup. I will let them do the light acid wash and I have my drum setup all ready to go. My question now would be how much bicarb to add because the plasterer will be using some to neutralize the acid.
    26,000 gallon gunite IGP with 50 sq ft Spa, Jandy VS FloPro 2hp Pump, Jandy DEV48 Filter, Jandy AquaPure SWG, Jandy AquaLink PDA-PS6 Controller, RayPak R406A Heater, Polaris 380 Cleaner, completed April 2013

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    Well, that is what they say, but I disagree.
    They will probably neutralize all of the acid, so just stay with 100 pounds of bicarb and then check the TA when the pool is full. Take a few pictures after their acid wash is done.

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    Yeah, I know, its a tough position for me...
    26,000 gallon gunite IGP with 50 sq ft Spa, Jandy VS FloPro 2hp Pump, Jandy DEV48 Filter, Jandy AquaPure SWG, Jandy AquaLink PDA-PS6 Controller, RayPak R406A Heater, Polaris 380 Cleaner, completed April 2013

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    what about using a sanding sponge instead?

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    Yes, any kind of polishing or fine sandpapering would be better than an acid type treatment. But of course, it is more labor intensive.

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    Quote Originally Posted by bigfunky
    I called the CL Industries Regional Rep this morning asking him about the startup procedure and bicarb to see what he said. He happens to be very familiar with the plastering company and raved about their work which makes me feel good. He says they will do a very dilute acid wash to expose the quartz because the quartz they use is very small (See link for pics http://clindustries.com/quartz-pool-...nstone-select/) and cannot be exposed with just troweling. That is also what their instructions say so I guess I will be doing a modified bicarb startup. I will let them do the light acid wash and I have my drum setup all ready to go. My question now would be how much bicarb to add because the plasterer will be using some to neutralize the acid.
    I noticed that while they were acid washing my Sunstone Quartz, they used a lot of bicarb. The main drains were bubbling like a volcano so I suspect that the drains were full of bicarb. When my pool was full, I tested a TA that was 80 ppm above that of tap water which is equivalent to 20 lbs extra bicarb somewhere in the pool.

    I wonder if you could catch a sample of the water in the deep end and test to see if acid is neutralized totally or even excessively?

    Also, when pool volume is important, you can read the water meter at the start of filling and see for yourself how much has been added at any point.
    23,000 gallon in ground pool with rock waterfall and spillover spa, Aqualink control system, Polaris 380 cleaner, Purex Triton Clean&Clear Plus cartridge filter. Located in The Woodlands, Texas.

    Pool owner since Nov 2008, Trouble Free since April 2009. Happy to help when I can.

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    So the plasterers showed up today and got the job done, they did not acid wash the quartz. I watched them when they were troweling at they did not use any water until the end where they washed the inside of the pool with water and used a soft bristle brush to expose the quartz, it looks really nice so I am hoping I got a quality job.
    26,000 gallon gunite IGP with 50 sq ft Spa, Jandy VS FloPro 2hp Pump, Jandy DEV48 Filter, Jandy AquaPure SWG, Jandy AquaLink PDA-PS6 Controller, RayPak R406A Heater, Polaris 380 Cleaner, completed April 2013

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    Interesting that they decided not to use acid after all. That is a better procedure. Acid is not needed to expose the quartz.
    Hope it turns out well for you.
    Did you take any pictures?

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    Yes, I'll get them posted later today
    26,000 gallon gunite IGP with 50 sq ft Spa, Jandy VS FloPro 2hp Pump, Jandy DEV48 Filter, Jandy AquaPure SWG, Jandy AquaLink PDA-PS6 Controller, RayPak R406A Heater, Polaris 380 Cleaner, completed April 2013

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    Re: A Bicarb Start-up guide for TFP members

    Quote Originally Posted by bigfunky
    Would this apply for a quartz finish, our pool is being plastered next week and the PB mentioned when they apply the quartz finish they do a light acid wash to wash away some of the plaster and expose the quartz.
    I wouldn't doubt it if they didn't wash it because they knew you were posting here.

    The Bicarb Start-up is by far the best for Quartz finishes. I use it on every finish start up, but my quartz finishes are consistently even without blotchy areas especially on the dark colors where it really counts.

    The Quartz that is acid washed once they are finished to expose the aggregate if done correctly looks far better than hand troweled finish within the same time span in my and most anyone with vision slightly better than Stevie Wonders opinion. Much more uniform in color and you don't have that color changing effect due to the differences in exposure of the aggregate. That's why quartz finishes get such a bad wrap or builders stopped using it because they look like a blotchy mess. I believe some manufacturers even started stating that "the beauty of quartz is how it changes over time and the variances in pattern" or some nonsense like that, if they think the pattern on a marble is a thing of beauty then I guess they are right. But I haven't seen a dark colored quartz done in that manner look as good as properly done washed one with a bicarb start-up in the same amount of time frame period. And you shouldn't have to buy a cleaner that scrubs and takes months either in order for you to get the effect you could have today.


    Hydrazzo is also acid washed and then polished prior to start up. Although CLI still uses the lame NPC start-up which I told Dukes was their minor downfall their finishes are top notch. I am behind onBalance for all that they have done for us as far as research and testing of problem pool finishes and I'm well aware of the extensive research they have conducted as far as traditional plaster goes. But I'm curious to see the same done for Quartz and Hydrazzo finishes and what the results are for these finishes done with and without an acid wash since these are much more durable finishes to start with. If this has been done I'll be looking for it after this post.

    In any case for anyone interested I do a modified version of the Bicarb Start-Up where as I add my borates and adjust the pH in my pretreatment tank, prior to fill. This has helped tenfold in keeping the pH under control and from rising over 8.0 as quickly and has cut down on the frequency and amount of acid normally used without doing so.

    And a few tips for those who can't find a 55 gallon drum to use you can buy a 55 gallon Heavy Duty trash can from your Home Improvement store. They are square not round but do have wheels attached which make it easier to maneuver around. The front face and rear is flat which makes attaching your water spigots a breeze. And the attached flip top lid makes for a nice large opening for easily adding your chems.

    Homeowners may not find this a big plus but service techs it is wonderful to simply roll up all your hoses stick them inside the the can close the lid and wheel everything away to the next job.

    Whatever you use make sure to pre check it for leaks BEFORE you actually start. There's nothing worse than one of your fittings failing mid fill and ending up with a deck full of bicarb.

    And finally spend the money and buy GOOD water hoses not those cheapo $9.00 ones. They will collapse on you causing your tank to overflow once again leaving you with a deck full of bicarb and possibly a waterline where the pool stopped filling up at.
    And trust me 3:00 am is not the time to find out if your hoses are good enough.

    You've just spent thousands of dollars on your dream pool and spa, another $150.00 is cheap insurance for the best start of many years to come.
    Swimming Pool & Spa Maintenance, Service and Installation Technician
    "If It Ain't Broke, Keep Fixing It Until It Is!"

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