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Prep pool for summer fun, and don't forget the toys!

Count not having to open and close a backyard pool every year among the many benefits of living in Florida. • In Northern states, most pools spend the winter months under heavy canvas covers held firmly in place by sandbags. • Here, pools are more likely to be used year-round, though this past winter kept all but the hardiest of swimmers on the deck. • Such little activity makes it easy to maintain a pool, said Toni Spagnoli, who owns Florida Lifestyle Pools with her husband, Rob Sigman. • "Brush down the sides, scoop out the leaves; that's about all you have to do," she said. • "But there is more maintenance as the weather warms up." • The heat and more people in the pool increase the demand for chlorine, Sigman said.

Add more if you have a chlorinated pool or, if you have a saltwater system, turn up your salt cell setting so it makes more chlorine, Sigman said.

This is also when you should have your chlorine stabilizer level checked, he said. "It's like putting sunscreen on your pool." (It's also the first advice he gives to customers who have algae in their pools.)

"You should also clean the filter real well," back-washing or hosing it off, depending on the system.

As pool traffic increases, so should the number of hours the pool filter runs.

"Pools should run six to eight hours a day as opposed to the four to six they run in the winter," Sigman said.

And about that nasty calcium deposit ring on the pool tile at the waterline: Use muriatic, or hydrochloric, acid — but be careful.

"It won't eat plastic, but it will eat your fingers off. Wear gloves," Spagnoli said.

Spagnoli said she dilutes muriatic acid with equal parts water. She puts the solution in a plastic cup and uses a stiff brush to scrub the waterline mark. Carefully. "Don't get it on the pool deck," Sigman said.

Pool owners also could use this time to convert from a chlorine to a saltwater system, Spagnoli said. The end product — chlorine — is the same but saltwater systems start with salt instead of other chemicals.

"Everybody thinks it's a big deal but it's just the addition of one piece of equipment to an existing system," she said.

"For about $1,200, you can change over your system and get rid of chemical costs, which are about $100 a month."

Reduced costs aren't the only benefit, she added. "It's easier on the skin, the water and the eyes."

Plus, it eliminates having to transport and store chlorine.

"All you have sitting around are bags of salt, not hazardous chemicals."

Patti Ewald is a freelance writer in Gulfport. She can be reached at pattiewald@gulfcoastwriter.com.

Some of these products are new and some not so much, but all would be a welcome addition to your pool.

m Baby Spring Float Sun Canopy

Cost: $17.99 to $19.99

The lowdown: A safe haven for baby — but only while being closely monitored by an adult. The float features a mesh play area for babies to splash or play with toys and the canopy protects tender skin from the sun.

Find it: SwimWays products are in many big-box stores, or go to swimways.com, where you can buy or click on "Where to buy" for local shops. Several online retailers also offer these products.

m Toypedo

Cost: $9.99

The lowdown: This footlong torpedo glides up to 40 feet underwater with a simple throw. Trust us, it's a lot more fun than you might think. Look for variations that light up or come with targets.

Find it: SwimWays products are in many big-box stores, or go to swimways.com and click on "Where to buy" for local shops. Several online retailers also offer these products.

m Log Flume Joust Set

Cost: $21.99 to $25.99

The lowdown: Know how your kids will straddle floats and whap each other with pool noodles until somebody gives up? This version features inflatable "logs" and boppers. Fun!

Find it: Look for local stores at swimline.com and through online retailers.

. Dive Balls

Cost: $12.99 for a set of three

The lowdown: Forget scrounging on the bottom for the penny your mom tossed in. These rubber-tipped balls have colorful, fluttering tails visible across the pool.

Find it: Try your local Toys "R" Us, major online retailers and

ShopWildPlanet.com.

. Motorized Inflatable

Bumper Boat

Cost: $99.99 (but shop around)

The lowdown: Don't expect to go zipping around the pool at a high rate of speed, but you don't have to paddle either. The good news: The boat comes equipped with a steering wheel and an accelerator. The bad news: It runs on six D batteries.

Find it: The boats are made by Excalibur (ebexcalibur.com) and can be found at big-box stores and online.

m Splash Pets

Cost: The Splash Bomb Pets are $1.49; Deep Sea Splash Pets are $9.99 to $12.99 each.

The lowdown: Splash Bombs are nothing new, but Splash Bombs with sweet little faces are. We also like the Deep Sea Splash Pets you can pull apart and reattach to make new creatures.

Find it: The individual Splash Bomb Pets are at Toys "R" Us; find the Deep Sea pull-apart pets online at amazon.com or fatbraintoys.com.

Prep pool for summer fun, and don't forget the toys! 05/14/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 14, 2010 1:26am]

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