A solar blanket is a giant "bubble-wrap" cover that floats on the top of the water in your swimming pool. It provides a number of benefits:
- Heats the water with the sun - so its more comfortable and it extends the swimming season
- Reduces evaporation which saves on water refilling
- Blocks some of the UV light that destroys the chlorine in the water so you don't have to add as many pool chemicals.
- Helps keep the heat in at night when the temperature drops, especially important in desert areas.
- Keeps dirt, birds, and other items out of the pool so your water stays cleaner and helps reduce TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) - which delays having to drain and refill your pool water.
Unfortunately, taking off and putting the solar blanket back on the pool can be a real pain. For square or rectangular pools, you can use a deck mounted pool reel or even an automatic motor to do the work. My in-ground pool is sort of a Kidney or Jelly Bean shape and is wider at the ends than in the middle, so a reel would not work.
I originally just dragged my cover on and off, but this ended up in a large wad that blocked walking around the pool (could be dangerous) and also would get blown around the back yard by the wind. You could (with 2 people) sort of lift it off and roll it up into a giant roll, but it was still a pain. I ended up cutting it into 2 pieces to make it easier for one person to pull off, but this usually just ended up as two wads blowing around the back yard.
I saw a video for a product that basically attaches long sticks to the underside of the solar blanket allowing you to roll it up (just like a pie crust around a rolling pin) while it is floating on the surface of the water. Then, you just drag it out and into the shade and you are ready to swim. This is a very neat design and works well for a small deck without room for a traditional pool reel.
I decided to make and document building my own for about $12 in parts from the Lowe's plumbing department. Home Depot or your local hardware store will have all the same parts - these are very common and inexpensive.
Step 1: Parts & Tools Needed:
I used Schedule 40 PVC pipe and fittings to make this. Its inexpensive, water-safe, and is easy to cut, drill, screw, and paint.
You will need a piece of 1/2 inch diameter pipe as long as your existing pool cover. You can buy it in 10 or 20' lengths. I used 10' long pieces since they fit in my car and then joined two pieces together with a $.29 splice coupling to make them longer.
You will also need some 1 inch diameter SCH-40 PVC Pipe. I used about 2' total length cut into sections as giant washers/clips to attach the solar cover to the 1/2" pipe.
Fittings are all 1/2" size:
- 2 End caps
- adapter from slip coupling to male threads
- end cap with threads inside it
- a couple of 90 degree elbows
- slip coupling to female threads (for connecting the handle)
- sand paper
- spray paint (to block UV light from damaging the PVC pipe)
- PVC Primer and glue
- 8 or more #8 x 3/4" Pan head Phillips Zinc (or Stainless) Self-Drilling Screws (some people call them self-tapping)
- A hack saw
- Drill with a 5/32" drill bit
- Phillips Screwdriver
Step 2: Measure Your Pipe Length
Since I had cut my solar pool cover into two pieces, I made 2 setups. This instructable will show you how to make one. Repeat if you need two. If you are going to make one large one instead of 2 small ones, you may be better off using a larger size PVC pipe such as 1". This will make a stronger roller that is less likely to flex. Most of the fittings I used are also available in the large 1" size.
To start with I took the pool cover out onto the driveway and laid it out in the same orientation as if it was on my pool. I determined which orientation I wanted to roll it up and laid the pipe out that way. Since my pipe was short, I used to pieces and joined them together. You want the pipe to be centered on the cover so that as you roll it up, each end will roll up evenly.
Step 3: Joining PVC Together With Glue
Using the primer and glue, I attached the 2 shorter pieces of PVC pipe together.
I am not going to go into how to use PVC Glue here. Read the bottle or look at another instructable for best practices. If you don't want to mess with glue, see the last step for some alternatives.
Step 4: Install an End Cap on One End and a Threaded Adapter on the Other
I did not want the PVC pipe to fill with water or be a home for spiders or other creepy-crawlies, so I capped both ends of the pipe.
On one end, I used a $.32 end cap.
On the other end I used a slip coupling to threaded male end. This is so that I can screw a threaded cap on the end of it.
I can take off the threaded cap and screw on a handle that makes it easy to roll up the solar cover.
The handle is made up of a piece of PVC with an end that will screw onto the threaded male coupling, a couple of 90 degree elbows and an end cap. Its not terribly fancy, just looks like a crank handle.
You could probably do without the handle by making a steering wheel type piece to attach to the end instead to roll it up.
Step 5: Make Your Clips to Attach the Pipe to the Solar Cover
If I were just to screw the pipe to the solar cover, the screw heads would just tear right through the plastic. Even with washers, it would still probably tear. So I made some clips that will fit over the solar cover and around the 1/2" pipe. I made these from 4-6" long sections of 1" PVC pipe that have had a strip ripped out of them the long way.
Cut the 1" diameter pipe to length with a hacksaw. I used 4 and 6" lengths. You could make longer if you have a band saw or table saw to cut the ripped out sections with.
Sand the burrs off the ends.
Stick the cut piece over the end of the 1/2" pipe and mark how much you'll want to cut out. It should be more than 1/4 but less than 1/3 of the total pipe circumference.
Use the hacksaw (and a vise if you have one to hold the pipe), make 2 parallel cuts the length of the sections.
Sand the edges and corners so that they are all soft and clean.
The clip piece should fit on the 1/2" pipe with enough room for the solar cover in between.
Step 6: Paint the Clips to Prevent UV Damage From the Sun
Since the clips will be exposed to full sun all day long, its best to paint them.
I sanded the gloss off the outside of the clips, and the Pipe Manufacturer's printing was noticeably lighter.
I used some white spray paint that said on the label that it worked on plastic.
Spray a couple of light coats and let it dry.
If you want to skip the spray paint, the plastic will probably turn a dark brown or black in a couple of months of being in the sun. It probably won't affect the strength of the clip.
Step 7: Drill Holes for the Screws in the Clips
Drill 2 holes in the clips about 3/4" from each end.
I used a 5/32" drill bit which was large enough for the screws to pass through without the threads catching.
Step 8: Attach the Clips
Take the long 1/2" PVC pipe piece and place it in underneath the solar cover. The solar cover should have the smooth side up (bubbles down). Make sure the pipe end with the male threaded end is at the end where you want the handle to go.
Snap a clip on to the solar cover so it fits onto the 1/2" pipe below. This will sandwich the solar cover between the 1/2" pipe and the 1" clip piece.
Run 2 screws into the clips to make it permanent.
Don't over-tighten the screws or you'll strip them. Also, don't take the screws back out. The self-drilling screws will have made their own threads into the 1/2" pipe and should prevent any water from leaking into the pipe around the screws. If you remove them, you will need to caulk the holes.
Start at one end with the clips. Work your way to the other end. Make sure you don't have any wrinkles in the solar cover. Use the rows of bubbles to ensure the pipe is straight and doesn't zig-zag.
Step 9: Roll It Up!
When you roll up the pipe, both ends will wrap around each other into a nice tight roll.
Carry it back to the pool, lay it in the water and reverse the rolling direction to have it unroll on top of the water.
Step 10: Removing the Solar Cover From the Pool
Lift up the end of the cover that has the threaded end cap and unscrew it.
Screw the handle onto the threaded end of the pipe.
Crank the handle until the pool cover is all wrapped up around the pipe.
lift and drag the rolled up cover out of the pool about 3/4 of the way, the tilt will allow the water in the layers to drain back in the pool in a few seconds. Once it feels mostly drained, the cover should be pretty light and can be lifted out and set out of the way of pool fun!
I've also found that being able to throw the whole thing on my shoulder and carry it out to the driveway to clean the top surface of the solar cover (when its dirty or covered in mineral buildup) is a lot easier with this method.
Step 11: Time Saving Tips for Someone Who Doesn't Want to Use PVC Glue
If you are uncomfortable or messy using PVC glue and primer (or just want to save money and not buy any - it will cost more than the rest of the parts combined):
Just buy a tube of Silicone Caulk, stick it in each end of the PVC pipe, and squirt in a large enough blob to seal the inside of the end of the pipe. Its not as nice as an end cap, but should last 3-5 years which is the lifespan of most solar covers. Give it some time to cure before you toss it in the pool.
If you have wood working tools, you can make the crank handle out of a piece of plywood. Just taper the end to fit into the end of the PVC pipe. you could probably cut a tab in the handle and a matching notch into the pipe so that they "key" together so that the handle will make the pipe spin. Or make a steering wheel or X shaped piece and attach it to the end of the pipe and just turn that. It won't be as fast as a crank, but it should work fine.
Some stores sell compression fit PVC pipe fittings. They are used for sprinkler systems. You can connect them together without using glue. They cost a little bit more, but its less of a mess than glue and there is no curing time!
I did not spray paint the 12-13 foot long PVC pipe since its beneath the solar cover and most of it is floating in the water. I figure that should protect it from UV Rays. You can probably skip the spray paint altogether if you don't mind the clips on the top changing color.
Remember, a typical solar cover only lasts a few years. 5 years would be considered a long lifespan. I think that this PVC pipe design will probably last longer than the solar cover.