If your home has a pool, you probably know how owning one can be a huge financial liability—especially when it has leaks. A swimming pool is far more complex than most people think it is—It has a lot of moving and interacting parts that can fail anytime and result in brutally costly repair bills.
As a pool owner, you live in fear of phantom repair bills that can suddenly spring out of nowhere, forcing you to get a second mortgage on your home just to pay for all the expenses needed to fix the leaks. The good news, however, is that you can reduce these expenses if you know how to do things yourself—from determining if your pool is leaking to fixing the leak itself.
In this article, I will help you identify if your pool has leaks and explain how you can fix everything yourself.
How Will You Know If Your Pool is Leaking?
Identifying a pool leak is not only costly; it is also tedious. Although professional pool operators have equipment that can easily detect pool leaks such as x-rays or ultra-vision equipment, the problem is that you are not a professional pool operator. Most likely, you are just a simple homeowner with a pool in your yard. You do not have cameras or dyes that you can send into your system’s plumbing, and you have no means to know if your pool has leaks—all until your water bill arrives and takes you by surprise.
If you own a pool in your home, one of the things you will never ever wish to happen is to know that your pool is leaking. Unfortunately, it does happen. Sometimes, your pool will just leak without you knowing. When this happens, expensive excavation and replacement of pipes may be necessary, depending on the size of the leak.
One of the easiest ways to confirm if your pool is leaking is by checking the obvious first. Below are the common signs that your pool may have a leak:
- Standing water near the pool or equipment pad.
A visual inspection of your equipment may turn up something like a faulty O-ring. If you see some soft, mushy spots or uneven grass around your pool area, there might be a leak that’s caused by some faulty underground plumbing.
· Your pool is losing more than ¼ of water a day.
Although the rate of water evaporation varies from location to location, even in the warmest summer months, your pool cannot lose so much water. Water loss depends on relative humidity, wind, air temperature, and other weather factors, as well as splash-outs, but if your pool is losing as much as ¼ water in a day, there might be a problem.
· Your pool is consuming more water than normal.
If your pool has an automatic fill device, watch your water bills for high consumption. If you notice that your fill device is constantly running, it must be high time for you to investigate a possible leak.
· There is algae growth or water discoloration.
Growth of algae is an indication of an imbalance in water chemistry. This can only occur if some untreated water is added to the pool.
· Settling of water into the pool’s ground.
It is not normal for pool water to settle into the ground. If you notice this phenomenon in your pool, it could be an indication of cracks or gaps in the bond beam.
Here are the first things you can do as you investigate leaks in your pool:
- Does the equipment pad have leaks? Check the filter, pump, heater, and the pipe valves.
- Do you notice wet areas around the pool? Check the ground for moisture. Take a walk around the pool, and by the pool and equipment. See if you can spot wet soil and sunken or eroding areas around the pool.
- If you have a vinyl liner pool, do you notice tears or separations around the fittings? How about the skimmers, returns, cleaner line, lights, steps and the corners?
While pool leaks are scary, the good news is that there is a simple test that even a simple homeowner like you can do to confirm if you have a leaking pool. It’s called the “Bucket Test.”
The Bucket Test is a test that will help you confirm if your pool is leaking, but to make the test successful, you need to eliminate all outside causes. To perform this test, you need a 5-gallon bucket. Put some weight into the bucket such as a brick, and then fill it partially with water. After doing so, place the bucket on your pool steps so that its top is above water level. Fill the bucket until the water level in it is the same as the pool water outside it. As you do the test, make sure that you turn off any fountains or waterfalls because they are more prone to water evaporation than undisturbed water.
Once the water in your bucket is the same level as the pool water outside, wait for 24 hours and check the levels. The idea here is that both the bucket and the pool are subjected to the same conditions when it comes to temperature, wind, rain, etc. Hence, if the water leaves through evaporation, the water inside the bucket and outside the bucket must evaporate at the same rate. You will know that your pool is leaking if the level of water outside the bucket becomes lower than the water inside the bucket.
If the bucket test suggests that a possible leak—not evaporation-- is depleting the water from your pool, you know you have a problem.
Remember, it is normal for your pool to lose some water due to evaporation or some splashing out. However, if you routinely need to add more inches of water to your pool regularly, that may be a sign that your pool has a leak. Don’t wait for your bill to arrive before you do something. If you sense that something is wrong with your pool, address the problem right away. You don’t necessarily have to call the local pool tech right away. Give your pool a once-over and see if you can determine the problem and fix it yourself.
How Can You Locate the Leak?
Once you have confirmed that your pool is losing water, the next thing to do is to determine where the leak is. To do this, you need to turn off the filtration system and note where the water stops dropping. If you have a vinyl pool, remember that these pools need to have water in them at all times. If you have a liner pool and you notice that the water keeps dropping by rapidly, start adding water and call a pool professional right away.
You can identify the source of the leak based on where the water stops during the test. If the water stops at the bottom of the skimmer opening, the leak is most likely in the skimmer or filtration system, including the pipes. Now, if you see that air bubbles in the water in the return line when your pool’s pump is running, there is probably a leak in the suction side of the filtration system.
While doing the test, make sure that the pump basket lid is on tight and that the lid o-ring is lubed and in working condition. If you notice that the water stops at the light, the leak could be at the light housing. If it drops below the light, then the source of the leak could be in the drain at the bottom of the pool. If the pool is losing more and more water while the pump is running, then the leak is on the return line side of the system. If that is the case, then you need to check the waste or backwash line for running water. If you suspect that the leak is coming from the skimmer, light, or liner, you need to check for something that appears like a crack, gap or tear.
Once you have noticed a crack, gap or tear, try putting a drop or two of dye test solution or some of your PH indicator test reagent near it while the pump is shut off and the water is still. If you see that the dye is sucked into the crack, then that confirms that that is the source of the leak.
How Do You Fix the Leak?
How you treat the leak will depend on its nature and location. Skimmer leaks are leaks that commonly emerge between the plastic skimmer and the concrete pool. You can easily fix this with pool putty. Light leaks, on the other hand, spring out as the conduit pipe either breaks or separates from the niche. These leaks are difficult to patch, but there are certain methods that you can use to repair a bad conduit connection—through a two-part epoxy that does not easily dry, putty, silicone, or caulk. The easiest to patch are liner leaks. You can simply patch them with a vinyl liner patch kit or a wet patch kit.
Although it may sound like fixing leaks is all about patching, it is not. Not all leaks are easily detected as the ones mentioned above. Pool professionals use state-of-the-art technology in fixing pool leaks. Compressed air, for instance, is used to pressurize pipes. They use compressed air to displace the water in the pipe until it gets to the leak, at which point bubbles escape from the hole to uncover the problem area, or, where a pipe fails to maintain constant air pressure, a leak exists.
Some professionals also use a special camera in fixing leaks. They snake this special television camera through plumbing pipes to discover leaks. Pool professionals inject air into pipes, listen electronically for sounds of air getting out of the pipe with a super-sensitive microphone for high-tech leak detection. The cost of pool repair depends on the location and complexity of the leak.
If you own a pool in your home, it is best to have an understanding of the pool plumbing basics so you can visualize what a pool professional might do to fix a leak in case a leak turns up. The basic configuration of a swimming pool plumbing and filtration system is not as complex as most people think it is. As water is pulled through the skimmer and main drains in the pool by the pool pump, the water goes underground to the mechanical room where it passes through the pump strainer basket and is pushed through the filter and heater, as well as other peripherals such as chlorinators. The water is then piped back to the pool through the return lines.
It is also important to note that aside from closed system lines, there are also some aspects of the pool plumbing system that do not operate in a pressurized system. If your pool uses an open system, it has an equalizer line that helps the pool pump to retain its prime during periods of low water level.
While replacing the equalizer line is time consuming and often expensive, you cannot afford to forget or ignore it during a pool renovation. This equalizer connects to the bottom of the skimmer and the other end to either the main drains, or sometimes, a side port in the wall of the pool near the skimmer. It leads from the bottom of the skimmer down to the main drains and is often even older than the rest of your pool’s entire plumbing system. Hence, it is a candidate for unexplained water loss. If you are doing the leak repair yourself, make sure that you do not ignore this part.
Another important thing to remember if you are to fix your pool leaks is that plumbing systems are a constant source of water loss. It could be either because of the material out of which the pipe is made, the quality of the installation, its age, or configuration and soil conditions. Before you start tearing your plumbing system apart, make sure that you isolate the leak first to determine if it is really located in the plumbing system. Sometimes, the leak’s location is not in there but in the structure of the pool itself.