If you are looking at buying a new home with a swimming pool, or if you just want to give your swimming pool a check up, use this guide to help you understand the condition of your pool – and more importantly avoid potentially hidden problems.
There are many different aspects of a swimming pool and surrounding area that need to be checked. The following items are usually inspected as part of a visual swimming pool condition diagnosis.
What type of swimming pool is it?
The first indication of the type of swimming pool that you are dealing with is the interior surface of the pool. Gunite and plaster swimming pools are pools with a smooth concrete finish which provides the waterproof barrier. Vinyl liner pools have a huge, stretchable vinyl liner covering the interior surface. A visual inspection will tell which type of pool it is.
What is the general condition of the swimming pool area?
The overall condition of the pool, the surrounding environment will provide lot’s of clues. A pristine, clean and organized pool area will indicate that this pool has been maintained by someone with experience. If the concrete is stained, cracked and broken with decay, or the diving board is green with moss from neglect, you can be sure that this swimming pool was not maintained properly. Something as small as maintaining the pool chemistry will have a huge impact on the longevity of the interior finish of the pool whether it be vinyl liner or plaster. A pool that is suspect of having been neglected will almost certainly require more costly repairs sooner than a pool that has been maintained.
Swimming Pool Interior Finish
The most important area of a swimming pool – the interior finish:
Vinyl Liner – the interior finish of an in ground vinyl liner swimming pool will be a 30mm thickness vinyl liner with a colored print on the bottom, and usually a tile band pattern around the top to hide “scum lines” from the water level.
Vinyl liners can be difficult to age since they wear differently based on direct sunlight, water temperature and water chemistry. Inspect the corners of the pool as these will reveal the age of the liner somewhat. As a liner ages, it shrinks and becomes brittle. If the liner is sun bleached and stretched tight in the corners, then it is older than 10 years old and you can assume it will need a major renovation sooner than later. If the vinyl liner still displays crisp colors and is soft and supple to the touch, it is likely less than 5 years old and should come complete with documentation and perhaps a warranty from the recent renovation.
If you encounter a vinyl liner pool with more than one patch in the liner, bulges or divots in the floors or walls, duct tape anywhere or any other abnormalities, you can be sure that this pool will require work sooner than later.
Gunite Plaster Finish – the interior of gunite plaster pools is a specialty dense concrete application where the cement is finished to a glass like smooth appearance. This is a costly procedure that needs to be redone every 15-30 years depending on the quality of the job and the maintenance of the pool chemistry. As the plaster ages, it loses the top layer of cement and reveals the more coarse sand aggregate beneath the surface. This results in a sand paper like feeling and the water retentive properties of the plaster layer are lessened. If the plaster is rough to the touch, or the tile band around the top eight inches of the pool has evidence of tiles falling off, it would be reasonable to assume that this pool will require a major renovation soon.
If any major cracks, or breaks are visible in the plaster finish, this is an indication that the plaster will need to be replaced soon. Cracks that can be seen but not felt are actually a normal occurrence with plaster finishing for swimming pools. These cracks resemble veins in the walls and floor of the pool that can only be faintly seen. If there are cracks clearly present that can be felt with your fingers, these are cracks that indicate age and disrepair
Swimming Pool Coping
For vinyl liner pools, this is the plastic or aluminum track that the liner clips in to. If the coping is made of PVC plastic it will need to be replaced when the liner is changed. If the coping is twisted, cracked, broken, heaving or falling off, you may need to have a new liner and coping installed early despite the fact that the liner itself may still be in reasonable condition. If the coping is made of aluminum then check to see if the current liner is falling out of the track anywhere. If the liner is still held securely in place in all places – especially the corners – then this coping may likely be reused when the liner is changed which will save you money. When determining if you are looking at PVC or Aluminum coping be sure to inspect that actual part that the liner is hooked into as this is the important area. The top of aluminum coping is often covered with a PVC coping cap to protect from sharp edges and extreme heat of aluminum coping.
For gunite plaster pools the “coping” actually refers to the finished concrete edge that runs around the top perimeter of your pool. This is often a specialty finished concrete with rounded or angled edges. It serves a multitude of purposes from safety to esthetics, but at this point just recognize it as something that will cost a lot of money to fix if it is broken. The biggest trick with a gunite plaster pool coping inspection is to look under the lip to where the pool wall or tile band meets the bottom of the coping. The coping is poured after the main shell of the pool and overhangs the pool edge by 1.5 to 3 inches.
Check to see if the wall of the pool or tile band meets the bottom of the coping evenly, or has there been shifting which will be evident is cracks and gaps. If you have a plaster pool where there are significant cracks or gaps where the tile band meets the coping, this may be an indication of either the pool or the deck settling and migrating. This can be a real nail in the coffin situation for a swimming pool so be sure to check carefully. The older the pool is, the more acceptable smaller cracks and gaps are. A newer pool with medium sized cracks and gaps would be a very bad sign.
Pool equipment/ pump, filter, heater
What you want to see is pumps and filters which are clean and organized and most importantly PVC pipe runs which are straight, level and plumb in all directions. Visually inspect the equipment. Rust is the sign that the pump and heater are old, and the filter should be made of fiberglass not metal or stainless steel. Look at pipes and wiring to see that they appear to be in good condition.
Plumbing, skimmers and returns
The plumbing for the pool will be most evident in the mechanical room. Outside of the pump room or pool equipment pad most if not all of the plumbing will be buried making an inspection impossible. There are a number of different types of pipe that can be used to build a pool. You are looking for white, schedule 40 PVC pipe and fittings as the only acceptable plumbing type. Black ABS (glued fittings) and old black poly pipe (clamped fittings) are old industry standard and are no long acceptable for swimming pool installations. If you encounter black pipe then you can plan that a renovation of the plumbing system will be required sooner than later.
Any forms of metal, brass or copper pipes are all unacceptable and it is a matter of time before you encounter a major leak or failure with the swimming pool system.
The skimmer and returns will only be subject to a visual inspection where you are looking for any evident cracks or broken gaskets. Be sure to inspect the inside of the mouth of the skimmer as this area is prone to breaking. If you see any sign of repair, glue, epoxy or cracks then this pool will require repair. There is no repair where glue, epoxy or other repair should be conducted on a return or skimmer. If this work has been done, it has been done so as a “band-aid” repair since the actual repair is a much larger undertaking and must be done when the liner or new plaster is installed.
All of this information will help you to evaluate the condition of a swimming pool confidently and help to identify common problem areas. If you are unsure, or if you identify any of the previous items with your swimming pool you consider consulting a swimming pool expert to assist you with understanding your pool and the repair options available to you. Remember to always choose a quality swimming pool contractor as this industry is often regarded as having high occurrence of unqualified and unscrupulous business owners. Arm yourself with information and learn to diagnose potential problems with your swimming pool.