Repairs and Renovations
If you take good care of your pool and spa and keep the water balanced at all time, you can expect years of trouble-free enjoyment. But eventually there will come a time when you need to renovate – and that time may be sooner rather than later if you aren’t diligent about water chemistry, if you accidentally damage the surface, or if natural disaster strikes and you have structural damage to the pool shell.

With the exception of repairing a small hole in a vinyl liner, repairing a pool, or fixing some loose tiles along the waterline, most repairs need to be undertaken by a trained professional – especially when the repair is really better described as a renovation.

There are a lot of reasons to renovate a pool. While some pool owners renovate out of necessity, others may simply want a new look in their backyard. People often renovate their kitchens and bathrooms because they want an updated design, and the same rationale often applies to pool owners who, for example, are looking to trade up their “plain-Jane,” kidney-shaped pool with a concrete deck for a free-form lagoon-style pool with real boulders around the coping. Such a major overhaul of a pool requires the engineering and construction know-how of a skilled pool builder.

Whether you decide to call in the pros or wing it yourself, our website will give you a basic understanding of what’s involved on some of the most common repairs and renovations. More detailed advice for your particular situation can be obtained from manufacturers or professional pool builders.

Plaster Surfaces
If a plaster pool develops a stain, you might be able to remove it with one of the many stain-removal products available at pool and spa supply stores. But if the surface is heavily stains in many spots – whether from chemicals, minerals, or dirt – it may be time for a professional acid wash.

An acid wash strips away a tiny layer of plaster, exposing unblemished plaster beneath. Therefore, acid-wash only when it’s really necessary. Otherwise you’ll accelerate the need to replaster your pool and spa.

Acid is a highly toxic substance, and a complete acid wash of a pool should be undertaken by a professional technician, who will be trained in proper acid-washing techniques and the types of protective clothing and breathing apparatus needed, as well as the proper disposal guidelines for the used acid. You can expect to pay about $500 to acid-wash an average residential pool.

If you don’t want to undertake an acid-wash, you might also consider fiber-glassing or painting you plaster pool.

Fiberglass Surfaces
Fiberglass pool shells are a lot more durable today than they were years ago. Blistering and delaminating occur much less frequently, and fiberglass remains one of the easier surfaces to clean and maintain. Fiberglass shells have been known to crack, stain and fade, however. Though minor chips, cracks and blemishes can be repaired, you might need to re-fiberglass the entire shell if the situation is bad enough.

Fiberglass needs to be applied with precision and under the right environmental conditions in order to ensure a successful application. You should hire a trained professional to do this for you. If you can’t find one on the Yellow Pages, your pool dealer should be able to refer you to one.

If your fiberglass pool is dingy but you don’t want to re-fiberglass it, you could also consider painting it.

Vinyl-Lined Surfaces
Small holes and tear in a vinyl liner can be repaired by anyone with handy tendencies, often without draining the water. Vinyl-repair kits are available from pool dealers. They include vinyl patches and underwater adhesive. To patch the liner, you simply cut a circular patch of vinyl that is large enough to overlap the hole by 1 inch (2.5cm), apply adhesive, and then press the patch firmly over the hole.

If you hire a professional to do the job, he or she may use a heat gun to “weld” a vinyl patch in place. The heat-gun method should be used only by a trained professional because it’s easy to melt the vinyl and cause more damage. The benefit of using a professional is that he or she may have access to vinyl swatches that closely match your original vinyl pattern. If not, he or she may still be able to mimic the pattern using special vinyl inks and some artistry.

The only way to fix major damage to a vinyl liner is to replace the entire liner. Under optimal conditions, a vinyl liner can be expected to last 5 to 10 years. But if the liner, especially the area above the waterline, is exposed to sun, it will fade and become brittle over time. The only solution in such a case is a new liner.

Installing a new liner is a task best left to a professional. Manufacturers can make custom liners to fit any pool size and shape, but the fit will be only as good as the measurements you provide the manufacturer. Expert help is invaluable in taking exact measurements of your pool. Also, professional installers can make sure that the new liner is set properly. They’ll use vacuums to pull the liner snug against the floor and walls, increasing your chances for a wrinkle-free installation, and the proper tools to cut liners around skimmers, light niches, main drains and other pool fittings.

Pool Paint
Paints or coatings, as they’re commonly referred to, are one of the cheapest options for restoring the look of a worn-out concrete, plaster, or fiberglass pool. In fact, painting can cost one third as much as replastering. Plus, with a wide-ranging palette of colors., paint allows you to nicely blend your old pool into a new landscape or create artistic designs on the walls and bottom. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that painting a pool is as simple as painting they walls in your living room. There are many steps involved, and you need nearly perfect conditions to ensure professional results.

There are several types of pool paint, each with its unique advantages and disadvantages. The most common are epoxy, chlorinated rubber and water-based acrylic.

Epoxy Coating
Epoxy coatings are the most durable, lasting five to eight years. They provide a smooth, tile-like finish, and they resist chemicals, stains, abrasion, and algae. Epoxy coatings can be applied thickly, which is valuable if your plaster surface has been repeatedly acid-washed and is thinning out.

Epoxies come as two components, a base and a catalyst, which are mixed together prior to application. As soon as the two parts are mixed, the coating begins to cure. Thus, it has a “pot life” that is determined by the specific ingredients and the ambient temperature. You may have only a couple hours to apply an epoxy, so never mix up more than you can apply in the given time frame.

Epoxy coatings are prone to chalking if they’re not mixed or applied properly. Chalking can also occur as the coating ages. Though the chalking might cloud up the water when rubbed, it’s not harmful to swimmers, according to manufacturers.

Epoxies are the best paints or coatings for fiberglass pool because they bond extremely well with fiberglass.

Chlorinated Rubber Coatings
Chlorinated rubber is the traditional coating for pools, and most painted pools use this type of coating. Chlorinated rubber is easy to apply and offers a durable, chemical-resistant coating with superior adhesion qualities. Though the paint can’t be applied as thickly as epoxy, it does chemically bond with previous paint coats, making it ideal for recoating surfaces previously painted with chlorinated rubber. Pools painted with chlorinated rubber usually need to be repainted every three years or so.

Be advised that if chlorinated rubber is applied to a hot pool surface or in very hot weather, that paint dries too quickly and bubbles form in the surface. Once a second coat is applied, the solvents eat through the first coat as part of the bonding process, which causes the paint to pop off where the bubbles formed on the first coat.

Water-Based Acrylic Coatings
Water-based acrylic paint is the “new kid on the block” and not as popular as epoxy and chlorinated rubber coatings. The advantages of water-based acrylic paints are that they can be applied over damp surfaces and they clean up easily with soap and water. They are also colorfast, UV-resistant and cheaper than other paints.

On the negative side, because acrylic paints are often a flat finish, they stain more easily than other coatings. Also, water-based acrylics don’t have the life span of the other coatings, so you can expect to paint every year if you use them.

Guidelines for Painting
After you’ve decided which paint is best for your particular situation, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for preparing the surface and applying the paint. The following tips may help.

Before painting, scrub the entire pool with trisodium phosphate. This removes dirt, oils, loose paint, and chalk. It will also help expose any surface problems that need to be addressed, such as cracks. If you do patch any holes or cracks, make sure the patch is cured before continuing with the next step.

Before painting, mask off any areas you don’t want painted; remove any drains, inlet, lights, and other fixtures; and protect the pool deck with drop cloths.

Make sure you mix the paint thoroughly. If you’re using several cans, mix them together to ensure you get the same shade and hue across the entire pool.

Paint the walls first and the floor last. It may seem obvious, but be sure to paint the floor section near a ladder or steps last so that you can work your way out of the pool and not find yourself painted into a corner.

Most manufacturers recommend a 3/8-inch roller for applying paint. Anything larger may leave behind hairs or allow air to become trapped beneath the paint as it’s applied. For larger pools, you might want to use an airless spray gun.

Etch the surface with a 15 to 20 percent solution of muriatic acid. This removes mineral deposits and stains. Some manufacturers recommend rewashing with trisodium phosphate after etching and thoroughly rising the surface with fresh water.

Apply paint when its 50 to 90 degrees F (10-32 degrees C) outside, and work in the shade when possible, not in direct sunlight. Direct sunlight can start the paint drying from the outside, sealing in the solvent, which can then expand and cause the paint to blister. If necessary, rent a party tent that you can erect over the pool to create shade.

If you’re using epoxy or chlorinated rubber coatings, allow the final coat to dry fully. This could take several days with no rain. To determine if the surface is dry, tape a square of plastic wrap to each of the walls and leave it for a few hours. If you come back and see moisture condensing on the plastic wrap, the paint is not dry. Retest daily until no moisture is present on the plastic.

With the exception of epoxy, apply paint in thin layers and allow it to dry to the touch before adding additional coats. With epoxy paints, however, additional coats need to be applied within 24 hours to ensure a proper chemical cure.

If blistering occurs, scrape the area with a paint scraper or sand with #100-grit sandpaper. Then repaint.

When painting steps, sprinkle a fine mist of sandbox over the first layer while it’s still tacky. This creates a nonslip surface for swimmers entering or exiting the pool.

Leaks and Cracks
Changes in temperature and settling earth can cause even a durable structure like a concrete pool to crack. If your concrete or gunite pool has a crack that’s leaking water, you’ll want to repair it immediately. Depending on the severity of the crack and your comfort level with this type of work, you might want to call in the professionals. Otherwise, feel free to attempt it yourself.

The Evaporation Test
Before you conclude you have a leak, make sure you’re not just experiencing heavy evaporation caused by hot temperatures and high winds. Here’s a simple test you can perform. Fill a 5-gallon bucket with water and place it next to your pool. Use a grease pencil or some other marking device that won’t mar the pool to mark the level of the water in the pool and in the bucket. If the water level is decreasing due to evaporation alone, the water level the next day should have dropped the same amount in the pool and the bucket. If the water level in the pool has dropped more than in the bucket, you can assume you have a leak.

Finding the Leak
Of course, determining you have a leak is often easier than finding the leak. You may need to seek the help of a trained professionals if your leak isn’t obvious.

To save time and money, look at the most obvious places where a leak would occur. Around the equipment pad is a good place to start. Check for leaky valves and fittings and worn O-rings. Follow the plumbing lines to the pool while looking for wet spots on the ground.

If a leak is not noticeable upon visual inspection, you’ll need to probe more deeply. A good test to home in on the leak is the pump on/pump off test. With the pump on, measure the amount of water lost during a 24 hour period, then do the same with the pump off. Compare the results. If the amount of water lost with the pump on is greater than the loss with the pump off, the leak is likely on the pressure side of the plumbing. If the loss with the pump on is less than the loss with the pump off, then the leak might be on the suction side. However, if there is no difference with the pump on or off, the leak may be in the pool shell.

In the pool shell, look for cracks or other damage along the tile line, around the skimmer, at light niches, and at all other openings. A common technique for finding leaks within the pool shell is a dye test, whereby colored dye is injected, usually with a syringe or dropper, around the fixtures, cracks and other areas of suspected leaking. If a leak is present, the dye with flow toward it.

Though you might be able to locate and fix a leak in the pool shell, an underground pipe leak is not so obvious or easy to repair. Some underground plumbing leaks are evident by soggy or settling ground around the pool area; others can only be detected by professionals using special listening devices, infrared thermograohy, fiberscopes and other specialty equipment. Regardless, any leak that involves excavation to fix it is one for the professionals.

Repairing a Concrete Shell
You might be able to fix a leak in a concrete pool shell. You’ll need safety goggles, a dust mask, a hammer, a chisel, a wire brush, hydraulic cement, a masonry pail, a wooden paddle and a trowel, gloves, a scraper, a hose and masonry coating.

First, drain the pool. Don safety goggles and dust mask. Then use a hammer and chisel to enlarge the cracks or holes until they are at least ¾ inch deep and wide. Undercut – cutting more away from the bottom than from the top – as you work so the patching cement can be locked in. Remove all loose materials from the crack, then scrub and clean the area with a wire brush.

Mix the patching material according to package directions. Be sure to make only as much as you can use within the curing time. Put on your gloves and roll the patching material until it stiffens and becomes warm. Press the cement in the hole, beginning at the top, and keep pressure on the patch until the cement sets. Smooth the surface with a trowel and water. Some cements need to be kept moist for a specified period of time while they cure; see the manufacturer’s instructions for details.

When you have patched all holes and cracks, waterproof the surface with masonry coating. Then prepare the surface for plastering or painting.