By Dave Hutchison
Sometimes, homeowners suspect (or even know) their pool is leaking prior to closing it for the season, but in many cases, they wait until spring to confirm it. Some pool owners think the leak will fix itself, and sometimes it does—temporarily. This rarely happens though. In fact, it usually becomes worse before they decide to take action, whether doing something themselves, or hiring a professional.
Before the pool owner panics, there are some things they can do on their own, while other things they cannot. It all depends on their abilities and the time and effort they are willing to invest. Further, the seriousness of the problem also plays a factor in how long the homeowner can wait before an experienced professional arrives on scene to provide the appropriate diagnosis and means for repair for the circumstances.
Depending on severity, repairing a pool leak will vary by cost and effort as each possible resolution is considered. However, before anything can be fixed, the first task at hand—and one of the most important—is to establish whether a leak is actually occurring and, if so, where it is located.
There are generally three primary reasons for water loss: evaporation, liner rips or shell cracks, as well as bad seals around lights and other fittings, and the pump’s supply and return system. Liners and plumbing are typically the two primary problem areas.
Some preliminary steps can be taken if the source of the leak is not obvious. For example, bubbles can be seen in the pump’s viewing port or from a jet stream into the pool. Also, the presence of any unexplained water seen in and around a careful examination of the general equipment area.
One easy leak determination test involves placing a strip of electrical tape on the pool wall to mark the current water level and then monitoring it to see how much water is being lost. Over the course of a 24-hour period, it is typical to see the water level drop approximately 6 mm (0.25 in.) below the tape mark in an uncovered pool due to evaporation in hot, dry weather.
An alternative, more accurate method that eliminates the variable of evaporation is the bucket test. This involves filling a bucket with water and placing it inside the pool area, on the steps or left floating, for example. Any noticeable mismatch that eventually occurs between the two water levels is confirmation of a leak. This procedure can also be repeated with the pump on and off to further isolate where the leak might exist. If water loss is noticeable only when the pump is operating, then the pool liner/shell can potentially be ruled out as the source of the leak.
While mathematical calculations can be performed to determine just how much water is lost, and consequently how large a leak may be, it is rather irrelevant. The point is to establish if a leak really exists and that it is not simply evaporative water loss, and whether the cause of a leak is the liner/shell or the pump system.