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Top 5 Vinyl Liner Pool Problems and Solutions

By: Marcus Sheridan on February 18th, 2010

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Top 5 Vinyl Liner Pool Problems and Solutions

Fiberglass vs Concrete vs Vinyl Liner  |  Patio and Coping  |  Pool Design Guides

Vinyl Liner swimming pools make up a significant portion of the swimming pool market in the United States, with a very large majority built in the Northeastern segment of the country. Often times, when someone is considering the purchase of such a pool, they are confronted with a few important decisions regarding some potential issues and problems that come with this structure. This article will explain some of these issues as well as their corresponding remedies.

Problem 1: Ugly Steps/Benches

The main problem with vinyl liner pools comes down to their aesthetics. Many consumers complain that they look ‘cheap', and the honest answer is that this is true in most cases. This is also why much of this article will focus on ways to prevent a liner pool from looking cheap, as there are certainly steps (as well as some great vinyl pool builders in the industry) that can help alleviate this problem.

In most cases, the steps and benches of vinyl liner pools are made of white plastic which is structurally sound but the bright white typically doesn't match well with a colored liner.  To make things worse, these benches and steps also have a 3-4 inch wide 'lip' that is flush with the top of the patio making them conspicuous from all angles.....not the best thing to look at after investing big bucks into a lovely patio.

Solution: Recently, more and more builders have started using what's known as the 'vinyl over step' method where the steps and benches of the pool are integrated into the wall panel structure and covered with the vinyl liner.  Although this method is quite a bit more expensive, it brings uniformity to the color scheme of the pool and looks much, much better.

Problem 2: Ugly Coping

In the majority of liner pools, the coping consists of an aluminum C-track. The reason why this track is so commonly used is because it is easy to install and certainly easy to pour concrete up to. But the problem with it is that it makes for a white ‘rim' all the way around the pool's edge. This looks especially bad if someone is pouring any type of colored or stamped patio around their pool, as the color clash is quite noticeable and again deters from the entire look of the project.

Solution: There are two main alternatives to ugly aluminum coping on a liner pool. The first is by pouring a cantilever concrete edge. Although this technique is difficult (we've spoken about it extensively in other articles) , the aesthetic difference is night and day versus the aluminum coping. Another alternative would be a brick or paver coping (as seen in the lovely photo above). Again, this is much more expensive but certainly looks exceptional and will greatly enhance the look of the swimming pool.

Problem 3: Metal versus Polymer Walls              

Originally, all vinyl liner pool structures were made of wood. As you can imagine, this was not the best long-term solution for a pool structure in your back yard. With the average life span of wood being 10-15 years, manufacturers started producing metal walls instead, namely galvanized steel panels. These steel panels were a major upgrade from wood, much stronger, and are still used today by many manufacturers. But as we all know, metal is metal, and no matter how galvanized it is, it can oxidize over time under the ground. This is especially true with the surge in salt water pools around the world. Every vinyl liner will experience at some point a leak behind the liner itself; meaning pool water is making contact with the pool's panel structure. These leaks and drips usually start in the places the liner has been cut- return fittings, skimmers, etc are the main problem areas. And how does a metal panel react to constant exposure with salt water over time? Yep, it rusts. In fact, the panel can oxidize all the way through, which is a major, major problem and repair.

Solution: Many vinyl liner companies are now using polymer wall panels as the pool's structure. This is a very smart method of construction because these panels will not oxidize over time, and are unaffected by salt. In fact, I've seen many cases where a vinyl liner was getting replaced and the polymer panels, which were over 20 years old, looked brand new.

Problem #4: Liner Longevity

Obviously, the biggest concern most pool consumers have when considering a vinyl liner is the longevity of the liner. This is understandable because the average vinyl liner replacement cost, when one considers labor, liner, and water is typically 3-6k. The average lifespan for a vinyl liner is 8-12 years, but there are certainly cases where they will last less than 5 years or more than 15. In fact, the biggest factor that dictates the longevity of a vinyl liner in many cases is ‘luck', although certain measures can be taken to increase the longevity of the pools liner.

Solution: Although I could spend quite a bit of time discussing ways to increase the lifespan of a pool's liner, I'll just briefly mention these 3:

  1. Proper Maintenance of Water Chemistry (Ph, Alkalinity, etc)
  2. Proper Installation of the Liner by the Builder (Most people overlook this important fact)
  3. Type of Water Sanitizer (High levels of chlorine (shock) are tough on a liner, which is why salt sytems and non chlorine systems are much easier on the liner's longevity)

Problem #5:  Floating Liner

In areas with high water tables it is possible for the water pressure under the pool to actually cause the liner to float.  When this occurs the liner looks like it's actually inflated, and feels like a water bed when walking on it.  In most cases the liner is not damaged from this incident, but it normally results in wrinkles in the liner after the ground water recedes and the liner falls back into place.

Solution: 

1.  To fix the ground water issue:  Install a dewatering system around the pool that will keep the ground water around the pool to a minimum.  This will obviously keep the liner from floating again.

2.  To remove the wrinkles in the liner:  Drain the pool and re-set the liner.  But this is a slippery slope; if the ground water is still there this will turn into a big mess.  It should also be stated that liners more than 3 or 4 years old dry, shrink, and become rigid VERY QUICKLY.  So I would not recommend this process to anyone without experience working with vinyl liners.         

So those are 5 common vinyl liner problems and solutions. Hopefully these recommendations will set you on the right path if you have decided to purchase this type of pool. Also, if you'd like to read further articles comparing vinyl, concrete, and fiberglass pools, click here.

(Photo by Greg Broyer of Precision Pools in Massachusetts)

 

Questions? Comments? Please don't hesitate to leave your thoughts below.

Marcus Sheridan, PoolSchool