Consider the pool skimmer. This humble workhorse of the pool quietly does its job of filtering dirt, insects, leaves and small twigs from the water’s surface before they’re able to sink to the bottom. A residential pool may have one or two skimmers, depending upon its size and shape. Ironically, the skimmer is so efficient at working in the background that you might not suspect it’s the source of a pool leak!
Yes, pool skimmers can leak! As with any pool leak, being able to recognize the trouble signs is essential to getting a correct diagnosis and making the repair in a timely manner to prevent ongoing high water bills, greater damage and more extensive – and expensive –repairs. Fortunately, you can breathe a sigh of relief if the pool skimmer is the culprit, as most repairs are easy to do yourself.
What is a Skimmer, and Why is it Susceptible to Leaks?
As Nelson Inda – owner and president of Nelson Pool Company writes – “Skimmers are like little buckets built into the side of your pool. They hold baskets and have the same function as the handheld leaf skimmer, keeping twigs, leaves, and other debris from making their way into your pool’s filter.
“For in-ground pools, skimmers are typically rectangular-shaped and placed toward the top of the walls. Usually, the water level of the pool covers the bottom half of the skimmers. Some skimmers have doors over their front that open and close according to the water level and movement. When the pump is turned off, these doors close so that all the collected debris in the skimmer basket do not float back into the pool.
“Pool skimmers are also responsible for the circulation and filtration of water that goes in and out of your pool. They are the starting point of pool circulation and serve as a gateway to the pool’s filtration system. As the pool pump sucks water into the skimmers and water passes through the skimmer basket, the water is cleared of debris that may cause blockage in your pool’s pump or filter. Without the skimmers, it will be a lot more difficult for the filter to perform its function efficiently.”
An article by Rob Cox for In The Swim explains why pool skimmers – especially those in inground gunite pools – are susceptible to leaks. This type of pool can develop a crack where the plastic skimmer meets the concrete pool wall.
There are two ways to install a pool skimmer during pool construction. The first method is to place the skimmer into the steel frame that makes up the pool wall, and shoot gunite (or shotcrete) around the frame, encapsulating the skimmer in a dense quantity of concrete.
The second, more common method is to leave a notch in the wall where the skimmer will be installed. After the gunite is applied, the pool contractor will “peg” the skimmer to the pool wall by drilling two or three holes into the back of the pool wall, on each side of the skimmer. Rebar is then bent from one side of the skimmer around to the other, and forms are constructed around the skimmer. This is followed by hydraulic cement poured around the skimmer, rebar and back of the pool wall, to hold the skimmer to the backside of the pool wall.
However, problems with this method occur when ground movement or expansion and contraction from temperature swings eventually cause this so-called “cold joint” between the pool and skimmer to separate. The movement can allow small cracks to develop at the point where the plastic skimmer body meets the concrete pool wall. While Central Florida is spared extreme cold-to-warm fluctuations, ground movement from natural shifts or nearby construction activity is commonplace.
Other types of swimming pools can experience skimmer leaks as well, writes Davy Merino for In The Swim. Vinyl liner pools can develop leaks near the faceplate and gasket – which are the first places you should check for leaks. Rust on the skimmer faceplate or vinyl liner can indicate a leak. This needs to be addressed quickly, as rust can damage the liner and pool walls. Also, vinyl pool skimmers can leak due to a loose faceplate. We’re getting a little ahead of our section on DIY repair, but in this situation, tightening the faceplate may solve the problem. Skimmer leaks around the faceplate can also occur in fiberglass pools.
How to Tell if Your Skimmer is Leaking
Unlike other types of leaks, skimmer leaks are relatively easy to detect and repair. As our blog post – “What to Do About a Leaking Pool Skimmer” – covers, the most obvious sign is that the water level drops below the skimmer and stays there.
To locate the source of the leak, shut off the pool pump and pour a few drops of red food coloring around the skimmer. You should see the coloring flow into the skimmer. If it flows into the seams around the skimmer, the skimmer is the source of the leak. Take note of where along the seam the coloring is flowing into, as this is the area to be repaired.
For concrete pools, Cox also recommends performing a visual inspection. Lay on the deck and look upside down into the skimmer to locate the area where the plastic skimmer meets the concrete pool – usually at the point where the tile ends. This area is usually parged in with plaster. Take note of any small cracks or voids, and look for areas where small bits of debris have been sucked into them. Look on three sides – the bottom, and the left and right sides. The problem area may not be underwater, but may be at or above the water level.
How to Repair a Leaking Pool Skimmer
While we typically don’t recommend DIY pool repairs, fixing a leaking skimmer is a safe, easy task for practically anyone. If after reading these instructions you still don’t feel confident in tackling the job, call a licensed pool contractor.
- Shut off the pool pump; look at the water level and add water if needed – Make sure that the water level is one inch above the skimmer box.
- Remove the cover of the skimmer – The cover may be attached by screws, plastic handles or snaps. Disengage and remove the box.
- Apply pool putty or two-part moldable epoxy – Press the repair material into the area along the seam of the skimmer where the leak is located. There are differences between pool putty and epoxy, with experts tending to favor the latter to repair skimmer leaks. Follow packaging instructions for best results. After the repair thoroughly dries (refer to packaging for recommended drying time), turn on the pump and replace the skimmer box cover.
The Take-Home Message
If you’re able to prove that your skimmer is the cause of your pool leak, congratulations! If the skimmer doesn’t seem at fault, however, call our experienced team at Certified Leak Detection to keep a bad situation from becoming much worse.
We use technology and techniques we have developed over 20 years in business. In addition to quick detection of pool leaks, we provide industry-leading leak detection for spas and hot tubs, as well as slabs and foundations. Serving areas throughout Central Florida – including Orlando, Longwood, Lake Mary, Sanford, Kissimmee, Clermont and Winter Springs – our team is ready to answer your call. Contact us for quick, reliable service!