What Happens if You Ignore a Swimming Pool Leak?

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What Happens if You Ignore a Swimming Pool Leak?

Owning a home with a swimming pool is part of the Florida dream. If you are fortunate enough to be living the dream, however, trouble with your pool can turn it into a nightmare. Repairs can be expensive, which is why many Central Florida swimming pool owners may ignore conditions that indicate a leak. While regular readers of our Certified Leak Detection blog are educated about the sources and causes of specific types of pool leaks, we’re devoting this article to the long-term consequences of failing to address a pool leak of any kind.

Early Signs of a Pool Leak and Why You Might Ignore Them

Pool leaks are notorious for their stealth, gradual nature. With the busy schedule most of us have, the early signs are easy to overlook – especially during winter months, when the pool is seldom used. Loss of water is typically the first red flag. Your pool will naturally evaporate a certain amount of water, and you’ll lose some water to splash-out or to backwash waste water. But water loss that exceeds the amount you’re accustomed to indicates a possible leak. Still, there are some scenarios in which water loss may not be so obvious – in which case it isn’t a matter of ignoring a pool leak as simply being unaware of it.

Pool repair expert Swimming Pool Steve provides this relevant insight:

“A car is simple by comparison to a swimming pool in the sense that when your brakes don’t work in a car, you notice … You do not interact with a swimming pool in the same way you interact with a car. A swimming pool will give you symptoms, sometimes subtle, and they can remain this way for a very long time. This is the real tragedy in this scenario – A pool can show signs of a problem but the problem appears to not get worse. Getting specific, let’s look at the number one, holy grail of subtle swimming pool symptoms, an active leak.

“You notice one day that you seem to be adding more water to your pool than you used to. It is a gradual change, but at some point you realize that you must in fact be adding more water than you remember needing to add in previous seasons. You start to watch more closely how much water you are adding, and you come to the conclusion that you are adding more, but not a huge amount. You just adjust your schedule from adding water every two weeks, to now adding water every seven to ten days. No big deal right? This, right here, is where the mistake first starts that will one day lead to a financially devastating emergency repair. The worst part, is that in many cases it will take years before the problem escalates, and by then there is serious damage done.”

To complicate matters for owners of a concrete pool, Swimming Pool Steve notes that such pools don’t actively leak – they wick water. This causes the pool shell and ground around the pool to be damp.

“The real problem … is that concrete pools will have varying rates of water loss, much more so than vinyl liner or fiberglass pools. During wet seasons a concrete pool will not wick as much water. During dry seasons you will be adding water to the pool slightly more often. What this all adds up to is it is harder to notice when the rate of water loss in a concrete pool increases. Since that is the only warning sign that you will get, it is significant that it will be hard to notice this in a concrete pool more so than with any other type.”

The good people at Allied Foundation offer other examples of evidence of a pool leak:

  • Wet spots around the pool area.
  • Ground around the pool that is soggy, muddy or soft.
  • Uneven, warped and/or sagging decking or paving.

These conditions could indicate a plumbing leak or a crack in your pool, which allows water to seep into the foundation and/or soil around or underneath your pool.

Did You Buy a House With a Pool? Why You Need to Check for Leaks!

The older a swimming pool, the more likely it is to have a leak, or develop one in the near future. Many people buying a house with a pool may be unpleasantly surprised to learn that a home inspector won’t automatically evaluate cracks in the pool or check for leaks. Our blog post – “Buying a House With a Pool? What You Can’t Count on a Home Inspector to Do!” – covers this important topic in detail.

“The unfortunate reality is that many unscrupulous people will sell a home with a pool that has a known deficiency, and make attempts to hide this from the new pool owner,” says Swimming Pool Steve. “Again, given the long term nature of damage from leaks, many years can pass before a leak develops an unmistakable symptom of a problem. By this point the new pool owner will be left holding the bag, and paying the bill, even though the problem may have existed for ten years or more before they bought the house. Buying an old pool, especially old concrete pools which can remain in serviceable condition for 50 to 70 years or more, is the biggest area of concern.”

So why isn’t a leak detection test conducted as a matter of course when someone sells a home with a swimming pool? Good question – one answered by Lance Anderson, president of Anderson Manufacturing and industry-recognized leak detection expert.

“Many pool inspections are done by inspectors that come from the home inspection side of things, and they may not want to address leaks because they have no idea how to go about finding – or even talking about – the problem if one is detected. Some might just do a bucket test to determine whether the pool is leaking or not, but then avoid talking about location. Inspectors have different levels of expertise depending on their background.”

Experts recommend hiring an independent leak detection service to conduct a thorough inspection. Keep in mind that this will probably be a visual inspection, as the potential homebuyer and inspector do not have the right to take apart or run the equipment. If something is questionable, it is the seller’s responsibility to hire someone to further evaluate the cause of the issue and repair it if they agree to do so. The inspector also should identify the source of the leak.

The Long-term Effects of Ignoring a Pool Leak

An unaddressed leak will eventually undermine every part of your swimming pool – and perhaps even your home’s foundation.

“As water escapes your pool system it can start to accumulate in areas where it should not be,” says Swimming Pool Steve. “Chlorinated water, when allowed to escape the pool, will begin to damage metal components within the pool structure such as galvanized steel walls of vinyl liner pools, and rebar embedded within the shell of concrete pools.

“In addition to the concern of chemical damage, an even greater concern is the movement of water through the ground around the pool. Slow moving water can carve right through solid rock … if given enough time. Water traveling through the ground around your pool will strip the cement from concrete, leaving only sand and gravel behind. Over a long period of time enough cement has washed away from the concrete to reduce the strength drastically. Where once there was a lattice network of cement binder along with sand and gravel aggregate, only sandy gravel remains.”

As Allied Foundation notes, a leak in your pool’s plumbing can have a devastating effect on your home’s foundation.

“A pool’s supply and return lines are usually connected to the home and buried in the ground between the home and pool. As a result, plumbing leaks can go undetected for months or even years. If a plumbing leak is left unaddressed, and water continues to accumulate near one side of your home, your foundation may start to shift and settle in an uneven fashion. This could have a domino effect on other structural components, which may adversely impact the structural stability and integrity of your entire home.”  

There’s one additional risk that’s of particular concern here in Florida: sinkholes.

According to Leak Science, a sinkhole seems to occur suddenly, but has in fact been developing for a long time before the ground opens up – the result of water that has been steadily flowing and dissolving the rock underneath the soil. Any type of in-ground pool – concrete, vinyl or fiberglass – that is allowed to leak unabated into the foundation can eventually cause a sinkhole, although the Leak Science experts agree that this extreme outcome isn’t very likely.

Aside from damage to the pool shell and foundation, an undetected leak can damage your pool’s equipment, as well. If the water level drops too low due to a leak, your pump can suck in air and overheat. A new pump will cost around $500 for a single speed or $750 or more for a variable speed pump. That’s not including any labor charges your pool service person will add.

The Take-Home Message

Whatever their source, swimming pool leaks can take an expensive toll on the pool itself, your home’s foundation and even the stability of the ground. As you’ve learned, a leak isn’t always obvious – which is why you need to not only make sure your pool is maintained on a regular basis, but inspected for leaks from time to time.

Certified Leak Detection uses 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!

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