Winter Weather can cause Pool Damage

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It seems lately that the winters have been getting worse and worse every year.  Here in the northeast winter’s been starting in November and sticks around till sometime in April.  At it’s height we have been experiencing cold, colder and coldest temperatures (-32° being coldest.  Brrrrr!!) accompanied by what seems snowfall after snowfall.  The big problem here is that these conditions through December, January and February have been relentless with no periods of thawing and snow accumulation after accumulation.

What does this all mean for our pools?  Damage.  Hopefully minor but with these long harsh winters there is more potential for greater structural damage.

Let me first examine the inground pool structure.  In this area of Saratoga Springs in upstate New York we mostly have vinyl liner pools as opposed to gunite pools.  Vinyl liner pools are generally made up of 42″ steel panels which compose the wall all the way around the inside perimeter of the pool.  Some are made of polymer or plastic which are not as good or not as strong in this environment no matter what anyone tells you.  The bottom portion of the pool which consists of the floor and the slopes down to the floor are either troweled concrete, vermiculite and in some older cases sand.  The steel and floor are covered by a vinyl liner which holds the water.

Water is one of the most important structural elements in all pools.  For ingounds it is what holds the pool in place year after year and keeps the ground water at bay.  The water is what equalizes all of the weight from the earth around the outside of the pool.  Without water in the pool the floor would implode at some point and the pool wall might shift or even fail in extreme cases.  It is absolutely imperative that there is always water in the pool.  Going back to the liner, the liner is what holds the water in the pool.  Let me say that again.  THE LINER IS WHAT HOLDS THE WATER.

During the winter months pools freeze.  That is, the water in the pool freezes.  These last few winters we’ve had in the northeast it is likely that nearly 70% of the water has frozen in our inground pools.  Freezing water and extremely cold temperatures can wreak havoc on the vinyl liners causing them to tear and crack and break in all sorts of ways.  This in turn releases the pool water and drains pools of that precious water which holds them together.

What happens when a winterized pool loses its water during the winter?  The first thing you may notice is that the cover has literally fallen in to the pool.  Cover springs may break and the cover may tear under the weight of snow, falling into a dry pool.  You may notice tears in the liner at this point and it really looks like a mess.  We get calls in the winter asking what if anything can be done about this; the answer is not too much.  Generally you’d have to wait till the snow melts, access the damage and get on the schedule for having the liner professionally replaced.  There just isn’t much you can do during the ice and cold to save an inground pool from ruin once it has started.  Hopefully you are not in an area where high water table problems exist; if you are in such an area you may need to replace the pool bottom as well as having a new liner installed. Optimally, to mitigate pool bottom damages, you would want to try to keep the hopper (the lowest part of the deep end, usually a square pad) full of water if you can till the liner can get replaced.

Above ground pools are even more susceptible to winter damage.  Much like the inground pools mentioned earlier, above ground pools are structurally stabilized by the water they contain. The difference is that in the above ground the water is of 100% absolute importance.  Without water the above ground pool will cave in, fall down or get blown over by the wind.  With harsh winters like we’ve been experiencing over the past few years these pools have been freezing completely.  This is not good as its causes ice heaving and heavy weight shifts which can bend, warp and crush pool walls causing them to come out of their track and greatly compromise the strength of the pool structure.  These ice heavals and weight shifts also destroy the liners in these pools causing ripping and tearing. If you see your above ground pool losing water like this the best thing you can do is release the cover if there is one and try to brace the structure if it loses water completely.  While we are on it, as far as covers go, we also recommend that you remove them after the leaves have fallen and right before the pool freezes this way they don’t pull the pool in on itself during the winter with all of the weight that they hold.

Long severe winters are not the best thing for swimming pools.  Besides the structural and liner problems that these winters can cause they can also cause pipes to freeze and break.  Always have your pool winterized by a qualified professional to avoid line problems and costly repairs.

To avoid major winter problems make sure that you keep your liner in good shape and stay on top of problems.  Have your water tested regularly and familiarize yourself with why certain chemicals are used and how they affect your liner and ph.  Hint: ph is on all pool water tests for a reason.  If you notice you are losing water in the summer don’t wait till the fall to get it fixed!  Get it done then.  You may need a new liner in some cases and this gives time for a proper liner change.  If your liner is more than 15 years old it may be more at risk for ripping and major ice damage.  Keep this in mind.  Remove pool covers on above grounds before they ice up.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do to prevent winter pool damage but if you take steps and pay attention to your pool when it’s talking to you, you may be able to save hundreds or thousands of dollars and get the most out of the northeast 6 month pool season.


About the Author:

I grew up around the pool. I love pools and swimming. I truly believe that swimming is one of the most important skills a child can learn. That is where it all started for me was in the pool. I have been maintaining pools since I was a young kid. I was a lifeguard for 8 years and I also instructed swimming at this time as well. In a perfect world I would be instructing swim lessons all day :) I have been working in the pool service industry for a long time and I take a lot of pride in being able to provide help and insight for pool owners in need. I also have a wealth of knowledge and experience with pool water chemistry. I enjoy business.

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