Vinyl Liner Pool Renovation
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A vinyl liner pool renovation for an inground pool usually involves more than just installing a new liner. Most of the time the pool will require additional repairs before you can (should) install a new liner. Many items, like steps, skimmers, leaks, coping and decks should all be inspected, tested and verified to be in decent condition before you ever consider installing a new liner. Many pool owners find out the hard way that not all liner installers are as thorough when it comes to inspecting the pool...many just give you exactly what you ask for - a price to have a new liner installed. This is very shortsighted from these installers and pool owners are often the ones left holding the bag.
If a fault with a major component like the skimmer, or in-wall steps, develops after a new liner has been installed, you can not always deal with the problem without replacing the liner again. Can you imagine how unhappy a pool owner with a one year old liner would be to hear that they need a new skimmer installed and this will very likely require a new liner to be installed also. Or what if the new liner is good, but the coping track that holds the liner in place fails after only a short period of time? Even though the liner is good, without a track to hold it in place the whole inground pool system does not work.
Depending on what type of coping you have you may get lucky and a skilled hand can make repairs to hold the coping in place without damaging the liner...not all pool owners are so lucky. Especially in the event of a deck integrated coping failure there would be no recourse other than to completely renovate the pool, which would usually include a new deck, coping system and liner...again.
This article looks at the process of a total vinyl liner pool renovation that includes deck-integrated coping. Deck integrated coping, also called bullnose coping, is a very popular coping style for vinyl pools where the pool deck (concrete) is poured right into the coping itself. This helps to hold the coping securely in place as well as allowing you some versatility in setting the finished deck elevation for your pool. The downside to this coping style, and it is a big one, is that once it fails you will need to remove and replace the concrete deck in order to replace it. If you have this style of coping be sure to have it inspected closely before you install a new liner in your pool. If you require a complete renovation including the removal and replacement of the concrete deck, deck integrated coping, and a new liner, then this article will be helpful at showing you an overview of the process in chronological order.
Deck, Coping & Liner Replacement
If you need a total renovation of your inground vinyl liner pool then the process that you want to use is to remove the deck, as well as the original coping, as the first steps of this process. Often people will get overzealous with the demolition stage and also remove the liner from the pool. For most pools this might be OK, but there are certainly some pools that you would not want to do this with. The concern is that the weight of the water inside the pool is important in the structural integrity of a vinyl liner pool. Leaving a vinyl pool empty for extended periods of time can result in damage to the floor and slopes, and potentially a complete failure of the bottom of your pool.
Mortar floor pools are the strongest and most resistant to damage while empty, however the floor is not structurally thick concrete - it is usually little better than a skim coat of an inch or two at most. This is not thick enough to prevent cracking or failure over time, but usually enough to keep the pool in good condition while you complete the renovation. Still I prefer to leave the water, and liner, in the pool until I am ready to begin working on that stage of the project.
A vermiculite concrete floor is weaker than mortar (grout) concrete depending on how the pool was built, and a vermiculite two stage bottom can delaminate if you leave the floor open to the elements for too long. The worst pool to leave empty, by far, is a sand bottom pool. A sand bottom pool is the most budget friendly floor option for inground vinyl pools however sand floors have a lot of shortcomings.
First, it is very hard to make a sand bottom pool look good. Even if you carefully trowel the floor and install the liner completely from the outside of the pool (without getting in the pool) you can avoid footprints, but the floor will never look "good". The tiniest variation in a floor under a vinyl liner can be seen from outer space. Something the size of a pea would literally look like a baseball under a liner, so the inconsistencies in a sand bottom floor leave a lot to be desire visually. Sand bottom pools can also become damaged just from people jumping in the shallow end even after the pool is filled and running. It is not hard to leave a divot from your heal in the floor of a sand bottom pool. Finally, sand bottom pools are extremely poor at holding their shape and contours once you drain the water. Without the water holding the sand in place the sand will begin to dry out and crumble. Leave a sand bottom pool empty long enough, or during even one heavy rain storm, and you could very well find all of the slopes of your pool washed out and sitting on the floor of the deep end!
A new grout floor would be in the range of $2500 to $4000 depending on where you are located and the size of your pool. For many pool owners this is just too much cost to take on. Either way, if you have a sand bottom pool then you absolutely must leave the old liner in the pool and leave the pool filled with water until the very end of the renovation. Yes the water will turn green, but regular dosing with chlorine and manually brushing the pool to agitate the water will help to keep the water from turning too bad during the course of the renovation. If you remove the liner from a sand bottom pool in advance of when you are ready to replace it then you can count on needing to do extra floor work, if not ending up needing to regrade the entire floor and slopes. I prefer to keep liners in my pools while I renovate them even for concrete floor pools - but with sand bottom it is an absolute must!
Installing New Vinyl Pool Coping
Once the deck and coping have been jackhammered and removed from the pool area you can start looking at the process of installing new coping and grading around the pool in anticipation of the new deck. The type of coping that you choose will determine the final height of the deck around your pool. This is an extremely important factor since if you make a mistake on elevation you could really have a problem on your hands. The skimmer in the pool is permanently set in the wall and the height of this can not be adjusted. Since the pool needs to run with the water level half way up the mouth of the skimmer, this really only gives you an inch or two in either direction, at most, for your water level to change. Keep this in mind when you are selecting your replacement coping.
In this renovation the existing deck-integrated bullnose coping is being replaced with the new version of deck integrated coping. The face profile is straight instead of rounded like the older bullnose style, but the concept is the same in that the new concrete deck will get poured up to and into the backside of the coping. This provides both a clean and finished detail as well as providing ample strength for the coping to hold the liner. It is very important to not skimp on fastening hardware (self tapping tech screws) as these must hold for the life of the coping. For the cost of a couple extra handfuls of tech screws be sure that you use enough. I see installers use them every 18" to 24" or more, however I use tech screws every 6" to 8" on all coping installations. I also put two screws at the end of each piece of coping as this is where the coping is weakest. In addition to multiple screws at the ends of the pieces, there are also clip connectors which you need to use that both support the coping as well as making sure that the different pieces line up perfectly. I like to use the support braces every two feet or so around the perimeter of the pool.
Installation Of New Deck Forms
On this pool installation the size of the deck around the pool was made a little bit larger. The process of forming a pool deck for a concrete pour is very simple as far as concrete forms go - nothing like building a foundation form, or commercial concrete forms. All you need to be careful of is that your forms are straight, and that you have the elevation of the forms set correctly around the pool. It is extremely important that your pool deck slopes away from the pool. This means that any rain or debris on the pool deck will flow away from the pool as opposed to flowing into the pool and contaminating your water balance. A "standard" pool deck is 36" in width. A "standard" slope for pool decks os 1/8" of fall for every linear foot. If you have a three foot wide pool deck this would be 3/8" of difference between the deck height at the coping and the outside edge of the deck. A four foot deck would have approximately 1/2" of slope from one side to the other. Be sure that you set the outside forms lower than the height of the coping, and not the opposite of this!
You only need minimal support on pool deck forms since the pour is usually pretty small and easily controlled. Just be sure to back brace your forms to make sure they are solid and will now bow or move under the weight of the concrete. Usually I like to install a string line down the finished edge of the forms and use this as a visual guide to make sure that the finished edge will be straight and true. Use wood cut into wedge shapes to wedge the forms up, down, left or right as needed to get them straight down the line.
Pouring A New Concrete Pool Deck
Once you have the coping installed you now know the exact finished elevation that the pool deck needs to be. A concrete pool deck needs to be four inches thick, but some companies get away with as little as 3.5". I prefer to pour with 4" as the minimum, and I use a modified 32 mPa ready mix concrete as well as reinforcing wire in the concrete. For concrete pool renovations 10mm rebar is the minimum that I use, but for a vinyl pool deck I am happy with the smaller and more affordable mesh wire for reinforcement.
It is very important that you prepare the grade of the ground that you are going to pour concrete on such that it is uniformly the same height, as well as installing gravel or a similar aggregate over dirt and sand. Dirt and sand will readily pull (or add) moisture to the concrete that you pour and so it is a better idea to provide a base of gravel to pour your concrete over. Another very important aspect of pouring a concrete pool deck on a vinyl pool is that the vinyl pool walls have a six inch wide ledge on top. It is very important that when you place the concrete that you make sure there is not a void left under this ledge. You need to make sure the concrete is placed under this ledge to prevent the concrete from being too thin near the coping.
Pouring a concrete pool deck is about as easy of a large concrete project as you can get. Large and open expanses of concrete are much harder to trowel flat than a pool deck where you can draw a screed along the top of the coping and the top of the forms at the same time. This guarantees that your concrete is flat even if you do not have the most skilled eye and hand for concrete finishing.
A concrete pool deck should not be slippery. In modern days of construction, stamped concrete and decorative concrete finishes are all the rage, however these are very often too slippery to be safe around a pool. Yes it is possible to add silica sand to your sealer which will result in some greater tack and traction on the surface...however there is no replacement for the tried and true broomed concrete finish. Broomed concrete is very easy to do, very forgiving, and makes a uniformly slip resistant deck surface that should last for the lifetime of the deck.
The process is to place the concrete with shovels and rakes, followed by a magnesium (mag) trowel which gets the concrete flat and consolidated without raising too much water to the surface. A quick pass with a steel trowel will get the surface close to perfect but even if it is still needing a touch up, the concrete is usually left to set up slightly at this stage. Once the sheen from the water on the surface of the concrete changes to a slight haze, this indicates that the concrete is ready for any final troweling with a steel float for a perfect cosmetic finish without holes or imperfections. A concrete broom (or any broom potentially) is then used to draw lines in the still fresh concrete. The lines can be pulled in with slight waves or in straight lines depending on the finished look that you prefer. A broomed concrete finish like this is, and has been, the standard for how to finish a pool deck for decades.
Concrete work can get messy, especially if you do not finish concrete for a living, and so it is a very good idea to take some steps to prepare the pool area for concrete. Most specifically the new face of the coping that was installed is taped over with duct tape to prevent the concrete from overflowing and sticking to the face. This also prevents concrete from flowing into the coping track - something that would need to be tediously cleaned out before you would be able to proceed with hanging the liner. Save yourself the cleanup efforts and tape off your edges before you start pouring concrete. Just be sure to remove the duct tape as you are finishing the concrete - if you leave the tape on too long it will leave a residue on the face of the coping and potentially leave a sloppy finished detail when you peel it away.
Let your concrete set up for 48 to 72 hours before you return to strip the forms. Once the concrete reaches the initial set and turns hard, from this point onwards watering the concrete will service to help the concrete to cure faster and harder.
Installing A New Vinyl Liner
Installing a vinyl liner is a subject unto itself and something that you can read more about in this article about how to install a pool liner. I prefer to wait until the end of a renovation project before I measure and order a liner. A new liner usually only takes a week or two at most to be made, and I prefer to wait to order it just in case the pool owner has a change of heart and wants to change something about their pool. Also failures like the floor of a pool needing to be replaced could result in changes to the shape and depth of the pool such that the liner you measured and ordered before might not fit in the pool now. This is why I prefer to wait until the end of the project to measure and order - it leaves the door open to dealing with surprise repairs as well as changes from the pool owner.
A new liner only takes a few hours to install in a pool. Most of the work comes in the preparation of the pool to receive the new liner. From the time you are ready to open the box of your new liner, the pool is only a few hours at most away from looking finished. Sure it still needs to fill with water, but starting the day with the old liner in the pool and finishing the day with the new liner in the pool is very rewarding for the pool owner after a few weeks of seeing their backyard all torn apart.
Any changes to the plumbing system, pump, filter or any other equipment should all be attended to prior to installing the new liner. As soon as the pool is filled with water you want to be able to start up the system so that you can begin filtering the water as well as adding start up chemicals. It would be best to not let the pool turn green after you install a new liner so have everything ready to start up as soon as the water level reaches the mouth of the skimmer.
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Swimming Pool Steve is an award winning, second generation swimming pool and spa specialist from Ontario Canada. With over 10,000,000 views on the Swimming Pool Steve YouTube Channel, winner of the and author of hundreds of pool and spa articles both online and in print Steve is committed to helping pool and spa owners as well as pool and spa industry workers learn more about the technical side of building, renovating, repairing and maintaining all types of swimming pools and spas. Follow Swimming Pool Steve on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
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