Avoiding Above-Ground Pool Winter Damage
Just as many people get an annual check-up from the doctor, you should perform a winter check-up on your pool. There are a couple of things to look for to head off unexpected trouble and pool winter damage.
“But I winterized it properly…”
That’s good, but things can pop up. Perhaps there is a slow leak that has allowed the water level to gradually drop. Or maybe you lowered the water level too much and now the winter cover is tighter than a drumhead. Did you stuff the skimmer with packing material or a plastic gizmo to ease pressure when water freezes and expands? I’ll discuss these three things.
In my opinion, it’s the least likely to be an issue. Generally, a liner doesn’t develop a leak on its own. Thus, once the pool is closed and not in use, there are limited ways to get a leak. The most common are crayfish or moles burrowing under the liner. When the weather warms a little, look for signs of moisture around the pool. Or, if the winter cover seems to be getting tighter at the rails, that can be a warning. Plus, if that cover gets too tight, it can damage the pool by making the frame buckle. Uprights can bend and I’ve seen walls pull in. With ice on the cover, there is no way to get the weight off. Unfortunately, the only solution is to loosen the winter cover and let the cover drop into the pool. That leads to a mess in the spring, but usually saves the pool from major damages.
What some people think is a leak, isn’t. Often, a winter cover may get a small hole in it. Then, when pumping water off, the pump draws water through the cover, slowly lowering the water level. Again, look for moist areas around the pool. If there is a thaw and you don’t see any, it’s probably not a leak. But stay alert to the pressure on the winter cover.
You lowered the water too much when you winterized.
Eastgate Pools & Spas does not recommend lowering the water level when winterizing. However, many pool owners still employ the old method of draining about one-third of the pool’s water at closing. This wastes money and chemicals and can result in extreme pressure on the cover and frame when water freezes. The cover is simply too far below the rails and stretched to a ‘V’ shape. The cover doesn’t come close to reaching the sidewall. When it snows or rains, stress is added as the cover is forced into the airspace between cover and wall.
“But there’s only a couple of inches of water on the cover.”
Water weighs 8.34 pounds per gallon. An inch of water in a 28-foot pool averages about four-hundred gallons. That’s more than a ton and a half of weight. Wow! That’s a lot and much of it is transferred to the top rail. Eventually, something has to give. Sometimes the winter cover rips out; sometimes the pool frame bends when the cover stays strong_._
Double-check your skimmer.
Too many people that lower their water drop it below the skimmer and think that is fine. They leave the skimmer open at the bottom and assume any water that somehow gets inside will drain away. This can work, but here’s a scenario when it doesn’t. Firstly, there is a heavy rain that adds several inches of water to the cover. This added weight displaces water below the cover, making the inside water level rise. Secondly, the rain is followed by a sudden cold snap. The new water freezes before you can pump it off. Water trickles into the skimmer area and slowly starts to freeze, eventually sealing the drain hole at the bottom. Finally, accumulated water in the skimmer freezes, expanding to the skimmer walls. In many cases, the skimmer cracks, resulting in the need for a new skimmer in the spring.
The uncomplicated way to avoid this issue is to stuff the skimmer with something that can absorb the freeze pressure. Use old solar cover material, bubble wrap, plastic bottles, or a screw-in device specifically designed for pool skimmers. When adding the softer materials, make sure it goes all the way to the bottom and isn’t simply floating in the skimmer. That would leave the bottom of the skimmer unprotected. Even if you use the device, add some bubble wrap, and extend it through the opening into the pool’s water zone. This prevents a potentially damaging ice shelf from forming in the skimmer opening.
If you didn’t add these at the closing, you still can, assuming the cover isn’t stretched over the skimmer. It shouldn’t be, as the cable can crack the skimmer. If your cover is stretched tight, I’d avoid loosening the cinch, though. The cover will drop. And if you get your fingers caught between the cable and the rail, you’ll be headed to the emergency room.
Most pool owners don’t experience these issues.
However, if you are in the minority, your first course of action should be to prevent damage to the pool. Nobody wants to drop a cover containing winter’s debris into the pool. But remember that it is much easier and less expensive than replacing pool walls, rails, and uprights. If you have questions or concerns, call or stop in. Unlike repair parts and components, our advice is always free.