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Thread: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

  1. Back To Top    #1

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    Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    It's a long story, but my MIL allowed her 40,000 gallon inground pool to go native. We received control of things in October and started talking with a local pool company in our area on how to fix things, but unfortunately did not receive permission to hire them until after they closed for the year. I really like the guy and he seems like a good person, and we'll be talking with them as soon as they open again for the season, but in the meantime we'd like to know if there is anything we can do to get a jump start on things so it doesn't become mosquito central when the weather breaks. We're finally getting caught up on everything else and can start to think about other things like the pool.

    The guy who came out and saw the pool was in shock. I'm honestly surprised he even agreed to talk with us about. He said that in 20 some years of doing pool care it's the absolute worst he's ever seen. The automatic cover is broken so all the leaves from the wooded property are in the bottom of the pool now. There is probably sediment run off from uphill as well. When he came to see it there was some kind of decent sized dead animal floating in the water, and I had also spotted a drowned mole prior to that.

    He would not touch the water until he sent it out for bacterial testing, and we were told it would take 18-20 CASES of chlorine (the way he was acting leads me to believe this is an insane amount?) to even start the process, and that what we were looking at was getting a winter cover, and sealing it off to stew for a year to break down the leaves and who knows what else at the bottom before it would be safe again. He said that the testing company had called to confirm with him that the sample was real, because it was so completely disgusting!

    We are not really wanting to use it for swimming anytime soon. We're looking at closing it for several years if possible.

    She apparently hired a different company to come and open the pool in June and we assume that the water was safe then, but we have no proof of what they may have done.

    Three years ago she had let this same thing happen when the cover broke - though not to this extent - and my husband and I drained it completely, got all the sediment and leaves out, and got it sparkling and useable again. However, due to the state of the liner and the hydrostatic pressure we witnessed when it was empty, we cannot safely get away with this a second time.

    Neither of us have real pool experience. I just went by online guides and was very careful about chlorine levels and water chemistry when we got it running for a couple of months three years ago.

    We also can't find a winter cover to buy until the local pool places open again (ordering online is not an option unless they will take a personal check by mail) so the pool remains open to the elements.

    Any advice? Or do we just need to hang tight until warm weather when the professionals are available?

  2. Back To Top    #2
    Richard320's Avatar
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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    Welcome!

    I think the pool guy was underestimating the amount of bleach you'll need.

    A leaf grabber will get the compost out of the bottom.

    When the worst of it is gone, you can then use a conventional vacuum and hopefully, you have a multiport valve that will allow you to vacuum to waste. As long as you leave a foot of water in the shallow end, you should be okay.

    You'll also need a proper test kit to do it right. My advice: order a TF!00 with the XL option and the speedstir.

    Rather than copy-n-paste a bunch of links, I suggest you look through some of my saved links in this thread.

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  3. Back To Top    #3
    Swampwoman's Avatar
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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    The advice any of us might offer depends on your situation and goals.
    Is MIL living alone on the property? Or do you live there now? Eg. Are you able to maintain it if you recover it?
    Is it a liner pool? And how high is the water table (eg is there a sump underneath the pool?) is all the equipment functional? How old is the liner...is it due for a change?

    I have recovered a pool in that condition, literally, and IMHO if you can't drain the water you will need to sanitize the water for health reasons as you suggest. You will need less chlorine in cold weather, when things don't grow, than in warm weather. But to reduce the amount of chlorine needed, you absolutely need to get all the organics out. To safely work on it to do so, I'd personally give it a wallop of chlorine before starting.

    So if you were to start down that path, we'd send you over to pool school to read up on the slam process, ask you to post the specs about the pool, and acquire a TF test kit, because to successfully control the process you need to be able to test levels and do so with a drop kit that can read super high levels of chlorine.

    Another option would be to use a trash pump simultaneous to the addition of new water with a large plastic sheet between the old water and new water. But again, debris removal of the leaf bulk first would make sense.

    This pool likely has experienced the "ammonia" phenom where cya coverts to ammonia. To break down the ammonia requires multitudes more chlorine until you will be able to get the chlorine to hold (think its a factor of 8). It will not be like a "normal" slam, but I can attest that it works. However, the other factors might indicate that its easier and cheaper to do the water changeover/trash pump process, which I didn't know fully about when I did mine. (Also, mine was on well water with heavy iron and could not be softened quickly enough to have made this approach work...and the iron is its own little devil of a problem...)

    So, with those considerations, let us know what route you want to go. If you really don't care about preserving the integrity of the pool, you could empty it, clean it up purchase a "deckover" system, and hope for the best a few years down the line if you wanted to turn it into a functional pool again, which would require a new liner, resurfacing vermiculite, etc.

    It there is no one available to monitor the pool for a few minutes every couple of days, you'll just find yourself erpetually in this situation, I'm afraid (Ask me how I know....have an 85 yr old aunt who lives too far away who has in essence, done the same thing repeatedly...)
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    Divin Dave's Avatar
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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    Yup. What the others said.
    you are going to have to get the bottom cleared up, then hit it with a LOT of chlorine. Either 8.25% Bleach (the cheapest you can find), or Liquid Pool Shock, which usually has a higher percentage of Sodium Chlorite (a.k.a. chlorine) in it.

    And you are going to need the TF100 XL test kit. There will be a lot of water testing to do multiple times a day.

    Im with Richard, I would expect it will take more than 20 cases of 4 to get it cleaned up.

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  5. Back To Top    #5

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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    If water is not expensive in your area, then doing at least a partial drain/refill after you removed junk from the bottom of the pool will save on the amount of chlorine needed to clear up the remaining water.
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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    Is the pool concrete, fiberglass or vinyl liner?

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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?





    That's how full the pool is with leaves. It's 10 feet (?) on the deep end and 3 feet on the shallow end, and the leaves are filling it to within a couple feet of the top.


    The goal is to stabilize the pool with the intention of not wasting more money in the process. I'd like to get the water where it isn't going to harbor mosquitoes and critters, cover it over with a proper winter cover, and then keep it winterized year-round for a two or three years while we wait and see what happens with the house. We do not want to spend a fortune trying to maintain this thing, but we are around daily now to do upkeep.

    I am positive that at this point the pool would cave in on itself if we tried to empty it again. There was a three foot high bubble coming through the bottom of the deep end when we emptied it three years ago. It's not something that we would ever risk doing again ourselves.

    It has a vinyl liner. What's under that I have no idea. It's bumply to the touch on the bottom, that's all I know!

    We're not even sure if it's worth trying to salvage, but my MIL poured the cost of an entire house into that thing in the last 10 years, and it makes me physically ill to think about wasting it all by filling it in. The pool was put in in 2004, and the lining is now shot. They should have put a sump in but they didn't, and the hydrostatic pressure is so severe that the deep end has large bubbles on the bottom. The entire yard is clay, and it's at the bottom of a huge hill so all the drainage comes right down to where the pool was dug. (Yeah, the more I type, the more I'm seeing that filling it in may be the right choice....) We also think that the company that put the pool in busted all the drain lines running from the house, which has caused damage to the basement! She's gone through three pumps/filters and the current one is broke. Two heaters. The deck has been completely replaced, as has all of the concrete around the pool. She's also on her second automatic cover and it's currently broke.

    I think we are also going to talk with a realtor and see how much value the pool actually adds to the property. If it's going to cost more to fix than it actually gives back, then that may be the answer. But we also have to figure out how much it will cost to stabilize it, so we can make an informed decision.

    We are also limited to only using personal checks to purchase supplies. It's archaic, I know, but it's due to an accounting system that we have to follow, and we have no other choice. The TFKits would be really nice, but it doesn't look like they allow for old fashioned mail order?

    And can anything even be done in winter when the pool is frozen over? What temperature would the water have to be to start using chlorine?

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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    The more we're talking through this (both to you all and with each other) it looks like our options are to either cut her losses and fill it in, or have a company come in and re-line the pool, repair/replace the cover and filter, and then start fresh - which will take care of the debris problem at the same time. I've been looking at this long-term, when in reality there is no long term and no real value to a pool, is there? She originally got the pool for her grandkids, and if we are able to get it running again they can still enjoy it.

    Out of curiosity, if the pool is re-lined, is it possible to adjust the depth of the pool at the same time without much extra costs/effort? The shallow end is so shallow that it's not enjoyable! It was great when the kids were little, but now that they're taller they don't like it as much.

  9. Back To Top    #9
    JasonLion's Avatar
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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    I am fairly sure that TFTestKits will take checks, you just need to e-mail them in advance to confirm and make arraignments.

    It is certainly possible to rescue the pool. It may be a fair bit of work though. If you are going to be replacing the liner anyway, you will want to drain the pool, shovel/rake out all of the debris, and then have a new liner installed. If you want to rescue the existing liner you need to get all of the debris out with leaf rakes and vacuuming. Only after the debris is out do you want to start trying to sanitize the water.

    The fact that the water is even partially transparent is a good sign.

    Nearly all of the problems you mentioned can be avoided by doing some learning and spending regular time maintaining the pool. If that isn't going to be possible, filling it in starts to be a more attractive option.

    If the existing liner is good, and you are able to do the labor yourself, rescuing the pool won't be all that expensive, likely under $500. If the liner needs to be replaced you are looking at something closer to $5K (varies a bit by region). Most places, filling in the pool will be at least a few thousands dollars.
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    Patrick_B's Avatar
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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    You might really enjoy it with the kids, and that's hard to put a value on. Up to you, but I would try and save it. Some work, but no much money and you might be able to leave the liner. Once right, keeping one up is really not that hard at all. And it isn't very expensive either. Lot's of good times to be had in a pool.
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    Swampwoman's Avatar
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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    Just throwing this out there...if you clean it up, instead of spending money on a new liner or spending money to fill it in, why not invest in a salt-water-generator to keep chlorine level high when absent...can you get there at least once a week to test/check/control the ph?
    Someone, some day, will enjoy that pool

    If so, just so you know, you CAN get that cleaned up with simple elbow grease and chlorine. This was mine:
    image.jpg
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    Divin Dave's Avatar
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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    If you can get the pool back to a maintainable level, its really easy AND INexpensive to maintain if you know how. We can certainly help with that. Start learing pool maintenance by reading Pool School by clicking the big button at the top of the page.

    As for cleaning it up. We can certainly help with that too. Clean out the leaves and SLAM it hard. Will take a lot of chlorine but absolutely do-able.
    As for keeping it sanitary and pest free for a few years while covered and closed, well that is much more difficult. I actually would not recommend doing that. it wil be easier just to keep it open. (and enjoy it! It is really nice having a sparkly clean pool in the back yard!)

    If you are anywhere near handy, replacing the pump and perhaps adding as an option, a Saltwater Chlorine Generator (SWG), are fairly easy DIY projects.
    The broken auto cover I would refer you to a pool repair guy. Dont know much about them myself. Maybe someone else can chime in on that one.

    If the liner has never been replaced since the pool was built, in 2004, I would consider going ahead and replacing it. Especially since the pool hasnt been properly maintained.

    The life expectancy of even a maintained liner, normally isnt much more than 10 or 12 years. However if it doesnt leak, which it doesn't seem to be, then its worth considering stretching a couple or 3 more years out of it. And DO NOT Drain the pool if you want to try and keep the liner for a while longer.

    The bottom, under the liner, is most liely vermiculite/ poolkrete, which is a portland cement and sand mixture very commonly used on vinyl liner pool bottoms.

    If it were me, I would definitely try to save the pool. If you are up to doing some of the work yourself, such as cleaning out the leaves and installing a pump, then I dont think it will cost much more to save it with a new liner, than to fill it in. If you fill it, then there will be a lot of lanscaping repair to do too from the dump trucks and dirt moving machines.
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    Swampwoman's Avatar
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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    Good morning. I've been thinking some more about the specifics you shared.

    That pool I posted pctures of (now mine) has similar hydro-geological challenges. Its at the bottom of a terraced hill, French drains on the property, etc. given your conditions, I fear that a new liner will not stop it from floating. Only water management will stop it from floating

    If you DON'T fill it in, you or the next property owner may wish instead to do a water-jet assessment of the existing French drains to locate the damage area. That's typically less expensive than spending serious money on the pool, especially if you have a friend with a bobcat I think the going rate for jet assessments is around $500.

    Once the French drains are fixed, you may find that the liner no longer floats because the storm water now has somewhere to go.

    I do have a friend with a liner that floats in a heavy clay yard and truthfully, as long as it doesn't leak, in his case he still finds the pool viable and enjoyable. If you don't intend to keep the property, I wouldn't change the liner. You're not doing the next owner any favors if changing the liner doesnt involve coreecting the drainage.

    If you were going to keep the property and change the liner, that's the time to dig down, create a sump in the deep end, and connect that to the pump so it can be pumped off any time the water level raises, and install a well monitor to assess the height. At that point, you're into reconstruction dollars and might as well deepen the shallow end....

    Another tidbit....you can't tell from the pics, but another water management solution here was at the edge of the concrete to have another drain system, just a foot wide, covered by decorative landscape stone, that also directs water away from the pool and connects to the French drain system. I suspect that also helps, as we've never had any bubble of floating issues despite the extremely challenging location.

    Even though it was a foreclosure, we tracked down the prior owners who built the pool to sleuth out some of the scarier aspects of this property. We found out that all but one pool company said putting the pool there was impossible. Fortunately for us, the contractor who DID agree to put the pool there had a good water management head on his shoulders
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  14. Back To Top    #14
    n240sxguy's Avatar
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    Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    Did the liner float when the pool was emptied or while it was full of water?

    A note about the pool adding value to the property- I wouldn't factor that into your decision. When we bought our house in July, the appraisal included several houses without pools to value our house. They only added $5k to the houses without a pool. If your family can use it and enjoy it, then that's what you will have to base your decision on. I second the SWG notion.

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    Mod Squad kimkats's Avatar
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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    This will be interesting to watch.

    Look at Swamp's pool thread. It CAN be done!

    We can help you. Just ask us.

    The check thing can be overcome. Most people will allow you to send them a check in the mail or you can even use a money order.

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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    This will be interesting to watch! Hope you try and rescue!

    Pauline T.

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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    OH MY GOSH THE DRAINAGE ISSUE!!!

    I never put two and two together, because we just discovered the water problems in the basement when we got access to the house again in October. We had a company come in, and they think that the drains are broken or blocked. My husband figured that the company who put the pool in cut through them without rerouting them, or crushed them with the heavy equipment. I never thought about where the water was then going - straight into the clay hole under the swimming pool.

    THANK YOU! That makes an insane amount of sense.

    So, I think what we're going to do is find some way to prevent the mosquito outbreak when the weather breaks. We already know that we have to wait for the spring thaw before the drainage issue from the house can be assessed. Once that's done and we know if that is the underlying problem with the water under the pool, we'll go forward with either replacing the entire liner and doing a full repair to the pool so it can be enjoyed, or removing the debris and maintaining it to where it's not a health hazard anymore because I honestly feel the liner is in too rough a shape to use anymore. If it was up to only us we would do a full repair since we can be there daily to maintain it and it wouldn't be allowed to slide into disrepair again, but we'll have to see if we can get permission to go that route. We'll start looking into estimates now as we have to know the total amount of what the project would cost before we can ask to go through with it. We'll actually be past the one of the better pool places today, and they are only open on Fridays in the off season....

    To answer your question n240sxguy, there was about a three foot high bubble of fluid under the liner when it was emptied three years ago, and according to my husband who was able to dive down and check it once I had the pool safe to swim in again, it was still bubbled, but we weren't sure how badly. That was three years ago. No one has been in the pool since, and obviously we can't see or reach the bottom to see if that's become worse.

    Thank you all! I'm glad I found this forum. It's answered many questions and brought up things we hadn't thought of. Waiting for April is going to be hard! I want to get this started now! I will be back to update as we learn more about the drainage situation and find out what we're authorized to have done.

  18. Back To Top    #18

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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    When we bought our house, we faced nearly the same swamp conditions. Since we wouldn't be able to occupy the property full time for quite a while, we hired a local pool company to remove the frogs, snakes, leaves, lawn chairs, and gawd knows what else. They drained the pool, took 26 large trash bags full of solids out, pressure washed, and refilled with fresh water. It probably cost $200 in water to refill. Their charge to perform this service was less than $500 and that included restoring operable chemistry levels.

    So..... that is a long way of suggesting that while dumping amazing quantities of chlorine into the water will eventually reclaim the pool.... it may just not be economically feasible to do so. Every pool owner will have to run their own numbers to see what works for them. A dump and refill might be cheaper and easier.

  19. Back To Top    #19
    n240sxguy's Avatar
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    Re: Anything we can do to salvage a cesspool in winter?

    To answer your question n240sxguy, there was about a three foot high bubble of fluid under the liner when it was emptied three years ago, and according to my husband who was able to dive down and check it once I had the pool safe to swim in again, it was still bubbled, but we weren't sure how badly. That was three years ago. No one has been in the pool since, and obviously we can't see or reach the bottom to see if that's become worse.


    Make sure you never ever do that again. You aren't supposed to empty a liner pool completely. The bright side is you don't have to kick yourself too much because there was a bigger problem with the drainage. Your mistake actually helped you figure out where the water was going. It amazes me how many "professionals" don't realize their work has to play nice with the rest of the household.


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