We bought our house with an existing pool in December of 2003. At the time we knew little to nothing about pools except how to swim in them! We also didn’t know the age or maintenance history of the pool because we bought the house from an investor who had just finished a “flip.” We found out later that the pool was built in 1970. In 1991 the pool was re-plastered, got new coping and tile, and a dedicated cleaner line was added. We believe (but aren’t certain) that the wood deck we inherited was also installed at that time. Since we moved in we have replaced all the decking and renovated the pool. We spread the project out over two years and used two different builders…one who we thought was terrible and one who was excellent.
The thing that needed attention immediately was the pool deck and patio. When we bought the house all the decking was wood that was rotting badly in places. After two years of nailing it back down as best as we could and warning visitors to be careful, we knew it needed to be replaced. Unfortunately some of the expenses we later incurred renovating the pool were higher because we replaced the deck first.
I thought we had done our homework when we selected a builder to replace the deck. Boy, was I wrong! I think I was overly impressed with the big fancy showroom and the computer graphics. Do I have “SUCKER” tattooed on my forehead? I’m not going to go into a blow-by-blow account, but the deck project was frustrating and disappointing. Our biggest concerns were communication (non-existent), time (it took three months to complete the project!), and the draw schedule (they had 90% of our money the day the project started).
About a month after the deck was finally completed we noticed we were losing water, but we thought it might be evaporation. When I saw water coming up through the mastic by the coping I knew we had a problem. Repeated calls to our builder weren’t returned. When I did speak with somebody (by going there in person) I was told that if I had anybody else repair the leak I would void the warranty on the deck. Well, gee, thanks! A warranty doesn’t do me much good if I have to add water to the pool every day. Finally after about 6 weeks of losing water and not being able to get anybody from our builder to come out and take a look or even return a phone call, we decided to cut our losses and move on.
The story does have a happy ending, because that’s how we found the builder (The Pool Man in Tomball, TX) who did our renovation this year. A leak detection test showed that we had two problems. One was a cracked return line inside the wall, and the other was both old black bottom skimmers were leaking at their gasket and needed to be replaced. We decided to cap the return line on a temporary basis and hold off on the skimmers until we were ready to do the renovation.
The Pool Man renovated and repaired our pool earlier this year. We couldn’t be happier with the results or the service! During the renovation we had the following done:
-Reconnect the return line that was capped last year.
-Replace both skimmers.
-Replace the light.
-Run a new main drain line directly to the equipment (it was plumbed to the skimmer) and install valves.
-Remove the handrail on the stairs.
-Add an overflow drain and tie it in to the existing drain line.
-Retile and resurface the pool, and install all new fittings.
-We chose Tahoe Blue Pebble Tec for the pool surface, and had them add abalone shells to the mix. Category I Pebble Tec was a $3,000 upgrade from the standard white plaster, and we could choose either Pebble Tec or Pebble Sheen for that price. Tahoe Blue was considered a Category I color by our builder.
We learned a lot from our experiences, both good and bad. Renovating poses a different set of issues and challenges than a new build. Here are some of my thoughts for anybody who’s considering a renovation on an older pool:
-Choose your builder carefully! DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Remember, bigger, fancier, and more expensive can be better, or it can mean you’re just a little fish in a big pond. Ultimately I think our biggest problem with the first company was that they were doing a lot of high-end new builds, and we weren’t high enough on the food chain. Make sure your builder has a lot of experience with renovation and repair, and is interested in a smaller less expensive job. I would be leery of salespeople who only do sales and have little knowledge of pool construction and operation. Finally, make sure you’re comfortable with the payment schedule. During the deck project we had very little leverage because the builder had 90% of our money the day work started. I would never again agree to that kind of a payment schedule for ANY construction project.
-If someone suggests encasing everything in concrete without a leak detection test, you should run as fast as you can! We missed a perfect opportunity to replace old plumbing when all the decking was wood. The Pool Man was shocked that the folks who built our deck didn’t suggest a leak test before we went ahead with the project. We learned a hard and expensive lesson. It was a sad day when they had to cut through my 2 month old multi-thousand dollar deck to cap a cracked return line. Doing things “backwards” also cost us during the pool renovation, because the deck had to be cut in three places to reattach the return line and install new skimmers. I was home watching when they were working on the skimmers, and it seemed like a HUGE job that would have been easier before the deck was put in.
-Drainage matters! Don’t try to cut costs or corners in this area, especially if you live in an area that’s prone to very heavy rains. We found that the overflow line was the straw that broke the camel’s back! The overflow pipe was tied into a drain that ran to a pop-up on the side of the house. During one of our “monsoons” this spring, there was so much water the drain couldn’t take any more and it backed up…all the way into the house! Needless to say, that drain now runs to the street!
-When you find a builder you trust, listen to them! A couple of the things we did were suggested by the owner of the Pool Man, and have made a positive difference in the operation of the pool. The re-plumbing of the main drain is an example. Originally the main drain was plumbed into a skimmer. It really wasn’t working, and the only way to vacuum the pool was to try to block off the port with a tennis ball. Running a new line to the equipment and installing valves has improved the circulation and cleanliness of the pool, and it didn’t cost very much to add it during the renovation.
-Pebble Tec is an awesome product! It seems like it’s not as popular here as it is in other places, but we’re very happy we chose it. Pebble Tec isn’t cheap, but it’s a beautiful, durable finish that’s installed with very tight quality controls. Even though we paid more than we would have for white plaster, we love the look and feel of the pool, and it was a good way to really change the look of our pool without breaking the bank. A benefit of the Pebble Tec is we have a lot of messy oak trees on our property, and the pebble surface is much more forgiving of tree “gunk” than our old white plaster.
We chose Tahoe Blue and added abalone shells so the bottom sparkles in direct sunlight. One caution if you live in a very hot climate…dark bottoms do make your water warmer than white plaster. I had originally wanted to go darker, but I was worried we would be swimming in a bathtub by July. The surface IS warmer than white plaster. Right now our pool is about 4-5 degrees warmer than our friends’ and neighbors’ pools. If you’re considering Pebble Tec you might want to talk to people in your area who have it and see what their experiences are.
We’re very happy with our “new” pool. I hope some of our experiences will help those of you who have older pools that need to be updated or repaired. Here's a link to the pictures of our project:
http://home-and-garden.webshots.com/pho ... 5838LItfCe