Epic [long] saga of the stripped screw- Seeking advice to prevent future nightmares

Crimson_Order

New member
Aug 3, 2020
2
Central FL
First post, so let me start by making some friends- I hate pools, I never wanted a pool, I don't use the pool, and it's a constant drain of money and time. My family feels the same way about the pool- but they are less hostile about it. I found the perfect house 10 years ago, and the presence of a salt water 25x15 pool was the only negative, so we bought it. I see how much the previous owners paid for the thing (permit history), I feel like it would be such a waste and expense to fill it with dirt and plant some corn in it, but every broken piece of equipment brings me one step closer... I begrudgingly go in the pool once or twice a year. The rest of the family goes in about twice that.


The house was a foreclosure when I purchased it. It had sat abandoned for two or so years. The pool was in rough shape, but nothing that several thousand dollars of new equipment, hundreds of lbs of salt, and the dedicated work of my 'pool [cleaning] guy' couldn't fix in a few months. Seems like there is something constantly broken- at least one sensor or other part a year, a salt cell every other year, the automation board every three, but that is another story...

Now to the topic at hand... The pool light. Since owning the house the light hasn't worked. 10 years ago, after reading threads and watching my fair share of YouTube videos, I decided to replace the bulb. It seemed like a project, but it wasn't the moon landing, one screw and the thing floats, screw two and the housing opens, then it's as easy as changing a light bulb.

Step one, the screw.
The light is too far down for me (or any non-NBA player) to reach from the surface, so I used the last half hour of every ‘pool adventure’ time to start working on this project. There was significant scale buildup (I thought it was salt- I don’t know about pools) on most of the cover plate of the light- let's call it a solid 1/16”. I chipped away the scale over the screw area and discovered one horribly mangled screw head. There was nothing resembling a pattern remaining. I couldn’t tell if it used to be a flat head, or Philips… Just a mess. Now, how do you remove a stripped screw underwater? This step confounded me for years. I bought any gadget or gismo that promised success. Stripped screw removing bits, stripped screw removing screwdrivers, a hand drill (because the bits in the screwdriver weren’t working). Hours and hours holding my breath, feet gripping a sunken cinderblock, attempting to get the screw out with no leverage. Last week, with a hammer and screwdriver, I was able to build enough of a channel to get the screw moved out about an inch. That was enough room to get the fixture out of the way and a pair of bolt cutters in behind the face. I cut the screw, and the light floated to the top. Success. There was incredible scale buildup on the screw itself. I cut the back of the screw off, attached some locking pliers to the front of the remaining screw and with some taps of the hammer I was able to get rest out.


Step two, the other screw.

This screw was less mangled, and the head was clear of scale but past the nut it looked like a solid mass of rock. I fought with it for 10 minutes, got it unscrewed a bit, and realized that you really need to get the ring nearly all the way off to remove it. At that point I gave up and grabbed the bolt cutters again and solved that problem.



Step three, changing a light bulb.

I now had the fixture open and was able to discover a 500w 120v bulb. I pop the bulb out, pop a new bulb in. I went to the pool equipment, hit the light button, get a flash and a tripped GFCI. I hit the GFCI, same thing. I wire around the GFCI (for testing only) to the main breaker and it throws that too. There is a plate next to it that may be there to detect water, or heat, or pressure, or something… Tried to eliminate those as factors without any luck. So there is something up with the fixture, and I’ve effectively destroyed the current fixture anyway (nearly the same cost of replacing the ring I cut, new screw for the face, new gasket to seal it all up)… Fine, let’s replace the whole thing.



Step four, pulling the wire.

YouTube again lied to me… I attached some electric fence poly line I had laying around (it’s a nightmare to cut, figured it would be a great choice) to the end of the wire, wrapped it all up in electrical tape, and thought great, you just pull a bit and it comes right out. I pull on the surface and it doesn’t budge. I hop in the pool pushing my legs against the wall while pulling the wire and it doesn’t budge. I take a look at the hole… I think whoever installed this thing was receiving kickbacks from the caulk supplier. There was a gigantic mass of caulk filling the hole and culminating in a solid 3” wide conical glob coming down the wire. Another half hour with pliers, a knife, and a screwdriver and I was able to get enough off of the wire that I was able to hold the wire with one hand, step on it with the other and slowly inch the wire out of the pipe. I got down to the very end and the wire came loose from the attached poly. The good news (the only good news of this entire project thus far) is the end of the poly wire was fishable through the remaining caulk with a pair of needle nose pliers. I measured the wire I pulled through, it’s ~64’, so I am solidly in the 75’ or 100’ category.



And that’s where I am now. Now to my questions…



Question 1, what to buy?

I understand light bulbs break from time to time. For next time, I’m still in the camp of DIY- I have no problem hopping in and following the happy path: screwdriver to release the fixture. Nut driver to remove the ring. Pull it apart, change the bulb, change the gasket. Reverse the process to put everything back and celebrate another year of wonderful pool ownership. I never want to be off the happy path again. I see that they sell some lights with white thermoplastic faces instead of the stainless faces. Is this strictly cosmetic, or would the plastic face assist in some way (protect the screw, be easier on the screw, prevent scale on the screw, etc)? Also, everything seems to say freshwater only- my pool is salt. Are they fine? Do they mean nothing really salty, like ocean water?



Question 2, screw options?

Once I get the future housing out of the pool for the inevitable future service, I think I’m good. I have nightmares about this screw. Was it a one-in-a-million thing caused by years of abuse and spite that I really don’t have to worry about, or is this something more common? Is there a potential replacement option that would be better? Potentially something with a hex or square slot to prevent stripping or with a nut top.



Question 3, an ounce of prevention?

Is there something I can do when installing it to help prevent this from occurring again? Coat the surfaces that go in the niche with something?



Question 4, lube for the new install?

My pool guy said when he used to run the wires they used Dawn dish soap… coat the first few feet of the wire, start it thought the hole and it would practically shoot itself though the pipe. I read that you should be using a special lubricant for this, but didn’t see any specifics. I do have a tube of dielectric grease laying around that I used a tiny fraction of from a spark plug replacement three cars ago. Looking for what I need, or any advice on it.

Question 5, recaulk? How, what, and where?

My pool guy said that niches are the number one places that pools leak from. I know I wasn’t gentle with it, and I know I did a number to the gigantic caulk mound that was holding the wire in place and plugging the hole. Do I need to recaulk the new wire in place after I run it? Do I need to caulk around the niche, where the niche meets the pool wall? If I do need caulk, how in the world do you do it underwater? What do I use?
 

Dave_NJ

Silver Supporter
Aug 15, 2019
102
North NJ
1) Do you have a model number from the light you took out? Should be a sticker somewhere on it. I would want to make sure the new light fits inside the existing niche but 120v 500 w fixtures are fairly common. Stainless or plastic frame doesn't matter, it's just aesthetics. I wouldn't have any concerns with installing a light in a salt water pool.

2) My suspicion would be someone stripped the bejeesus out of the original screw trying to get it out. A decent light from Howard or Pentair will have a solid SS screw to prevent rust and if the niche is in decent shape you really don't have to screw it in all that hard. If there was a bunch of scale or mineral deposits built up around the threads it could have seized in place.

For reference I changed the bulb on my fixture a few weeks ago. The pool was built 21 years ago and the screw looked to be in the same condition as when it was originally installed, it came out with no issues.

3) Watching pool chemistry will prevent the screw from seizing again in the future, you could also add a thin coat of anti-seize to the threads before installing if you really wanted to.

4) Dish soap would be fine, you could also try just using water at first and if that's not working move up to soap.

5) I wouldn't bother to re-caulk the conduit but that's just me. As long as your junction box where the electrical wires tie into your timer is above the water level then you should be fine. If you really wanted to you could use some marine grade JB Weld (Amazon.com: J-B Weld 8277 WaterWeld Epoxy Putty Stick - 2 oz.: Automotive). Since you removed the caulk plug the conduit is now filled with water, if there was a leak of any size you would have probably noticed it by now.

If you aren't familiar with this stuff you just cut off the amount you think you need, knead it together to activate the two parts and then jamb it in the conduit hole. It sets underwater so you shouldn't have a problem.
 

Crimson_Order

New member
Aug 3, 2020
2
Central FL
1) Do you have a model number from the light you took out? Should be a sticker somewhere on it. I would want to make sure the new light fits inside the existing niche but 120v 500 w fixtures are fairly common. Stainless or plastic frame doesn't matter, it's just aesthetics. I wouldn't have any concerns with installing a light in a salt water pool.
Unfortunately I don't have an exact model number- It was a Hayward light, as I found a sticker floating in the niche. It appears at one point there was some sort of mark indicating which of the 14 listed models the light was. You would think on a multi-hundred dollar desk lamp they could have printed different labels per unit type, but it seems the tenth of a penny was better spent elsewhere- perhaps the office upgraded to one of those fancy electric pencil sharpeners. The sticker does indicate that the light should only be used in one of these four Luminaire Housings: SP0600(U), SP0604C, SP0607(U), SP0609C

In my work on the niche I did notice it did have model number lettering visible. I don't remember exactly the niche, but it did have a (U) at the end, so I believe it is a 600.

4) Dish soap would be fine, you could also try just using water at first and if that's not working move up to soap.

5) I wouldn't bother to re-caulk the conduit but that's just me. As long as your junction box where the electrical wires tie into your timer is above the water level then you should be fine. If you really wanted to you could use some marine grade JB Weld (Amazon.com: J-B Weld 8277 WaterWeld Epoxy Putty Stick - 2 oz.: Automotive). Since you removed the caulk plug the conduit is now filled with water, if there was a leak of any size you would have probably noticed it by now.

If you aren't familiar with this stuff you just cut off the amount you think you need, knead it together to activate the two parts and then jamb it in the conduit hole. It sets underwater so you shouldn't have a problem.
I need to feed from the pool back to the power in order to have the fixture side be in the pool, so it's going to get wet. My plan was to dive down with a bottle of dawn and squeeze it into the butchered calked hole. Then maybe lubricate the first few feet of wire with more soap to help it slip and slide through the conduit.

I was not aware of the Epoxy for underwater. 2 oz is much less than I cut off, but based on what I see it should plug the hole- what I removed was closer to a baseball than a golf ball.

Any tips and tricks for attaching the new wire to the poly line? I will be cutting off a significant amount of extra wire after the run, so I have rather free reign with the attachment. Perhaps on top of the wire tied together a layer of epoxy under electrical tape?
 

Dave_NJ

Silver Supporter
Aug 15, 2019
102
North NJ
If it's a Hayward niche then any current Hayward halogen fixture should work just fine.

For lubricating the cord I would lube up a few feet of cable after it's attached to the drag line and before you dunk it in the pool. There should be enough residual soap still on the cable to get it to work even after it's in the water. Another option would be to use grease instead of soap, something like multi-purpose bearing/axle grease. You can get a tub at Home Depot and it's thick enough where it won't dissipate at all after it's in the water.

As far as proper technique for tying to the drag line this video is pretty good:

Cut back the rubber jacket a few feet to expose the three wires and tie the dragline to those wires
 
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