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Pool Liner Replacement

what you need to know before getting a new liner
Pool liner replacement is usually a stressful time for pool owners which is a real shame since it can actually be such a rewarding experience. I think a major part of this is from the pool industry experiencing a generational change. We all remember the pool liners from previous generations which could last up to and including 30 years of service life. A modern day vinyl liner gets nowhere near to this service life, even the liners which are meticulously maintained will likely fall short of these previous numbers by half. With such a short service life this pushes the liner replacement costs up much higher than they used to be when averaged over the expected service life. The bottom line - it costs a lot to change a liner and pool owners tend to feel the squeeze from higher prices for lower quality products.


Still, despite the shorter service life for liners than used to exist, the costs to replace the interior surface of a vinyl pool is still the cheapest of any type of swimming pool. Epoxy pool paint, for example, might have a similar expected service life as a new pool liner, or even less, and yet epoxy painting a concrete pool still would cost quite a bit more than a pool liner installation on a similar size pool. Plus epoxy pool paint is considered to be one of the lowest quality interior surfaces for concrete pools, with plaster, aggregate or tile surfaces costing orders or magnitude more than epoxy paint. When put in that relative comparison the costs of replacing your pool liner start to look a LOT more reasonable.


Pool liner cost - You might not get 25 or 30 years out of your liner, but with the "average" inground vinyl pool replacement cost being between $2000 to $4000, including both the liner and the installation, it's far more palatable than even the lowest end concrete pool interior surface options.


Pool liner care - If you fail to maintain the chemistry in a vinyl pool you can, quite easily, permanently destroy a vinyl liner. Chlorine levels which are too high, or pH levels which are too far from the neutral range of 7.5 can cause a reaction where the vinyl material absorbs water and increases in physical size by up to 25%. Where once the liner fit snugly in your pool, there is now simply too much liner due to the swelling size, and this results in widespread wrinkles throughout the pool. These wrinkles are not like a wrinkle from water under the liner. Chemical induced wrinkles permanently change the molecular structure of the vinyl and the only solution to these wrinkles is to replace the liner. For more information about this you can read this article on pool liner wrinkles.


What To Do BEFORE You Replace A Pool Liner


Needing to replace your pool liner is just part of owning a vinyl pool. You could choose to look at it as a negative but required aspect of owning your pool...but you could also choose to embrace the good as well. Being able to change your liner pattern and having a pool that looks brand new again is a pretty decent reward for this process. Installing a pool liner, generally speaking, is a quick and painless process where you will leave for work in the morning with the old, sad pool liner still in the pool, and by the time you get home that evening the new liner is installed and the pool is filling up already!


The unfortunate reality that most pool owners reading this will not appreciate is that many pool liner companies specialize in high volume liner installations...and not in a good way. When it comes time to change your liner this is a critical milestone stage in the life of your pool. There are dozens of upgrades and repairs that can ONLY be done to a vinyl liner pool when you change the liner. If you fail to make a required repair before the new liner gets installed then you can easily find yourself in a situation where you need a repair done immediately, and the only way to perform this repair is to change the liner again. This is the ultimate in frustrating situations for vinyl pool owners and something that must be avoided at all costs.


you own the pool problem
As the owner of the pool you need to protect your investment. So how do you protect yourself from this worst case liner scenario? The honest answer is that you, personally, assume responsibility for the pool. Now, this is not to say that I expect every last person reading this to physically work on the pool themselves, but what I do what everyone reading this to do is assume that nobody is protecting your best interests.


You must endeavor to specifically ask about every component of your pool on this list before you can agree to proceed with a pool liner replacement. Between the lines when you choose the lowest possible price for a job like a liner installation then it is more about what you are not getting that can end up hurting you, and your pocket book, in the long run.


Please note - This article is not intended to say that pool professionals do not install liners correctly. This is to say that some pool companies might cut corners, but more that experience is a spectrum, and as the owner of the pool the onus of financial liability lands squarely on your own shoulders should something go wrong down the road. It would be a mistake to assume that every company you hire for installing a pool liner will protect your interests to the same extent that you would personally if you had a greater technical understanding of the process as a whole.


Pool plumbing and pressure test - If there is a leak anywhere in your plumbing system then you absolutely want to attend to this repair before you have a new liner installed in the pool. There are some forms of pool leak that will require more extensive repairs that typically result in replacing the liner. Leaks where plumbing pipes attach to the walls of your pool are very common since the pool wall and the pool pipes may not move or settle in the ground at the same rate which would surely introduce a leak to the system. Another very common leak location is the pool main drain pipes. Since the main drain is located in such an unserviceable area you surely should inspect and test the quality of its plumbing before a new liner is installed so that any repairs or changes to the system can be made.


inspection before new liner
Pool skimmer and returns - Structural leaks from skimmers and returns often require new liner installations. For example you could have a leak at the point where the plumbing system connects to the bottom of the pool skimmer. While fixing a leak like this it would be very common to need to end up replacing the skimmer either because the old skimmer broke, or there is no way to make a sound new connection to the existing skimmer. Replacing a skimmer in a vinyl pool usually results in needing a new liner. While it is theoretically possible to change a skimmer on a pool without needing a new liner, the majority of pools will not be this lucky. Even if you do not suspect that your pool is leaking it would be prudent to pressure test the plumbing system to verify it is completely leak free before proceeding with a new liner installation.


Pool lights - Other than changing a light bulb pretty much anything that you need to do with a pool light will require that the liner gets replaced. If your liner develops a leak through the light, which is easily one of the most common causes for leaks in pools, then you could very well find yourself needing to replace the liner in order to resolve the problem. Similarly if you decide that you want a pool light then this would be something that you do in conjunction with a liner replacement project. If you do not have a pool light so you think this does not apply to your liner replacement, you should be aware that ALL new pools built currently require a pool light for safety reasons. Perhaps you should consider adding one when you next replace your liner.


Pool steps - In-wall pool steps in vinyl liner pools are something that are supposed to last for decades, spanning multiple liner changes in your pool. The reality is that if there is a mistake made by your liner installer, this is probably where it will happen. If your steps are a struggle to install they could end up being a long term leak source. Additionally when these steps are first installed the quality of this installation will directly control how long the steps will last for. Well installed steps use a lot of concrete and support pipes/columns to hold the steps securely in place. It is when the steps are not well supported from underneath, from poor installation, pool leaks, or poor / settling backfill, then the step treads can start to develop cracks and leaks. These in-wall steps are somewhat difficult to repair, and if they require replacement this will certainly require that the liner is replaced at the same time.



Pool coping - Most vinyl pools do not have leaks, and most will not have cracks in the skimmer or return flanges. The coping track on the other hand is very likely to need replacement and such this is something that you should inspect with a high degree or scrutiny. The coping track is what retains the liner in place and when the track fails the liner fails...even if the liner is only a year old! In order to replace the coping, in the vast majority of situations, you will also need to replace the liner again. Of everything on this page you should be most concerned about the condition of your coping track as there are a number of ways that this can come back to haunt you at a later point.


A practical real world way that you can apply the information on this page would be to be present during the inspection of your pool. In order to provide an estimate to replace your liner then someone will need to come and look at your pool. If you watch them walk right past your skimmer without even looking at it you can assume they did not inspect it. Further to this if you get an email estimate without any person actually inspecting your pool in person then this is a sure sign to keep looking for another company to work with. It does not take all day to do a reasonably thorough visual inspection of a vinyl pool, especially for an experienced professional, but without an inspection you are leaving the door wide open for a problem to come up at the wrong time, or worse than that, to not come up until well after your warranty period has ended.


Vinyl Pool Coping Problems


The subject of vinyl pool coping failures is so broad that it requires its own subsection. Over my years working with vinyl pools I have noted that the coping in particular can be the source of a lot of frustration and unexpected problems. Of course a vinyl pool can not function without a coping track so it is integral to the operation of the pool.


Unfortunately repairs or replacement are not always so straight forward...in fact in some cases replacing the (failing) coping in your pool can be a trigger to require a massive, complete remodeling of the pool. Consider these different ways in which your pool coping could end up being a problem when it comes time to repair or replace it:


Hard to find coping - Some common types of pool coping are hard to find and can often lead to delays during peak times of year when it is in high demand. Since only that exact product will work as a replacement option for a section of repair, there is no choice but to wait for the backorder to clear, which in a worst case scenario could be the end of the pool season.


Coping no longer in production - Some coping can be hard to find, but there are other types that simply are not made anymore. An example of this would be with deck mount coping which was popular in the 70's and 80's. These pools have anywhere from 5" to 10" of PVC coping visible and sitting on top of the pool deck. This coping style creates a ledge effect and as a result it takes a good deal of abuse from swimmers climbing in and out and jumping off it. The industry has moved largely away from this style of coping and there are very limited options for replacement if you have an area that is broken and needs repair. In a worst case scenario where no reasonably matched replacement can be found you can end up needing a new deck installation as well as the coping and liner. Aside from this option you may have other less costly options for a new coping installation but often these will result in compromises to the look of the installation, or the quality of the coping installation, or both.


Coping that breaks easily - Since the pool coping sits above the waterline in the pool it absorbs a great deal of damage from both the UV rays of the sun as well as the chemicals in the pool water. Very often pool coping can function fairly well day to day but if you attempt to remove a PVC beauty cap then the coping shatters at the slightest attempt to manipulate it. Sharp corners are of particular concern for this as there is usually quite a bit of stress on corner sections of coping track. If the coping track sustains any damage during removal of the old liner or installation of the new liner then you will need to cease the installation and proceed with replacing the corner sections. Hopefully the corners are not on backorder, or just unavailable completely as things like this have been known to happen.


Deck integrated coping - A deck integrated coping failure is kind of the holy grail of vinyl liner pool problems that you hope to not stumble into out of the blue one day. Bullnose style pool coping is a style where a concrete deck is poured up to and into it such that the coping itself forms the front side edge of the concrete forms for the pool deck. Should you have a coping system like this, and it fails, replacing it requires that you also replace the concrete pool deck as well. This unfortunate situation is something that vinyl pool owners around the country deal with every year. If the concrete deck starts to crack or move it will take the coping with it. This breaks the coping and it can no longer effectively retain the liner. This forces pool owners into a total backyard pool renovation which is going to cost tens of thousands of dollars.



Aside from a reasonable but visually unpleasing workaround of using a low profile wall mounted coping track directly under the old, failing track, there is no fix for a deck integrated coping track that is broken and moving away from the pool. This is how a simple liner change can suddenly become a total backyard renovation whether you are ready or not. Also this is how you can get into trouble when it comes time to having your liner replaced. You need to hire a professional that will give you the honest truth of your situation even when the news is bad. It is hard to tell someone that you can not quote their liner because their coping is failing and their deck is sinking.


Worse than this someone less scrupulous will come along behind you a sling a liner in that pool without any concern for the fact that the coping is already on its last legs. Such is the race to the bottom in the pool liner replacement industry...the less you notice wrong with the pool, the higher your sales numbers for new liner installations will be. It is all too easy to trust that your pool is fine, because that is the news you want to really hear, but ignorance is not bliss when it comes to pool coping, pool liners or leaks in your pool. Don't choose your next liner installer based upon who is the most blind - choose the one that cares about your pool the most, and wants to help you avoid unexpected pool expenses down the road.


Vinyl liner pool renovations

Vinyl liner pool wrinkles

When to get a new pool liner

Common vinyl pool problems







Swimming Pool Steve

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