Common Pool Equipment Problems & Solutions
Most pool equipment installations will have at least a few deficiencies that can be improved upon. As pool equipment ages it will begin to break down and require
regular checks and maintenance. Failure to notice the early signs of breakdown, or failure to regularly maintain and upkeep the equipment, will certainly lead to a
shortened expected life time of the equipment. As a pool owner you should take an interest in your pool, as well as the health and efficiency of your pool system, and
when components begin to fail you should replace them in a timely fashion. In my experience, having worked on thousands of pool systems, this is not what happens in
Generally, this all boils down to a lack of knowledge in the pool industry, and a lack of knowledge of pool owners when it comes to designing and installing pool equipment for installations that focus on longevity and efficiency. Regardless of the reasoning, you do not need to look very far to find deficiencies with pool equipment installations as I outlined in this 50 part video review series on pool equipment installations where at least 80% of the random 50 equipment installations selected to review had significant deficiencies. This article is going to take a closer look at one of these installations and break down each deficiency to identify the importance of why it should be fixed.
Pool owners should spend more on maintenance if they want to spend less on repairs - trying to get one more season out of a failing component likely reduces what repair options are available to you as well as potentially damaging additional equipment
What Are The Most Common Pool Problems?
There are not all that many ways that you can install pool equipment incorrectly. There are however a small handful of problems that you will find over and over again if you work doing swimming pool service and maintenance.
This video from my pool equipment installation series is a perfect example of what I would consider to be an average swimming pool based on the experiences that I have had in this industry. This pool has all of the most common problems that I tend to encounter and so it is a good choice for one to break down into individual components and discuss exactly what this person did wrong and how you would go about fixing it.
The first problem has a simple solution. The first thing that this pool has wrong with it is that there are multiple deficiencies. You should never attempt to ignore a pool problem. This is a guaranteed way to find yourself with a bigger and much more expensive problem on your hands. If this pool owner had addressed these issues as they came up then they would not have so many repairs that they need to make.
1) Flow restrictions & choice of plumbing fittings
2) Failing pipes & leaks
3) Incorrect salt system installation
4) Lack of equipment bonding
These are the most common issues that pool equipment will have, and if you have a pool then you should inspect your equipment to see if you have any of these common problems. About 80% of inground pools will have at least one of these major areas for concern. Watch the video above in full and then proceed to the next sections where we will take a closer look at each of these specific deficiencies.
Flow restrictions are the most common installation error that you will encounter with pool equipment. This is because it is not expressly wrong to have flow
restrictions. The nature of restrictions to flow is that they will affect the longevity and efficiency of your system. Only the worst cases of flow restrictions will
be enough to notice that there is a problem. Most often the choice of fittings, and layout of the system is done with no thought to what would be the best for the
This old way of thinking is hopefully something that will begin to change as people become more concerned with energy efficiency. High costs for electricity combined with emerging technologies in the pool and spa industry such as variable speed pumps are only now beginning to highlight the importance of designing and installing pool equipment with efficiency in mind. The choices that you make when you install the equipment will have a direct impact on how efficiently the equipment will operate, and for how long it will operate for before requiring service, repair or replacement.
A sweep elbow is a much better choice for a suction manifold than a street elbow. This is because a sweep elbow has been designed to have less water turbulence as the water negotiates the turn. Since turbulence is one of the variables that affects the efficiency of hydraulics you want to introduce as little turbulence as possible into the system.
Installers of pool equipment tend to choose street elbows because they are both space saving as well as easy. For some reason, swimming pool equipment is always allotted the smallest possible space in a backyard, so much so that installers are often forced into using fittings like street elbows when they would prefer to use something else. If the space provided for the pool equipment is not large enough then you will most likely pay with suction side flow restrictions like the one in this video.
What most pool owners, and pool technicians for that matter, do not understand is that pool equipment should actually be installed much differently than it is. For example, to achieve the best possible flow rates the suction lines should be larger than 2.5" and this is something that you almost never see in residential pools. Going down to 2" pipe, or even worse, 1.5" pipe is already a huge reduction in the efficiency potential of your system. Modern day pumps are very powerful, and are designed to move a lot of water, and smaller plumbing sizes barely gets the job done. If you start adding in additional restrictions to flow like turbulence then you can make it much harder than necessary for your pump to operate.
The point where the water enters the front of your pump, the suction intake, has been designed to operate most efficiently when there is minimal turbulence in the water flowing through the pipes. To achieve this, you should always have a straight run of unobstructed pipe directly in front of the pump intake. The length of this straight run should be, at absolute minimum, five times the diameter of the pipe. For 2" pipe that would be 10" and for 1.5" pipe that would be just under 8" and ideally you could have much more than this. Having up to ten times the pipe diameter in a straight run would be ideal from a design perspective but five times will already be asking a lot from most pool equipment pads since space is usually in short supply.
Solution to flow restrictions - You want the water moving through the pipes to do so with as little turbulence as possible. This means slowing the water down by increasing the size of the suction line pipes. You also want to avoid fittings that cause friction loss and turbulence such as street elbows and instead use long, sweep elbows wherever possible. Be sure to have a straight run of unobstructed pipe that is at least five times the pipe diameter directly in front of the pump.
Failing Pipes & Potential Leaks
This is the type of problem that you should be able to avoid completely with your pool. In this pool equipment review video we saw what was obviously a collapsed pipe
in between the pump and the filter. If, somehow, you managed to miss the fact that the pipe is clearly almost flat, you surely would have noticed that it's
color indicates that it is very, very old.
The problem here is that there is an obvious deficiency with the pool, but the owner is willing to continue to ignore the problem until one day the problem becomes a failure of some kind that requires immediate attention. The problem with this approach to pool care is that the pool owner is waiting for the pipe to leak or fail completely. They are measuring whether the pipe needs to be replaced or not based on whether the system is able to run or not. What they are not taking into consideration is that the crushed pipe segment is a severe flow restriction and is placing undue strain on the pump. That pump will need to work harder to push water through the system which could actually cause the pump to fail completely. As you can imagine, needing to replace a $300 to $1000 pump simply because you didn't get around to replacing a $10 section of pipe is not something you want to experience.
In a situation like this you also might have a blowout failure of the pipe when it simply can not handle the operating pressures of the system any longer. This, in addition to being dangerous, could cause your pool to partially drain out onto your equipment pad until the pump eventually runs dry from the water level in the pool dropping. This would also cause the pump to need to be replaced, in addition to having a few thousand gallons of water dropped right next to the foundation wall of your house where most pool equipment gets located. Why any pool owner would risk something like this for the sake of replacing an obviously deficient section of pipe is almost beyond belief. The only explanation is that they simply do not understand the severity of having a problem such as this and the importance of dealing with the small problems before they become big problems.
Another perfect example of the type of small problems that can lead to big problems can be found at the heater outlet connection. In the video I talk about how there is an obvious attempt at fixing a leak with first an epoxy and then by painting PVC glue over the failed joint. As you can see from this still picture of the connection there is a problem here that simply can not be fixed with epoxy. It is obvious from the angle that the pipe meets the fitting that there is no way these pipes will seal properly.
When you have leaks in pool plumbing systems you should not attempt to add epoxy overtop of the area. There are almost zero leak problems that you should attempt to solve with epoxy on plumbing systems. In almost every case the correct remediation approach to a developing leak is to cut out the failed pipe section and replace it. In this situation the failed area involves the outlet union for this heater. If replacing the entire union is too expensive for your tastes then you can attempt to strip out the PVC from inside the fitting which is much easier said than done.
Regardless of how you solve the problem the most important thing is that you solve it permanently. Again, if this section of pipe were to fail completely when there was nobody around to monitor the pool then you could end up partially draining your pool right onto the equipment pad. Eventually the pump would run dry once the water level in the pool drops below the mouth of the skimmer, hopefully, but this would most likely end up costing you a pump. As discussed in this article on overheating pool pumps your pump can experience internal damage from overheating that can start a chain of events that will eventually lead to pump failure - and that is assuming the pump starts again at all after being run dry!
Solution to pipe deficiencies & potential leaks - When you find a deficiency such as a pipe that needs to be replaced, or a leak that has developed in your system somewhere be sure to attend to it quickly. Taking a short cut with your repair solution, such as using epoxy to fix leaks, might stop the flow of leaking water in the short term, but cost you in the long run. Pool equipment, pipes and fittings should all be repaired or replaced when a problem is first detected, and not when the problem causes a total system failure.
Incorrect Salt Water System Installation
Adding a salt water chlorination system to your pool is actually a fairly easy task which is why many pool owners choose to take this project on for themselves. This
is clearly the case with the owner of the system in this video review as evidenced by the incorrect check valve location, and more so from the terrible attempt at PVC
While the physical act of installing an electrolysis cell into your plumbing system is not all that hard, there is quite a bit to know about how, and where, you should do so. I recently published this article on how to install a salt system for your pool that highlights the most common ways that people make mistakes when trying to install their own salt system. If you are going to try to save money by doing a job yourself you need to make sure that you understand how to do it correctly to avoid damaging other equipment. In this video we saw that the pool owner knew that a check valve was needed in the system. This shows that they had at least some knowledge about how to do the job right. Unfortunately their understanding of salt system installation was about as good as those glue joints that you can see.
In this article: "Is salt water bad for your pool?" where I talk in length about the potential for damage to your pool and pool equipment as a result of increasing the salt content in your pool. One of the main points discussed here is about how pool heaters in particular have the potential to be damaged from a salt system being installed. Specifically, there is a need to install the chlorination cell down stream from the heater, but also, you must install a check valve to protect the heater from concentrated chlorine moving backwards through the system and deteriorating the heater internals. The check valve needs to be installed in between the chlorination cell and the heater outlet. Simply having a check valve installed somewhere on the system is not good enough. Even though a closed loop plumbing system can not flow if one section is closed, the concern is that concentrated chlorine will track back through the pipes under conditions of zero flow.
Solution for incorrect salt system installation - You need to be sure that the salt cell is installed last on the equipment pad, directly before the water is returned to the pool. You need to isolate the cell with a check valve to prevent heavily chlorinate water from tracking backwards in the system an accumulating in the heater. If you want to install a salt system without hiring a professional be sure to first read this article that explains how to install a salt system properly.
Lack Of Equipment Bonding
One of the biggest areas of concern that was identified with my pool equipment installation review series is the lack of bonding
on pool equipment. At least 80% of the pools that were inspected were lacking bonding to the casing of either the pump, the heater, or both. This is the type of
installation deficiency that can go unnoticed for years since everything apparently functions properly. What happens with this type of problem is that the equipment
is not protected against galvanic corrosion and advanced decay of metal components can occur. In the case of salt water pools, which have more conductivity than
traditional chlorine pools, the rate of damage of galvanic corrosion is four to five times faster.
A swimming pool should have a bonding grid and to not have one would be a serious safety concern. While the vast majority of pools in North America are bonded with an equipotential bonding grid, this will often only be applied to the pool structure itself. Swimming pool equipment pads should be included in the bonding loop since they are, of course, part of the pool system. Each component of your pool system that contains metal should be bonded directly to the casing of the machine. Pictured above is a bonding lug that has not been connected. Filters do not usually require bonding, unless they are ancient and made from stainless steel, but both pumps and heaters almost all will have a bonding lug somewhere on the casing. If you can find one of these bonding lugs and there is not a copper wire connected to it then this means that your equipment has this common deficiency and you should have an electrician look at your installation and verify the presence of a bonding grid.
If you do not bond your pool equipment there is the risk that the equipment itself will become the anode in a galvanic couple with other metal components in or around your pool. If this happens, the anode metals will deteriorate at an advanced rate which is called galvanic corrosion. Only the anode metal will corrode, while the other metal will experience enhanced resistance to corrosion from a process known as cathodic protection. This is a predictable electromechanical process, and one that can actually be used to help protect your pool equipment. By not bonding the equipment you allow a potential difference (voltage) to exist between each component. By bonding the equipment you are forcing each piece to have the same electrical potential, which limits the potential for damage from galvanic corrosion.
By adding an anode to your pool plumbing installation, and by connecting the anode to the bonding grid, you effectively make the rest of your pool equipment the cathode in a galvanic couple. As discussed, this will provide cathodic protection to your pool equipment, which is results in increased rust resistance. The anode that you add will take the brunt of the corrosion damage, sacrificing itself during this process. Simply replace the anode over two to three years, or when the anode metal has reduced is size by half. This is how a sacrificial anode can help to protect important (and expensive) pool equipment from damage and this is something that all pools should have, and all salt water pools must have.
Solution for a lack of bonding - All swimming pool equipment that contains metal should be bonded. Simply inspect your pump, heater, and any control panels such as salt water and automation systems for an empty bonding lug as pictured above. If you can locate a bonding lug that is empty, or if you fail to find a bonding wire that connects to all of your pool equipment, be sure to have an electrician locate your existing bonding grid and add your pool equipment into it.
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