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Face Lifts for Aging Pools : Fix-Up Business Is Booming for Older Southland Pools

April 04, 1993|PAMELA WATERMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Waterman is a Pasadena free-lance writer

Does the bottom of your swimming pool feel pitted and rough, scratching the feet of unwary swimmers?

Does keeping your pool full mean running the water day and night?

Has your pool plaster suddenly turned a bizarre new color?

If so, join the crowd of Southern California pool owners with problems ranging from built-up scale that snags skin and swimming suits, leaky pipes that can cause inches of pool water to disappear daily, to disintegrating copper pipes that turn plaster walls blue when pool chemistry gets out of whack.

With almost 500,000 Southland swimming pools at least 10 years old and starting to show signs of age or neglect, you've got plenty of company if your pool has troubles.

As the Southland's pool population has aged, the pool fix-up business has boomed, taking up the slack from a slow new construction market. Many contractors who once built new pools now concentrate on making aging pools look new again.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 9, 1993 Home Edition Real Estate Part K Page 7 Column 3 Real Estate Desk 2 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
Too general--In an April 4 article on remodeling swimming pools ("Face Lifts for Aging Pools"), the trademark name Inter-Glass was erroneously used as general reference to describe the swimming pool fiber-glassing industry. The usage was not intended as a specific reference to Inter-Glass, which is a trade-marked product of American Chem-Tech Inc. (Please see a related letter to the editor on K6.)

Pasadena homeowner Willard Hanks had plenty of clues that his 28-year-old pool was due for major maintenance. The paint that a previous owner had applied over flaking plaster had softened and oxidized to the point where he could spot his footprints in the pool's bottom. His service technician warned Hanks that the pool's surface would need repair "sooner or later."

But Hanks also knew that the bill for replastering was a minimum $3,000--more than he wanted to sink into a pool he rarely used. Hanks adopted a wait-and-see approach. When he returned from a vacation last fall, he could hardly believe his eyes. The sides of his swimming pool looked as though someone had splashed them with dark blue paint.

The bluing of a pool's surface, Hanks has since learned, is a phenomenon that can occur to pools plumbed with copper pipes. When the pool's pH balance drops too far below neutral, the water reacts with the copper in the pipes creating a deep blue color on the plaster.

Hanks stares at the new look of his pool, wondering which repair avenue to take now that "sooner" is here.

Whether motivated by blotchy plaster and leaking plumbing or merely bored with an out-of-date look, a pool owner has a wide choice of solutions to his problems: acid washing (a wash with muriatic acid); painting (painting over plaster); repairing or replacing worn-out piping; replastering (scratching or removing the old plaster and adding a new layer); refurbishing (new tile, coping and plaster); remodeling (creating a new pool in the old shell), and even removal.

Pool owners whose plaster problems include no more than a buildup of scale or chemical staining can usually get by with an acid wash in which the pool water is drained and the empty shell scoured with a muriatic acid solution. The procedure should remove most surface stains and mineral deposits that snag bathing suits and skin.

The price for acid washing is reasonable--as swimming pool maintenance prices go--between $170 and $400.

Since the acid wash may remove as much as one-third of the pool's plaster, it's wise to chose an experienced contractor to do the job. Too high a concentration of acid may shorten the life of the remaining plaster finish.

In the '50s and '60s, paint was a common decorative cover-up for damaged pool surfaces. These days fewer pool owners paint, since it's strictly a do-it-yourself option.

Contractors ordinarily won't paint pools because customers aren't satisfied with the outcome. "A paint job doesn't last long enough to justify the expense," said Bill Barrett, owner of Aqua Pool Supply of Pasadena. "People who do it are getting ready to sell their homes and want the pool to look better. But they're not doing the next owner any favor."

However, the cost is minimal--paint and supplies run about $200. The paint must be applied to a dry pool surface and a second coat added 24 hours later. Ten to 14 days of drying are necessary before refilling.

A swimming pool leak used to be a pool owner's worst nightmare. Entire sections of tile or decking might have to be removed with no assurance that the leak would be located in the targeted area. Chewing up the deck, coping or tile looking for the source was an inefficient way to track down leaks. But for years the relatively low cost of water encouraged many homeowners to tolerate a problem leak.

Professional leak detection began in the 1970s as plumbers started using sophisticated sound detection equipment to track down home plumbing system leaks. The swimming pool industry soon adapted the technology. Two leak-finding companies currently operate in Southern California, American Leak Detection and National Leak Detection.

Chris Graham of American Leak Detection begins by plugging up the lines in a swimming pool. If the system won't hold pressure, he knows there's a leak. Copper pipe leaks can be tracked so accurately that Graham needs to cut only a 12-inch square hole in the deck for repair. PVC pipe, which replaced copper in the late 1960s, gives a leak detector slightly more trouble.

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