The pool professional tells you your equipment needs to be replaced. Abrasions on your feet show the plaster in your inground pool is aging. You hear a persistent noise from the pool pump. You wonder how many tiles can pop loose before this becomes a structural problem.
Homeowners are well aware that their property has a shelf life. Most of them keep a mental or written list of repairs or updates. That list can grow substantially longer when an old pool starts to show signs of wear.
Because there is no way to call out and quantify the life of every single component of a pool, here we will provide a generic checklist, including the names of mostly-universal parts of a swimming pool and reasonable expectations for the life of each.
Interior finishes and tile
These go hand in hand, because plaster finishes (or pebble or quartz; we’ll reference plaster for all of these) are inextricably linked to waterline tile. Usually, customers find their tile to be outdated, faded, covered in calcium scale, or missing grout at around the same time they notice the need for pool resurfacing.
If you decide to keep your tile but want to resurface, just know that we have to chisel beneath the tile in order to blend the new plaster up to the tile and make it appear as intended. This means a real risk of breaking the tile, and there’s little to no chance of finding replacement tile; they go out of style and production quite often. If you replace tile months or years after new plaster but do not replaster, you will have a scar in the plaster.
Expect interior finishes to last about 10 years under typical conditions, possibly 15-17 years under excellent conditions. The fewer organic materials around the pool and the better one keeps pool chemistry, the longer plaster and tile and grout will last.
Coping and decks
Pool coping is the horizontal border around the top of the pool structure. It can be brick or stone or even poured concrete, and the deck can cantilever above the waterline tile. There’s no way to give a reasonable timeline for either coping or decks, because they respond to environmental conditions more than any other part of a pool. Severe winter weather and ground movement are just two factors that can “prematurely” wear or break coping and all forms of decking surrounding a pool. If coping is more porous, it will age more quickly.
If soil movement and foundation shifts are already happening on your property, then any form of deck will fail quickly. This also contributes to all failures in pool skimmers, which are set into the pool wall beneath coping and deck. Cracks or broken pipes occur because of ground movement more than any other cause.
Pumps are the hardest working components in a pool system. They combine water and electricity; they contain plastic and metals. Rain or shine, hot or freezing, pool pumps are most often out in the elements while continuing to circulate water through the filtration system or to power a water feature.
Variable speed filter pumps last longer than any other type because they are engineered to do so. They are also quieter and save electricity – and these facts are provable, the savings astounding. I have seen most of these last 8-10 years and are still moving water quietly (there’s a 10-year-old one in my backyard running like a champ).
Single-speed pumps, on the other hand, have a shorter shelf life. You should expect no less than two years before the motor goes bad, though most warranties offered are good for one year (versus 2-3 years for variable speed). They run at 3,450 RPM constantly, regardless of horsepower, and motor production quality has fallen universally. You can no longer purchase single-speed pumps from reputable dealers, except for cleaner booster pumps and tiny fountain pumps with fractional horsepower.
How can you help pumps last longer? Go out and look at the equipment as often as you are in the backyard – or at least twice per month. Check for leaks, noises, and smells that are unusual. Be sure no wiring is visibly out of its conduit. Clean out the pump strainer basket often.
Filters can last quite a long time, barring any wild freeze damage or falling limbs – or improper maintenance. The internal components of a diatomaceous earth (DE) filter tend to fail more quickly than those of other filter types. But the outer shell and bulkheads (where plumbing connects) should last for a couple of decades or so under ideal conditions. FYI, sunlight exposure can wear the poly-fiber coating of a filter tank, so some sort of shielding is recommended.
So what can you do to prolong filter life? Have your filter cleaned every six months. If it’s a sand filter and not a diatomaceous earth (DE) or cartridge filter, have your sand changed every 5 years or so (or better yet, replace it with a DE filter). Replace damaged components each time you find one during a clean, versus trying to get more life out of them; this puts a strain on other elements. Have leaks repaired immediately.
Pool heaters are the most expensive pool equipment pieces and are used the least frequently. However, they require semi-regular use and proper water chemistry if they are to last long enough to be worth having.
Whether natural gas (most common in North Texas) or electric or an HVAC-type heat pump, water chemistry is the crucial factor determining pool heater life. The second most important factor is fuel delivery, in the case of natural gas (NG) heaters. NG heaters require a fairly precise mixture of gas and air for combustion. Colder air, especially air below freezing, can cause combustion to suffer and creates a condition where soot builds up where it shouldn’t be. Unresolved leaks also cause problems for heaters. When a pool is heated, the water evaporates more quickly. So, be sure to keep enough water in the pool.
For infrequent heater users, run your heater once per month for a few minutes (except on sub-freezing days) and look for leaks. Your heaters could last 12-15 years. For those who extend the season every year, love their hot tubs, or keep a pool steaming all year round, you can expect roughly 5 years, maybe a bit longer, before needing a replacement.
Automatic pool cleaners will last you about 3 years on average before needing repairs. You’ll need to replace them about every 7 years or so. If you have a suction-type cleaner, you can expect shorter life spans. Watch it run around the pool a bit and clean out its debris bag each week (or more often if you live in a forest). Remove any twigs or large, trapped debris from wheels and other moving components to get as much life as you can out of your cleaner.
Valves and Controls
If you have automation, you might have valves and controllers that work together to change direction of water movement. Valves redirect water or halt the flow of water and usually have handles that denote direction of flow or which way is on/off. Actuators from control systems move some of these valves on demand.
The proper diverter valves should last much longer than ball or gate valves. However, they do have o-rings that can become dry or break, causing leaks. Air entry leaks are typically caused by bad suction valve o-rings. You can expect the proper valves to last quite a while; turning them every now and then will increase their longevity.
Automation or mechanical timers have a shelf life, but electronics in outdoor environments can fail sporadically. Automation will need to be updated every 7-10 years or so, although there are many in the field still that have lasted much longer than that. Mechanical timers could last that long, but they are designed with motors and gears that fail after a while.
Lifespans of timers, automation components, and switches are so varied that no one can give an accurate expectation. However, you can keep them working longer by making sure to close rainproof doors and ensuring electrical conduit knockouts are secure from pests and weather. Ants and lizards can short out electrical equipment.
Sanitizers will only last for about 4-6 years before needing repair or replacement. Salt chlorine generators (SCG) save on the cost of chlorine but will fail before you expect at a higher repair cost than you care to pay. Running these at proper power levels and keeping the right amount of salt in the pool (typically 3300-3800ppm) will increase SCG life.
Incandescent and halogen pool lights are fuses that will last as long as you can expect bulbs to last, possibly 3-5 years but much shorter with heavier use. LED fixtures, whether white or color-changing, have more hours of usage and save electrical costs. They typically come with 2- or 3- year manufacturer warranties.
There are so many items that go into making your pool a functional and aesthetic success. At Select Pool Services, we have trained experts and decades of experience from which to draw. Whether you need us to check out a noise you started hearing or to give you our assessment of your plaster’s remaining life, feel free to call us today.
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