How to Find and Fix Air Leaks in Your Pool—Fast

Hey, I’m all for finding multiple purposes for the same thing. Who knew, for instance, that you could use baking soda as a pH increaser? Or little pieces of raw meat to detract wasps from your pool? It’s always useful to be able to get a new job done with what you already have on hand. But that pool pump? It was designed to do one thing and one thing only: push air through your greater circulation system to keep your pool clean and safe. The last thing it was made for was to move air, too. So when you have air leaking into your pool system, you’ve got a major problem. I’ll explain how to diagnose an air leak, why you need to fix an air leak as soon as possible, and how to locate your air leak—and fix it for good.

Wait a Minute. How Do I Know It’s an Air Leak? 

It really doesn’t get easier than this. We’re talking about your pool, not your hot tub, right? Go ahead and look at your return jets. If you see bubbles coming out that make you want to grab a couple of friends, put your back against your jets, and breathe in steam that isn’t there, we’ve got an air leak. Your system should only be blowing out water—never, ever air.

Hey, Pump’s Still Working. So Why Should I Fix The Air Leak?

Listen, I want to say this is no big deal. But the truth is that even a tiny air leak can lead to a number of nightmare scenarios, all of which require some major (and totally avoidable!) expenses. Your pump will overwork itself, which will lead to some frightening energy bills, and could overstrain your plumbing and create permanent damage. And the pump itself? It will start working hard and loud, and left for long enough, it will get hot, melt, and perhaps even catch on fire. Yes, that does happen!

There’s no way around it: if you have an air leak, you need to fix it now. Really, the sooner the better. But in most cases, you don’t need to call in an expert to fix it for you. Most of the time, it’s an easy fix. Let’s see if this is the case for you, yeah?

Always looking to cut operating costs—especially if you get even better perfomance as a result? Try the 1.5 HP Variable Speed Blue Torrent Thunder In-Ground Swimming Pool Pump—it pays itself off in under a year, is eligible for rebates, and also comes with a lifetime warranty. As customer Eric D says, “Day one, I fired this pump up and it ran clean and fast.”

how to find air leaks in your pool

Step 1: Just Add Water—And Keep Checking

Alright, our first step is the easiest fix of all easy fixes. It really doesn’t get better than this. It could be that the reason you have air bubbles coming out of your return jets is because you overlooked one of the basics of DIY maintenance: your water line. Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a hard time for it or anything. But seriously, check it once a week and you’ll be avoiding a ton of problems.

Your pool should be filled up to halfway up your skimmer intake, which is usually made of white plastic and is designed to both suck in water through your circulation system and to “skim” debris off the water surface. This water line can drop for many reasons, including good old evaporation. If your pool water is below that halfway mark, your skimmer isn’t just sucking in water, but air, too. And that’s a big no.

If your water line is in fact low, go ahead and add water using a garden hose—and if you have high metals in your water source, such as get your water from a well, you’ll want to only use that hose with a filter on it to avoid some ugly stains later. Then, check your return jets for bubbles again. If none comes out, you’re done—just balance your water again and add “check water line” to your weekly maintenance routine. Your life is about to get a whole lot easier.

Step 2: Now Let’s Get Serious. System Off!

So it wasn’t your water line, huh? From this point out, locating the problem is going to be a bit more intensive than standing on the edge of your pool and looking down. You’ll want to make sure your circulation system is off. At absolutely no point should your system be on when you check out pipes or open up your pump. My recommendation? Flip your circuit breaker so no power is going to your system. This way, you won’t have any kind of issue with automatic timers revving up at the absolute worst time.

It’s also a good idea to minimize the amount of air in your system while you’re checking it out. If you have a cartridge or diatomaceous earth (DE) filter, you can use the air relief valve positioned at the top of the filter pump’s exterior. If you have a sand filter, get ready for some splashing. This probably isn’t the time to wear your favorite shirt.

For this next step, you might find that your pump is no longer measuring up, and regardless, this is a great time to switch to a variable-speed model—as of 2021, that switch will virtually be federal law. The Blue Torrent 2 HP Variable-Speed Pump is ultra-powerful, comes with a lifetime warranty, eligible for rebates, and pays itself off in under a year by energy saved. As customer Bill Britton says, “Runs great. Super quiet.”

Step 3: Was Your Strainer Lid Overstrained?

Let’s move on to your pool pump itself. If you’re lucky, the problem will be its O-ring—and is less than fifty bucks to replace. As you might be able to tell, the strainer lid is sealed by a single gasket. If you check that rubber ring, you might find that it’s cracked, stretched, warped, or missing little pieces. These are all ways that air can find its way into your pump. All you have to do is replace the O-ring—after cleaning the groove it sits in of gunk and applying a new coat of lube. No more bubbles coming out of your return jets? That’s what I’m talking about. 

Although the lid is the first place in your pump to look, there is also a chance that other parts have the same gasket damage. Remember, there are two sides to every pump: the motor assembly, which includes the spinning impeller that works hard to create energy to move water, and the pump’s housing, which includes a strainer basket to catch debris. Check all the O-rings in your pump’s housing—these are intended to seal off the plugs that connect water to the rest of your circulation system. If any of these are cracked, stretched, warped, or missing chunks, it’s time to replace them.

how to find and fix air leaks in your pool

Step 4: How Unified is Your Union?

What the heck is a union? I once asked that myself. Although this part of your plumbing is easy to overlook, it’s actually there to help make maintenance easier. Unions are usually made from white plastic and look like two big screws connected on the pipes that lead to your pump. They consisted of a single gasket that seals off the connection and a screw on adapter that keeps it all together. Check this O-ring to see if it’s pinched. If it is, go ahead and replace it. Again, this shouldn’t cost much—so if this is the cause of your air leak, consider yourself lucky.

Step 5: Maybe Your PVC Needs Some TLC 

Alright, this might annoy you. But it’s the truth: PVC plumbing is often glued together. Hey, it’s a pretty good epoxy sealing, but it can still become brittle and wash out. On a non-windy day, check your plumbing joints like tees, elbows, and valve ports using an incense stick or cigarette (hey, I’m not judging) and hold it as close as possible to all the seams of your intake plumbing. If you have an air leak at a particular seam, you’ll see the smoke being pulled into your pipe. Repair for this problem ranges from adding a caulk patch to re-piping and gluing your plumbing. I’d try the caulk patch to see if it works before seriously dismantling your system.  I mean, wouldn’t you?

Is The Culprit Your Vacuum Hose?

Do you only have air leakage when you attach your vacuum hose or an automatic cleaner that doesn’t have as robust features as other vacuums? The issue is probably pinhole-sized leaks in your hose. To find out how to determine which hose section needs to be replaced, follow these steps:

1.     First, disconnect all hose sections.

2.     Use tape or plugs to seal off the end of each section.

3.     Submerge the hose section, and look for bubbles coming from the hose.

If you find bubbles coming from one or more hose sections, you’ll want to replace them.

If your vacuum or cleaner isn’t made to last, replacing the hose is just putting off the inevitable: eventually, you’ll need to get one that can put in the work. The Blue Torrent Stinger Automatic Pool Cleaner is my top recommendation. It works independently of your pool filter which lowers energy costs, just needs to be plugged into an outlet, and has a lifetime warranty.

Still No Dice? Better Make a Call  

Uh oh. So you’ve tried all of the above but haven’t found the cause of your air leaks, huh? Unfortunately, you’re not done. There could potentially be leaks in your underground lines, which is especially worrisome. But hey, you did all you could. Now it’s time to call in a professional. They’ll be able to get to the root of the problem without damaging your system.

how to find and fix air leaks in your pool

Bubbles Be Gone!

Got the air leak sorted out? Seal the deal by priming your pump, which will replace all that air in your system with water again. Now, everything is back to how it should be, and you can take a moment to swim in the pool you work so hard to maintain—and what’s more relaxing than knowing that you have no expensive bills coming your way? I can’t think of much. Enjoy.

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