It happens to the best of us. One moment, everything is going just right. The next moment, we notice that our pump is making quite a lot of noise, or there’s a fountain in our yard that we never bought or installed. Suddenly, we discover a sight no pool owner asks to see: a cracked pipe or pipes, leaking water that is supposed to be circulating between our pool and pump and back again. Looks expensive, right? Well, with the right tools and a little bit of knowledge, you’ll be able to replace those cracked pipes all by yourself—without needing to call in costly maintenance. I’ll explain why cracks happen, how to identify your specific leak, a few terms you should know, and finally, how to fix that plumbing—the right way, and on the first try.
Hey, Cracks Happen. But Why?
So you’ve got a crack or more in your pipes? Well, you’re certainly not alone. This happens to pretty much every longtime pool owner at one point or another. And along with pretty much every other aspect of pool maintenance, it’ll save you a lot of time and money if you take preventative measures to keep your plumbing healthy and intact. But sometimes even preventive measures won’t stop that bummer crack from appearing—and that’s just how it is.
Commonly installed in pool systems thanks to low cost and durability, PVC pipes have a reputation for being a “maintenance-free product,” but it can really be too good to be true. The truth is that it will get brittle and crack if placed in a few different situations for long enough. Ultraviolet exposure (that’s our friend the sun), cold temperatures, age, and even chemical exposure can wear down the pipes, especially at the joint connections where one pipe meets another.
For pools in colder temperatures, the most common reason why PVC cracks is because of freezing water in the pipes. That’s why it’s important to properly blow out your lines when you’re closing your pool and preparing for those tough temperatures to drop.
Even when your pipes aren’t cracked, is your pool water barely moving? If a larger horsepower will turn over your water volume at a sufficient rate—and won’t overwhelm your filtration system—then a more powerful unit like this Blue Torrent 2 HP Variable-Speed Pump is the one to try. As customer Bill Britton says, “Runs great. Super quiet.”
Know Your Leak, Know Your Options
Not all leaks were created equally. Yours might range from a small drip, drip, drip to a geyser aspiring to be the next Old Faithful. If it’s a really small drip on a plumbing fitting (that’s the piece that connects two pipes together), chances are it won’t get significantly worse or alter your water levels. But anything larger, and you’re going to want to take action.
No matter where your leak is, your plan of attack is going to be similar: instead of reaching for the short-term epoxy, we’re going to walk through the longterm solution of replacing the sections of pipe that have been cracked. But since there are minor differences in approach, this is the time to inspect those cracks and take note of just where they’re happening in your greater pool system. You’ve got a few different categories to check off here.
A suction side leak is one that occurs somewhere in your plumbing before it reaches the pool pump’s impeller. These are the pipes that suck water from the pool to your pump. Usually, a leak on the suction side will draw air into the pipes when the pump is on, and leak water out when the pump is off. If you know anything about priming your pump, you know air in the pipes is a no go. You can patch these up with pool putty or silicone as you get ready for a proper replacement, but that’s only a short term solution—the leak is almost guaranteed to return.
A pressure side leak occurs somewhere in your plumbing after it reaches the pool pump’s impeller. These pipes push water back into your pool, and most commonly crack on glue joints, where a pipe is glued to a fitting, or threaded joints, where PVC male and female connections occur. Like suction side leaks, you can patch these up with pool putty or other sealants on the outside of the pipe, which will be drawn into the crack thanks to the pressurized nature of this pipe section. But again, that’s a temporary solution—eventually you’ll need to get serious about replacing this section.
An underground leak is the stuff of any Midwest pool owner’s nightmares. These can be broken by freeze damage, such as when pipes are not properly blown out for the winter. But this can also happen if you live in a place with earwigs, through high levels of chlorine, and once the pool reaches about thirty years old. In this case, it might be best to call in a professional. If the pipe is fairly short or badly damaged, you can choose to replace the entire pipe and circumvent the old one entirely. In fact, you can even leave the old one in the ground. But even knowing you have an underground leak for sure involves pressure testing the suspected line and listening with specialized equipment to determine the exact location of the leak.
Fittings, Couplings, and Pipe Turns 101
This section is for total beginners, but no shame if that’s you! We all have to start somewhere, and it really isn’t as complicated as you might think. In order to understand how to fix your cracked pipes, we’re going to need to get on the same page regarding a few key terms.
Pipe fittings are the plastic, tubular, and short sleeves that connect two PVC pipes. These come in a few different angles and versions. For instance, some pipe fittings are completely straight, and some are curved at a certain degree.
Pipe couplings are short length of pipes or tubes with either a socket or female pipe threads at one or both ends that allow two pipes or tubes of equal or different sizes to be joined together. Say that five times fast. When they don’t extend pipe runs, they can also terminate them.
Pipe turns are a type of pipe fittings or couplings that take on an elbow shape, and thus change the direction of the pipes.
Keep these terms in mind as you’re getting that saw ready!
System replacement is the ideal time to add equipment that will optimize your pool, like the Energy-Saving ComforTemp Pool Heat Pump 95,000 BTU to heat 18,000 Gallons. According to customer Steve, “Simple install and simple set up. Heated my pool from 66 to 82 degrees in about 2 complete days.”
Five Tips for Proper Pipe Fixing
We’re about to get into the actual process, but since I’m not in your backyard looking at your specific layout (that would be a bit weird, anyway), here are some guidelines for adjusting your plan of attack for your pool.
1. Honor Your Pipe Size.
When replacing parts of your pipe system, it’s important to not get too saw-happy and reduce your actual pipe size with the addition of inserts and sleeves. Remember, those add-ons are where leaks and cracks happen the most. Plus, you want to maintain your plumbing for the size of your pool, for which it was probably originally built. Keep your overall system functioning for years to come by leaving your pipe length as is.
2. Don’t Overdo It.
Just as you don’t want to add too many inserts or sleeves, it’s best to keep fittings and couplings at a minimum. If it’s possible, avoid adding pipe turns entirely. Although this is partially because they’re more susceptible to leaks, they also affect the overall pressure of the line—especially if you’re replacing piping on the pressure side of your pool system. While you’re at it, make sure that when you are replacing pipe on the pressure side, you use schedule 40, deep socket fittings. You’ll want that connection to be extra secure.
3. Get the Good Glue.
This is not a place where you want to skimp for a weaker glue on sale. When repairing cracked pipes, always use a fresh medium or heavy body PVC glue. The last thing you want is to have a cracked pipe in the same spot just a short time later. No, thanks.
4. A Little Dry Goes a Long Way.
You have wet pipes? Yeah, that’s not going to cut it. Make sure that any pipes you’re gluing are completely dry, or else you might as well be using a substandard glue. In other words, wet pipes won’t connect properly to each other, and you’ll have to start again at the beginning.
5. Be Mindful If You’re Going Underground
Not all PVC pipe is created equally. It might be tempting to use flex PVC pipe for its, ahem, flexibility. But that’s not going to fly underground. Make sure you use the standard, rigid PVC pipe if you’re doing any digging.
Get the Gear. It’s Easy.
To fix cracked pipes the right way, you’re going to need to stock up on a few essentials. Chances are you already have most of these, but what you don’t have to can find at your local hardware store, no problem.
- Replacement pipe and fittings
- Hacksaw or reciprocating saw
- PVC primer
- Fresh medium or heavy body PVC glue
For threaded male PVC fittings, you’ll also want a silicone sealant, Teflon tape, and a pair of large pliers.
Is your pump’s horsepower mismatched for your plumbing? Try the Copper Force Above Ground Pool Pump, which has a start capacitor and different horsepower options. According to customer Doug Paar, “The pump is very quiet and has good pressure. I would recommend."
How to Fix a Pool Leak—In 5 Steps
We’re almost to the cutting stage, but it’s important to get familiar with your specific plan before moving on. Do you understand where exactly your leak is? Do you know where you’ll make the first cut, which is the closest long pieces of pipe on either side of the leak, unless one end secures to your pump or pool? (You’ll need enough room to be able to connect the new fitting to the pipe, along with a coupling.) If your answer is yes to both of these questions, we’re ready to dive in.
1. Measure Twice, Cut Once
Yeah, I know—for the most seasoned among us, “measure twice, cut once” is a bit of a cliché. But it’s important to remember all the same, and one of the reasons why when measuring new PVC pipe, I usually add about a half an inch to my measurements. Additionally, in order to leave enough pipe to make a solid connection, you’ll want to add about two inches to either side. It’s always better to have pipe too long that needs to be trimmed than pipe too short. Don’t forget to measure that second time, right before you make the cut.
2. Make the Cut
When cutting the pipes, make a straight cut down. Then, clean up the cut with sandpaper. Again, you want about 2.5 extra inches on either side, which you can trim down incrementally to fit your pipe to the fitting or coupling.
3. Get Priming—But Not Like That
You likely already know about how to prime your pump, but that’s not what we’re doing here. Use a PVC primer, which is a liquid chemical that will clean, prepare, and soften the pipe. After about thirty seconds, add copious amounts of PVC glue, and wipe off the excess with a cloth.
When gluing pipe fittings that are at 90 and 45 degrees, glue them in place with a length of dry PVC pipe inserted (but not glued) in the other side. This will help you get the angle correct during the gluing process.
For threaded male PVC fittings, use a silicone sealant over the threads, which you then want to wrap several times with Teflon tape in a clockwise direction. Then tighten the threaded fitting in by hand, and give it another one or one and a half revolutions with large pliers.
4. Sacrifices Might Need to Be Made
Depending on how many turns and pipe couplings are in your plumbing system, you might need to replace more than just the pipe that is cracked and leaking. Remember, you need enough space to add on a fitting, so you might need to replace valves, or reinstall pool equipment like a chlorinator. Each situation is unique, but don’t sweat if it’s a bigger job than you were anticipating before you made your plan.
5. Check It Out!
Once your glue is dry and fixed, it’s time to make sure you got the job right. Go ahead and fire on your system with a paper towel or wad of toilet paper in hand. Dab around the newly sealed fitting. If your paper comes off dry, you’ll know the job is well done.
Since we’re thinking of the future, remember that as of 2021, the switch to variable-speed pumps will virtually be federal law. Thankfully, the Blue Torrent 2 HP Variable-Speed Pump is ultra-powerful, comes with a warranty, is eligible for rebates, and pays itself off in under a year by energy saved. As customer Robert Tafoya says, “Pump works quietly, efficiently, and is easy to install.”
You Cracked the Code!
Congratulations, you did it. That cracked pipe was no match for a saw, replacement pieces, primer, glue, and a little bit of know how. And now that you have another line added to your maintenance resumé, you’ll never have to be afraid when checking your plumbing, especially on pool opening day, again. For now, it’s time to celebrate your pool’s seamless circulation with a backstroke. Enjoy.