Pool Info: Vinyl Pool Wall Repair
Vinyl pool walls are made from a galvanized steel, with premium pools using thicker, more durable steel with multiple laminate coatings. Inground vinyl pools are typically made with 42” tall steel wall panels of different lengths, while aboveground pools are typically built with a 48” or 52” tall, continuous roll of galvanized steel or aluminum.
Galvanized steel walls and to a lesser degree aluminum walls, will oxidize and rust over time. Aluminum oxidation is white colored, and we all know what rust looks like for steel walls. For inground pools it can be difficult to keep moisture away from the backside of the wall, buried under soil and pool deck. Aboveground pool walls have to deal with sun and weather 24/7, as well as other hazards. And for all vinyl pools, the gasketed connection point for skimmers, wall fittings and lights is another area of rust and corrosion problems.
Where is your Wall Rusted?
Skimmers or Returns: Light surface rust is not uncommon around vinyl pool wall skimmers. But when it rusts through the metal and there’s nothing left to seal up to, it becomes impossible to stop the leaking. For mild cases, scrape and sand the rust with a belt sander or sanding block, with a helper holding a board on the other side for support. Then paint over the area with a rust protecting paint, two coats. Use wall foam around the skimmer, to protect the liner, but don’t put it under the faceplate. Replace the return and skimmer faceplates and gaskets, using one gasket between the liner and the wall, and the other between the faceplate and the liner.
For heavy rusting around vinyl pool skimmers, where you can no longer stop the leaking, you can abandon the skimmer location, and install a new skimmer, patching over the hole with sheet metal on both sides. You can buy 10” rolls of sheet metal at any hardware store. Cut the steel with shears or heavy scissors, into a round cornered patch, 20% larger than the hole and use construction adhesive to secure it. Then duct tape over the edges (twice), to protect the liner. And then, install a new skimmer into a hole cut in a nearby location. This will usually also require a new pool liner at the same time.
Upper Part of the Wall: A fairly common rust scenario is in the upper third of the wall, around the water line, indicating moisture getting behind the liner. Use a putty knife or flathead screwdriver to scrape at the rust, flaking off any loose pieces. If a hole develops, or if a hole already exists, continue to remove any loose material until the edges are solid all the way around.
Light rust can be sanded and painted, and then wall foam is used to protect the liner from the oxidation. Heavy rust or holes in the wall however, should be patched with a piece of sheet metal. Cut a round cornered patch 20% larger than the hole and use construction adhesive to glue it to the wall, on both sides if possible. Then tape the edges with sturdy duct tape, twice.
Lower Part of the Wall: Rust in the lower third of the pool wall is less common but more alarming, because of the weight of the water, applying pressure to the area. Press on the area sharply with a screwdriver, if you can poke a hole through the wall, you will need to patch the pool wall.
Small holes can be successfully patched, with long lateral patches of Galvanized Steel Roll Flashing, or Cold Roll Steel Sheets, sold in rolls and flats of different sizes. Larger holes to the lower third of the pool wall are harder to patch successfully, but can be repaired with a full height (or very large) wall section patch, affixing a single large piece of steel from the top rail to the bottom rail. Not too thick or heavy however, or you won’t be able to cut, drill and hang it properly. 18ga – 24ga (0.018” – 0.024”) steel is appropriate for most vinyl pool wall repairs.
When possible or necessary to do so, patching a pool wall on both sides will be stronger. Wall Foam can be used to hide and soften pool wall repairs, or is also used as a rust barrier, to protect new pool liners.
Replacing a Vinyl Pool Wall Panel
Replacing an entire pool wall section is done in the same manner as a small patch (adhesive and duct tape), but you also need to bolt anything wider than about 30” to the existing wall, because the curvature causes the edges of large panels to curl-up.
Larger pieces are clamped temporarily to the wall, and then you bolt or rivet the new wall section to existing wall on both ends. Drill accurate pilot holes in two straight vertical lines 1” apart, alternating hole spacing, through both the old wall and new, every 2”, from top to bottom. Use round head cap screws on pool side, nuts and lock washers on outside, to join the wall panels together. Afterwards, run a double strip of duct tape over the screw heads, on the pool side.
Large wall panels or sections should also be connected into the bottom rail or track on the base of the wall, and run all the way to just beneath the liner track. If not resting on the base, the horizontal base of the patch section can also be bolted to the wall, but use a flat steel bar also screwed to the wall at the base of the patch, to provide support.
Where Does Vinyl Pool Wall Rust Come From?
Leaking Gaskets: Rust on pool walls can come from water weeping through a weak gasket on vinyl liner skimmers, returns, lights and steps. Anywhere that the liner is purposely cut, there is a potential for leaks (on both sides of the wall), that can place water in constant contact with the wall. Replace wall fitting faceplates and faceplate gaskets (2 are used), whenever you replace a liner, or whenever leaking is observed.
Holes in Liner: Small pinholes in the wall sections of a vinyl pool can slowly allow moisture to get behind the liner, and up against the wall. They can be so small that you don’t notice water loss, and may be hard to notice, until you remove the liner and see the spot on the wall. Wall foam helps prevent wall vinyl punctures and can stop some pinhole leaks.
Overfilled Pool: When a liner pool overflows, or nearly overflows, can get water behind the liner where a beaded liner snaps into the track, creating a tell-tale stripe of rust just below the water level. Overflows happen during late spring before opening, or during a heavy and continuous rainstorm or flooding event, or forgetting you are adding water to the pool. Liner Lock can help to keep water out.
Water Behind the Pool Wall: For inground pools, even though a concrete pool deck may cover the gravel and soils on the backside of the wall, that doesn’t mean that water is not moving through the area. Older French drains installed during installation may be choked with soil and roots, and some areas may not drain well, or dry out fully. Water problems such as these can often be addressed by installing swales and basins or drain boxes and French drains, or other means of moving water away from the pool walls. The problem could also be a leaking skimmer or return line, on the backside of the wall.
Where Can I Buy Vinyl Pool Walls?
You will have a hard time trying to buy an inground or aboveground vinyl pool wall, even a little section of a pool wall. Most manufacturers and retailers do not sell pool walls separately, or if they do, it costs ¾ of the price of a new pool. I have come across HopkinsPools, which offers aboveground pool wall repair kits and a good video of an above ground pool wall replacement with new skimmer and wall returns.
For less complicated wall repairs, most home and hardware stores sell Roof Flashing in a roll that is 10” or 20” wide. Pick up a tube of Liquid Nails and some duct tape and you are all set for small steel pool wall repairs.
Larger pieces or rolls of steel or aluminum can be found online, in rolled sheet metal, or flat steel pieces, up to 50” tall. Search for Galvanized Steel Roll Flashing, or Cold Roll Steel Sheets – if you can’t find the size you need locally.
As mentioned above, larger vinyl pool wall repairs with full size steel sheets several feet in width need to be bolted in place, and be resting in the bottom rail or track. Avoid thick or heavy pieces; 18-24 ga. is good for most wall repairs.