Service work is no day at the beach. In fact, at times it can be downright dangerous.
Tom Hickey, for one, has witnessed firsthand the consequences of
bad installations and poorly maintained equipment.
“Two guys in this town lost half their faces and needed
reconstructive surgery after a stainless steel [filter] lid hit
them on the way up,” says the owner of Hickey Custom Pools in
Tucson, Ariz. “Exploding filters are one of the biggest
dangers we have as technicians.”
There are many “hot spots” around the pool where
service technicians are advised to exercise caution. Here industry
veterans review four of the most common trouble areas, and offer
advice on how to keep potentially dangerous conditions in
Manufacturers over the years have developed better locking
mechanisms and internal air bleeds, making the process of relieving
air pressure in a filter much safer. However, older filters still
must be bled by hand.
Though less common today, the combination of a dirty filter, air
leaks in the hydraulics and plugged internal air bleeds can create
an explosive situation.
“It almost has to be a perfect storm,” says Steve
Bludsworth, owner of All-Pool Service & Supply in Orlando,
Still, accidents do happen. An exploding filter lid earlier this
year resulted in a broken arm for a tech Bludsworth knows in
So how does one diffuse this potentially dangerous scenario? By
eliminating excess air. Air leakcx`s can enter the hydraulics
through a number of different sources. Among the most common
culprits is the pump, where, for example, an O-ring can become
To detect such leaks, try crafting a piece of vinyl tubing into
a makeshift stethoscope. While placing one end to your ear, move
the opposite end around the suspect area until you detect a hissing
Also, check the hose on a suction-side automatic cleaner for
breaches. Any holes or cracks will allow air to flow back into the
If air does begin to build up in the filter, take extra caution
when releasing it via the external air bleed. Never put your head
over the filter or anywhere near the locking mechanism holding the
“Keep your free hand between the lid and your head,”
Hickey advises. “While you may not be totally protected,
it’s far better to break an arm than crack open your
Finally, you should routinely monitor the internal air bleed on
newer filters to ensure it’s not damaged.
Heaters are another potential source of danger when they’re
Because of their popularity and design, gas heaters are the most
The solution? Prevent gas buildup. On gas units, leaks tend to
occur most often around the unions, says Don Pollard, owner of The
Pool Pro in Glendora, Calif., who recommends these parts be checked
and replaced as needed.
Gas buildup also may result from a broken heater. If you suspect
this is the case, begin by testing the inlet gas pressure while the
heater is in use. A drop in static pressure usually means a gas
valve is open, and when that occurs, the heater should fire. But if
the heater isn’t turning on, the gas is still flooding the
“If there’s flow and the heater still doesn’t
fire, you’d better shut that thing off immediately,”
Also note that propane gas is heavier than air, and generally
will collect in low spots around the equipment pad.
And while heaters can malfunction at any time, the problem may
be traced to simple, poor installation.
“We’ll go behind other people where guys have
bypassed the safety features of the heater,” Bludsworth says.
“They’ve taken the high-limit or pressure switch out of
the loop in order to get the heater to fire. It’s kind of
like disconnecting the air bags on your car.”
Remove these safety measures, experts warn, and the heater will
fire almost without limitation. The last place you’d want to
be, in this instance, is near the equipment pad.
Perhaps the best advice is expect the unexpected. Bludsworth
once discovered a gas heater that was retrofitted into a propane
gas line. While natural gas operates on low pressure, propane gas
uses high pressure. The variance in pressure means there was a
significant size difference between the openings of each heater
type. As expected, the installation didn’t last
“[The heater] was like a flamethrower,” he recalls.
“It burned the whole side of the house, and it melted the
So use caution: You never know when you may be working behind a
hasty builder or inexperienced tech.
Though rarely lethal, electrical shock probably is the most common
hazard for service techs. It can originate from a range of sources
— chewed wires, poor installations, faulty GFCIs and plain
bad luck — which often makes identification
Some situations are nearly impossible to foresee. What’s
the answer then?
Recognize bad wiring. A homeowner, or prior technician, may
mistakenly connect a hot wire to a ground lug, which would energize
the entire pump. Or, hot wires may be hooked up to bond wires,
energizing the surrounding yard.
Pool lights can be another source of danger, particularly during
installation and testing. Older lights are especially tricky. Case
in point: A GFCI may not be present in light niches installed
before the 1990s.
With no safety device present, it may be best to simply steer
clear of the repair.
“We won’t even touch them,” Bludsworth says.
“You have to have an electrician bring the fuse up to code
before we change a bulb.”
Finally, if there’s a lighting panel box, make sure
it’s a safe distance from the pool. On older pools, these
often are installed just beneath a diving board.
The rubber coating that protects the wiring won’t last
forever, and heavy rains or splashout can cause big
“Once the rubber seal wears off, water gets into the
wiring — which leads to electrocution,” Pollard
And that’s why, after so many years in the business,
Bludsworth usually refers any unconventional wiring around the pool
to a certified electrician.