Battle of the bulge: Sometimes water from under the patio can become suspended by a low permeable soil, such as clay. When it is higher than the waterline in the pool, it can force the liner to float.
Battle of the bulge: Sometimes water from under the patio can become suspended by a low permeable soil, such as clay. When it is higher than the waterline in the pool, it can force the liner to float.

A recent episode of HGTV’s “Rescue My Renovation,” cleverly titled “Pool Me Once, Shame on You, Pool Me Twice, Shame on Me,” centered on a frustrated homeowner’s multiple attempts to fix a frequently wrinkling vinyl liner.

The episode placed the blame on a contractor who supposedly did a shabby job — twice! — repairing the pool and that a so-called “expert” was going to solve the problem once and for all.

It was obvious to me that the liner’s wrinkling was mainly because water would well up behind it causing it to float. Yet the show attributed it to the first contractor’s poor work. When they took out the steps, you could clearly see the perched area (I’ll explain that in a moment) and the adjoining deck that caused water to flow toward the pool.

I predict that the pool will float again because no provisions were made to alleviate the problems that caused the liner to float in the first place.

This illustrates an important point: Even the pros can miss the signs that cause these problems.

Floating liners are becoming more and more common along the Eastern Seaboard and are reaching farther into many mid-Atlantic states. Some customers are complaining that their liners will float, not only in the spring, but also several times in a single season.

It’s important that we educate our customers so they understand that we are dealing with an issue that emerged because of several factors, none of which can be blamed on the builder or customer alone.

Here we’ll examine some of the primary causes behind floating liners.


When homeowners or landscapers alter the pool area, they create vulnerabilities, allowing water to penetrate the pool from under the concrete patio along the entire perimeter. This water can become suspended by a low permeable soil such as clay. We refer to this as “cohesive soil.” Floating liners are prevalent in the presence of cohesive soil.

This small pocket of space outside the pool walls, under the concrete and running along the entire perimeter, is created by years of normal settlement. What makes this especially problematic is that this “perched” water, as it’s called, is higher than the normal water level in the pool, creating the potential for hydrostatic pressure. (That was the big red flag that the HGTV program failed to note.) As long as the water maintains a height above the pool’s water line, it will cause the liner to float.

Tighter pool structures

One of the most important factors that influence the intensity of the floating liner is the pool’s structure. We have successfully made many improvements to our vinyl liner pools over the years. The walls and all of the extra fixtures are attached with a stronger and tighter fit. We caulk and duct tape all our seams and open spaces, creating a watertight vessel. We also use a better material to create a stronger and more durable bottom. Vermiculite and concrete are very effective in creating a strong and non-permeable bottom. Unintentionally we have made it easier to float our liners and, worst of all, we created a non-permeable shell which traps water under our liners.

Now when liners float, they will float longer or indefinitely. When this happens we must aid our customers in fixing the mess. Quick fixes are necessary and, unfortunately, only temporary, such as placing pumps behind the liner. When the next rain comes the liner will float again.

There are, however, permanent solutions on the market. These must be researched carefully and applied correctly. I have been successful in controlling floating liners for every pool and situation. Of course, some have presented minor problems. After much research I was convinced there is no permanent fix from outside the concrete area. All of my repairs are approached from behind the liner, behind the steel walls and under the concrete patio. I was able to control the water height, so hydrostatic pressure would not be able to rise and float the liner.

Addressing the issue

It’s obvious that we, the dealers, can’t take sole responsibility for this problem. Cost, liability and risk are enough to scare any dealer or service tech.

As pool builders and service techs we owe it to our customers to be knowledgeable and upfront about this issue that has negative effects on vinyl liner pools.

What are some of the problems?

The following list are just some of the issues — most cannot be fixed without cost and some risk.

• Large wrinkles and air bubbles in the shallow end of the pool

• Liners coming out of the track

• Bottoms collapse and shift

• Large patches of algae under the liner that eventually stain the surface

• Tearing away from stairs

• Resetting improperly