A renovated pool by Goodall Pools & Spas
Bryan Beers Photography A renovated pool by Goodall Pools & Spas

As the COVID-19 bubble continues to temper on new pool and spa construction, more builders are pursuing renovation work. This trend has touched the vinyl-liner segment as well.

It makes sense. In any given vinyl market, there lie thousands of pools in need of a refresh.

“So many vinyl-liner pools in existence are coming of age,” says Mike Giovanone, founder of Concord Pools in Latham, N.Y. “You had the 2004, 2006, 2007 tsunami of sales, and those pools are all ready for updates.”

Brad Hunter, vice president of renovations for Concord Pools attributes another market reality. “Just because the cost of a new pool has jumped significantly, more people are willing to put more money into renovations,” he says.

But it’s not just that renovations provide an alternative to the new-pool market. For some, demand for renovations has risen. For Goodall Pools & Spas in Camp Hill, Pa. , renovations show so much promise that the company has made some staff expansions just for this specialty.

“Sales are increasing,” says Owner Rob Goodall. “They’ve always been busy but, before, the majority were on the smaller side. Now they’re going from basic liner flips to doing the whole backyard — fence, concrete, in-pool vinyl-covered stairs, sometimes changing the shape of the pool, putting in [sunshelves] and benches. So we’re getting larger, more detailed projects.”

The spectrum of possibilities is greater than ever. “You can pour a nice sunledge with bubblers, add returns in the steps ... redo your lighting with modernized LED lighting, then automate everything,” Giovanone says.

While new pools have their easy appeal, renovations generate a fair amount of profit, Goodall says. His company usually can manage renovations completely in-house, giving him more control of the project.

But these projects shouldn’t be approached the same way as new construction. They have their own rhythm and require skill sets and a level of analysis that their newer cousins may not. Here, vinyl-liner builders offer tips for successful vinyl-liner pool renovations.

1. Consider dedicating personnel to renovations.

Goodall recently promoted a staffer to a sales position specifically for renovations, and he’s looking for a dedicated project manager.

New construction tends to move at a faster pace, especially since the company also sells fiberglass pools. So Goodall wanted to free up the remaining project managers to focus on making sure all the products and players get to the site on time rather than having to provide guidance to crews when they unearth the surprises that often come with renovations.

“We have three crews who do renovations, and they need supervision and guidance on a daily basis,” Goodall says. “The immediacy of needing to resolve some of those unforeseens requires somebody in that position to mitigate or tell them how to proceed.”

Similarly, the new salesperson specializes in renovations so she can spend more time with customers, assessing what’s possible and potentially developing the projects in scope beyond a simple liner and coping replacement.

2. Look for safety and code-violation issues — and educate the client.

If an older pool has a single main drain, it will fall out of code compliance in many jurisdictions. Even if it doesn’t, a single drain does not meet best industry practices.

For these pools, Goodall Pools will either install a dual drain system or turn the single drain into a return and convert it into a drainless pool, with water exiting the vessel through the skimmers.

When doing this, make sure the client expects this change and understands the reason behind it. Goodall’s team provides the clients with an information sheet explaining local codes, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act and the danger of single drains.

“It’s a lot easier capturing it on the front end of the project than halfway through the project,” he says.

Also let them know about a possible consequence. In a single-drain pool, water likely was moving faster than it should toward the drain. While unsafe, this motion would have created a sweeping motion over the pool floor, making it look cleaner. Without that, they may see more dirt on the bottom.

For this reason, Goodall’s company may offer clients a discount on a pool cleaner if they eliminate the bottom drain altogether.

Also look for electrical-code issues, such as wires not meant for a pool environment, a power source sitting too close to the pool’s edge, or a lack of grounding and bonding.

3. Investigate under the liner.

You’ll need to find out as much as you can about the construction method used and the condition of the pool’s various components and systems.

More work may be required, for instance, if the pool is surrounded by a concrete collar or if the bottom is finished in concrete. Then jack hammers are needed to change the pool’s depth or add steps and benches. Additionally repairing or altering the structure will depend on its type.

For this reason, Giovanone always likes to ask customers from the outset whether they took any photos during the pool’s original construction. This might offer clues about the construction method. You also may be able to piece together part or all of the plumbing layout if it’s been documented this way.

Also check the condition of the plumbing, especially on pools that are older, have been abandoned, or just look in bad shape, suggests Jimmy Brown, commercial and remodel aquatic manager for Burton Pools in Fort Smith, Ark.

4. Prepare to employ old building methods.

These days, vinyl-liner pools most commonly are supported with steel or polymer panels anchored by a concrete foundation or apron.

But, decades ago, some builders supported the liner with block walls or even wood panels. Once you remove the liner and take a look, you may find the following repairs necessary:

Block walls. For these pools, you may need to bring in a masonry subcontractor. Goodall works with a sub who builds raised bond beams and walls and has a good handle on various historical methods of setting masonry materials. Repairs can range from fixing mortar that has popped out to replacing sections of block.

“We did one about a year ago where the wall actually pushed out,” Goodall says. “They had to take out that section of the wall and rebuild it from the ground up.”

Check to see if plumbing was run in the walls and, if so, assess its condition. You may need to replumb some of it and core drill new holes.

One thing for sure about renovating this type of pool: “We’re not going to change the structure,” Goodall says. “We could make changes to the depth, we can go in and put vinyl-covered steps. Adding waterfeatures would not be a problem. But we’re probably not going to change the outside perimeter.”

Additionally, if block walls need any repairs, that means part of the deck must come out, making things easier for add-ons that would require additional plumbing, wire and/or conduit.

Wood walls. It’s true that this type of vinyl-liner structure has generally become replaced by manufactured panels made of materials more suited to exposure to groundwater and other elements underground. However, you may come across them in your renovation work. In fact, Goodall’s team still finds a good portion of these walls to be stable. So they’ll often leave these structures intact, save for some individual panels that may need repair or replacement.

If an individual panel has to go, for instance, they may replace it with a steel one and secure it with a concrete footer.

Other times, a wood wall may be pushed out a bit. If Goodall’s team can shore it up, confident that it will last at least the life of the new liner, the wood will stay in place.

5. Replace the deck if you can.

In addition to liner replacements, plenty of customers opt for new coping, especially if the existing pool has metal coping, Brown says.

If they can, builders like to take that further and replace the deck — for both aesthetic and practical reasons.

In many cases, the deck draws the eye before the pool itself, so updating it is at least as important. “The worst thing you can do is redo a 30-year-old pool and keep a 30-year-old deck,” Giovanone says.

Covering a concrete deck with an upgraded material such as bluestone or sandstone can immediately elevate the whole yard. Installing a cantilevered deck creates a more modern appeal.

But removing the old deck also opens the way for other enhancements, such as adding an automatic cover, which requires installing tracking on the sides of the pool. The open trenches also leave room for the plumbing needed to add waterfeatures, or the electrical lines for new lighting, and even new skimmer boxes.

For stone or paver decks, Hunter’s team always pours a 3-inch subdeck. This helps lock the pool’s top flange in place, provides more stability to the stone or pavers, and leaves a place to secure safety-cover anchors.

If a client doesn’t want such a large-scale change, say for financial reasons, Burton Pools at least tries to replace a 12- to 16-inch border immediately around the pool.

“If the concrete deck still looks good, a separate border makes it look a lot newer and fresher,” says Caleb Burton, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.