Robert Lamoureux | Addressing pool concerns, questions

Robert Lamoureux has more than 40 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Email questions to Robert at [email protected]
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Editor’s note: This week’s column does not follow the traditional format. It features several questions from Darren, and Robert Lamoureux’s answers. 

Hi Mr. Lamoureux, 

Question: I am a homeowner in Santa Clarita and I grew up here almost my entire life. I wanted to thank you for all the great articles you write. My parents, who still live here as well, started sending me your articles when I was asking them about home improvement. 

Recently we took the plunge (no pun intended, well maybe a little) and decided to have a pool put into our backyard. Many of our friends had already done this. Some had good experiences and others had really bad experiences (rebar rusting, past-due completion and plumbing leaks). So, with my friends in my corner giving me advice, I felt like I was quite prepared, until things just didn’t seem right to me. 

The first thing to come in question was the contract. One of the biggest issues was the contractor was claiming no responsibility to any damage caused by the excavation to the sprinklers, gas lines, electrical lines, house, etc. I challenged it at first, but they said all pool contractors do this and that the homeowner is responsible for fixing. Is this true? 

Answer: Every contractor has his or her own rules when it comes to utilities. The only thing I tell people is to notify Dig Alert. Dig Alert is a state-controlled agency that regulates digging that prevents utility damages. Even if you’re going to dig in the backyard, call them and let them tell you if they feel they need to come out or not. If they decide to send the utility companies out, they will give you a release number right there on the phone and this protects you while digging.

Question: The second issue was when water started leeching from the newly dug hole within one day. 

Answer: This is not uncommon, especially in the Canyon Country area. You didn’t say what area you were in. These are just water tables, where water will take the path of least resistance and come out during a dig like this. 

Question: We had about an inch of water at one corner of the deep end. It continued to get worse over the next several days (3 inches of water) to where, when they installed the rebar, the rebar started to rust. Is this a problem? 

Answer: The rebar will rust, that’s a given. The rebar is covered with Gunite and the water will leach through the Gunite and rust the steel anyway. The plaster is installed over the Gunite to keep the water in the pool. From the bottom, the water enters the Gunite and will rust the rebar. 

Question: I did decide to go ahead and have a hydrostatic relief valve put in as a just-in-case insurance policy. Is this the right thing to do and is there any downside to having one? 

Answer: This is a loaded question. Unfortunately, I don’t know where you live. As I stated above, if you live in Canyon Country there are certain areas that are low topography and invite some of the water from our water tables to enter the low-lying areas. If the water is what you described, then installing a relief valve is a good idea. The downside is you may get some dirty water in your pool periodically should the valve go off. Otherwise, it’s a good investment if you’re on a water table that is bleeding like you described. Typically, they will install one at each end of the pool, deep and shallow ends with a pipe in between. During the rains especially, these are a great device if in a low-lying area. If the water tables fill and you were in a low-lying area it could cause the pool to ”POP” as we call it. This will literally cause the pool to come out of ground like a beach ball in water. Be sure that if you drain your pool for cleaning purposes that you do it during the summer and NOT the winter during the rainy season to minimize popping. 

Question: The most recent issue is the plumbing. I have been documenting the build throughout the entire process using video and photos. I didn’t question anything at the time of the installation until they performed a pressure test by tying all the plumbing together and capping all exit points while leaving the inlet where the pump would be installed open with a hose bib and pressure gage homemade test setup. 

Answer: This would be a concern to me — if the pressure isn’t holding then there is some type of leak. If it’s leaking like you mentioned there should be signs of water somewhere. 

Question: I noted they charged the plumbing system to 40PSI, not sure why 40PSI? Is there a standard test pressure? 

Answer: 40 PSI is correct. The pressure should not drop if there are no leaks. 

Question: Anyway, over the next two days I noticed a pressure drop of 2 PSI when I checked it at basically the same time and temperature as I know that temperature affects pressure. I continued to monitor it and it continued to drop over the next several days as low as 33 PSI. I notified the contractor and they said that was normal. I am pretty sure pressure drop means there is a leak when it is a closed system they are testing. I did some research and came to find out that there is no plumbing code. 

Answer: Correct, on the water side there is no code. On the gas line is a different story. The line must be air charged and must hold for 24 hours without a drop. If the line drops the contractor will be made to find that leak by the city inspector. Gas is potentially dangerous. If you are here in Santa Clarita we have a great building department and these guys and gals care about the safety of our citizens. As I have said for years, it’s called, “Building and Safety” for a reason. They don’t care what color you paint your walls, but they do care about the safety of the community. I’m a big B&S advocate. 

Question: Neither city code nor Los Angeles County codes regulate what pressures to test to and what pressure drop is acceptable. Santa Clarita City Building and Safety said there is no code and they don’t check when they do an inspection prior to shotcrete. This shocked me but I found a great website that provides a lot of logical information. http://www.swimmingpoolsteve.com I found the pressure test section under his resource tab, which made a lot of sense to me. What are your thoughts? I also had to be my own advocate and go find a leak literally two days prior to shotcrete. The pool contractor threatened me with cancellation fees because it was the weekend and he wouldn’t be able to contact anyone prior to the schedule of Monday morning. I told him it wasn’t my fault there is a leak. They actually denied it so I had to take photos of the drip. They came out and called it moisture and never used the term leak. They finally gave in and said they would come out and fix the leak. The leak was very slow, about one drop every five minutes. I think I got lucky in finding it because when the plumbing is pressure tested, it has water and air. So if there are no gross leaks in the first 15 minutes, it is very difficult to find if it is slow because it can be water or air leaking. They fixed the joint I identified, but pressure is still dropping, which should mean it is still leaking elsewhere. 

Answer: What you could do is bring in a pool leak detection company and have them test the lines for you. I’d warn the pool contractor that you are doing this and if it’s found that there are leaks, you will deduct the amount of the leak detection costs from the pool installation invoice, and if there are no leaks then it would be on you. 

Question: The leaky joint they cut out, I inspected and found that they hadn’t deburred the pipe and the PVC cement was compromised by the debris left from the jagged edges left on the pipe ends. Isn’t this plumbing 101? I then found that the joint was either cut with a hacksaw or a Sawzall because my security cameras showed them in use on the jobsite. Is this typical practice or is there any plumbing code, standard or regulation that prevents this? 

Answer: They should have used a PVC tube cutter, but there is no code that says they have to do this with plastic pipe. The deburring applies to copper and not plastic. 

I would really appreciate your advice as it is really getting confrontational with the pool contractor. We really want to finish this pool but are extremely concerned about the potential for small leaks to get larger over time. 

— Regards, Santa Clarita Self Proclaimed Leak Detective 

Follow-up email communications:

Mr. Lamoureux, 

Question: I wasn’t expecting such a quick response. Thank you for your feedback. Just to answer some of your questions and provide clarification, I live above Valencia High School. The entire community is basically built on a hillside. However, my house is located at the bottom of my street as the neighbors are tiered coming down toward me. There is also a HOA common area hillside behind my property but not directly behind. 

Answer: Ah, this is why you’re getting the water in the bottom of the hole. You are at the toe of the hill and all of the irrigation as well as water from the rains, you will get all of their water. It’s a good idea you put the relief valve in. 

Question: I assume that the irrigation is a contributing factor to the water accumulation in the bottom of the pool. I am glad you agree that a hydrostatic relief valve is a good idea. Also thank you for the advice about emptying the pool during the summer instead of the winter. I am surprised it is OK for the rebar to rust when surrounded by the shotcrete and that it is acceptable. Doesn’t this adversely affect the structural integrity of the pool over time? 

Answer: Eventually it will but you and I will be long gone off this planet. LOL.

Question: We did have Dig Alert come out for the gas line and the other utility companies came out as well to identify where the water, electric and cable lines were located. This was definitely the right thing to do. However, they weren’t really able to pinpoint the gas line that went to my outdoor fireplace. Luckily I was at home at the time of the dig and had asked the contractor if they had turned off the gas just in case. They hadn’t and they abruptly stopped work and shut off the gas and water. As they continued to dig, we discovered where the gas line went right through the center of where they were digging. Disaster averted!

Answer: Unfortunately, there are many contractors for a multitude of reasons that don’t think outside the box. It’s a good thing that you think the way you do, proactive. 

Question: Regarding the pressure testing and the pressure drop over time, is there an acceptable limit? Does the website I cited make logical sense that anything over 1/4 PSI is of concern? Since the pressure test process used traps air in the closed plumbing system with the addition of water, there is air and water within the piping. There is quite a large volume of air prior to introducing water. 

Answer: The lines need to all be capped off first. The line at the highest point needs to be left open as well as the inlet side. Fill the line up with water till it comes to the top and set a cap and monitor the water loss if any. Or get the leak detection company involved if you think you have a problem. They will get to the bottom of it. Be sure they specialize in pools and not just standard leak detection. 

Question: So would I really be able to detect water leak or is there air that could be leaking? Is there a better way to detect where the leak might be coming from? Is there a method to purge the air out to where the entire plumbing system is water-filled and if there is a leak, it could be found? As you stated and as I confirmed, cutting shears produce a much cleaner edge and don’t appear to leave any burrs but I know the pool plumber also used a hacksaw and a Sawzall to cut the pipe, which leaves a very jagged edge. Can this condition compromise the joint quality? 

Answer: Not in my opinion. I’m guilty of using a Sawzall and never having problems with it. 

Question: I also found the manufacturer of the PVC cement (Weld-On 711 PVC Industrial Grade) has guidelines for the PVC pipe edge to be deburred. It states, “Verify pipe to be joined is cut squared and deburred. Pipe outside diameter should have a 10-15 degree chamfer, 3/32 inch from the end.” Why is it not necessary to deburr PVC? I guess it doesn’t ultimately matter if there is no pressure loss in the system. Do you have a recommendation for a pool leak detection company to use? 

Answer: I’ve sent this recommendation to you. 

Thanks for your time, Darren

— Robert

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