Aquatic Renovations Bring New Life to Old Pools
Starting from scratch when it comes to commercial swimming pool construction can come with some serious sticker shock, and this option—although pleasing to consider—is often just not feasible. But for communities, schools, fitness clubs, camps, hotels and other entities that have existing pools that may be outdated or simply worn out, there are smart renovation strategies that can breathe new life into these perceived relics.
Generally speaking, pools become obsolete, which is why operators consider investing more money into them, according to Kevin Post, principal with Counsilman-Hunsaker, a design, planning and operations firm working in the aquatics industry. "When you have an existing pool and you're looking at updating it or replacing anything that's going to improve operations, there are two sides that we look at on the renovations: It can be physically obsolete, as well as functionally obsolete.
"Physically obsolete, that's the equipment side," he continued. "The pumps, filters, motors—they're not meeting current health codes, maybe they're rusted and corroded, and when it comes to renovation, that's a good time to replace that equipment."
A lot of facilities look at making their mechanical systems more sustainable, and newer technologies are aiding this pursuit. "You can get higher-efficiency pumps and heaters, use higher-end filters that use less energy. There's an opportunity to get some cost savings, as well as fix ongoing issues like leaks or anything that makes the pool operate better."
Post said the biggest mechanical trend they're seeing is venues upgrading their sand filters. "After 20 or 25 years, a lot of those filters need to be replaced, so a lot of people are looking at upgrading to regenerative media."
Chemical controllers are another common upgrade, with new technologies enabling them to become part of many mechanical room functions, according to Post. "(They) give you the ability to remotely monitor your systems, get alerts, (know) when your filters need to be backwashed, when your heater's turned on or off, what your chemical levels are… it's really come a long way. Indoors, they can even be tied into building management systems, monitoring air quality and helping to improve building efficiencies. There's all sorts of technology out there to integrate the equipment now."
Secondary disinfection systems—such as ultraviolet (UV) or ozone—have become very common indoors, and Post said they're often being added during renovations as part of the mechanical room.
And what about other differences in indoor versus outdoor pools? "Outdoor pools, because they're exposed to the atmosphere, exposed to wintertime, the sun and UVs, they seem to need renovations sooner on the pool structure side, where indoors we see that they need mechanical upgrades sometimes sooner because they're run year-round."
Looking at pool interiors, Post said the most common is still concrete with a plaster finish, which has been used as a pool surface for decades. It's also economical, with the plaster typically needing replacement after 10, 15 or even 20 years. When replastering, surface preparation is critical for ensuring good adhesion of the plaster to the pool base. Typically, this involves ultra-high-pressure water-jetting, or hydro-blasting, to remove all layers of paint coatings and deteriorated materials. And while traditional white plaster is most common, many colors are now available, as are aggregate coatings including quartz and pebble.
Other interior options include a modular stainless steel panel system laminated with a layer of PVC that's meant to be mounted onto an existing concrete structure. "This way you get a brand-new pool built inside of the old, existing pool. You don't have to demo the old pool so there's a lot of cost savings involved," said Post.
Another system utilizes a reinforced PVC membrane, and Matthew Sands, who works for an Indiana-based manufacturer and supplier of refurbishment products, said these systems are frequently used for commercial renovations. "The membranes can be installed over any existing material after properly cleaning and disinfecting the pool surface. Any previous pool surface materials, such as tiles, for example, don't need to be removed in most cases as the membrane goes right over these surfaces for a faster, easier renovation."
"Commercial pool membranes for an older pool offer some compelling and affordable solutions," said Jason Mart, owner of an Indianapolis company that specializes in pool renovations, developing, manufacturing, supplying and installing aquatic products. "Every pool employs PVC piping throughout because of its reliability and durability. A membrane adds those same desirable factors to the pool interior. We protect the old concrete from the damaging effects of chlorinated water that can permeate existing concrete. It prevents water intrusion, eliminates leakage and minimizes freeze-thaw damage. That what we do. We extend the life of a pool by eliminating water intrusion."
Older pools often have cracks or deteriorating surfaces, and according to Sands, whether the pool is constructed of concrete, fiberglass, steel or aluminum, the reinforced PVC membranes can contain water and seal structural cracks.
"Another advantage of the membrane pool finish is it doesn't crack, regardless of freeze-thaw conditions or ground movement; the membrane completely seals the structure of the pool and keeps it watertight." He added that the membranes also provide protection from chemical and UV damage. New finishes imitate the look of slate, granite, marble, stone and sand, and some facilities are also renovating their surrounding decks and locker room flooring with the membrane solution.
Sands said that facilities sometimes ask about what types of modifications can be made to their pools to make them more efficient. "For example, public pools built 30 or 40 years ago often have deep ends that are 10 feet deep or more. We recommend they consider decreasing the depth—today the standard is five to six feet—to save water, decrease pumping filtration equipment size, decrease PVC surface requirements, etc."
Pool decks are another area that can benefit from a facelift, whether for aesthetic reasons or to provide another layer of safety. Common surface types include stamped concrete and broom finish concrete, with a variety of coatings and finishes available. Post mentioned an aquatic surfacing solution that goes on top of existing surfaces, providing a padded surface that's slip-resistant. The foam rubber tiles are impermeable and chemical & UV-resistant, and come in an array of colors, textures and shapes.
According to Tom Maellaro, vice president of marketing for a New Jersey-based manufacturer of specialty aquatic coatings, we're in the midst of a dramatic increase in the demand for pool renovations, and painting those pools can offer an efficient solution for many aquatic facilities. "In addition to brightening the color, a new coat of paint can be an affordable way to protect and give new life to concrete, plaster or fiberglass pool surfaces, and even pool decks. Choosing the right product—be it epoxy, rubber or acrylic paint—is key.
"Painting a pool with a two-coat epoxy paint system can prolong the life of the plaster, if the pool's surface is in good, sound condition," he continued. He explained that chlorinated or synthetic rubber paints are excellent at hiding, protecting and covering pools that were previously painted with rubber, and they can also be used on bare concrete, marcite or plaster. "They're also ideal for use where adherence to volatile organic compound regulations is required." And the benefit of water-based acrylic paint, according to Maellaro, is that it can be used on damp surfaces and can be applied over most types of coatings if they're in sound condition. All these coatings are self-priming, and have varying lifespans—from two years to eight years.
"Keep in mind that plaster surfaces showing signs of serious deterioration should be resurfaced before painting. Acute flaking, chipping or peeling may indicate a surface that is soon to fail. If the surface is not suitable, the paint will peel and remove the plaster with it," said Maellaro, stressing that surface preparation is extremely important. Once the pool is drained and dry, and leftover debris removed, any peeling, flaking or chipped paint should be scraped and sanded smooth, and any minor chips or cracks repaired. "A structural engineer should be consulted if any major cracks or surface defects are found," he said, stressing that these can compromise the integrity of the pool. There are products designed specifically for pool surface preparation, which Maellaro highly recommends.
When selecting paint, it's important to choose the same type of coating that's currently on the pool, if it's been previously painted, according to Maellaro. He explained that some pool paint suppliers offer free paint chip analysis. "They can provide information such as thickness, number of coats present and integrity of adhesion, as well as make recommendations for the best paint to use in the particular pool application."
It should be noted that deck paint and pool paint are significantly different. Deck paint is designed to withstand direct foot traffic, provide a non-slip surface and remain cool by not absorbing the sun's heat. "On the other hand, pool paints are designed to be submersed in water 24/7, with varying pH levels, while also withstanding water movement, temperature changes, chemical treatments, oils, debris, salt and freshwater," Maellaro said. His company also offers a high-gloss coating designed to restore old pool slides while providing a durable finish that's both chemical- and abrasion-resistant. Ideal for concrete and fiberglass slides, it promotes slippage and is UV-resistant and VOC-compliant.
Sometimes pools and pool features need to be updated to meet current safety codes or ADA requirements, and your renovation contractor should be knowledgeable concerning local standards. Ryan Johnson is a project manager for Aqua Logic Inc., a Waconia, Minn.-based company specializing in pool construction and renovation, working with schools, community centers, fitness clubs, waterparks, hotels and more. He said that if there are safety concerns, a facility has probably been shut down already, as most pools are inspected annually by the city and/or county. And he pointed out that some pools still occasionally need updates to simple things like drain covers, etc., to meet the VGB requirements for anti-entrapment.
Of course, ADA access is a required standard, and Johnson said the quantity of means of access varies by type and size of pool. "Most pools will have the standard fixed ADA lift. Some schools and therapy facilities will have a ramp in place of the lift, but often will have both. On most raised spas we see the required transfer bars in place of a lift."
He described a current project at an apartment complex that has an outdoor pool, an indoor pool and a fully recessed spa. The spa had been closed for some time as it didn't meet ADA standards, as well as other issues including "broken pipes, a single main drain and no ADA lift, which would be required since the spa wasn't raised. We worked with an engineer to create a spa that would fit within the existing space—with a required five-foot walkway around the spa—and meet ADA standards. The original spa was demoed and removed and a pipe trench was cut to the existing mechanical room where the bulk of the existing equipment was able to be reused."
Johnson reported that facilities usually opt for upgrades or renovations out of necessity, or to "give the pool a facelift or freshen the facility up." On the mechanical side, he said sometimes venues want to upgrade their systems, but more often it's unavoidable. "Something will break or parts are no longer available, so options at that point are limited to going new or upgrading."
He also pointed out that mechanical room upgrades aren't something the end-users will ever see, and to draw more patrons, facilities may add play features or different programming. "Play features draw in different crowds and age groups and are a way to freshen up a facility," said Johnson, pointing out that manufacturers offer hundreds of options. "A large number of recreational pools built in the last five to 10 years included plumbing in place for future features when there wasn't money in the budget for them during construction. This reduced the cost greatly to add them down the road when funds are available."
Another renovation strategy involves tile and coping replacement. Swimming pool coping is the immediate edge around most concrete pools, resting directly above the waterline tiling. Coping materials include concrete, pool brick, pavers, cut stone, natural rock and tile. Johnson said that all their facilities have a band of waterline tile, allowing for easy cleaning at the waterline. "If the tile is delaminating and falling off, typically the entire waterline tile will be replaced, or if coping is cracking and breaking. We've done complete replacement of the concrete coping at the top of pool walls." He also explained that while they do minor touch-ups to plaster and decks, they normally use specialized companies to do concrete and pool decks.
Another renovation trend is to replace underutilized kiddie pools with splash pads, according to Sue Koch, regional sales representative at a Texas-based designer and manufacturer of interactive water features. "Kiddie pools tend to not draw a lot of interest, and facilities are looking for ways to better use the space and bring new interest. Kiddie pools tend to be old and dated, with little playability," she said, adding that safety is another reason for installing splash pads. "Unlike a kiddie pool, because there's no standing water, parents can feel safer having a smaller child play in the splash pad. They're also attractive to facilities because you don't need a lifeguard.
"The maintenance for both kiddie pools and splash pads is similar," continued Koch, "though there might be a little more winterization for splash pads because there are often more pipes involved with more water features."
She said that most kiddie pools use either recirculation or flow-through systems, and when renovating these by adding a splash pad, the system can either stay the same or be upgraded. "Recirculation of water with a water treatment system is common for splash pads, which use a much smaller amount of water and therefore less that needs to be chemically treated, which also lowers operational costs."
Post said that physical upgrades don't necessarily change what a pool is doing, and that's why they also discuss functional obsolescence. "If the pool is 30 years old, the community has changed, and the community's expectation of a pool has changed," he said. "That's when we renovate the pool part. We have to look at what they're trying to do with it: Is it offering better swim lessons, a better recreation experience or more waterslides? Or has the competition (demand) grown, and instead of a six-lane, 25-yard pool now they need a 50-meter pool? It's all those different pieces and you have to look at existing pool structure and what it can do, and where we can renovate it to improve on it." RM