A Leak In The Pool And In The Pocketbook

Kitty PoP – “Stop taking my picture and help me dry off, PLEASE!”

We have a bit of a confession to make. For the past 4 or 5 months (at least – maybe longer?) we’ve been emulating ostriches. You know, sticking our heads in the sand to ignore problems around us.

The problem we’ve been ignoring is that our pool has been exceedingly thirsty this winter. You see, winter is our dry season, so due to normal levels of evaporation, we find ourselves having to add water to the pool occasionally to make sure the water level stays high enough so that if Kitty PoP falls in he can get himself out. (It doesn’t happen often, but his safety is pretty important to us.)

But… as this winter got drier and drier, we began to realize we were having to fill the pool a lot more often than we normally do. And our water bills began to reflect that, too. Rather than being about $5 higher than summer on average, they were running us around $20/month more than previous years. By January, Mr. PoP and I had talked about how it felt like we were filling the pool a lot more often than we had in previous years, and by February, we were pretty sure we had a leak.

 

Confirming of Our Fear

But we didn’t really know how big of a problem this was going to turn into. Would we have to dig up the yard to get at pipes? We really had no concept of the probability of serious damage in order to estimate the cost of potential damages… so we were letting a $20 leak in our budget go by because it was letting us delay what we thought might turn into something huge.

Remember, we are NOT pool experts. We’ve tried and failed at the pool care game in the past. But I happened to be home when the Pool Guy (PG) came by to do the chemicals about a month ago, and the normally silent PG broke his silence.

PG – You ARE filling pool?!?

Mrs PoP – Yes… the level gets too low for the cat…

PG – I know because I use 3x chemicals when you fill. You have leak. You call here to fix.

(PG is very efficient and omits articles when he speaks. I like it!)

 

In our normal DIY spirit, Mr. PoP and I tried some of the leak diagnoses techniques that we found on YouTube, but weren’t able to figure out anything definitive except get a good estimate on the volume of water we were losing on a consistent basis. And I’m actually ashamed to type it here. It was in the hundreds of gallons each week… Eeep! What’s the point of making sure Mr. PoP and I turn the faucet off when we brush our teeth if we’re just going to be throwing hundreds of gallons of water away each week. And I know it was cutting into PG’s bottom line. If we didn’t fix it, I was sure he would raise our rate to compensate for having to use more chemicals.

So after realizing we didn’t have the skills to DIY it, I checked Angie’s List to confirm PG had referred us to someone good, and scheduled an appointment with the Leak Detector (LD).

LD showed up and when I answered the door, I told him a little about the the problem, and he said he’d meet me back by the pool with his tool kit.  I was ready to be impressed. Surely this professional leak detector was going to have some pretty awesome tools, right?

 

The Leak Detector’s Tool Kit

20130406-170644.jpg

Left – disc of modeling clay with tube to condense pipe flow to small stream, Right – The entire kit… goggles not pictured.

When he came around back, I didn’t see any big machinery like I was expecting. Instead, he unrolled a beach towel and set out the following:

  • a pair of goggles
  • a couple of screwdrivers
  • modeling clay
  • 6″ worth of thin plastic tubing (a clear straw would also work pretty well)
  • small handheld mirror (like the one you’d grab from an old make-up bag or at the $1 store)
  • red phenol (R-0014 in our pool chemical test kit. If you have a pool, you probably have this around – if not, it’s $5 or you can substitute food coloring)
  • thin straw stuck in the dye so it comes out thinly and evenly (LD’s came from a can of WD-40, but a coffee stirrer probably works just as well)

And that’s it. Seriously.  That was his entire kit. The only thing that we didn’t have around the house was the modeling clay, and that costs about $3 on Amazon.

According to LD, he is the company’s first (and primary) line of defense against pool leaks. With this little kit, he’s able to diagnose and fix more than 95% of all the leaks that he encounters. The company has big, fancy leak detecting equipment, but they don’t even bother to keep it in the trucks because they use it so infrequently.

 

With his simple kit, LD took about a half hour and taught me how to use that kit to figure out where our leak was. He confirmed that it was NOT underground. (A huge sigh of relief on that one!)

As it turned out, our leak was in the 2nd most common place that leaks tend to form. The concrete pool had started to separate from the plastic of the skimmer box. When we pointed the straw with the dye in that area and gave it a little squeeze, you could see the dye being sucked straight out of the pool through the crack that was maybe a milimeter or two wide. LD had checked everywhere else and not found anything. He believed this was the source of our problem.

 

20130406-170741.jpg

Pool Epoxy 2 part kit. Knead equal parts resin and hardener in hands until completely mixed. Roll out into pencil like strands, then use to seal cracks.

And The Fix?

About 5 minutes later, with about $2 worth of this Atlas Epoxy Pool Putty Set, our leak was sealed. LD came back the next day to double check his handy-work, but the pool level has been perfect since the fix.  The leak in the pool is no more.

 

Take Home Lessons

Ostriching doesn’t solve anything. We spent more on wasted water over the past 4-5 months than we did for LD to come over and fix the problem once and for all. We also no doubt let a good deal of Pool Guy’s chemicals go to waste since he was adding 3x what he usually would to make up for all the freshwater we were adding. Neither of these actions was good for anyone’s pocketbooks, nor for the environment.

But at least when we decided to take our heads out of the sand, we did it right and made sure we were around to learn from LD. Now that we know the proper way to diagnose a pool leak – as well as the steps that were missing from those YouTube “how to” videos, we definitely won’t be ostriching again on stuff like this anytime soon. And heck, we’ll be able to help out friends and neighbors figure out leaks in their pools, too!

 

Have you been ostriching on a problem lately that you’re not sure you really want to know the full extent of? Have you plugged any leaks in your wallets lately?

47 comments to A Leak In The Pool And In The Pocketbook

  • I’m glad it was a cheap fix! I bet you are relieved that it wasn’t an underground pipe burst!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Managing Your Credit: How To Build It & Avoid TroubleMy Profile

  • Wow! Crisis averted. I love the part where you discuss refilling the pool because it’s too low for the cat (to drink, I presume) and 3x chemicals in the next sentence. Nothing you can do differently…just funny.
    AverageJoe recently posted..Pat Flynn Lets Go – Two Guys and Your Money Episode #35My Profile

    • haha, Kitty PoP actually doesn’t drink a whole lot from the pool. It’s more about keeping it high enough so that if he rolls around the pool deck like an idiot and falls in, it’s high enough that he can pull himself out.

      • This would probably make a good video for YouTube. I’ll bet Kitty PoP is less than thrilled with even brief swims.
        Mr. 1500 recently posted..The Silly Price of StatusMy Profile

        • Kitty PoP and the pool have a weird relationship. He hangs out by it all the time as long as no one is in it. But if someone is in the pool he gets all freaked out and sits just inside the sliding doors watching from inside the house.

  • Jacqueline

    Hi! I’m not sure if this will help you but in our area the fire department will come out and fill your pool for free. It’s great!

  • Glad it wasn’t too expensive! We really want a pool with our next house :)
    Michelle recently posted..We Set a Wedding Date and $2,336 in Extra IncomeMy Profile

    • We were glad too! Make sure you think about how my you’ll use the pool before you buy one since they are not cheap to maintain…

      • Haha, pools are great but I think it’s much better to have friends with pools than to have one of your own!
        eemusings recently posted..Boyfriend in the kitchen: Duck, mushrooms and more, oh myMy Profile

        • That’s what we always say about boats. =) Actually – there’s a saying that you’re better off burning $100 bills than you are owning a boat… and a pool is kindof the same way if you don’t use it regularly. I think we’re going to have to do a post on how much we actually pay for our pool… I think people will be shocked at what the actual running costs are.

  • Congrats on being able to DIY fix your pool. As someone who didn’t grow up with Youtube, I am always amazed at just how much free information is available.

    Also: How did the cat get wet in that picture? Did you throw him into the pool?
    My Financial Independence Journey recently posted..Lorillard (LO) Dividend Stock AnalysisMy Profile

    • You tube wasn’t quite enough this time, but we learned from the guy who did the fix and should be able to do most leaks in the future!

      That is an old picture I took the very first time he fell in the pool. He’s fallen in 3 times since we’ve lived here and pulled himself out without even getting his head wet each time.

  • Ivy

    Why don’t you post an YouTube video with your new skills?

    Timely posting, I need to call a plumber to diagnose a strange problem we have (when we run the washer, water backflows in the guest bathroom tub, one floor up). No financial problem, just pretty annoying, and the reason I am postponing is because we are fairly sure this will require rerouting some of the pipes. But who knows, we may be pleasantly surprised like you. I really should go and call this guy.

    • The only downside to LD taking care of the problem is that now we don’t have a leak to illustrate with! If my underwater camera hadn’t died recently I probably would have tried to take some clips when he was making the repair. But you’re right, we could probably put together instructions that show pretty much everything else…

      Good luck with your own piping issue. Hopefully you’ve got a relatively simple fix there, too!

  • I’m glad the fix was pretty cheap. That’s always a good thing.
    We had our heads in the sand about cracks in our mortar joints. Let them go for a few years and finally got them fixed. It cost about 10X because we had waited so long.
    Justin recently posted..Our Long-term GoalsMy Profile

    • Oooh, yeah we were lucky that this one didn’t get any worse from ignoring it. I was more concerned about the amount of chlorine water we had leaking into the water table, but LD didn’t seem to think it was all that much in the grand scheme of things. I guess when you’ve seen as many leaks as he has, ours was pretty minor!

  • We had this horrible noise coming from one of our pipes at work whenever the optician was edging glasses (machine takes water). I just knew it would be a pipe needing to be replaced so we dealt with the noise for a long time. Finally, when we called the plumber, it was something called an “air hammer” where the pipe kind of wiggles when the pressure starts up and it took a very tiny, cheap part to fix it. I think I learned to call at least to see what the damage is going to be. It might not be as bad as you think. Kitty Pop looks so different wet!
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Buying a Business Often Starts With Getting a JobMy Profile

    • Yup, when he’s wet, you can tell he’s all legs – and he hates being wet, so he’s not the happiest camper then either. I know the noise you’re talking about! I’ve seen that in some of the older buildings up north – who knew it was such a cheap fix.
      And you’re right. Finding out what’s going on can’t hurt. We won’t be ostriching again anytime soon.

  • “PG is very efficient and omits articles” -haha! That’s awesome that their able to diagnose most problems with about $10 worth of stuff. It sounds like PG lead you to the right kind of diagnoser.
    CashRebel recently posted..Income Differences By Block: RichBlocks-PoorBlocksMy Profile

    • There are surprisingly few leak detection companies compared to what seems like hundreds of companies that do the weekly pool chemical service. But PG had definitely sent us to the one with the highest ratings on Angie’s List, so we probably would have picked them even without PG’s endorsement. =)

  • cute story! Glad it wasn’t anything major. I’ve been an ostrich when it comes to car repairs, and I paid for it dearly when my care broke down on the freeway last month. Sometimes it’s better to face things head on and hope it’s not as bad as you think it might be. OH, I also did that with my crown/root canal too, but for pain reasons I was totally avoiding it.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..How to Afford LA: My PerspectiveMy Profile

  • Curious – what am I missing here? It’s easier for kitty to get out if the water is DEEPER?
    eemusings recently posted..Boyfriend in the kitchen: Duck, mushrooms and more, oh myMy Profile

    • The higher the water level compared to the pool deck (ie the more water we put in the pool), the shorter the distance he has to pull to get himself out. Imagine if the pool level were a couple feet lower than normal and you had to pull yourself out without a ladder. It’d be tough to pull yourself out that far. Like people, Kitty PoP can kindof tread water, so he stays at the surface of the water when he falls in rather than sinking straight to the bottom. So when the water’s surface is higher, he doesn’t have to pull himself as far.

  • Oh wow, glad it was an easy fix. Thankfully we haven’t been putting off any repairs. Crossing my fingers there won’t be any for a while.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..She Works Hard For the Money: 7 Ways I Made Money During CollegeMy Profile

  • Too easy!!! This is one of the great DIY strategies. If you can’t figure out how to do it yourself via the standard online tools then watch the pro do it then do it yourself next time. The LD guy seemed pretty cool letting you in on his methodology. Well done!
    Mr. Bonner recently posted..The finer things in lifeMy Profile

    • Yup! We’re pretty nosey when it comes to hiring services out and usually ask to be shown how to replicate what they do – and we’ve found they’re usually more than happy to share what they’re doing and become a teacher for an hour or two. Win, win!

  • Glad to hear you got the problem fixed and it wasn’t costly.One point you made in the comments about wanting a pool is to make sure you want one as they are costly to maintain. You are correct, they are costly and in our area agents say that homes with pools tend to stay on the market longer as they only cater to certain buyers. Some people want pools but hardly use them after the first year. It’s a big investment and one worth researching first, talking to others and agents to get feedback. Thanks for sharing this. On that note, we would love a pool but for now it’s kiddie pool and a beer for this guy. :-)
    Canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..Should I Rent Or Buy? The Million Dollar QuestionMy Profile

    • We joke that for most of the year our pool is a really expensive fountain. You know the little ones that you can plug in to gurgle and make nice running water sounds? =)

      I think how it affects a sale depends a LOT on where you are. Down here it doesn’t seem to slow a sale at all, and lately it seems like a lot of people are back to putting them in if they end up buying a home without one. Recessions over, right?

  • Glad the fix was relatively cheap and easy! My husband and I have toyed with the idea of buying a house with a pool…but we also know it would be a lot of work and quite expensive.

    I’m doing the ostrich thing with my car. It has 112k miles on it…and I haven’t taken it in for the 80k service OR the 100k service. Every time I go to the dealer, it seems like I walk out a least $1,000 poorer. I’m kind of afraid of what the dealer will “find” when I talk my car in.
    JW_Umbrella Treasury recently posted..Why We’re Waiting to Buy a HouseMy Profile

    • After reading some of the comments here, I started working on a post on what a pool actually costs – because it’s definitely more than most people think! If we had known how much it would have cost, we probably still would have purchased the house, but… who knows?

  • We have a HUGE issue that we are planning on taking care of this summer. Our sewer drain-out has a leaky joint about 80 feet out :/ Essentially for now it is much more prone to completely clogging and requiring rooting and also drains water a lot slower than it should. If we didn’t have a renter I may consider putting it off longer, but with a basement renter we will get it fixed this summer. It’s a $7k+ repair because it requires trench digging, potentially below the city street! The joys of home ownership…
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..5 Ways to Make Your Side Hustle More LegitMy Profile

    • Ooof! That repair sounds painful. Are you able to do some of the work yourself? My best friend needed a new French Drain after they bought their house, and they ended up having her (now) husband dig the trenches for the work. It was hard, but he did it a little at a time and ended up saving a bundle and probably destroying less of their yard landscaping because he didn’t bring in heavy machinery to do it.

  • The things you do for Kitty PoP.. look at him all wet. Glad to hear your pool leak wasn’t something major.
    KC @ genxfinance recently posted..Cheap Healthy FoodsMy Profile

  • Great story. :-). Kitty PoP looks like our Lucy, only wetter, LOL. As we’re only in the first part of our journey to debt free, yes, there are days when I put my head in the sand. Luckily, I usually come to my senses after a few short hours.
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted..An Interview with Shannon Ryan, from The Heavy PurseMy Profile

    • A few hours? That barely qualifies as ostriching at all! =) I think you guys are definitely on a good path and have your head facing the right direction!

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  • You surely wasted a lot of water and money because you did not take actions right away. It is really a lot better to take actions on smaller things rather than waiting for it to have a worse effect.
    Alexis Marlons recently posted..Business to Business Marketing StrategiesMy Profile

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