Ice Damage

Winter ice damage can happen to any vinyl-lined pool, though it is more commonly found in above-ground and on-ground pools than in-ground pools. Ice damage is generally considered to be an act of God, and so is not normally covered by manufacturers, or installers warranties. Thirty years ago, most homeowner’s insurance policies would cover ice damage, but over the years, many insurance companies have specifically disclaimed it. Of late, our experience is that only about 10% of insurance policies will cover it.

Ice damage is very rare, and there is nothing that the pool owner, manufacturer, dealer, or installer can do to prevent it—except to check for leaks when the pool is closed in the fall. For more information on that, please see our POOL TIPS: Pool Winterizing, or come to one of our Pool Closing classes.  However, since a pool noticeably leaking in September would generally be mostly drained by December, previously leaking liners are not often the cause of ice damage.

How rare is ice damage? In most years, we will hear of one or even no cases. In some years, however, that number will rise to five or ten. That may seem like a lot, but we have a customer base of over 15,000 regular pool owners—the list of people who have made a major purchase is double that. In other words, the odds of having ice damage are probably not much different from being in a major auto accident. The prime ingredient is bad luck. However, in 2000, a 100-mile wide band of devastation was created from Maine to Wisconsin. The industry has never in its 40-year life seen anything like it. Those of us in southern New Hampshire were right in the middle. Ice damage is now a major concern to many in our area. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of the damages that winter turned out not to be true ice damage, but snow damage caused by an unusually heavy snow (the bottom of which condensed to ice) and improper pool cover installation.

How does it happen?

Water expands about a degree above freezing, so that ice is lighter than water. That’s why most bodies of water freeze from the top down. It’s also why life survives in rivers and lakes during the winter—they normally do not freeze solid. Most in-ground pools freeze the same way, because the pool walls are insulated by the earth around them, and the deck above that.

Above-ground and on-ground pools are different. Their walls are exposed to the same winter air as the water. These pools freeze like an ice cube tray or a glass of water in your freezer: first across the top, then down the side. If you can’t visualize this, just put a plastic shallow cup of water in the freezer and check it every half hour or so.

Here’s the first danger: as the pool freezes down the side, from the top down, it forms a giant icicle. The top (where the freezing started) is thick. The bottom (as it starts to form down there) is thin—even sharp! This happens every year, to every pool, with no problem—because no one moves the ice. In particularly cold winters, an above-ground pool will freeze completely solid with absolutely no harm to the pool.

For the next danger, we need a very particular set of weather patterns: fairly cold weather, followed by a quick rise in temperature with bright sun, followed by high winds.

Imagine this: Your pool has a giant wall-icicle that just happens to have its pointed end touching the bottom of the pool. The ice is a foot thick at the top, and stuck to the liner everywhere. So far, no problem—the ice can’t move. In a normal spring, the wall-icicle thaws out before the ice at the top.

But, what if the temperature goes from 20° to 60° in one day, and the sun is beating down on only one side of the pool? The ice is going to melt off one side, while it’s still stuck to the other. So far, still no problem, though you have a 25,000 pound iceberg floating in your pool. That’s how much a foot of ice in a 24′ round pool weighs. It’s not going to move by itself, but a 40 mph wind could move it a little. That’s the kind of wind you could get as a cold front moved in before a storm.

Next, we need the icicle that was touching the bottom, to cut the liner as the ice shifts. Not too much—just enough to cause even the smallest leak. That 24,000 pound iceberg was no problem while the water was holding it up, and it would be no problem if it was completely floating free. It would just sink to the bottom as the pool drained.

Eventually, though, enough water leaks out from under the ice, and it’s only held up by being stuck to the wall and liner. Pool walls aren’t designed to handle nearly that much weight, and eventually the ice either rips the liner off the wall, the wall crushes, or the iceberg crashes down, splitting the wall like a giant hammer.

After the pool melts, you’ll see the evidence:  1. A buckled wall, about 6″-12″ from the bottom, generally on the cold side. 2. Slashes in the liner from the wall-icicle, at the intersection of wall and bottom, anywhere along the pool’s edge. 3. The original liner cut, generally on the sunny side of the pool (though often it’s too small to find without lots of work). 4. Sometimes a split in the wall where the ice was heaviest, or the wall was weakest.

Upon occasion, a ground heave will push the liner up into the ice, causing a cut in the bottom, and then all of the same damage.  Southern New Hampshire is the frost-heave capital of the United States, and it is not only because we don’t spend very much money on road construction and repair.  It is also because we have an unusual amount of freeze-thaw episodes in a winter.

Repairs generally include replacing the wall, liner, skimmer, and a vertical support or two.

What Do You Do?

If you think that you have ice damage, immediately check your winter cover.  If it’s starting to fall in because there’s no longer enough water in the pool; drain and remove it (if there is no ice on the cover), or release the cable or tubes, and let it fall in.  Don’t allow the weight of water and snow on the cover to cause any damage to the pool’s top rails or coping.

If the uprights or top rails have been damaged by the cover, you used a cover that was too small, or you put it on wrong.  Re-read the directions that come with the cover, and consider buying a larger cover next time.  A large cover can do no harm – it doesn’t snow any more on a wrinkled 24’ circle than it does on a smooth 24’ surface.  However, a cover that’s too tight can ruin your pool.

Next, contact your insurance company, and see what they need to process a claim.  If they want an estimate to repair, we’ll be happy to help.  Be advised, though, that pool manufacturers can only provide replacement walls for their own pools.  It’s a long story why, and it’s caused by insurance companies.  The point is that some pool parts (like liners) are easily interchanged, and many brackets and posts can be jury-rigged to fit, but you can only get a new wall from the original manufacturer.  Even if you could find someone to sell you a different brand, they generally don’t fit.  Every inch difference in diameter is 3.145 inches difference in wall-length.   There are plenty of 24’ pools out there that are only 23 ½’ across!

Be careful when initially talking to your insurance company.  Many of them have dropped ice damage from homeowner insurance, while retaining snow or wind damage coverage.  Almost all of them cover vandalism, and most will cover a tree falling on the pool.  If you’re not entirely sure what happened, discuss it with them before you arbitrarily decide that it was something that they won’t cover!  It will likely make a very big difference whether they call your pool a structure (with the same coverage as your house or garage) or contents (with the same coverage as your sofa).

Next, contact us, and/or the dealer where you originally purchased the pool.  If you wish to pursue a warranty claim with Sharkline, we will be happy to help.  Be advised, though, that the owners of Sharkline are personal friends of ours – and our business relationship goes back twenty years.  We are not going to do anything dishonest in order to help anyone.

It is also not our business to get rich from other people’s misfortune.  Depending on circumstances, we will accept little-to-no profit in helping you.

Written Estimates – will be free if you are a customer, and reasonably inexpensive if you are not.  That assumes no one has to go out to your house, and we are just quoting what you are buying from us.

Insurance Estimates are very different.  Those are far more complex; normally require researching labor, products and services that we do not even carry, and often require expressing professional opinions on why certain things happen.  People are often surprised that we thought to include legitimate expenses that we do not supply ourselves, that they would never have considered.  Typically, they are six to ten pages long.  Assume that those will cost around $75, and the insurance company will cover that cost.  We have a form online or in the store that tells you how to apply and what we need to know in order to get you reimbursed for everything.

Winter Damage Claim – we have a program to help our customers with special “Feeling Sorry For You” discounts when insurance or factory warranties do not apply to them:  from 5% to 97% discounts!  For that, you will have to fill out and sign a form, and we need to research the discount level that applies to you.  Ask us for a Winter Damage package, here in the store or we can mail it to you.  If you are a good customer now, we will be happy to help you even if you did not purchase your pool from us!

FinallyWe wish you luck, if you’ve had any pool damages this winter, and please let us help you.

3/20/14

IMPORTANT

Pool Size: ___________ Gallons Technician: ___________
Date: ________________

We write Pool Tips for the exclusive use of our own local customers. They are meant as a summary of general information, to be discussed in our store, with our staff, to determine which items are best for specific pools. Pool Tips are a trademark of Gull Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Our suggestions assume that you have given us a proper description of your pool’s size, history and symptoms. Sometimes we can figure it out, sometimes we can’t. Your doctor has years more training, far better diagnostic tools, and makes way more money—and sometimes he or she gets it wrong, too.

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