May my words of experience find you when you most need them. We made a mistake when we added hardscaping around an old pool, so please learn from us and for the love of your sanity, check for leaks before you hardscape around an old pool.
Or any pool, really.
What is hardscape? It refers to the man-made parts of landscaping that aren’t vegetation. Things such as paths, walkways, and walls would count as hardscaping.
Why would you hardscape around a pool?
It’s personal preference, but hardscaping around a pool (the pool deck, in essence) with concrete or stone is easy to maintain and helps keep the pool clean and free from grass, dirt, and leaves.
Why would a pool leak?
Other than to drive you bonkers? It’s just something that can happen over time as the pool ages and systems wear out. You can get a leak in one of the plumbing lines or in the pool itself.
What should you do if you suspect your pool is leaking?
Definitely don’t start a hardscaping project.
You should probably also not have a conversation like this:
Person 1: The pool level looks a little low.
Person 2: Does it?
Person 1: I know it has been hot and dry, but did we fill the pool up this much last year?
Person 2: Not sure.
Person 1: That area next to the pool looks terrible. We should put down some pavers.
Person 2: Whatever you think is best, dear.
(Please note that was an entirely fictionalized conversation. No one uses the endearment “dear” around here.)
Pool levels can go up and down in the summer depending on how much rainfall you receive, how often you are backwashing the pool, how much water is splashed out of the pool, etc.
Our pool leak was so slight that it was hard to tell what, if anything, was going on. Since we were new to owning a pool, well, let’s say our heads were buried deeper than that leaky pipe was under the concrete! What problem? We don’t see a problem! Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.
There are tests that you can run with the pool pump on and off to determine if you have a leak and if it’s coming from the pool itself or one of the lines. Learn more here or just Google it as we did. You’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know.
What was our hardscaping around an old pool project?
I’m so glad you asked.
The area inside our pool fence is made up of grass, a tree, a concrete pool deck, and an old flowerbed that had not had vegetation other than weeds in it for years, decades even.
In the 3 years that we’ve owned this house, we have discovered that all the vegetation growing inside our pool fence is a pain point when it comes to maintaining the pool and our landscaping in general.
The one thing we could fix up FOR FREE using the rocks and pavers we had on hand was that old flowerbed shown in the above photo. We wanted to turn it into a pathway or an extension of the pool deck.
The flowerbed was originally covered in red gravel and had some shrubs growing in it. The shrubs are long gone and the gravel had become buried under 3 decades of dirt. The old weed barrier wasn’t barring anything from growing.
It was an eyesore.
An eyesore that could be fixed by digging out all of the rock and old weed barrier.
Then we washed all the rocks.
That was…how do I put this delicately…a process.
You’d think washing small rocks would be easy, but it’s not without a good way to drain off the dirty water. We ended up tumbling the rocks in our cement mixer and rinsing them over and over and over.
Then we put everything back together with the newly leveled ground, new weed barrier, pavers, and those newly cleaned red rocks.
It looked great. We were so delighted with ourselves.
We should have known it was too good to be true.
How did the mistake (aka not checking for the pool leak) come into play?
About two weeks after we finished this hardscaping project, we decided there really was a leak somewhere in the pool. We isolated the problem to one of the return lines.
This pool is 50 years old. In human years, that’s middle-aged. In pool years, 50 is ancient.
We have no paperwork on this pool. We didn’t know where the pipes were buried, so we started digging. As one does.
After digging for days (or so it felt), we isolated the location of the leak to the one area we could not easily access unless we wanted to do an additional hardscaping project in the form of a new concrete pool deck.
We happen to have several plumbing lines that are not buried under concrete, but, of course, our leak was under the concrete pool deck. Dun, dun, DUUNNNN!
You knew that was going to happen, right? We did too, but hope (and denial) springs eternal.
To be clear, we DO want to install a new pool deck someday when we replace the old metal coping, but not today. That’s not in the budget.
What we could do is reroute the plumbing lines to areas where there were pavers not concrete and to the side of the fence where the skimmer line was already located. It really made a lot more sense, especially since we were DIYing it.
We could also install shut-off valves on the lines so that, in the future, we or the next family who lives here can isolate which line is leaking.
Please note that we did consider renting a ditch digger to help with this process, but the logistics of where the fence and the existing skimmer line that we wanted to keep were located made that impractical.
Plus, hand digging is such a good workout.
Did we ruin all of the new hardscaping we just installed along the side of the pool fence?
No. Not ALL of it.
*sobs partly in relief, partly in despair*
We had to tear up one small section and redo it, so that wasn’t too bad.
Probably the worst part is that some of the newly cleaned red rocks got dirty during the trench digging process. We were trenching right behind the fence where the new hardscaping was situated.
Before you start typing comments, I know rocks are going to get dirty…they are on the ground after all. I just wanted the honeymoon period to last a little longer than 14 days. Is that too much to ask?
Did we learn anything from adding hardscaping around an old pool?
Only time will tell.
Let’s hope you learned something from this experience to apply to your own hardscaping around an old pool situation.
Things like trusting your gut, don’t get the cart before the horse, you can do hard things, most house problems aren’t the end of the world, or checking for pool leaks before hardscaping around an old pool.
That makes all of our foibles worth it.
P.S. The top image in this blog post featured some ground-level solar lights. They’ve been such a great addition to the pool area to provide up-lighting along the fence. You can find the ones we selected here.
Do you have any regrettable pool or landscaping stories? I’d love to hear them. You can always comment on this blog post (I have to approve it first before it appears), email me here, or reach out via Instagram or Facebook.
Thanks for being here today. I know your time is valuable and I’m glad you spent it with us. Here are some other blog posts you might enjoy.