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Tile and Coping – Don’t Put Off Repairs

It’s only human nature to put off today what can be done tomorrow. That’s especially true when procrastinating saves money in the short run. As we all know, the problem with that approach is that it can result in much bigger problems and exponentially larger costs over time. Bandages on bullet wounds only stop the bleeding but the injury continues to fester.

In our business, we see the pennywise, pound foolish principle play out every year like clockwork. It starts about this time in summer when we start advising some of our service clients to correct issues with their coping and tile. Due to our crazy freeze/thaw conditions here on Long Island, it’s very common for tile to pop off the tile line and for coping to become displaced due to expansion and contraction that occurs during the cold months.

The reason it’s so important is that when tile and coping become dislodged, there are far more serious problems lurking beneath. As water finds its way into the pool structure — often by cracking and worn-out mastic material in expansion joints, as well as small cracks in decks and between copingstones — it exacerbates the damage caused by the freeze-thaw effect. The more damage, the more water intrudes into the pool structure, then the more damage, and so on. It’s truly a vicious cycle.

Part of the trouble is that the easy “solution” is to simply reapply the tile and temporarily forget about it. Doing so is fast, cheap, and much easier and far less expensive than properly correcting the cause of the problem. Typically, the fix means resetting coping stones (repointing them as we call it), redressing mastic in expansion joints and inspecting the pool structure to be sure that it is not compromised.

That is, if you take that route when tile first starts falling. If, on the other hand, you just stick some tile back on the waterline and do so over and over again, then the extent of the damage increases dramatically over time. Replacing a few pieces of tile cannot fix the damage that nature will cause when basic repairs are put off over a period of years. In most cases, homeowners can get away with it for three years before problems that are far more serious than a few pieces of missing tile begin to arise.

Calendar Specific

This issue really comes to a head in fall when we’re working to convince our clients to invest in a permanent fix before the next freeze. It’s a constant battle to the point that some people think we’re only trying to pad our pockets by ginning up expensive repair work. Truth is, we’re simply trying to prevent far more expensive renovations later on.

And make no mistake; some of the repairs made necessary by years of neglect and stopgap measures can be extraordinarily expensive. There are cases where people have let the issues go for as much as a decade, and when we finally do get around to examining the condition of the pool structure, we’ve had to tear out entire walls because the water destroyed the concrete and corroded the structural steel.

A repair that might cost a few thousand dollars at one point, left undone can swell way beyond six figures. We have had situations where the entire pool had to be replaced, and it’s painful to think it could’ve been easily avoided. But once the invasion of moisture and subsequent expansion and contraction take hold, the problems can get to the point where there’s really very little that we can do other than rip out everything that’s been damaged.

And that is very precise surgery. We remove the compromised concrete and steel by hand, and then painstakingly rebuild the wall adding and pining new steel, shooting new gunite and refinishing the surface, along with rebuilding the bond beam, mortar bed, float, thinset, and, finally, tile and coping.

What It’s Like

There are lots of analogies that apply to this problem, but my favorite is going to the dentist. No one likes to do it, lots of people avoid it, but that doesn’t change the harsh reality that if you let a cavity grow unchecked, you’re going to need a root canal or a tooth extraction, both of which are far worse than getting a filling. It’s the classic “pay me now or pay me later” scenario.

So, the bottom line is get your pools fixed now before winter because if you wait until spring, the damage will be worse and getting repairs done in a timely fashion before the season starts is often almost impossible. When our customers do think ahead and schedule repairs when we tell them they’re needed, we are almost always able to save them significant expense.

the Water Geek


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A blog about all things water, written by SRK's founder Steve Kenny.