I’ve had a few people email me about my pool liner replacement project. I decided to document it and post it here. It’s really long and unless you have an above ground pool it may bore you. I’ve not edited this, it’s a living document and I will change it as i think of things to add or better ways to describe what I mean.
Pool liner replacement is not as hard as it seems. I had thought it was a huge project and hired someone to come in to do it for me, but his helper was a no-show. So I decided to learn and help. Charlie (the installer) said he didn’t need my help, but would appreciate it.
Tools needed to do the job:
- Powered screwdriver with good bits (Get a kit from Black & Decker with all the different bits) or a good #2 Philips screwdriver and a medium slotted screwdriver or whatever type of screw driver you need to remove the screws
- Rubber mallet (for gentle persuasion when necessary)
- Very sharp razor knife
- Wet/Dry shop-vac setup for wet mode
- Submersible pump with a long drain hose
- Ladder to enter/exit pool.
- Duct Tape
- 2 foot level
- Blacktop Sealant squeegee (about 2 feet across)
- A push-broom (about 2 feet across)
- A wide flat shovel (coal shovel works)
- Small tube of vinyl safe 100% silicone caulk
- New liner
First things first – drain the pool. Only do this if you know you are going to have 2 or 3 days of good weather. If not, wait until you do. If a storm or high winds (or even mild ones) comes up, you run the risk of having a pool collapse. I drained my pool the day before Charlie showed up. I put the pool vac head on the vacuum hose and centered it in the lowest part of the pool. (Every pool has a “deep” or low spot.) Usually it’s the spot where the most dirt settles before you vacuum. I set the pump to drain and proceeded to water my lawn with 9000 gallons of water. It only took about 5 hours to drain all but the last inch of water. I’ll address getting that last inch of water out later.
While the pool is draining you will need to remove all the “caps” from the top of each column around the pool. This will expose the screws that hold down the top rails going around the pool. Don’t remove the rails just yet. You will want to wait until the pool is drained down to the last inch or two to remove the rails. DON’T LOSE THE SCREWS TO THE CAPS OR RAILS!!! And keep them separate. I put mine in zip-top baggies and labeled them with a marker. The cap screws will be different from the rail screws so keep them separate. Once the pool is drained you can disconnect the pump from the skimmer and the inlet. You can also remove the skimmer and inlet jet from the pool wall as well.
Before you remove the liner you need to remove the rails. My pool used 4 screws to hold each of the top tails in place. You will need to remove them starting at the rail over the skimmer. I found it best to remove them and use a pencil to mark them 1 through whatever. Now is the time to get the kids or spouse involved. Have them wash and dry the caps and rails. Keep all the rail screws together. Don’t mix them with the cap screws. I just put mine in a zip-top baggie and worked around the pool.
Back to that last inch of water. It can be tough if you don’t know the tricks. It is very important to remove that last bit of water before trying to remove the old liner. There are a couple methods to do this, I will describe the one Charlie used. You will need to get into the pool. If you have steps or a pool ladder you can use them but remember they will have to come out at one point. Tip: It’s easier to take weighted pool stairs out before you drain the water. Hook up a submersible pump and put it in the lowest spot of the pool floor. Use the blacktop squeegee to move water to the low spot. If you don’t have a low spot make one by using your razor knife to cut an eighteen inch hole in the pool floor. Using your hands scoop out enough sand to drop the level about an inch or two. Place the piece of vinyl you cut back into the hole and put something like a pipe or broom handle across the loose peice of vinyl then put the pump on top of that. That pipe or handle will prevent the pump from “choking” on the loose vinyl. Go back to moving the water to this new low spot with the squeegee or your push broom (push broom worked best for me). Once you get all the water possible pumped out you can remove the pump and start removing the liner.
Removing the old liner is easy if you do it in small pieces. Where you have columns make a vertical slice from about 3 inches from the top of the pool to the bottom of the wall. Do not press very hard with the razor knife, just hard enough to cut the vinyl. If you press too hard you will scratch the pool wall and possibly leave burrs that will damage the new liner. Then cut the floor all the way around connecting the vertical cuts you just made. Then cut all the way around the top of the pool about 3 inches from the top. The old liner should fall away in pieces that are easy to fold up and remove from the pool. Next cut the bottom up into easily managed pieces, fold them up and remove from the pool. Now you should be left with just the 3 inch strip of old liner around the top. Carefully remove the plastic retaining clips that are holding the liner to the wall. If you break it crack it you will need to replace it. Small cracks and chips are expected but breaks and major cracks can be avoided if you work slowly and carefully. Remove the last of the liner. Leave the wall cap (looks like a slotted round bead of metal fitted to the top of the pool wall underneath the liner) in place. This is necessary to maintain a stable pool wall. Inspect the pool wall for scratches or rough spots and treat as necessary. Remove any old duct tape from seams and replace with new duct tape.
Now it’s time to work on the floor and the cove. Get the blacktop squeegee and rake it across the sand and slowly knock down any high spots. While doing this step remove any debris that would cause an uneven surface, things like pebbles or roots. Be sure to remove ALL sharp items. Anything you leave behind will stick up under the liner and could poke through. Using the squeegee move the loose sand to low spots. Then, starting in the center of the pool, work outwards in a spiral motion to the pool walls moving the loose sand to the cove. If you have lost sand due to a leak near a cove use the coal shovel to knock down the high spots and toss the sand to the cove first then use the squeegee to check for high spots and do the spiral thing. The cove is not that big of a deal. Easiest way to get the perfect cove (in my opinion) is to take the coal shovel and lay the mouth of the shovel on the sand and one of the rounded sides against the pool wall. Keeping the mouth of the shovel flat on the ground walk backwards around the pool slowly applying even pressure as you walk. This will give you a gradual 2 – 3 inch radius (depending on your shovel). Last step is to take the broom and start in the middle again and walk backwards in a spiral from the center out to the edge pulling the broom behind you. This step will remove any footprints you left behind. When you get to the outside edge be careful not to disturb the cove you made around the walls. While doing this step remove any debris that would cause an uneven surface, things like pebbles or roots that you missed the first time. A smooth surface is a must!!
Hand out all your tools!!! Hand out the ladder or steps. Take off your shoes and leave your socks on. If you are barefoot have someone hand you a pair of socks and put them on. I did the sand part barefoot. You can feel anything sharp or hard as you walk in the sand. Have your helper hand you the new liner. Set it down in the center of the pool. Unfold the liner moving towards the pool wall. Depending how your new liner was folded at the factory you want to unfold in sections without walking on the liner. The goal is to open up the liner leaving the bottom flat and the sides folded back toward the center .. kind of like a Taco Bell Crunchwrap. Then carefully walk onto the liner. Go to the center and pick up the cut finished edge of the liner. Pick it up and put your butt towards the pool wall, bend over and pick up the liner in your other hand. Lift up as much of the liner as you can and while holding the liner tight across your back shuffle backwards slowly. When you get to the wall overlap the liner according to the mfg directions (in my case the overlap was 4 inches and I had a tile pattern across the top as a guide) and put a piece of the plastic clip over the new liner to hold it in place. You can also use duct tape on the outside of the wall to hold the liner as well. I used the plastic clip. Walk back to the middle and do the same thing all the way to the opposite side of the pool. Then do the same thing dividing the halves in half. Then the quarters in half and so on. You may find you have one section that is not wanting to overlap the wall. Here’s where you have to use some muscle and “stretch” the liner. Go to the pool wall opposite the side that won’t overlap and and “walk the liner” tight by un-clipping the liner and pulling the liner along the wall in the direction of the tight spot. You might get just an inch or two but it does add up. Go back to the section across from the tight spot and “walk the liner” in the other direction. You will get exactly what you need to fit the pool. While stretching the liner be careful not to disturb the cove. Once you get the liner stretched put the plastic retaining clips over the liner and the pool to secure the liner. Go back to the center and get down on your hands and knees. Using your hands work out as many of wrinkles as you can working toward the pool wall. Here’s where the shop-vac comes in. Using duct tape seal up the opening for the skimmer basket. Carefully have your helper insert the shop-vac hose into the inlet hole and feed it down between the new liner and the pool wall as far as the hose will reach or to within 4 inches of the bottom of the wall. Turn the shop-vac on. This will pull a vacuum on the liner and help properly seat it. At this point go back to the center of the pool and work out ALL the wrinkles. If you don’t do it now, forget about doing it after the liner has water in it. You should notice the liner being sucked to the wall and the sand floor. This is important. It will give you an idea of how the liner will look once you add the water. If you have all the wrinkles worked out replace the plactic retaining clips. This is where you will want to use the rubber mallet to seat the clips. Be gentle. You dont want to crack the clips. With the clips in place you can start filling with water. Stay in the pool until you get about 2 inches of water. This is the only chance you have to fix any liner issues. After 2 inches you are stuck with how it looks unless you drain the water and start over. A typical garden hose attached to your outdoor faucet will add about 4 inches of water an hour at the most. Once you hit 4 inches you can turn off the shop-vac and remove it from the inlet. Replace the pool rails one by one starting with the rail above the skimmer and inlet. Have your helper check to make sure the columns are level vertically using a level. If they aren’t you could end up with wall stability issues. Do not cut the holes for the skimmer or inlet at this time. Wait until you have 18 to 24 inches of water BEFORE cutting those openings. If you cut these opening too soon you will have “smileys” underneath the opening where the liner is stretched. I waited until I had 30 inches of water in my pool. Keep in mind the water coming from your hose is about 55 degrees. It will be cold. Once you get the 4 inches of water you can set your steps or ladder back into the pool. Be sure to put the rubber protection mat down first. You want to protect that new pool liner.
After you get 2 1/2 to 3 feet of water in the pool you need to replace the skimmer and inlet. Have your helper put a bead of silicone on the gasket of the skimmer and have them ready to hold the skimmer on the outside of the pool. From the inside push a screw through the liner and the screw hole in the pool wall. Have your helper line that up to the matching hole on the skimmer and hold it in place. Remove the screw. Put a small bead of the silicone on the inside skimmer gasket and press it into place. Push the screw through the frame of the skimmer and line that up with the hole you made earlier. Tighten these screws hand tight. DO NOT OVER TIGHTEN THESE SCREWS. YOU CAN CRACK THE FRAME OR THE SKIMMER. Then use your razor knife and cut the square for the skimmer on the inside of the opening. To cut the hole for the inlet place a piece of heavy cardboard on the inside of the liner covering the inlet hole. From the outside have your helper slowly and carefully cut out the inlet hole. Put a small bead of silicone onto the gaskets on the inside and the outside of the pool and hand tighten the inlet.
Total time for this project was 5 hours from removing column caps to replacing the caps. I still had about an hour of work to do once the pool water was high enough to cut the skimmer and inlet opening. This hour included reconnecting the pump to the skimmer and the inlet.
If you have questions email me!