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Replacing your own above ground pool liner can be an easy weekend project that can save well over $1000, when you measure, buy and install your own pool liner.
Assuming that you've already measured the pool, and purchased your pool liner , let's dive into the when and how of installing above ground pool liners.
Most above ground pools don't have a main drain, so using the filter pump to empty the pool is not usually possible. You could set up a vacuum hose into the skimmer or low water suction, or set up a siphon down a nearby hill, but you'll never get all of the water out of the pool. It will lose prime before the final few thousand gallons are out, leaving you with lots of water.
A small submersible pump can be rented for daily use for a reasonable amount, or you can use a pool cover pump to drain the pool. When the water is almost all pumped out, cut the liner around the base of the wall with a razor knife, and pull the liner towards one side, to pool the water. As the last of the water pumps out, keep pulling the water into smaller pools, until you have pumped all but a few gallons, which can splash onto the pool floor.
Be aware of where the pump-out water is going to avoid erosion, or flooding. Moving the hose during draining can help avoid over-saturation.
Once all of the water is out of the pool, use a razor knife to cut up the liner into sections that can be rolled up and tossed over the wall of the pool. For beaded or J-hook liners, carefully pull the bead up and out of the track, avoid yanking the liner, which could damage an old liner track.
If not done already, disconnect the pipes or hoses from the pool skimmer and return, on the outside of the pool. Use a large #3 Phillips screwdriver to remove the screws for the skimmer and return face plates. Store the screws safely in a bag or box for reuse. Although in some cases face plates and gaskets may be reused, it's best practice to replace both on skimmer and returns, whenever you replace the liner.
For overlap liners, in most cases you'll need to remove the top rails to be able to release the liner from the wall, and for installing the new liner. Reference your own pool owner's manual for instructions specific to your model. Keep tabs on any hardware that is removed, storing them safely in a bag or box. Overlap liners are often held to the wall with Coping Strips, long plastic clips. Handle carefully, as Coping Strips become brittle with age. In such a case, replacement may be necessary.
If you have a sand bottom under your liner, now is your chance to smooth out all of the heel divots, waves and uneven areas. You can add new sand to the floor, but be careful with beaded liners (which have a fixed wall length), that you don't raise the floor level. In most cases, half a dozen 50 lb bags of masonry sand will be ok, to fill in low spots. In other cases, you can use a flat shovel or trowels to knock down high areas, and in the process, fill in low areas.
The edge of a sand floor is beveled upwards to create a sand cove at the point where the wall intersects the floor. This is necessary to cover the often rusty and rough lower few inches of steel pool walls. As an option to a sand cove, Foam Cove installs around the edge of the pool in minutes for a uniform pool cove, and better liner protection than sand can provide.
To check if your pool floor is level, use a carpenter's level on an 8 ft long 2x4, or run a strings across the pool, in pizza/pie fashion, connecting stakes around the edge of the pool, to a single stake in the center of the pool. The height of the string above the floor should be fairly constant from center to edge.
If you have a concrete floor under your liner, floor prep includes sweeping the floor clean to remove any grit or pebbles, and patching any cracked or sunken areas. Above ground pool floors are not as strong as sidewalks or driveways, and cracks are not uncommon. Vermiculite is an often used above ground pool floor material that is easy to work with, and easy to repair.
As an option to extensive pool floor repair, Liner Pad installs on the floor of the pool. These are ordered to fit the size of your pool, and spread out in place before the liner is installed. Liner Pad or Liner Guard is only about 1/8" thick however, so it won't hide deep floor divots, but smooths rough floors and can prevent small pebbles or nutgrass from damaging the liner. It also gives the floor a softer feel, and can help prevent divots on sand pool bottoms.
Wall Prep involves using Duct Tape to tape over any bolt holes or bolt heads used where the wall panel connects, and inspecting for rust or other signs of corrosion. Rust is common at floor level on above ground pools, and to protect the new liner, trowel a sand cove up against the wall, or use Foam Cove sections. Rusty walls can be scraped, sanded and painted with a rust conversion paint or rust hiding paint.
As an option to extensive wall repair, Wall Foam can be adhered to the walls of the pool before installing the liner, to protect and cushion the liner. It also gives the wall a softer feel, and helps reduce punctures.
Be sure to check the weather forecast for stormy or cold weather, which could postpone the installation. For best results warm weather is best, to allow the liner to stretch more easily. As a minimum, temperatures should be 65 degrees, calm winds and no rain. With temperatures from 65-75 degrees, keep the liner stored inside a warm house until you are ready to install.
Second thing to check is the label on the box, to confirm that the pool size listed on the box matches your actual pool size. At this point it may be wise to double-check with a diameter measurement of the pool, before you open the box and spread out the liner, which makes returning an incorrect liner difficult.
Open the box carefully, without any sharp implements, to avoid cutting the liner. Unroll the liner inside the pool, from side to side, and then while standing outside the pool, 2-4 people reach over the wall to grab the liner and spread it out around the pool. Use pennies or Popsicle sticks on overlap liners to temporarily hold the liner in the track and for overlap liners, use clothes pins or other clamps.
Overlap Liners: With clothespins, or using Coping Strips, adjust the liner so that the overlap on the outside of the wall is consistent all the way around the pool, and the liner is just barely touching the floor. It can take some time to get the drape just proper, without any twisting of the liner, and without large wrinkles. Pull and push the liner towards the wall to work out any wrinkles, and continue to adjust the amount of overlap until consistent around the entire pool, and the liner is about 1" above the floor.
Beaded Liners: Check that the bead of the liner is fully inserted and hanging correctly around the pool. If there are diagonal wall wrinkles, shift the liner in the track to remove the twisting. Reach over the wall and pull up on the liner to pull any floor wrinkles toward the pool wall. The liner is meant to stretch into place somewhat, so it should not be contacting the floor fully, but slightly raised above the floor.
This step could be considered optional, but can be very helpful in preventing wrinkles in your new liner. A heavy duty wet/dry vac or a Cyclone Liner Vac, can be used to suck out the air between the liner and the walls, to pull the liner tight, revealing any potential wrinkles. Use duct tape and cardboard on the outside of the pool to seal up the wall returns, and then set-up the wet/dry vac on a table or chair next to the pool skimmer. Snake the vacuum hose into the skimmer top, and out through the skimmer front opening, running about halfway down the pool wall. Use lots of duct tape around the top of the skimmer, to prevent air from leaking around the hose.
Turn on the vacuum, and within a few minutes you should see the liner suction tightly to the walls and floor of the pool. You may also see some wrinkles on the walls and floor. If so, shut off the vacuum and pull and push on the liner towards the nearest wall. Turning on the liner while you quickly yank the liner towards the wall, or push the liner with a pool brush, or just with your hands, can often help pull wrinkles out towards the wall, or smooth them out into larger areas.
For Overlap liners, if you are struggling with many wrinkles across the floor, check that the overlap is even, or consider pulling the liner over the wall more, so there is less vinyl in the pool. The wall seam on the liner, where the wall meets the floor, can help you gauge an even overlap around the pool. Very small wrinkles on the floor and wall often smooth out with the weight of the water. After an inch of water is in the pool, (but no more than that) you can rework any remaining wrinkles by pushing the vinyl toward a wall, or smoothing it flat into a larger area.
Before filling the pool, be sure that the top rails are all reassembled to provide the structural strength for the pool walls. Once you have the liner set with the vacuum the way you like it (it can take many attempts before you get there), keep the vacuum running until you have at least 6 inches of water in the pool. Remove the hose from behind the liner, and remove the duct tape.
While filling the pool, monitor the liner to be sure that wrinkles don't re-develop, or to confirm that small wrinkles are smoothing out properly. Overlap liners should also be checked to be sure they aren't overstretched. Once the floor is held in place with a few inches of water, you can release any tension on the wall vinyl by removing and reinstalling the Coping Strips one at a time. Excess vinyl overlap on the outside of the pool can then be trimmed if desired.
Wait until the pool is full before reinstalling the skimmer and return face plates. If you do it too early, and the vinyl is still stretching into place, you can have leaking problems from stretched screw holes. Line up the screw holes of the wall return and skimmer with the face plate holes, and with new gaskets placed in between, tighten the face plate down very tightly with a large #3 Phillips screwdriver. Torque the screws tightly until you hear the plastic creak. Reconnect your plumbing pipes or hoses to the skimmer and return, and then use a knife or blade to cut out the vinyl inside of the face plates, and flood the lines. Save these cut out pieces of vinyl for future matching vinyl patch material.