Bond Beam Cracks

In a pool, a bond beam crack usually develops from a crack in the concrete decking and spreads into the seam between the inner deck edge that sits on top of the pool shell. This seam is usually behind the waterline tile. This crack has a tendency to crack the tile and/or grout. Because this seam is not watertight, pool water will leak out through this crack and start undermining the deck. In addition to adding excessive amounts of water to the pool, this crack will usually start to grow laterally due to the numerous wet/dry/expansion/contraction cycles which means more grout and tile gets cracked causing more water loss and undermining. There are several approaches to repairing bond beam cracks and none  of them can assure it won’t re-crack in the future. Regardless of what some contractors will tell you, once you have a crack in a pool, it’s too late to make it go away permanently. It now becomes all about re-crack control. 

In a best case scenario, you can catch this early when the pool is first built. Use plenty of expansion or control joints in the deck, and more importantly  make sure the soil is properly tamped before the pour. Let's say you bought your house with the pool already built. Second best scenario is when you start to notice missing tile grout. You have to re-grout immediately and seal this area. Too much water loss compounds the situation in a hurry. Any scenario after this is no longer categorized as best case...it becomes worse case! 

O.K., now you have a gaping crack that extends halfway around the pool with tiles missing and swallowing an inch or more of water every day. You’re making appointments with pool contractors and listening to what they’re saying. This guy tells you this and that guy tells you that. Who are you going to believe? Well, let me tell you what has been tried and failed. The most laughable repair involves removing the tile and installing u-bolts to tie-in the deck and the shell. Folks, when you hear this one, kick that joker in the pants and escort him out the door. What happens is this. Any moisture that comes in contact with the u-bolt will cause corrosion which will eventually expand and push out the tile, and expose the crack and...well, you get the picture. Not only will you have to pay for another repair but now you have rust spots running into the interior finish. The most popular repair method that I’m seeing a lot of trouble with lately involves using a fabric-like material (I won’t publish the name here, but if you ask nicely I’ll probably tell you). What some contractors are doing is sandwiching this material over the crack and under the tile with the hopes of keeping the tile from re-cracking. Inevitably, water gets behind the fabric and pushes it away from the crack it was intended to control. This also pushes on the tile. Guess what? Now, instead of little pieces of tiles falling off, long sections of tile are delaminating. What a joy! Folks, I’ve seen way too much of this kind of failure to embrace this solution to bond beam cracks. I’ve tried to contact the manufacturer of this fabric and they have not responded to me. If I was to guess what they would say, it would be that it was installed improperly. On their web site, it never specifically mentions it as a solution to swimming pool cracks. 

In the meantime, what you have to do is learn and understand cracks. A crack is a way for the structure to relieve stress, kinda like alcohol is for humans. O.K., no more joking. Once a crack develops, movement of any kind, specifically expansion and contraction, or vibration will be transmitted directly to this crack. The easiest way is to understand is to think of it as a fault line. The areas prone to earthquakes are at fault lines. Methods to control bond beam cracking are numerous and I have my own. (You don’t really expect me to tell all the world my secrets, do you?) Nothing fancy, just common materials...and titanium tiles would do the trick, I think.

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