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June 18--Mike Janosik enjoys a dip in his backyard pool on the weekends, especially when he travels for work during the week.
But he noticed problems when he opened the pool two weeks ago: Sand beneath the pool's plastic liner was a half-foot lower than normal in places, and some of the pool walls were buckled.
Repair companies say the cause was ice buildup from two months of sub-freezing temperatures in Western Pennsylvania and other regions, resulting in a surge in repair work to fix damage to above-ground pools.
Pool repair companies declined to discuss revenue gains from the increased work, but some estimate their repair business is up 40 percent compared to "normal" winters, with bills for liner and equipment replacement averaging $1,000 to $1,500 each.
With summer set to start this Saturday, the number of repair jobs at Pool City, the region's largest dealer and servicer, normally is about 125 at this point, but it's 180 and counting this year, said Mark Blohm, director of sales and installation.
Damage to above-ground pools such as the one behind Janosik's Bethel Park home is common this year, pool retailers and repairmen say. Blohm said he's seen 25 to 30 pools with minor damage similar to Janosik's, but many more with damage that was much worse.
"I've been in this business for 38 years and never seen anything like it," he said. "Mother Nature had a harsh reaction. Every year pools freeze, but from Dec. 29 through February, we saw sub-freezing temperatures that allowed pools to freeze even more."
Plus, in April and May, there was rain that added weight on top of ice. "That gets the ice to travel, leading to more problems, some minor and many major, especially for one-third of all pools that are not properly winterized," Blohm said.
Tony Frattaroli of New Kensington, who has worked for 19 years as a repair subcontractor for most of the region's pool dealers, said damage this year was the worst he's ever seen. "It was an extremely cold winter and the ice was thick, built up to unacceptable levels."
His customers blamed the winter for half of the reinstallations he's done this year, compared with 25 percent in other years, he said.Pool industry trade association don't compile data on repairs and causes, but Paula Pitrak, spokeswoman at the Northeast Spa and Pool Association in Hamilton, N.J., said dealers she talked to reported increases in reinstallations in other regions. "There was a lot of damage from snow and water that's typically left in pools and freezes."
Aluminum or plastic walls on above-ground pools are bendable and when they do, it ruins the entire system, she said.
Pennsylvania ranks seventh in the nation in the number of above-ground pools installed in 2013, with 147,224, according to data from P.K. Data Inc. reported by the The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals in Alexandria, Va. There were 3.53 million installed nationwide, with 351,048 in California, the top state.
Dale Kleiner, a salesman at Swimming Pool Discounters, which has four area locations, said his company has seen a "drastic" increase in liners being replaced.
"The ice was so thick that when it melts it pulls on liners, ripping them and in some cases the weight of the ice damages wall and uprights that hold liners, causing pools to leak," he said. When liners and pool covers are damaged, leaves and debris fall in. And pool pumps are damaged because "people always fail to take them in during the winter."
"We're seeing a 40 to 50 percent increase in liner replacements, and everyday we're getting more calls," because many people haven't yet opened their pools for summer, Kleiner said. Replacement costs $300 to $400 for a liner, depending on size, and $500 to $600 for labor, he said.
"Some of those customers say they've been winterizing their pools the same way for years," Pool City's Blohm said. "But we didn't have this bad of a winter. ... The extra business is nice, but it's hard business. A lot of customers don't want to accept that Mother Nature was the cause; we just had a real odd weather pattern this year."
Dealers and repairmen say pool damage generally is not covered by homeowners insurance. A spokeswoman for Erie Insurance Group did not respond to a request for comment.
Janosik said he was disappointed that a stainless steel panel that connects pump and filter equipment to the pool buckled. "But there was a big chuck of ice there, I won't lie to you," he said. Blohm said manufacturers introduced heavy duty panels in that spot because of the equipment connected there.
Janosik's repairs may be scheduled next week, and damage wasn't severe enough to prevent swimming until then.
"I'll be in it this weekend," said Janosik.
John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or [email protected].
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