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Concrete Cancer In Pools: What Austin Homeowners Need to Know

Swimming pools are designed to last for decades and usually only require routine maintenance to keep them in good shape. Unfortunately, a concrete crack epidemic has been emerging throughout Central Texas, ruining pools and devastating homeowners. It’s commonly called “concrete cancer.”

What is concrete cancer?

Concrete cancer is a term used to describe the degradation of concrete as a result of faulty materials or construction techniques. In pool construction, concrete cancer typically occurs when the concrete mix lacks essential components that enhance its durability and resistance to environmental stressors. This causes cracking that can escalate into severe problems requiring expensive repairs or even a full replacement.

The type of “concrete cancer” currently being discovered in hundreds of swimming pools around Austin is called Alkali-Silica Reaction (ASR).

Alkali-Silica Reaction in Concrete Pools

Alkali-Silica Reaction (ASR) is a chemical reaction that causes concrete to absorb water and swell, creating pressure that cracks the concrete and weakens its structural integrity. 

While this problem is more commonly found in commercial areas like piers and retaining walls, it has started to show up in swimming pools and spas around Austin, Texas due to a faulty concrete mixture from a regional supplier. This has resulted in compromised concrete structures in many pools, necessitating extensive repairs or complete demolition and rebuilds to address the damage.

How do I know if my pool may be at risk?

From what we currently know, the majority of affected pools in Austin were built between 2017–2021. The rapid rise in demand for custom pools over the last few years, led to some concrete companies and pool builders using a faster, cheaper mixing method that has put pools at risk.

The most accurate way to confirm if your pool has concrete cancer is to obtain a core sample and have it analyzed in a lab. However, if you are noticing signs of premature decay and are concerned that your pool might be at risk for concrete cancer, here are some things to look for:

  • Cracking: The most noticeable sign of concrete cancer is cracking in the concrete. While small hairline cracks can be common, widening or multiplying cracks are concerning. Watch for cracks that seem to radiate from areas where the steel reinforcement may be located.
  • Rust Stains: If you see rust stains appearing on the surface of the pool’s concrete, it’s a sign that the steel reinforcement inside is corroding. These stains typically look like reddish-brown streaks or spots.
  • Flaking and Spalling: This occurs when the surface of the concrete begins to flake off or peel away, exposing the materials underneath. Spalling can sometimes expose the rusty steel bars, which is a clear sign of advanced concrete cancer.
  • Bulging or Misshapen Areas: Areas of the concrete that appear to be bulging or distorting can suggest that the steel rebar inside the concrete is expanding due to rust.
  • Leaks: While leaks in a pool can be caused by various issues, they can also be a symptom of concrete cancer. Cracks or gaps caused by spalling and rust expansion can allow pool water to escape.

If I have concrete cancer, can it be repaired?

Some pools with concrete cancer can be repaired. However, unlike standard pool repairs, pools with concrete cancer require extensive intervention and in some cases, demolition and new installation. If you suspect your pool has concrete cancer, the following process will likely occur:

  • Professional Assessment: A structural engineer or pool repair specialist needs to first assess the damage to determine the extent of the concrete cancer and the state of the steel reinforcement.
  • Removing Damaged Concrete: The affected concrete is removed, often by chipping away or cutting out cracked and spalled areas to reveal the corroded rebar underneath.
  • Rebar Treatment or Replacement: The exposed rebar is evaluated and either treated with rust inhibitors or replaced if too corroded.
  • Concrete Restoration: New, high-quality concrete is poured into place, designed to be less permeable and more durable than the original.
  • Waterproofing and Sealing: The repaired areas are sealed with waterproof coatings to protect against water ingress and further corrosion.
  • Ongoing Maintenance: Regular inspections and pool care are essential to ensure the repairs hold up and to spot any new potential problems early.

What should I do if my pool company won’t fix it or cover the costs?

Most pool companies offer a multi-year warranty for new pool construction, however many pool companies in the area are currently denying warranty claims for concrete cancer. 

If your pool builder is denying you coverage or refusing to make repairs, your options may be litigation or contacting another pool company for assistance with repairs. 

Can concrete cancer be prevented? 

ASR can be prevented by mixing mineral such as a component called “fly ash” into the concrete materials. However, if the pool has already been completed and was built without these essential additives, there are no natural remedies for preventing the development of concrete cancer. Regular maintenance inspections can help detect signs of deterioration so that repairs can be made as early as possible to slow its spread and protect your yard and home.

The best way to prevent concrete cancer from occurring is to ensure strict adherence to proper construction techniques and the best materials.

Concrete cancer in Austin pools has been found in shotcrete, a wet concrete that is pre-mixed at the concrete manufacturer before being sprayed onto the pool surface. 

Here at PAX Pools, we utilize only gunite, a form of dry concrete that is mixed with water on site as we spray it onto the surface, giving our pool construction team control over the process and materials. 

PAX is committed to giving our clients complete peace of mind that their dream oasis will last them a lifetime.  

Do you suspect that your pool may be affected by concrete cancer? Fill out the form below. Our pool repair specialists will review your information and reach out to let you know if the damage appears to be due to an alkali-silica reaction and discuss potential solutions.

josh parker pax pools

Josh Parker is the co-founder and CEO of PAX Pools.

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