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Open Inflatable Plugs: 550Q vs 550BP

Trying to decide between the 550BP and 550Q open inflatable plugs? These plugs both provide a versatile solution for inducing pressure into 1-1/2″plumbing, but it can be hard to know which style is the right choice for your application.  Each plug includes a tire valve attachment for inflating the plug itself and a male quick connect attachment for inducing pressure into the plumbing with your pressure tester, but the way they’re structured is different. Read on to learn about the key differentiating features.

550Q (Q-Ball):

550Q Open Inflatable Plug

Benefits:
The most prominent feature of this plug is that the inflation and induction attachments are on the end of 2’ hoses, which allows the plug to be lodged farther into plumbing. It can be pushed past valves, through pumps, or past threads on return fittings. Also, the bypass tube that runs through the plug for inducing pressure is made of flexible rubber, so the plug can be bent in order to move around 90 degree elbows or other tight spaces.

Drawbacks:
The bypass tube on this plug is small, which means it takes a longer time to pressure up lines when using it. Since it’s also flexible it can be pinched when the plug is over-inflated and prevent air/water from flowing freely.

 

550BP:

550BP open inflatable plug

Benefits:
The biggest benefit of this plug is that the bypass tube is made of metal instead of rubber. This allows water or air to pass through the plug at a higher volume, which saves time and produces clearer pressure testing results. The induction attachment is an “L” shaped quick connect right off of the top of the plug, which works especially well in pump bowls and valves. Both the flexible inflation hose and quick connect are attached to threads on the top of the plug, so they can be replaced with longer air or inducer hoses for added versatility.

550BP open inflatable plug with CPH18
550BP-CPH plug with L-shaped quick connect replaced with an 18″ inducer hose.

Drawbacks:

The connections between the rubber and metal bypass tube on this plug are slightly weaker, so these plugs are more susceptible to wear and tear.

In general, inflatable plugs are more delicate than their mechanical, wing nut expanded counterparts. Their versatility and convenience make them an attractive option, but if you’re looking for a more durable, less-expensive solution, mechanical plugs are preferred. For 1-1/2” pipe the O45 Standard Open Plug or O45E Open Extender Plug can be used.


Case Study: Misleading Dye Test

Type of Pool:

Vinyl Liner

Equipment Used:

Dye Tester Cones, Pressure Testing Equipment, Electronic Listening DeviceLeakalyzer

Pool with leak detection equipment

Situation:

Customer reported that pool was losing water and suspected the skimmer line.

Solution:

Based on the customer’s suspicion we started out leak job by running  a dye test of the skimmer lines right away using the dye testing cones. The deep end skimmer was plugged while the shallow end skimmer was tested and vice versa. Both skimmers pulled dye.  Since each skimmer had its own run from the pump, and since we had isolated each line by closing valves we thought that both lines had a leak.

In order to start pinpointing those leaks, we first pressurized the line with air from the deep end skimmer back to a closed valve at the equipment. We could immediately hear the bubbling noise of air escaping into water saturated soil right below the skimmer bowl.

Then, we checked the shallow end skimmer line by switching to inducing pressure from that skimmer bowl. There was no noise and a much slower pressure drop. After listening for a while but still not finding a noise and not seeing a significant pressure drop, we switched to inducing pressure from the valves to isolate each line individually. Using this approach the shallow end skimmer line held pressure and the deep end line made noise in the same spot we had heard before.

Pressure testing from pool equipment

It turns out that the shallow end skimmer line was not leaking, but it had drawn dye through the pipes to the other skimmer break due  valves that didn’t seal off properly. Pressure testing helped us determine that there was just the one leak, not two.

We also ran a Leakalyzer test on the shell of the pool while the lines were plugged.  The results confirmed that the pool shell wasn’t losing water. We left the job having given the customer a clear leak location and the assurance that their pool would no longer be leaking once the plumbing repair was made.

Highlights:

  • Leaks can siphon through bad valves, which produces unclear results when dye testing. It’s important to understand how your tests may give deceptive information and perform secondary tests if you are left with any uncertainty. Pressure testing was able to verify the line was good despite drawing dye.
  • Opening the pump lid would have been an effective method of isolating the skimmers by creating an air break. Since the dye test was done early in our Initial Assessment we hadn’t yet opened the pump.

Case Study: New Pool, Big Leak

Type of Pool:

Vinyl Liner

Equipment Used:

Leakalyzer, LeakTrac, Dye Tester Cones, Pressure Testing Equipment, Electronic Listening Device, Hydrophone, Tube Level

Situation:

We were called to examine a new build that was losing 4” of water per day. It hadn’t been leaking for the first four days that it was filled but recently started rapidly losing water. When we arrived to the pool the water level was down below the skimmers, but the skimmer bowls were still full of water – indicating that those lines were not leaking.

Solution:

Suspecting that the problem was in a plumbing line, we did a quick dye test of the returns and cleaner line with the dye testing cones, but they also were not drawing water. Our Leakalyzer test had been running during these initial observations, and indicated a loss of 3.5 inches per day. A quick scan with the LeakTrac showed no leaks in the liner, so it was time to dive down to the main drain. A dye test with the dye testing cones showed that line was the source of our water loss.

We then plugged the main drain lines while we were diving and ran a pressure test from the equipment back to the pool. The water pressure test confirmed the line was leaking, so we then started inducing air for sonic location. It took a while for the air to reach the leak, indicating that the leak wasn’t close to the equipment where the air was being induced. So, we used a hydrophone attached to our XLT30H listening device to start listening along the main drain lines where they ran close to the shell of the pool. We could hear the loud bubbling/gurgling noise of air escaping into water saturated soil near the base of the wall in the middle of the deep end.

Since the main drains were plugged we ran another Leakalyzer test to verify that the rest of the pool shell was not losing water and the main drain line was the only issue.

A main drain leak at the base of the wall is not a repair anyone wants to make, so to verify the sonic leak location we used a tube level. We attached a clear plastic tube to the end of a standard open plug in the main drain. Now, instead the leak draining water from the pool it drained the water in the tube. The tube leaked down to the level of the leak and then stopped. We colored the water in the tube with Leakmaster Fluorescent Dye to be able to clearly see the water level. The water level stopped right at the level that we had identified with the hydrophone.

The crew dug up the leaking plumbing line and found a stake had been driven through the pipe!?!

Highlights:

  1. A hydrophone with digital sound graph is helpful when listening for main drain plumbing leaks through the shell of the pool.
  2. The Leakalyzer helps verify the rest of pool isn’t leaking while pressure testing and pinpointing leaks in plumbing.
  3. A simple tube level can help verify the depth of the leak before digging. Be creative with the materials you have on hand!

Case Study: Not What We Suspected

Type of Pool:

Vinyl Liner

Equipment Used:

Leakalyzer, LeakTrac 2400, Pressure Testing Equipment, Dye, Leakmaster Pool Glue

Situation:

We were at least the second company to take on this job, so the homeowner was concerned about how we could be sure that all the leaks were found. She was also convinced that the leak was in the return side plumbing.

Solution:

We started pump on/ pump off test with the Leakalyzer and found that the pool was losing more water with the pump running. This usually tells us to suspect pressure side plumbing.

We had two techs on this job, so one tech began running a pressure test while the other ran a vinyl scan with the LeakTrac 2400.  The pressure test on the pressure side plumbing held, but the LeakTrac was getting a stronger than normal signal coming from the skimmer.  We did a quick dye check of the skimmer and  sure enough the bottom of the skimmer bowl was cracked. The movement of water in the skimmer, or possibly even a slight shift in the suction pipe when the pump was running caused more water loss.  This was a rare situation where higher water loss with the pump running wasn’t an indication of a pressure side leak.

We repaired the skimmer bowl with Leakmaster Pool Glue and fiberglass mesh, which provides a permanent repair that will be able to handle the movement of the pool as time goes on. We charged the homeowner an additional fee for this repair. Once the repair was done, a final Leakalyzer test confirmed the now repaired skimmer leak was the only leak.

Highlights:

  1. Remember that pump on/pump off tests only provide suspicions of where the problem is.  Further tests are needed for confirmation.
  2. LeakTrac can indicate a leak in the skimmer with higher than normal intensity.
  3. Count on your own observations, diligence and reason more than what other people tell you.

Case Study: A Job Done Right Pays Off

Type of Pool:

Concrete – Commercial (Apartment Complex)

Equipment Used:

Leakalyzer, Pressure Testing Equipment, Hydrophone, Dye, Dry Suit, Super Snorkel

Situation:

After opening the pool for the summer the customer noticed significant water loss and gave us a call. When we arrived to the job the Leakalyzer reported nearly 6” of water loss per day.

Solution:

The first two leaks were found right away while we were gathering information. One was clearly visible while we were inspecting a return fitting and the other was found around an equalizer line while we were scanning the pool with a hydrophone. We were able to repair both leaks with Leakmaster Pool Repair Putty.

After the initial leaks were repaired a new Leakalyzer test reported 2.35” of water loss per day. We used dye to find two more leaks – one at another return fitting and one at the tile line.

Once these leaks were repaired the Leakalyzer was still reporting a loss of 1.84” per day. So far we had found and repaired four leaks but were still losing a significant amount of water. We ran a quick pressure test to eliminate the plumbing as the source of the remaining water loss.

Finally a crack in the tile line deeper down in the pool was found and fixed getting us to a no water loss test. Five leaks found, five leaks repaired. Between the multiple Leakalyzer tests, pressure tests, electronic microphone use, extensive dye testing and even diving in freezing spring water this job was more work than most. Once it was all said and done we felt good that we didn’t just solve one of their problems and move along. The property manager was thankful and eager to get us set up as a vendor for all their properties. They even mentioned that we’d done more than other companies had ever done.

Highlights:

  1. Large leaks in concrete pools can be found with a hydrophone, but it may not pick up smaller leaks.
  2. Using the Leakalyzer throughout the job meant we were there longer finding additional leaks, but it saved us from a costly callback.
  3. Extra effort and a job well done gets noticed and helps drive future business.

Case Study: Eliminating Misleading Leak Sounds

Type of Pool:

Vinyl Liner

Equipment Used:

Leakalyzer, Pressure Testing Equipment, XLT30HHydrophoneDye

Situation:

Customer reported that the pool was leaking 1-2 inches per day and that a new liner was installed recently. When we arrived, the pool level had already dropped below the skimmers and returns.

Solution:

We ran a pump on and pump off test with the Leakalyzer and found the pool was losing slightly more water with the pump off. This indicated that we should suspect suction side plumbing. Since the pool water level was already below the skimmers we dove down to check the main drains. A dye test confirmed that the main drain line was drawing dye from both of the two main drains.

We set up our pressure testing equipment to start pinpointing the location of the leak and ran a quick pressure test with water first to confirm that what the dye was showing was accurate. Once we started inducing air and purged all the water from the line we were able to hear a good leak noise in two spots with the Hydrophone (attached to the XLT30H). The first noise was right at one of the main drain bowls and the other was in a corner of the pool. While we had the main drain lines plugged we also ran another Leakalyzer test, which verified the water loss had stopped in the pool so there was no need to run a LeakTrac on the liner or dye test the fittings, skimmers, etc.

In order to determine which noise we were hearing was actually the leak, we slid an inflatable plug 8’ into the line from the main drain bowl and re-pressure tested. The pressure test still failed, so we knew the leak had to be farther than 8’ away from the main drain bowl. With this information we decided that the place we heard noise in the corner of the pool was the leak location. Another confirming factor was that while we were inducing air, there would occasionally be a bubble that came up behind the liner to the surface of the pool. Before leaving we also ran pressure tests on skimmer and returns to verify the rest of the plumbing was good.

Learnings:

  1. Pressure testing helped us identify actual problem when the  noise was heard in multiple locations.
  2. Leakalyzer verified that pool shell was leak free, saving us time during the isolation phase.

Case Study: Persistence Pays Off

 

Type of Pool:

Gunite Spa/Pool

Equipment Used:

LeakalyzerXLT30H, Hydrophone ,Dye, Ridgid Inspection Scope,  Ridgid Micro Drain Reel, Pressure Testing Equipment, Dye Testing Cones

Situation:

The customer called because their pool would leak down to the tile line and stop, so they wanted us to locate the leak and asses the tile line to determine if a full renovation was needed. When we got to the pool the water level was filled to the normal level as we requested, but the customer pointed out where it would typically leak down to which was an inch below the skimmer, but a couple inches above the jets. It seemed as though we were in for a quick tile line crack location and putty repair.

Solution:

We ran a Leakalyzer test to get a better understanding of how fast the pool was losing water and while doing so started listening with a hydrophone to the suspected tile line. A quick trip around the pool with the hydrophone didn’t uncover any suspect areas. We moved on to dye testing because sometimes small leaks don’t make enough noise for the hydrophone. After dye testing the whole tile line we were able to confirm that there were no leaks in the shell of the pool at the level where the water drained down to. It turns out this job was going to be a little more complicated than we thought!

We checked our ongoing Leakalyzer test which was showing a current rate of over 20” per day of water loss (small pool, big leak). To do a quick check of the plumbing lines we used the Dye Tester Cones and learned that the jet returns drew dye like crazy. Because the water level stopped higher than the jets we began to suspect the blower line instead of the jet return line. A pressure test confirmed the suspected line was leaking as we couldn’t even build any pressure. A Leakalyzer test with the jet returns plugged confirmed the rest of the pool was not losing water, so we knew we could be done with any further testing in the shell of the pool.

Since the equipment pad was positioned lower than the pool, in order to induce air from the high side of the plumbing we had to use one of the jet returns. When we started listening with the XLT30H there was a loud noise right above where we were inducing pressure that actually seemed to echo throughout the pool. There were two places that seemed louder and more distinct than the other areas though: the jet fitting and a place where the pipes presumably ran underneath the pool. We deduced that even though we were inducing from the high side of the plumbing, since the leak was in the blower line the air had to travel through remaining water in the jet line, creating some of and perhaps all the noise we were hearing. To confirm this suspicion, we switched and induced pressure from the other side of the plumbing. After this switch the sound in those two locations went silent. This confirmed we were hearing the sound of air traveling through remaining water in the pipe and not air escaping out of the leak into water saturated soil.

The lack of noise around the pool forced us to look closer to the equipment which would mean that the leak had to be well below where the water level stopped.  It turned out there was a Hartford Loop for the blower line, but it wasn’t high enough and thus didn’t stop water from draining back through until the water level reached the familiar point on the tile.  We suspect someone made a modification to the blower plumbing at some point for aesthetic reasons and buried the loop without understanding its purpose.

Building enough pressure for a quick sonic location was difficult and since we had easy access to the flexpipe  we used a Ridgid Micro Drain Scope and a line locator to pinpoint the exact location. About 15 feet in we saw what appeared to be a cracked pipe due to freeze damage.

To verify the crack we saw was our leak, water was induced into the blower line from the high side of the plumbing and we pulled that camera back towards the low side of the plumbing watching for the water flow to stop.  Sure enough the water was flowing into this crack.  The crack was dye tested with extension tubing from Anderson Manufacturing affixed to the end of the camera. The dye was drawn into the crack a well. The crack was about 8’ long and on both sides of the pipe – so no wonder we couldn’t build pressure!

Learnings:

  1. Just because water stops at the tile line doesn’t mean it’s the tile line that’s leaking!
  2. Inducing pressure from both ends of plumbing can be a way to verify if you’re hearing a leak noise vs air traveling through water in pipe. If noise is only audible when you induce from one end it may be standing water in the pipe not air escaping into water saturated soil.
  3. Dye Tester Extension Tubing can be taped to inspection cameras for leak verification or location.
  4. Persistence paid off, but this one was a bit misleading and ended up being time consuming. Some leaks are more tricky than others!

 


Case Study: Thin Ground Probes are Necessary for Deep Leaks

Type of Pool:

Vinyl / In-ground

Equipment Used:

Leakalyzer, XLT30H Bigfoot and Ground Probes, Hydrophone, Pressure Testing Kit, Dye

Situation

We received a call about a pool that had just had a new liner installed, but was still losing lots of water. The customer suspected the water loss was in the main drain line. When we arrived to the pool the Leakalyzer confirmed the reported water loss.

Solution

The main drain lines were plumbed separately up to the equipment, so we put an open plug in each of the main drains to see if they would draw dye. One line did, but the other did not. To confirm, we pressure tested the line that drew dye with water and it failed. In order to pinpoint the exact location of the leak, we then induced air into the line and began to listen with the hydrophone for a leak under the pool, but didn’t hear any significant noises. We then switched to using the Bigfoot microphone with the XLT30H to listen through the concrete around the pool and still didn’t hear anything that indicated the leak location. Only when we started using the XLT30H ground probes in the soil between the pool deck and the equipment were we able to get close enough to the leak to pick up a great noise and find the exact location of the leak.

Learnings

  1. Thin ground probe rods included with the XLT30H make it possible to get the probe deep into ground to absorb leak sound vibrations.
  2. Turning air pressure off and back on once hearing the leak location confirms the noise is the one we are making.

Pressure Testing Tip: How to Check for Leaks in the Main Drain Without Plugging the Line

While plugging the main drain is the most accurate way to pressure test the main drain line, if you want to avoid getting in the pool, it is possible to identify a problem in the upper part of this plumbing by using a technique called an Air Lock Test. This test takes advantage of the fact that the water above the main drain in the deep end of the pool produces a measurable amount of pressure that acts as a “plug” to an air filled main drain line.

After pressure testing the rest of the plumbing lines to ensure they are sound, induce air into the  equipment end  of the main drain line until you see it bubble out of the main drain. Then, close the valve on your pressure tester. Assuming the main drain is under about 9′ of water, the water column above it should provide 4 psi of pressure on the trapped air within the line. A pressure drop below 4 psi is an indication of a leak somewhere in the upper section of the plumbing. If the depth of the main drain you’re testing is different than 9′, the pressure the water puts on the air lock can be calculated at .43 psi per foot of water.

 

If there is a leak in the line in the section above the bottom of the pool, the amount of pressure loss can be used to indicate where in the line that leak is. Pressure will drop quickly until water reaches the location of the leak, at this point even though water is escaping from the leak, air will be trapped and held at a pressure representing the difference between the leak level and the water level of the pool. So, if you see that you pressure quickly drops to 2 psi, it’s likely that there’s a leak in the main drain line somewhere between 4′ – 5′ under the water level of the pool.

 

If there is a leak  in the section of the line at or above the water level of the pool, you’ll see a quick drop to 0 psi.

A leak in the section of plumbing under the pool shell will not be indicated from this test due to the fact that the air is still supporting the full column of water in the pool. So, if a leak is still suspected in the main drain line, it will have to be inspected by fully pressurizing the line with a plug in the main drain.

 


Case Study: Listening Devices Pinpoint Even the Deepest Leaks

 

Equipment Used:

XLT30, Pressure Testing Kit , Leakalyzer

Situation:

The customer noticed that a lot of sand was being blown into the pool and that there were bubbles in the air filter, so a problematic skimmer line was isolated and shut off.  However, even after closing and plugging that problematic skimmer line there were still sand and bubbles being blown back into the pool.

Sand in pol from leaking skimmer return line.

Solution:

When we arrived to the pool, the skimmer line was plugged and a Leakalyzer test with the pump off showed no water loss. That made us suspect that at least the portion of the plumbing below water level was good. We then pressure tested the other two skimmer lines to confirm the whole line was good and they held pressure. The main drain was eliminated as the source of a problem without getting in the water through our Leakalyzer test that covered the plumbing below the water line and an air lock test that included the line that was above water level. Eliminating all of these other areas left us to examine the problematic skimmer line as the only potential problem. Upon further inspection, the valve used to shut off the line wasn’t holding, which explains the continued bubbles and sand in the pool even after the line was taken out of use.

To determine the specific location of the leak within the faulty skimmer line, we induced air into water saturated soil to listen with the XLT30. At first the bubbling and gurgling sound of a leak was faint, but just by turning the volume up on the XLT30 we were able to identify a distinct noise where the leak was. It was fairly easy tonarrow the leak location down to a 6’ diameter, but in order to get down to within 2’ of the leak we needed to use the advanced filtering capabilities of the XLT30. Once the high filter was turned on, there was a clear spot with the most distinct noise. As sound waves travel they get more and more muffled, so the sound will be crispest and most distinct right over the leak. The sound did fade a little as time went on, but re-saturating the soil by inducing more water into the line revitalized the sound.

The customer estimated that the skimmer line was 18” to 2’ deep, but when we cut the concrete and dug down to that level there wasn’t any moisture or pipe. To confirm we were in the right place we turned the pressure back on and still heard the leak so kept digging and finally found the broken pipe at just over 4’ deep. Before we replaced the cracked fitting we cut the pipe and pressure tested both ways to assure the rest of the line was good.

Digging in concrete deck for plumbing leak

Learnings (are there any key takeaways or learnings from how this leak was found?):

  • Combining a Leakalyzer test with an air lock test of the main drain can confirm that line is solid without getting into the pool.
  • If you notice a once strong leak noise fading, you may just need to add more water to re-saturate the soil.
  • Trust your equipment! If you’re confident you heard a leak in a specific place, you may have to dig farther than expected to find it, but it will be there.

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