Play It Safe With Anti-Vortex Pool Drain Covers: Here's How to Install One

by Team HomeServe
Pulsating blue pool water with reflections of the sun Drain grate for water at the bottom of the pool

Backyard pools can be a great source for summertime fun, but having a pool comes with safety concerns, especially if you or your neighbors have children. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2019, there were 221 media-reported pool- or spa-related drowning fatalities involving children aged 15 and younger.

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Thankfully, pool-related injuries and deaths can be prevented with vigilance, regular pool maintenance and safety features such as a pool drain cover. Learn how to install an anti-vortex drain cover to make your pool a safer place to swim.

What Is an Anti-Vortex Drain Cover?

When you combine a powerful pump with a traditional pool drain cover, it can result in excessive suction, which can trap a swimmer who gets too close. An anti-vortex pool drain cover is a type of safety drain cover that lets more water flow through it so suction is reduced, creating a safer swimming environment, especially for smaller children.

Why Do I Need an Anti-Vortex Pool Drain Cover?

You should install an anti-vortex drain cover to minimize the risk of entrapment in a pool-bottom drain — but safety isn't the only reason to replace an old pool or spa drain cover. If you maintain a public or semipublic pool, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act mandates the installment of adequate safety features, including anti-entrapment pool covers. Although the legislation doesn't apply to backyard pools, all pool drain covers manufactured now, whether for public or private pools, must comply with the VGB Act.

How Do I Measure My Pool Drain Cover?

To know which drain cover to buy, you’ll need to measure the diameter of the drain. Because taking measurements underwater can be tricky, you can partially drain your pool for better access, or you can wear a swim mask and snorkel. Using a waterproof ruler or tape measure, measure the drain opening. If your drain is rectangular, measure the length and width. If it's round, measure the diameter.

You’ll also need to know the diameter of the pool's sump pipe, which leads away from the main drain, and your pool pump's manufacturer, model number and its rate of flow (which you'll find on the pump's label).

With this information, your local pool supply store should be able to help you select an appropriate anti-vortex drain cover.

How to Install an Anti-Vortex Drain Cover

You can learn how to install an anti-vortex drain cover by following several simple steps:

Installing a Rectangular Drain Cover

  1. Insert the new cover's outer frame into the opening of the pool's main drain.
  2. Screw it into place using the provided screws.
  3. Place the cover's square inner frame on top of the outer frame.
  4. Attach the inner and outer frames using the provided screws.
  5. Place the drain cover's grate over the assembled frames.
  6. Attach the grate using the provided screws.

Installing a Round Drain Cover

  1. Insert the drain cover's face ring into the top of the pool's main drain.
  2. Using the provided screws, attach the face ring to the main drain.
  3. Place the drain cover over the face ring.
  4. Turn the drain cover until the screw holes align with those on the face ring. The tab on the face ring should rest in the notch at the bottom of the cover.
  5. Attach the drain cover to the face ring using the screws provided. The screws should be tight, and the bottom of the cover should rest directly against the face ring.

If you're replacing the drain cover yourself, always put safety first. Shut off your pool pump prior to beginning work, and tie back long hair.

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How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Pool Drain Cover?

Depending on your pool's specifications, the quality of the product you choose and where you purchase it, a VGB Act-compliant pool drain cover typically costs anywhere from $15 to more than $200.

If you're comfortable working underwater, replacing a pool drain cover can be a simple DIY project, so you won't have to pay for labor.  Professionals generally charge about $75 per hour for labor, plus the cost of parts. Alternatively, some companies may charge a flat rate for the service.

If you drain your pool for easier access, you'll incur an additional cost of about $175. Fixr says refilling your pool costs between $4 and $10 per gallon.

How Often Do Pool Drain Covers Need to Be Replaced?

If your pool drain cover isn't designed to prevent entrapment, it should be replaced regardless of its age. If you're replacing a current VGB Act-compliant drain cover, the expiration date should be stamped on the cover below its design flow rating. It should also be provided in the information that came with the product.

A drain that hasn't reached its expiration date but no longer fits properly or shows signs of wear should be replaced immediately, as it can cause safety risks. You should never allow anyone to enter a pool that has a broken or missing drain cover.

Why Should You Hire a Pool Professional?

When working in and around pools, it's important to prioritize safety, which is why it's often better to hire a reputable pool service for the job. These trained professionals can install a new drain cover efficiently and correctly and can inspect your pool for overall safety so your family can enjoy summertime swims without worry.