How Do We Properly Winterize an Above Ground Pool Skimmer?

Jafar Dhada

Greetings to all pool owners in Long Island. As pool service experts with years of experience, we can’t stress enough the pivotal role that winterization plays in the longevity and functionality of your above-ground pool skimmer.

The skimmer, for those who might not be entirely familiar, is akin to the unsung hero of your pool. Day in and day out, it diligently works to remove debris from the water’s surface, ensuring your pool remains sparkling and clean.

However, as the winter months approach, these same skimmers become highly vulnerable.

Without proper winterization, your skimmer is at an increased risk of facing irreparable damage. The frigid temperatures of the cold winter months can lead to water inside the skimmer freezing and expanding.

Winterizing ABG Skimmer Banner

This not only damages the skimmer itself but can also cause cracks and breakages to the pool’s plumbing system. This damage often results in costly repairs and unnecessary downtime come spring.

The good news? With the proper knowledge and a few preventative steps, these issues can be entirely avoidable.

Let’s dive deeper into why it’s crucial to winterize your above-ground pool skimmer and how doing so can save you both money and peace of mind.

Understanding the Above-Ground Pool Skimmer’s Role

What Does a Pool Skimmer Do?

The pool skimmer, in particular, is a cornerstone in maintaining the pristine condition of your swimming pool.

At its core, the pool skimmer is ingeniously designed to remove floating debris, such as leaves, grass, and even the occasional stray insect, before they sink and become harder to extract.

Think of it as the first line of defense against a murky pool; it ensures that your pool water remains clear and inviting, reducing the strain on your pool filter and ensuring efficient circulation of pool chemicals.

Why It’s Especially Vulnerable During the Winter Months?

However, as we transition into colder months, this very asset presents a unique vulnerability. The skimmer is partially exposed to the elements, being at the pool’s perimeter.

This makes it a prime target for the cold. When trapped water inside the skimmer or its lines freezes, it expands.

This expansion can cause the skimmer to crack or, worse, damage the connected plumbing.

For an element so crucial, it’s easy to see why its vulnerability during winter is a pressing concern for many pool owners.

By understanding the pivotal role and vulnerabilities of the skimmer, we’re better equipped to ensure its protection and longevity, especially during the unforgiving winter months.

Necessary Supplies and Tools

Any seasoned pool professional will attest to the saying, “The right tools for the right job.”


When it comes to winterizing your pool skimmer, this sentiment couldn’t be more accurate.

Ensuring you have the correct supplies on hand not only makes the process smoother but also guarantees a level of protection that can stand up to Long Island’s harshest winter days.

Here’s a curated list of essential tools and materials gathered from our years of experience in the pool service industry:

  • Skimmer Plugs and Winterizing Plates: These are specifically designed to securely seal off your skimmer from the rest of the pool. By doing so, they prevent water from getting in, which, if frozen, could lead to potential cracks and damages.
  • Pool Antifreeze: Contrary to what some might believe, not all antifreeze solutions are created equal. Pool antifreeze is a non-toxic solution tailored for your pool’s plumbing lines. It helps ensure that any residual water inside doesn’t freeze and expand.
  • Gizzmo: A device ingeniously designed for skimmer protection. Made of sturdy material, the Gizzmo absorbs the pressure and expansion caused by freezing water, thereby safeguarding your skimmer.
  • Pool Cover: Beyond just the skimmer, it’s crucial to protect the entire pool. A high-quality winter cover shields your pool from debris, snow, and ice formations. Additionally, it can help alleviate pressure on the skimmer during heavy snowfalls.

Investing in quality tools and materials not only ensures better protection for your skimmer but also grants you peace of mind, knowing your pool is primed to withstand the winter season.

The Winterization Process

Having established the importance of the skimmer and equipped ourselves with the right tools, we now move to the very heart of the matter: the winterization process itself.

Over our years of service in Long Island’s pool industry, we’ve seen firsthand how meticulous preparation can pay dividends in the long run.

So, let’s dive into the steps of the winterization process.

Clean the Skimmer

Before we can set about protecting the skimmer from winter’s wrath, we must ensure it’s in the best possible condition. This begins with a thorough cleaning:

  • Empty the Skimmer Basket: Over time, this basket accumulates various debris—leaves, twigs, insects, and sometimes even small toys. Begin your winterization process by emptying out this basket. Not only does this allow for a more thorough cleaning, but it also ensures that decaying organic matter doesn’t compromise your pool’s water quality during the off-season.
  • Wash and Inspect: With the basket removed, give the skimmer a gentle yet thorough wash using clean water, perhaps aided by a soft brush for stubborn areas. But as you clean, also inspect. Look for any signs of wear, tear, or damage. Cracks or other vulnerabilities in the skimmer can now become significant issues when exposed to freezing temperatures. If you spot any concerns, it might be time to consult with a pool professional for repair or replacement advice.

Cleaning might seem like an essential step, but it sets the tone for the rest of the winterization process. A clean and inspected skimmer not only functions optimally but is also better positioned to weather the winter months without incident.

Adjust the Water Level

One of the most overlooked aspects in the winterization process, yet one of the most crucial, is adjusting your pool’s water level. Based on our experiences and learnings from countless winters on Long Island, ensuring the correct water level can make a world of difference. Let’s explore why and how:

The Importance of Lowering the Pool Water Below the Skimmer Mouth

When you think of freezing water, imagine it as an expanding entity.

If the water level in your pool remains high, touching or surpassing the skimmer’s mouth, the chances of this expanding frozen water damaging the skimmer or the surrounding area increase manifold.

By lowering the water level below the skimmer, you provide a buffer zone. This step alone can save a significant amount of potential winter damage.

Exceptions to the Rule – When You Shouldn’t Lower the Water Level

While the advice to lower water is generally sound, there are certain cases where it might not be the best course of action.

For instance, in pools with vinyl liners, lowering water excessively can cause the liner to pull away or shrink, leading to potential damage.

Also, if you have a solid tarp pool cover that is just the right size for your pool, the pool cover won’t fit the pool properly if the water level in the pool is too low. The cover will become too small and be prone to tearing from the weight of snow or rain.

Similarly, if your backyard has a high water table or is prone to flooding, drastically reducing pool water could lead to the pool “floating” or becoming dislodged from its position. Such nuances emphasize the importance of personalized guidance.

Determining the Right Water Level for Winter

So, what is the sweet spot?

Typically, for above-ground pools, lowering the water level about 1-2 inches below the skimmer mouth works well for pools with solid tarp covers.

Since the pool is covered with a solid tarp, it can’t overflow from rain and snowfall.

If your pool is covered with a mesh cover that allows water to flow through it, then 3-6 inches below the skimmer is more suitable, since the pool will gain water over the offseason.

However, this can vary based on your specific pool type, surrounding environment, and the expected severity of the winter.

Using a submersible pump can help achieve the desired water level with precision.

Use Pool Antifreeze (if needed)

Navigating through the intricate nuances of pool maintenance, one might come across a term that, on the surface, might seem counterintuitive – pool antifreeze.

While standard antifreeze solutions are widely recognized for vehicles, the concept might seem foreign in the context of our swimming pool.

When and Why to Use Pool Antifreeze

Unlike the antifreeze used in automobiles, pool antifreeze is specially formulated to be non-toxic and safe for your pool environment. The primary reason for its use stems from a basic scientific principle: water expands when it freezes.


Any residual water trapped in your skimmer lines, even after diligent draining, can freeze and lead to potential cracks or damage.

Pool antifreeze acts as an insurance against this. It’s especially vital in regions like Long Island, where the winters can be particularly relentless, and the freeze-thaw cycle can jeopardize pool infrastructure.

Proper Method to Add Antifreeze to the Skimmer Line

Once you’ve determined the need for pool antifreeze, it’s essential to apply it correctly.

Start by ensuring your skimmer lines are as free of water as possible using a shop vac or a specialized pool blower.

Once drained, pour the recommended amount of pool antifreeze (as per the product’s guidelines) into the skimmer.

It’s imperative to ensure the antifreeze flows into the skimmer lines and not into the main pool.

Once done, seal the skimmer line using a plug or a Gizzmo, ensuring the antifreeze remains inside the line throughout winter.

With a relatively simple step, you can mitigate risks and set the stage for a smooth transition into the warmer months.

As always, when working with any pool chemical or additive, make sure to follow manufacturer recommendations and safety guidelines.

Plugging the Skimmer

A pool’s skimmer is akin to a gateway, actively allowing water to flow in and out as it works to clear away debris.

However, during the winter months, this gateway becomes a potential vulnerability. This is where plugs come into the picture, providing a protective barrier against the challenges of winter.

Let’s dive deeper into this integral step of the winterization process.

  • Types of Plugs: Over the years, the market has blessed us with an array of skimmer plug options, each with its unique features:
  • Rubber Plugs: Traditional and effective rubber plugs are designed to fit snugly into your skimmer line. Their malleable nature ensures a tight seal, preventing water ingress and egress.
  • Gizzmos: Beyond just a catchy name, Gizzmos are innovative devices designed to absorb the pressure created by freezing water, thereby preventing cracks in the skimmer housing. Their long, slender design makes them ideal for various skimmer sizes.

Proper Installation to Prevent Freezing and Pressure Build-up:

Installation is more than just inserting a plug; it’s about ensuring optimal protection. For rubber plugs, ensure the skimmer line is dry and fit the plug snugly, making sure there are no gaps.

When using a Gizzmo, first apply Teflon tape around its threads to ensure a watertight seal, then screw it into the skimmer, ensuring it’s firmly in place but not overtightened, which might cause damage.

Tips for Ensuring a Tight Seal

Achieving a perfect seal is paramount. Here are a few pro tips:

  • Inspect for Damage: Before installing any plug, inspect it for cracks, wear, or any signs of damage. A compromised plug can fail to provide the seal you need.
  • Clean the Sealing Area: Dirt, debris, or even minor algae growth can prevent a perfect seal. Ensure the area where the plug will sit is clean and free of obstructions.
  • Lubricate if Necessary: Some plugs might benefit from a light application of a silicone-based lubricant, which can enhance the seal and make installation smoother.
  • Check Twice: Once installed, give it a gentle tug or push to ensure it’s firmly in place. It’s always better to double-check now than discover a leak mid-winter.

Putting Ice Compressors into the Skimmer

A pool’s defense against the frigid temperatures of winter often requires some ingenuity. One such creative solution, often discussed among pool professionals, revolves around the use of “ice compressors.”

Basket with Ice Compressors for Extra Protection

Let’s break down this lesser-known but effective tactic.

  • What Happens When a Gizzmo Doesn’t Fit?

Only some pool skimmers are built the same. Sometimes, you’ll come across skimmers where, despite your best efforts, a standard Gizzmo just doesn’t fit securely. This misfit can be due to unique skimmer designs, previous modifications, or even slight warping over time.

In such cases, alternative solutions like ice compressors come to the forefront.

  • What other Items Can You Use?

The primary goal is to have something that can absorb the pressure exerted by expanding ice, protecting the skimmer from potential cracks or breaks.

If a Gizzmo isn’t suitable, consider these alternatives:

  • Bottled Water: A simple yet effective method. Take a plastic water bottle, fill it about three-quarters full with water, and place it inside the skimmer. As the water in the bottle freezes and expands, the bottle compresses, absorbing the pressure and preventing damage to the skimmer walls.
  • Air Pillows: Typically used under winter covers to alleviate pressure, smaller air pillows can be placed in the skimmer for the same purpose. Their inherent flexibility makes them ideal pressure absorbers.
  • How Else Can You Protect the Skimmer Against Freeze Damage? Pool noodles work great as well – just cut them up and stuff them in the skimmer. Also, the same gallon bottle of antifreeze that you used to fill the suction lines with, filled 1/4 of the way up, will work great as an ice compressor in the skimmer.

Ice compressors and Gizzmos are just a part of a comprehensive winterization strategy.

Other methods include:

  • Regular Inspection: Throughout the winter, periodically check on the skimmer. Ensure plugs are secure and no ice build-up is putting undue pressure on the skimmer walls.
  • Insulating Foam Board: Placing this around the exterior of the skimmer can add an extra layer of insulation, reducing the impact of freezing temperatures.
  • Pool Antifreeze: As previously discussed, this non-toxic solution can be added to skimmer lines to prevent water inside from freezing and causing damage.
  • Winter Covers: While primarily used to protect the main pool body, a properly secured winter cover can also shield the skimmer from snow accumulation and reduce the risk of freeze damage.

Winter Covers

When the chill of winter starts to descend upon Long Island, the trusted winter cover emerges as a guardian for countless pools, shielding them from the harshest elements of the season.


This protective barrier not only safeguards the pool water but plays a pivotal role in the health of your skimmer as well.

Let’s dive into the significance of winter covers, particularly concerning skimmers.

Importance of Using a Winter Cover

  • Protection from Debris: As autumn wanes and winter sets in, fallen leaves, twigs, and various other debris can become a constant menace. A winter cover acts as a barrier, ensuring these external elements don’t find their way into your pool or skimmer, which could lead to blockages or damage.
  • Maintaining Water Quality: While pools might be dormant during the colder months, chemical balance remains essential. A winter cover prevents external contaminants from altering the water’s chemical balance, thus reducing the workload when reopening the pool.
  • Safety: Especially with above-ground pools, a sturdy winter cover can prevent accidental slips or falls into the icy waters, ensuring the safety of pets and humans alike.
  • Preventing Algae Growth: By blocking sunlight, winter covers can hinder the growth of algae, reducing the likelihood of a green pool come spring.

How to Secure a Winter Cover Over the Skimmer Area

  • Aligning Properly: Start by ensuring that the cover sits flush over the pool, with the section over the skimmer perfectly aligned. This alignment ensures that water or debris on the cover doesn’t inadvertently flow into the skimmer.
  • Using Cover Clips: These handy devices can be clipped onto the top rail of the above-ground pool, holding the cover firmly in place, especially over the skimmer area. By securing the cover, you prevent it from sagging or slipping, which could allow unwanted materials into the skimmer.
  • Water Bags or Weights: For added security, consider placing water bags or specially designed weights around the perimeter. Over the skimmer, these can ensure the cover remains taut, preventing pools of water or debris accumulation.
  • Inspect Regularly: It’s wise to periodically inspect the cover, especially over the skimmer area, during winter. Wind, snow, or ice can sometimes dislodge or damage covers. Quick inspections allow for timely interventions, ensuring the skimmer remains protected.

Post-Winterization Checks


As the winter winds howl and snow blankets Long Island, one might be tempted to think of the pool as a settled matter until spring.

However, proactive maintenance doesn’t take a winter break. The months following winterization are just as crucial as the preparation itself.

Let’s explore the importance of post-winterization checks, especially concerning the skimmer.

Regularly Inspecting the Skimmer During the Winter Months:

  • Preventative Vigilance: Just as a captain regularly checks his ship during a storm, a diligent pool owner will do well to inspect the skimmer during winter. This proactive approach can help identify potential issues before they escalate.
  • Weather-Induced Challenges: Winter isn’t just about the cold. The season can bring forth an array of challenges, from heavy snowfalls to rapid temperature fluctuations. Regular checks ensure your skimmer is coping with these ever-changing conditions.

Tips for Ensuring the Skimmer Plug Remains in Place

  • Visual Confirmation: At a glance, check if the plug or Gizzmo remains firmly in place. Any noticeable shift or dislodging should be addressed immediately.
  • Touch Test: Gently feel the plug. It should be snug against the skimmer, with no signs of movement or loosening.
  • Weather Watch: After significant weather events, such as a heavy snowstorm or a rapid thaw, it’s prudent to inspect the skimmer plug. Such events can sometimes cause shifts or changes in the skimmer’s setup.

Checking for Ice Build-up

  • Spotting the Signs: Throughout winter, watch for any visible ice formations around the skimmer or on the winter cover. Ice build-up can exert pressure on the skimmer and its components, potentially leading to damage.
  • Ice Management: Should you spot ice build-up, resist the urge to forcibly break it. Instead, consider applying warm clothes or specialized ice melt products designed for pools. Forceful removal can lead to cracks or further damage.
  • Consider Insulation: If ice build-up becomes a recurring issue, you might consider adding insulation around the skimmer or using protective shields to prevent direct exposure to the elements.

Addressing Common Questions

What to Do if Water Gets into the Skimmer During Winter?

  • Immediate Response: If you notice the water has made its way into the skimmer, act promptly. Leaving it unattended, especially in freezing conditions, can lead to damage due to the expansion of freezing water.
  • Removal: Gently siphon or pump out the water, being careful not to disturb the skimmer plug or any protective components.
  • Recheck the Seal: Once the water is removed, it’s crucial to re-examine the skimmer plug’s seal. A compromised seal might be the reason for the water ingress in the first place.
  • Keep Monitoring: After addressing the immediate issue, ensure you increase the frequency of your checks for a while to ensure the problem doesn’t recur.

How Often Should You Check the Skimmer During Winter?

Ideally, a bi-weekly check during the winter months should suffice under normal circumstances. These routine inspections ensure everything remains in place and help you spot potential issues early on.

Can Pool Antifreeze Harm the Pool Liner?

Pool-specific antifreeze is formulated to be non-toxic and safe for pool components, including liners, unlike automotive antifreeze, which contains toxic ethylene glycol, which is safer for both pool components and the environment.


Winterizing your pool skimmer isn’t just routine – it’s an essential step in preserving your pool’s longevity and ensuring optimal performance. Our pools are a source of joy, relaxation, and countless memories; they deserve nothing less than our utmost attention, especially during the challenging winter months in Long Island.

At Romanelli & Son Pool Service, we bring years of expertise and dedication to ensure your pool is winter-ready.

Are you considering professional winterization, or do you have more questions? Reach out to us.

We’re just a call away, always ready to help you navigate through the winter with confidence, ensuring your pool remains in peak condition for the seasons ahead.

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Jafar Dhada
Hey there, I am an avid swimming enthusiast coming from a coastal city in India. In my free time, I like to play snooker, and of course have a dive in the sea or a pool.