“Warning: Don’t build a swimming pool until you read this!”

Having a swimming pool built can be a nightmare if you don’t know what you are doing. As a homeowner your job is to enjoy life, raise a family, be an expert at YOUR job, etc. Being an expert on pool construction is not something we would expect you to be!

There are many questions that need to be answered to be an informed buyer of a swimming pool. In this article we are going to look at just four. These four questions certainly do not cover everything you should know, but they are four of the more important questions.

  • 1. Is the pool company you are contracting with an expert at pool building?
  • 2 Will the pool company stay in business long enough to finish your pool, or be there for warranty service after it is built?
  • 3 Does the pool company have the experience and DESIRE to truly build the highest quality pool possible?
  • 4 Does the pool company have your best interest at heart or their own?

It is important to know these things if you are to get the very best value in your swimming pool purchase. Let’s look at these questions in order.

First……. Is the pool company you are contracting with an expert at pool building?
Having a state license is not a guarantee that a pool builder really knows what they are doing. Believe it or not, there are companies that specialize in tutoring people who likely would not pass the test on their own. These tutoring companies send people with high memory retention skills to take the tests, then feed the questions and answers to the prospective licensees, so they can memorize the answers and pass the test. The state test is old, and not up to date on modern building methods. Having passed the state license is not a guarantee of expertise in pool building.

You should find out how long the builder has been in the pool industry as a builder or working for one. What is his level of expertise? I.e. has been in the business for 10 years but as a laborer on a plumbing crew? A ditch digger is not a quality pool builder! Neither is someone who has only been a salesperson! What types of pools they have built? Is their experience only in simple flat back yards or have they built large complex projects on multiple levels that require special engineering, and have many unusual details? How many pools they have built? Does the builder or someone on his staff have experience at all levels and phases of the construction process? Does the builder belong to any professional organizations? Is he certified by any professional organization? How much on going education does he get each year? These are important things to know about your prospective builder.

Second… Will the pool company stay in business long enough to finish your pool, or be there for warranty service after it is built?
In Tucson many pool companies come and go. Lately several a year. Sales people, or construction laborers, who think they can do it better, start many pool companies. Most pool sales people have little construction or building experience. Laborers have little construction knowledge outside of their immediate specialty, and have no design experience at all. Additionally both normally have little business experience, and are usually under capitalized. This is generally a recipe for disaster! These types of pool companies normally have the “lowest price”. The lowest price can come from not knowing how to properly cost a pool project, or from trying to compete on price rather then quality. The lowest price pool can become a catastrophe if they go out of business in the middle of your project, or if the pool they build is done to the lowest standard the code will allow. The lowest price pool will generally be the most expensive pool you can own, when you factor in the long-term costs of upkeep and repair.

Registrar of contractor complaints are not a good way to judge if a company is solvent. (If they have a number of complaints it should be a red flag, but for other reasons). Most pool companies that go out of business show no outward signs of trouble until it happens. Selling with the “lowest price” they get to a point where they have to “rob Peter to pay Paul” to stay afloat. At some point they run out of Peters! It is common for the contractor to have no registrar of contractor complaints until they go under, then they will go from zero complaints to 20 or 30 in a few days. Furthermore, few (read NO) contractors are going to let you examine their books, Profit & Loss statements or tax returns to see if they are financially sound. So be careful. Being the largest, or the longest in business, or having many years in the business is also not a good indicator of solvency. Of the companies that failed in Tucson in the last few years one built in excess of 100 pools a year. Another had been in the business under one name for 15 plus years! And yet another had owners with many years of pool experience.

The ONLY way to insure you will not have these types of contractor problems is to be an owner builder. You, not the pool contractor, controls your money, and the project! Sub contractors get paid after their work is finished so that you will never be left with a large payment made to the pool company and no work done! By the way, you will likely not spend any more of your valuable time scheduling an owner builder project then you will chasing down the pool company representative to find out when they will be working next!

Third… Does the pool company have the experience and DESIRE to truly build the highest quality pool possible?
Every pool company says that they build the highest quality pool in town. We know this cannot be true as there are many different builders with various levels of skills and experience. Just once I would like to hear a low skill builder be honest and say “yeah, we build a low quality pool…. but the price sure is cheap” Of course this will never happen, as many low quality builders don’t even know that they build low quality pools! They build the way their previous employer built them, and they have gotten little to no education beyond the on the job training they received from El Cheapo builders. Many of these types of pool companies have the idea that it worked great in the 1970’s so why change. This is great for Grandma’s double fudge brownie recipe, but a disaster for pool building. The pool industry has changed. With technology and new products, a modern pool can be more maintenance free and energy efficient then ever.

Many pool companies sell on emotion. While it is nice to have “Hawaii in your back yard”, it is more important to have a pool that is well built, efficient, and functions well. Has the pool company discussed multiple speed pumps with you? If not, they are not doing you any favors. Most industries from air conditioning to automobile manufacturers have embraced multiple speed technologies in their electric motors, compressors, etc. for energy efficiency. Some states are now requiring, by code, multi speed pumps on pools being built. Has your pool company discussed plumbing sizes? Modern pumps move far greater quantities of water per horsepower then their predecessors. If Mr. 1970 pool builder is still plumbing a 2 horsepower pump with his 1970’s plumbing sizes, you will have a noisy, cavitating pump that will wear out faster and be inefficient. Have they discussed ozone treatment, venturi skimmers, modern filters that don’t need to be backwashed saving water? You should understand how these things work and what the benefits are to you before you make a pool decision.

One of the most popular technologies in the last few years is the chlorine generator also known as a salt pool. These systems work, but the pool industry tends to sell them as saving you money and maintenance, neither of which is true. They will eventually eat up a pool. The cell plates in the system are made of titanium with a ruthenium coating. These are some of the least active, least cathodic, most noble metals on earth, and they disintegrate with the salt systems current flow! If titanium disintegrates, the brass, copper, and stainless steel components in your pool don’t stand a chance! Salt will also destroy decks made of concrete or natural stone! My favorite “truth enhancement” by many pool builders is that the salt system makes “special chlorine”. WOW! It doesn’t get any more misleading than that. The active sanitizing ingredient in all chlorines is Hypochlorous acid. Hypochlorous acid is the same whether it is introduced to the pool water in a tablet form, gas form, liquid form or made by a chlorine generator. If your builder is claiming “special chlorine” RUN! Chances are their lack of knowledge in other areas is also very high, and that will cost YOU money. A chlorine generator will have more maintenance, higher cost, a need to keep your pool chemistry tighter, and drain your pool more often. By the way most generators don’t work when the pool water temperature is less than 60 degrees, and you will have to add chlorine in some other form to keep a minimum level of sanitizer in the pool. Quality in a swimming pool does not mean the most bells and whistles. It means making sure that the pool you build is designed to the highest quality standard possible within your price range. If you are looking for a basic quality pool, here is a hint. Ask your pool builder about a no main drain pool. Let me know what they say.

Last …. Does the pool company have your best interest at heart or their own?
Many pool companies contract with a homeowner for a pool based on specific depth, length, width etc., with few other specifications about its construction. Rarely is plumbing size notated. Is the pump a full rated pump or an up rated pump. What does that mean? For many pool companies once they sign a contract with you and know how much money they are going to get, they will then try to figure out how to build that pool with the greatest savings to them, not you! A builder with high integrity will not only be very open about what he is building, he will explain in detail what you are getting, and be very detailed on his contract. He WILL charge enough money to build a quality pool, cover any unseen costs, and make a reasonable profit for his company! You want to build with a profitable company so that they are there to finish the pool, handle any warranty issues, and are there for the long term, as you need help. This DOES NOT happen at the lowest price! Again “The lowest priced pool will be the most expensive pool you can own” There is no free lunch!

There are two ways to get a high quality swimming pool. One is to find the highest quality pool builder in town and pay him accordingly. The other is to become an owner builder with Pool Planners. Pool Planners can help you get the highest quality and save as much as 25% over the cost of the quality pool builder. Pool Planners is like a pool architect. They help the homeowner design the pool, create technical drawings for pulling permits, acquire structural engineering, estimate construction costs, and get pool equipment. They also help line up subcontractors to do the work, and do site inspections as construction progresses. Pool Planners does not make more money by selling you more deck or a larger pool. Pool Planners is an educator and your friend in the pool business.