Why Are Pools Such A Nightmare?
Why are swimming pools such a nightmare? Are they nightmare...or is the potential for problems overblown by frustrated pool owners? The truth, as with most things, is somewhere in the middle. You do not need to look far to find stories of expensive repair and renovation bills for pools. Similarly stories of unprofessional pool workers are common from new construction projects to service, repair and maintenance workers. The origin for these problems traces back to the swimming pool industry being a completely unregulated industry. It is hard to imagine anything in todays society that is not regulated but that is the reality of the swimming pool industry.
Without an official trade designation or established construction, maintenance and service standards the end result is that each person working within the industry must find their own way. To draw a parallel imagine if house construction were completely unregulated like swimming pools. If house construction were unregulated each and every house would be built differently. One contractor might built a house with half as much timber as the next contractor, or you might find a house with no insulation at all. Another house might have undersized wires or unsafe electrical installations. The picture I am painting sounds fairly ridiculous however this is exactly what the swimming pool industry is like.
Many people underappreciate just how technical swimming pools are. They are just a "hole in the ground" right? How complicated could that be? As it turns out...immensely complicated. This is the first misstep where pool owners can start to experience nightmares. Building a swimming pool is not like building a playhouse in the backyard, or adding a new wood deck, or even changing the brakes on your car. Building a pool is much more akin to the technical complexity of building a house, or building a car from scratch. Could you imagine how unreliable buying cars and trucks would be if there were no regulations about how to build cars, and any person who wanted could start accepting deposit checks for new car construction projects without any training or trade certification at all? That sounds like crazy talk, and yet that is pretty much exactly what the pool and spa industry is like.
In order to be proficient as a swimming pool professional you would need to have years of both hands on technical training as well as extensive theoretical training. Most technical trades are based on only one skill that is to be learned. With swimming pools you must have advanced skill and experience with various concrete working applications, plumbing and hydraulic design, electrical installations and equipotential bonding, steel working / reinforcement, water filtration systems, water sanitation, chemistry and saturation index balancing, tile preparation and tile setting, waterproofing systems, heavy equipment operation, forming and framing carpentry and the list goes on and on. Further to this each of these subjects individually requires extensive experience and training...look at concrete as just one example of this:
Why do you need extensive experience to work on pools? - Concrete for example is not just experience working with concrete or finishing flat work. With swimming pools the concrete applications range from decorative overlays, stamped concrete, plastering, mud base for tiles, structural applications as well as shotcrete (or gunite) which is essentially a shoulder mounted concrete cannon. You could spend your entire life finishing concrete and you would be essentially useless on a shotcrete crew as the application is unique to only swimming pools, temporary shoring, and underground mine reinforcement. Tile setting is a skilled trade entirely unto itself. Plastering requires years of experience to be even adequate with this technique. As you can see it would be pretty rare to meet someone proficient with all of these concrete applications, and that does not even consider the rest of the experience and skills listed above. Nor does it consider business acumen, customer relations, time management, financial management or any of the other skills that any business owner should have. You are probably starting to see how swimming pool nightmares get started but this truly is just the tip of the iceberg.
Why is it so hard to find a good pool professional? - So you need an absurdly skilled person to be proficient with pools. Unfortunately there are no trade designations for pools so there is no way for the average home owner to gauge the actual experience of the pool professional they are speaking with. Without trade designations or even congruent building methods from one pool company to the next it is essentially impossible to create an apples to apples comparison for pools. Further to this even experienced pool professionals disagree in the "right way" to approach things like construction standards, best types of pools, water chemistry values...and without a enforced national building code there is no reference material that a pool owner can refer to. Imagine what electrical work would look like if there was no NEC (National Electric Code) and each electrician decided for themselves how to wire things "properly" including what kind of wire they use, the gauge of the wire, the size of the breakers, the load on the breakers...that would be very bad.
Learn more about how the pool industry is divided in this funny article about how to get a pool company to actually call you back
Aside from the technical complexity of pools combined with a lack of regulations, available training and trade certification there are still more reasons why pools can be such a nightmare. I hope by now you are starting to appreciate how technically complex swimming pool systems are and how any person can hire out their services as a "pool professional" whether they have the requisite experience or not. Once you understand this you will appreciate more the next layer to the swimming pool nightmare possibilities and that relates to how pools go together, break and are repaired. In essence pools are comprised of multiple systems that work in conjunction with one another. When something breaks you can not always just repair or replace that one part of the system. In many cases to facilitate a proper repair you will need to also repair / renovate additional (expensive) parts of the pool system.
As with the example given in the video at the bottom of this page you could have a vinyl liner pool that needs a new skimmer as the old one has cracked. In order to replace the skimmer you will likely need to also replace the vinyl liner as changing the skimmer will usually require this. When inspecting the pool for a new liner it might be determined that the coping is older or failing and needs to be replaced. In a specifically bad situation you might have a deck integrated coping that was made from PVC (not aluminum) and it has failed or will fail shortly. You can't run the pool with a broken skimmer and you need a new liner to replace the skimmer. The new liner needs coping that will last as long as the new liner, and to replace deck integrated coping you need to remove and replace the concrete deck around your pool.
This is how a $1000 skimmer replacement turns into $1000 for the skimmer, $3500 for the liner, $800 for coping and $5000 for a new concrete deck. You thought everything was fine with your pool but needing a new skimmer is now actually going to cost you over $10,000 for essentially a new pool remediation. If you are going this far with a new deck and skimmer then the plumbing lines need to look perfect. If they are older of deficient then you probably want to replace them as well as you would not want to finish all of this work only to develop a leak next year and have to take the deck out again!
This is how pool owners can get into nightmare situations. The example provided above for a vinyl liner pool can also happen with concrete or fiberglass pools, except the repairs for concrete and fiberglass pools are much more expensive than vinyl liner pools for similar work. This leads many home owners to throw up their hands in frustration and consider just closing the pool permanently. Firstly, you can not close a pool permanently as I explain in this article about can you close a pool permanently. A pool needs to be operated and closing a pool permanently is not allowed in most places due to the risks from having a stagnant bacteria infested swamp in your backyard, which is exactly what you would have if you attempted to not run your pool for an extended period of time. This inevitably leads to the exasperated pool owner deciding to fill in their pool. Again, there are laws about how you fill in a pool and almost everywhere requires that you remove the pool entirely from the ground before you fill it in. In many cases this can cost even more than just fixing the pool properly. This is the crux of the pool nightmare situation.
1) Buy a pool thinking everything is good
2) Discover the pool needs extensive (and expensive) repairs
3) Discover that filling in a pool is also expensive
4) Can't just leave the pool in the condition it is in now so you are forced to spend money
5) Every pool company you talk to tells you something completely different
Buying a house with an older swimming pool is a risky proposition. There is no way to know for sure what the condition of the pool is in, and more importantly, how well was this pool built in the first place? Has it been maintained and serviced well since being built or are you buying a pool that was built poorly and not properly maintained? From standing on the pool deck there are very few answers to these questions. When you buy a house with a pool, especially an older pool, you should have many tens of thousands of dollars extra to deal with potential problems that you discover with the pool later on.
Just knowing in advance how much pools cost, how they break, and how their integral components are tied together which can necessitate more extensive repairs and renovations can help to alleviate you of having a pool related nightmare. It also helps to know that you should be extremely wary of pool industry professionals and you should most definitely always ask for references. You do not want to alienate your pool pro of choice by being overly skeptical but protecting your own interests is critically important as a pool owner. Ask questions until you feel comfortable with the person you are looking to hire. If they have trouble answering your questions now you can bet this will get nothing but worse once real problems start to come up during the project.
Swimming pools don't have to be a nightmare and in fact can be one of the best purchases you ever make to foster an at-home family environment that is fun for everyone. There are few other purchases you can make that people of all ages from young to old will so thoroughly enjoy. A pool should be considered on the same technical level as a house or a car, and this will also help you to understand the importance of maintenance and upkeep. Poor chemical balance alone could reduce the service life of your integral pool components by half or more, which makes well balanced pools last easily twice as long as poorly managed ones. When you notice something that is broken or deficient on your pool be certain to have it repaired or remediated as soon as possible. Any work you get done on your pool should involve estimates from multiple contractors, and you absolutely should vet your contractor by asking for local references in your area that you can speak to before making a decision. If you take these steps and understand the technical nature of pools you will vastly reduce your chances of experiencing a swimming pool nightmare situation.
How to inspect a concrete pool
How to inspect a vinyl liner pool
Common concrete pool repairs
How to renovate a vinyl liner pool
Pool and spa chemistry crash course
The Swimming Pool Steve blog
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