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Common Misconceptions About The Pool & Spa Industry

pool guy broke something
Swimming pool and spa owners often make assumptions about the pool and spa industry and industry workers that actually contribute to their negative experiences of pool ownership. Obviously if you own a pool and are willing to take on the financial burden of swimming pool ownership then you see the value and benefit in having your own pool...despite all of the swimming pool horror stories that you hear about or read online. Swimming pools are in a unique and exclusive classification in that people often associate pools with major problems, financial difficulty and general liability, and any person selling you something for your pool is highly suspect of being a crook. Much the way that used car salesmen carry the stigma of overcharging customers, being unscrupulous, selling you a lemon, or some other undesirable mental connotation, so to do swimming pool industry workers carry such a burden.

You do not need to spend long working in the pool and spa industry, any facet of the pool and spa industry, to encounter an angry customer who wants to pin some blame on you for something that you had literally nothing to do with. This is just a reality of the unsteady, uncertain and largely unregulated pool industry as a trade. Little oversight, regulation, training and trade certification results in an unstable market that lacks congruency of technical process, which I have talked about before in this article on the biggest problem with the pool and spa industry. Unqualified and underqulaified companies exist by the thousands within this industry and pool owners are left to sort out the mess. While the jaded nature of pool owners may be well warranted, and well deserved, it does not necessarily make any of their assumptions true. Let's look at some of the most common misconceptions that pool owners have about pool industry workers.

Being "Sold" Pool Chemicals You Don't Need

computers are down, we are closed
Swimming pool owners are acutely aware that pool stores will probably sell them expensive chemicals that they don't need. As a swimming pool industry expert I can assure you that there is no industry-wide scam in effect designed to talk pool owners out of their hard earned money twenty dollars at a time. I know this might be hard to believe, but it is true. Hanlon's razor very much applies to this problem: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. If you think that pool stores are force feeding you things that you don't need in order to line their own pockets, then you are wrong. It is however highly likely that you might be sold chemicals that you don't need simply because the person that you are talking to is not actually knowledgeable about swimming pools and pool chemistry. If you doubt the validity of this statement I challenge you to go get your pool water tested in a pool store where the computers are currently down.

Water labs used to be managed by nerds, part time chemists and people who are vastly experienced with water balancing in swimming pools. Today water labs are run by computer programs with people doing little more than inputting values into the program. While the quality of water lab programs is very high, and they are very accurate, they are not a substitution for real world water chemistry experts who can actually consider your specific situation. A computer program can only tell you what you need to do right now to fix your water, and they can offer nothing to pool owners in terms of helping you to conceptually understand the relationship between chemicals and outside influences in your pool. A real world example is that if you have had 7 days of rain, and 7 more days in the future forecast, a computer program will not be able to understand there is an additional factor affecting the water chemistry, and the best course of action would include accommodating for continued heavy rains for the next week. In this situation unless the pool owner receives additional input from the water lab, and only follows the print out instructions, they will probably be back next week complaining about green water.

all I need for my pool is some chlorine There are a lot of chemicals that you should not need to use in your pool provided that you keep your chlorine level and pH within the correct range. When either of these chemicals gets too far out of range then you leave the door open for other problems to develop. Should you develop a problem then you will need to react by adding additional things "that you did not need". The truth is that you did need them but you potentially wouldn't have needed them if you had not let your chlorine level drop to zero, or let your pH level go below 7.0 or above 8.2.

This is how the stigma of "being sold chemicals you don't need" gets started in the pool industry. If you were sold an expensive algaecide or possibly an expensive phosphate remover treatment you would be surprised to know that you don't need these...and your neighbor has never needed them...so why were you sold chemicals that you didn't need? The answer is either that the person who sold them to you didn't know what they were talking about, or more likely, you needed them. You can really minimize the chemical maintenance in your water once you get good at not letting your basic values such as chlorine and pH get out of range. If you are not at that point yet then you can end up needing additional treatments that you potentially could have avoided.

Chlorine is a sanitizer, and it also an oxidizer. Additionally it is an algaecide and when used correctly you can avoid most other chemicals that also serve one of these purposes. If you let the pH get too high your chlorine will stop being able to work. If you let your stabilizer levels get too high the same thing will happen and you chlorine will not work. If you let your stabilizer levels get too low you will not be able to maintain your chlorine residual as the sun will be burning it off as fast as you can add it. As you can see there is a complex relationship between multiple chemicals and multiple variables...and this is only the tip of the iceberg since there are deeper levels of interacting variables that can and will also affect all of these values also. Chemical testing and water balancing in swimming pools is a very dynamic subject with many variables and with so many moving parts at work it is little wonder that the answers to your water quality issues are not always straight forward.

Pool owners take note - If you do not want to be sold chemicals you don't need then I recommend a few tips to pool owners. Obviously, the more familiar you become with water testing and balancing in your pool, the better. If you would like to brush up on some of the common chemical interactions in your pool you can read my pool chemistry crash course in which I try to explain common balancing and chemical interactions in a simplified and easy to understand format. Something that I have noticed that pool owners will tend to do is to mix-and-match their pool chemistry advice...which I strongly encourage against doing. If you take a little bit of advice from the pool store, a little from your father, and a little from the fellow that lives across the street, then you are probably going to have a hard time with your chemistry. First, there are pool owners by the thousands who have clear water only through dumb luck so you should be highly skeptical of any non-professional water chemistry advice, best intentions aside. If you take your advice from multiple sources then you are drastically increasing the chances that some of the advice that you are getting is bad. This is even true for pool stores. You should not go to multiple pool stores to have your water tested, and instead you should find one person (or one store) that seems to be able to get you the results you want. Once you find this place, stick with them, and avoid incorporating random additional advice from other stores, neighbors, friends, family or non-professionals. In my experience if you can educate yourself enough to ask informed questions about water chemistry then you will have little trouble discerning those who know their stuff from those who are reading what the computer screen is telling them to say to you.

Pool Guys Will Try To Rip You Off

swimming pool guys are not bad
While I am certain there are all sorts of unscrupulous people in the world, and some of them must surely work in the pool industry, the vast majority of pool guys are NOT trying to rip you off. Much like in the above paragraphs, it is far more likely that your pool guy does not have the knowledge and / or experience to deal with your pool problems as opposed to them specifically trying to rip you off. Swimming pools are an incredibly technical subject that blurs the lines between multiple trades and sciences. It is little wonder if you ask 10 different pool guys a technical question that you will likely receive 10 different answers. It is not that these 10 pool guys are trying to rip anyone off...just that they have 10 different skill sets and 10 different levels of experience. More often than not there is a lack of technical understanding behind "swimming pool nightmare stories" that resulted in something expensive getting broken.

There is a disconnect that pool owners do not know about which perpetuates this stigma of pool owners "getting ripped off" by pool industry workers. The pool and spa industry is very much divided into groups, and how these groups overlap is very significant. First, there are three main types of swimming pools, which are concrete, vinyl liner and fiberglass. This is the first internal division within the industry in that most companies only install one type of pool. Some companies install two of these kinds of pools, and very very few companies can and do install all three kinds. Someone who has been installing concrete pools for 40 years will obviously have a ton of experience and knowledge relating to that craft. Does this mean they know anything about vinyl liner pools? Not really. I mean, sure, they will have a ton of relatable knowledge and a lot of overlap between the two kinds of pool...but they are not a vinyl pool specialist. This is the main take away for pool owners, you are not looking for a pool company or pool guy - you are looking for someone that specifically specializes in what you have.

Further to this, the classification of the industry continues past the point of installation. For example, someone who installs pools is probably not interested in vacuuming your pool every week. There are essentially three levels to the pool and spa industry which are installers, service companies and maintenance companies. When you need a pool installed or a major overhaul or structural renovation then you probably want to call a pool installer or construction company. Sure some service companies will also offer these services, but you want someone that specializes in the problem that you have. You can't really blame any company for wanting to expand their services that they offer, but as a pool owner you want to make sure that you are not acting as the Guinea pig in this equation. Every pool company has strengths and weaknesses and you should not be afraid to inquire as to what the "bread and butter" is to your pool company. Learning that the pool industry is sharply divided into concrete pools, vinyl pools and fiberglass pools, and then further divided into installers, service companies or maintenance companies will aid you greatly in finding the right pool company for your needs.

Pool owners take note - Getting your head around these divisions within the industry will go a long way towards finding the right person for your specific pool situation. If you have a problem with your water quality, or some staining in your pool, then asking a pool builder may not be as effective as asking a weekly pool maintenance company who vacuums and balances 1000 pools per week. The same goes for asking about pool pumps...if you ask a pool builder about pool pump service they will likely just tell you to replace it with a new one that they can sell you, because that is what they do. A service company on the other hand, who may deal with hundreds of pump service calls per week, might know of a common fix for your pump that will get you back up and running for far less money. The pool builder was not trying to rip you off - they are simply not set up for pool pump servicing so the most efficient way to solve the problem, to them is just replace it. A service company on the other hand might have an experienced service technician and a fully stocked truck that allows them to service and repair your pump in a single visit. The pool builder knew he would need to take multiple trips to your house to find the problem, get the parts and then make the repair, which would end up costing as much or more than a new pump anyway. It is simply because the service company specializes in pump service that they are able to offer a better (and cheaper) option to you.

How To Spend As Little As Possible On Your Pool

swimming pool on lockdown
Since the financial aspect of pool ownership is one of, if not the biggest concern for pool owners, it is very understandable that pool owners try to get the most possible life out of their pool. There is however a fine line between being frugal and cost effective, and actually costing yourself a pile of extra money that you didn't need to spend. One of the biggest fallacies in the pool industry is the "trying to get one more season" approach of pool ownership.

This is a subject that I have written about before in this article about common mistakes that pool owners make. In an attempt to save money on pool repairs and renovations, pool owners will put off needed repairs for one or more pool seasons. While the logic makes sense to save up for repairs that you can't afford, unfortunately the pool cares not for your plans. Picture a pool like a car and you will probably understand what I mean. When a car has something that breaks you tend to fix it right away or stop driving it until you can have it repaired. While I am sure many readers will be lamenting about how they drive their car despite the many broken things on it, we are talking about two different things. If your car had four flat tires would you keep driving it to work every day? Most likely not. When your pool has a problem with the structure, the interior surface, the plumbing system or your filtration equipment, this is the same as having four flat tires on your car. To the untrained eye, you, the pool still looks to be OK and so you continue to let it run despite having noted deficiencies such as leaks or a failing interior surface. What you do not fully appreciate is that you are buying yourself more than just time - you are buying yourself more expensive repairs than you needed to begin with.

pool repairs seem expensive After over 25 years in the industry and many millions of dollars of pool contracting I can easily say that the people who spend the least on their pools are actually the ones that get it fixed the fastest. A real world example would be a vinyl liner that should be replaced at seven years old since it is showing signs of age, chemical damage and deterioration. If you replaced the liner at this stage you would get another seven years for around $3000 (just to use as a working number). Now, what many pool owners would do would be to put off that liner replacement that was needed in year seven until year ten when the liner is now well past its service life. What the pool owner does not realize is that the shrinking vinyl liner was putting more and more stress on the coping retainer every year. If the coping was made from PVC, as many are, it would have started to stretch, bend and eventually crack. Once this happens you will need new coping installed before you can hang a new liner.

Now, instead of $3000 you are looking at $4500 since you need coping also. Hopefully you do not have a deck integrated coping that needs to be replaced, like bull nose coping that has the concrete deck poured right into it, because if you do then you need to remove and replace the entire pool deck as well. Now that $3000 at year seven has turned into $10,000+ in year ten. This does not even factor in that for three extra years you had an old (and probably leaking) liner in your pool. All of the water that was leaking from your liner caused additional rusting and pitting on the walls of your pool which now need repair before you can hang a new liner. Also water tracking behind the liner can cause damage to sand and mortar based pool floors. If the damage is serious enough then you might remove the old liner only to discover that you also need a new smooth bottom on the pool which is $3000 on its own. So for the extra three years that you tried to get out of your failed liner you need a new liner, coping, deck, wall repairs and a new floor. If you had changed the liner when it was time then you would have been out $3000 and been set for the better part of another decade. Now, you need $20,000 of pool repairs, which you can't afford, so you start to look into filling in your pool - only to discover how expensive it is to fill in your pool...much more than you thought, and much more than it would have cost you just to replace your liner when the time was right.

There are so many ways that a pool will continue to fail once it starts. A swimming pool system needs to be in perfect operational condition at all times. Any failure of any part of the system should be regarded as mission critical to fix. If you adopt this mentality towards your pool you will most likely save yourself many thousands of dollars that you otherwise would have wasted. If you are one of "those people" who tend to procrastinate with fixing things, and you let your pool repairs slide even for a short while, then your pool is most likely going to teach you some expensive lessons in the future.

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- Swimming Pool Steve