Size, shape, color, and plumbing — everyone knows that these are some major considerations when installing a new swimming pool. Yet once these decisions are made, there is a host of other details and issues to resolve, that many may not think of at first. Most homeowners don’t even have an idea of what they don’t know — so it is imperative to enlist the help of a qualified and licensed pool contractor.
But where to begin? To prevent any unpleasant surprises for those of you planning to install an in-ground pool this summer, we spoke with Craig Bagin of B&B Pool and Spa Center, Lew Akins of Ocean Quest Pools by Lew Akins, and Chuck Baumann of Creative Environments, about how to find a pool builder that is right for you, and some of the important practicalities to consider when installing a swimming pool.
How do I get the best value when putting in a pool?
Craig: A cheap price up front never ultimately becomes that cheap price. The pool is a central point of your yard, if it doesn’t meet or exceed expectations, you will be forever unhappy with the product. It would be a shame to spend all that money, do all that work, and still be stuck with a substandard product. We’ve had clients who opted to go with other contractors who offered them a lower price, but then have had to call us to go back in and fix things.
Chuck: Clients are entitled and encouraged to shop around and consider several bids, but it’s frustrating when they operate under the impression that all bids are equal. So they’ll take the low bid going in on a job, and by the end will have either had to upgrade themselves to the cost of the higher bids, or have a product that falls short. Low bids are often the inexperienced builder, trying to save people money and cutting costs by compromising on the quality and integrity of the project.
Lew: A typical call we get is “Where do your pools start?” [as far as cost is concerned]. Well, what pool? You can’t ask a car dealer “Where do your cars start?” without knowing what level of car with what features you’re looking for. Finding the cheapest price is easy — all you have to do is leave off more stuff. You wouldn’t buy a car without AC to save $1,500 — but you don’t know what that AC is equivalent to on my product.
Couldn’t I just get a landscaper to do my pool? I’m going to need landscaping around it anyway.
Craig: I have been in business 44 years, and I have never seen the amount of structural damage to swimming pools as in the last 7-10 years since the advent of landscapers, pavers, and miscellaneous contractors thinking they can build swimming pools. As an Association of Pool and Spa Professional (APSP) Certified Building Professional®, I’ve spent many years learning the proper techniques and standards. Swimming pool construction is a full time job, not a part time job to include on the side. A builder not only has to build the swimming pool, but also be able to service and maintain it, especially since more technology is being implemented these days.
Chuck: I am both a swimming pool contractor and landscape contractor — I build so many pools with integrated landscaping that I felt it was important to acquire that license. Pool construction deals with a lot of very technical aspects, and has to be perfectly precise — if a pool isn’t built to the code and safety standards, you can end up with critical problems and even lawsuits. Landscape design is more forgiving — if a plant is 12 inches off from where it shows on the plans, nobody gets upset and there’s no effect on health and safety. Landscape contractors just have a different mindset— there is room for error, and of course it’s subject to artistic creativity and interpretation. In California, landscape contractors may be able to get a pool contractors license, but it’s two different disciplines, and it’s hard to make that crossover.
What are some of the safety regulations I need to consider?
Craig: As far as 20 years ago, we knew that a pool needed two main drains, more than three feet apart, to prevent the possibility of entrapment. Now the VGB Act (Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act of 2007) mandates specific spacing for the main drains. You also have to consider maximum pipe velocities — with the wrong diameter pipe and improper pump; you can still create an unsafe situation.
Lew: Firstly, no safety device even comes close to the safety of adult supervision. Other than that, you’ll have to comply with local municipality regulations. They can vary as far as fence heights, distance from the houses, etc. Some places require loud alarms on back doors. A confident contractor would be happy to inform you about these things.
What about warranties? Service contracts?
Chuck: There can be homeowner warranties that protect equipment if it breaks. Builders typically give structural warrantees and project-specific warranties. Our pools have a lifetime structural warranty and a 1-year parts and labor warranty. Different manufacturers offer various options based on the piece of equipment. A builder needs to know and have extensive knowledge of the various product lines to find both the best products and the best warranty packages.
Lew: The warranty is only as good as the company offering it. Almost every piece of equipment is guaranteed for a year (pumps, filter, heater, etc.), but many manufacturers extend the warranty to three years if you bundle and use all of their equipment. An industry professional will help you buy the best bundle, not just the best individual product.
Craig Bagin is the Vice President of B&B Pool and Spa Center, building luxury pools and spas for the NJ/NY area since he and his brother founded the company in 1972. The company has accumulated numerous national, regional, and international awards — including the NESPA 2011 Best of competition Award, and several APSP International Awards of Excellence. Bagin is an APSP Certified Building Professional.
Lew Akins founded Ocean Quest Pools of Austin, TX in 1984, and since then Akins has won more than 187 national and regional awards, including an induction into the NSPI Region III Hall of Fame in 2000. In 2000, Akins opened “Ocean Quest Pools by Lew Akins” in Belton, TX (now with facilities in Killeen and Waco as well), to focus on consulting and specialty construction projects. He is a Certified Building Professional® designated by the APSP.
Chuck Baumann is the CEO/President of Creative Environments, a custom swimming pool and water feature contractor serving the San Francisco Bay area since 1979. He is also on the board of directors for Carecraft, a professional association for pool builders to preserve high standards in the pool building industry. Creative Environments was chosen by pool and spa professionals as one of the top 50 Best Pool Builders in the U.S., “The Industry Choice Award,” five years in a row.