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Frequently Asked Swimming Pool Buying Questions

By Jim Spiess, Co-Owner, River Pools

fiberglass pool questionsWhy do prices vary so much from fiberglass manufactures, when they are all fiberglass pools?

This is a good question, and if I were in the market for a pool of any type I would question why there would be a big difference in price. Let’s start by addressing some of the differences between manufactures. Fiberglass pools come in different thickness, and gel coats can be of high quality or low quality. This will greatly determine the pool’s durability and will affect whether or not there are major maintenance issues down the road. Cheap gel coats can develop scratches easily and are hard to repair without a noticeable patch. Fading can also occur when these gelcoats are used, causing your pool to like it has a powder on it after just a couple of years. Thin pools can result in bulging walls, which is not something that is covered on your pool’s warranty. A pool’s thickness will also have a major impact on whether or not it ever develops a crack in the structure. We actually dropped our last line because they kept sending us thin pools.

Why do some pool companies say that they can do a pool so much cheaper and they claim the bigger companies are gouging the consumer for big profits?

Another good question and I am glad you asked. First let me explain that bigger companies can usually offer better pricing because they buy more pools and have better pricing than the smaller companies. The reason companies come in with cheap prices are twofold. First, they use cheap pools and cheap products. Have you ever heard the expression you get what you pay for? Next, you have the pool companies who are working out of their house or even truck, (now don’t get me wrong, that is how we got started, but we quickly jumped into the business in full when we saw that we needed to commit ourselves to the industry. It took us about 3 months to make such a decision.) these companies that work out of their houses often times are unlicensed. They do not have workmen’s compensation. They do not take taxes out on their employees or provide them with any benefits. THEY ARE PROBABLY NOT INSURED. I can go on and on but I think you get the picture. Example: Would you buy a Ford Expedition look alike, from a company that sells them out of their backyard? You probably would not, even if you could save $15,000 or $20,000. You know as well as I do that the warranty is not worth the paper it is written on and the guy selling that pool doesn’t have any leverage with the companies he purchases from either. In the end you are an unhappy pool owner and the pool industry gets another black eye because of the lack of integrity of unqualified pool builders.

Do pool companies need to be licensed in their state they work out of?

They certainly do in Virginia and Maryland. What’s astounding is that many companies even advertise they are licensed when in fact about half the companies out there are not properly licensed. It is a criminal offense to operate a pool business without a license, but the states of California and Texas are they only two states currently actively pursuing illegal, non-licensed pool companies. Even if you contact your state, which I have done in Maryland and Virginia, they will not prosecute the offenders. They will send them a letter to tell them to comply, and if they do not, there is no action taken.

How can I tell if the pool company is licensed?

This is easy. Your contract should have their contractor’s license number at the top of the first page of any contract or quote sheet. And please do not do business without a contract, you are just asking for trouble. You can verify the numbers are correct by going to http://www.dpor.virginia.gov/dporweb/dpormainwelcome.cfm in Virginia or to http://www.dllr.state.md.us/license/occprof/ in Maryland. You can also look up the pool company’s name on these web sites to verify if they are legal.

What is wrong with using an unlicensed company?

You probably do not know the ramifications of this mistake. If someone gets hurt on the job at your house, your homeowners insurance will be paying, and paying big. If the company is not carrying workmen’s compensation on their employees, then chances are they do not have the best employees available. So when they get hurt, they will probably want more than they deserve. Next, are you going to give them a 1099 tax form? Again, the employees are more than likely not having taxes taken out of their checks or they are just paid cash. If the IRS finds out you paid someone knowing that proper taxes were not being paid, you can be held accountable. The license process is a difficult one and it should be, because it is put there to protect you the consumer. There are rigorous standards we must go by and financial obligations companies must meet to become licensed. DON’T LEARN THE HARD WAY. Verify any company you plan to work with. Would you let just anybody build your house?

Should pool companies belong to the Better Business Bureau?

The BBB can give you information on a company whether they are a member or not. They do offer litigation, but keep in mind they do not have the power to enforce anything on the member, other than giving them a bad report and removing them from the BBB. Do not be misled though. Just because someone does not have any complaints on file does not mean they are a good company, it could be they know how to work the system. I know of a couple of companies that have many unhappy pool and hot tub customers who filed complaints on them, yet they do not show up on the BBB report. This is easy for any company with no integrity to do. When you call for a warranty issue they notify you they will do the work when they can. You end up getting someone else to do the work and pay them because you did not want to wait a month or two without your pool in a short season. When you send in your BBB complaint, it is forwarded to the pool company who will then rebuttal by saying the customer is not willing to wait for the repairs. It is then a non complaint, and this will not show up on their report.

Why do some pool companies offer such a big discount if the homeowner gets their own permit?

NEVER, NEVER, Get your own permit. This is good sign your pool builder is not licensed. And even if he is, you should ask him if you can pull your permit under his license name and number. That would be okay. If you get your own permit in your name, you are now the general contractor, and you are responsible for the people you are using to be properly licensed and insured as required by law. Ask your permit office if you can use unlicensed and uninsured sub contractors on your job. You open a big can of worms when you get your own permit.

What is the big deal of belonging to APSP, and what is APSP?

APSP is short for the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals. It is more important that your pool builder belong to that than the BBB. By belonging to APSP your builder is showing some commitment to the pool industry. It would be good to know whether your builder attends the meetings too. By attending APSP meetings your pool builder will get updates on regulation changes in the industry that help protect consumers. These meetings are important to serious pool builders because many things are discussed about the pool industry as a whole for the good of the pool builders and the consumers. Our company is not only a member, but I also serve as the GRAC representative. The GRAC representative is the person who works with the government on any issues that need to be addressed in the industry. I go to most of the APSP meetings and see that less than half of our members are coming to the meetings. Just belonging to a group does not make you a committed pool builder.

Why do fiberglass pools cost as much as concrete pools?

Fiberglass pools should cost more than concrete pools and in some cases they do, it depends again on the company selling the pool. How committed they are to the pool industry will usually dictate their pricing. Fiberglass pools, when done right, are seventeen times stronger than concrete pools. Fiberglass pools have twelve inches of flex strength, and concrete pools have zero flex strength. Fiberglass pools have a better warranty than concrete pools. Fiberglass pools have a smooth surface that will not tear you and your families’ feet up, unlike the rough surface of concrete pools. Fiberglass pools use less chemicals than concrete pools, and are almost maintenance free unlike their concrete counterpart. Fiberglass pools use less electricity which makes them more environmentally friendly than concrete pools. They do not need to be drained and acid washed every three or four years, nor do they need to be replastered. Fiberglass pools are built in a temperature controlled environment that adds to the strength of the pool. Concrete pools are built in the field and extreme weather conditions can come into play that will affect the quality of your pool installation. With a fiberglass pool you will spend your time swimming and enjoying your pool, not checking it daily, adding chemicals often, brushing the walls, etc.

Why would I even buy a concrete pool if fiberglass pools are so great?

With fiberglass pools we are limited on sizes due to shipping. But we have pools as large as 16’x44, which is a pretty big pool. Some people just have to have bigger pools, especially if it’s a large commercial application. When that is the case, then concrete is the way to go. If I were to do concrete pool though, I would have the whole pool tiled to help with roughness, maintenance, acid washing and re plastering. The added cost is worth it, although you will have some tile issues in the future because of expansion and contraction. Remember concrete has zero flex strength.

My sister has a concrete pool and she loves it, she says I am crazy to buy a fiberglass pool and they are cheap pools.

That is not a question, but rather a statement, and one I hear often. Let’s say you are in the market for a new car and you are looking at a BMW sedan and like what you see, so you call your sister because this is your first car and she already has a car so you are looking for some buying tips. If your sister has a Ford Escort and that is all she has ever driven and she loves it; that is because the Escort is all she knows. She will of course recommend the Escort as being the best car ever, how would she know different? On the other hand, if you talk to someone who owned a Ford Escort and now they own a BMW sedan, that person would be able to give you a more informed comparison than your sister. That is what we can do. We can provide you with any one of our customers who have owned a concrete pool and a fiberglass pool, and they will tell you that they would never go back to a concrete pool. Even if it meant they had to trade off for a smaller pool. We have installed quite a few fiberglass pools in at million dollar plus homes. I would ask the concrete pool companies to provide you with some people who have had both and would not go back to fiberglass. Chances are that they cannot provide you with any, and I would be suspect if they found one.

How many references should the sales guy give me?

The best way to answer that question is to have you ask the sales guy how many pools has your company installed since you have been in business, then ask for that many references. You might think ten or twenty references are enough and that is, if that is how many pools that company has installed. If we at River Pools gave you ten or twenty of our best customers, you would think that they were lying from the buildup they would give us. Let us say that a builder has put in five hundred pools and they give you twenty happy customers, well what if four hundred and eighty are not so happy? The odds are not in your favor of being happy when all is said and done. You are investing your hard-earned money into a company that will be working around your home. You want to not only be able to trust them, but the people who work for them as well. We give our people we sit down with a list of all our customers which is over four hundred. No, they are not all 100% happy, but 99% are, and I wish it was better. We give you that list so you have some comfort level in making that decision to go with us. After all, if we want your business, than we need to work hard to earn your business. Shouldn’t all pool companies?

What is the difference between in-house work and subcontractors?

When a pool contractor uses subcontractors it is not the same as a home builder. More things can go wrong on a pool install due to the specialty nature of the work. Just because you own a backhoe does not mean you can install a pool, although many people with backhoes believe they can. Many concrete finishers cannot do canter-lever coping, and those that can do not do it well because it is something they do not do very often. If a subcontractor’s work is not up to standards or goes out of business than you could be left holding the bag. The less subcontractors are involved, the better off you are. We try doing most of our work in house. We do the dig, the installation of the pool, and the concrete all in-house. This means that the people doing the work are our employees. We use subcontractors to do the electrical, fence, walls, and pavers. The subcontractors we use are proven and have been doing our work for years. We do not jump around and use a lot of different subcontractors. If we have to use someone who we are not familiar with, we try to get a subcontractor that one of our previous customers have used and comes highly recommended. By following these guidelines we can assure quality control to the highest degree.

Why should I go with River Pools and Spas?

First and foremost ,because of our integrity. We own up to the fact that we are not perfect. Nobody is, but we do our best to make our customers happy and want them to feel like we treated them the same as would one of our family members. With well over 400 pools in the ground we are happy to give all our customers as a reference, the happy and the unhappy. We not only belong to APSP but we are involved in APSP, because we are committed to the pool industry. Let me give you an example of what integrity is. We have our crew on the job site waiting on the pool with the hole already dug and prepared to receive the pool. The pool shows up and when our men inspect it as they do all pools, they find it is too thin to meet our standards. We notify the manufacturer that the pool is too thin and that we are not accepting it. The manufacturer tried to get us to put it in anyway and said they would fix it if we had any problems. We refused and sent the pool back. This cost us a lot of money. We let the manufacturer know that this could not happen again, as it was too costly for us to absorb. They felt we were too picky, and that other companies would have installed that pool. We sent three more pools back with warnings that we would not tolerate thin pools and that we would switch manufactures if it continued. That company lost its biggest account this past year because they lacked integrity. This was not an easy or inexpensive decision we made, especially considering we would have to revamp all of our advertising, marketing materials, and website to make such a change. But we felt it was better to lose money(in the short term) than sacrifice our integrity. What I am trying to explain here is that just about any other company would have installed those pools and crossed their fingers in hopes that nothing would go wrong later (some probably don’t even cross their fingers). Unfortunately, some just don’t care. When we have a customer who is losing sleep, you can bet our heads are not resting comfortably on our pillows either, my wife would attest to that. Most companies want to simply sell you a pool. We want you to become a valued customer that will sell pools for us. This is more like a partnership. Our pools come with a commitment, and that is proof from our references. Don’t believe me, call our references and hear what they have to say.

For more answers to your questions, please call our store at 888-358-7665 or email us at info@riverpoolsandspas.com