Licenses, Liability, and Leisure
“It’s not rocket science! I mean, anybody can take care of a pool, right!?” I have heard these phrases and many like them since I’ve been a part of the pool industry. Some potential customers have said them in response to my questions about who installed their equipment, or who maintains their water chemistry, or who did some renovation work on their pools. When I ask these types of questions, I am really just curious as to whether the customer hired qualified, licensed, and insured companies for the work that my company now gets to correct. In some cases, that can seem like a subjective mindset: “My work is better than your work,” or, “I would have done this differently.” But when it comes to all the complicated aspects of a residential pool, a professional in the field must consider the dangers inherent in mixing electricity with water, imbalanced water chemistry, irregular or illegal plumbing, and a whole host of other potential issues. The end result of shoddy work could be as innocuous as a leaking component or as deadly as a mis-wired circuit that sends electric current into the water.
Many pieces of legislation have come about as a result of an accident involving gross negligence that catches the eye, or even directly impacts the life, of a government official. Such is the case with the Virginia Graeme Baker Act of 2008, when the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker III became entrapped by the powerful suction of a spa main drain and drowned. This legislation outlines the requirements for everything from the design of pool/spa drain covers to the addition of certain anti-entrapment devices in a pool filtration system. The death of Virginia Baker set regulations in motion that shifted the pool installation/maintenance paradigm, making it safer for everybody.
Around the same time, the State of Texas began hearing from lobbyists from the electrical trade who were concerned about allowing pool professionals to install high-voltage equipment with no licensure, and with no additional training needed. Those lobbying for pool professionals intervened and worked with legislators to create a way for those in the pool maintenance industry to earn a license to work on such equipment without penalty. The final product compels us to register our companies with the State – gaining a contractor’s license – and pass an exam to obtain a limited electrical license. It also sets parameters for what we can and cannot do as it relates to electricity.
Come and listen to my story
What does this have to do with your typical homeowner? Quite a lot. I have come across several illegal and dangerous wiring situations in my decade of work as a pool installer/repairman. The other day, I could not understand why a new GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) would not allow the flow of electricity to new lights we had installed on an existing pool. As I opened all of the junction boxes for the light circuitry, I was startled at my discovery. Someone had mis-wired the GFCI so that it could not interrupt the flow of electrical current, whether by ground fault (problem in the wiring causing current to travel across a ground wire or grounded junction box) or by a manual tripping of the GFCI. I corrected it because I knew how to correct it, because I am a licensed and qualified pool professional.
Now, at this same residence, another company had installed an in-line chlorine dispenser. This device is plumbed into the filtration system. You place 3” chlorine tablets inside, dial a regulator to choose the amount of flow through it, and the water dissolves the tablets. Immediately downstream of such a device, the water is highly corrosive and heavily chlorinated. And when the filter pump stops, all the water near the chlorinator and any air in the piping retains the heavy chlorination. So, you need a protective check valve downstream of a heater and upstream of the chlorinator that is corrosion-resistant.
The service company installed the chlorine dispenser UPSTREAM of the heater—a heater that is no more than 4 years old. So, corrosive water flowed through the delicate, copper tubing of the heater’s heat exchanger, meaning that it will likely develop a leak in the copper tubing very soon, drastically shortening its effective lifespan.
The gentleman who recently expressed to me the first phrase about “rocket science” hired the wrong installer. He had purchased a heater online and wanted someone to install it for him. We know the dangers of buying online and having things shipped. He had someone else install it, then called us for warranty work – we represent the manufacturer of that heater, RayPak. It turns out that his unqualified, unlicensed installer wired the heater incorrectly, voiding the warranty.
Had I been wise, I would have written in a journal every unfortunate, costly, and dangerous situation I’ve had to correct over the years. I certainly recorded them on the invoices I sent my customers. It is absolutely imperative that, as a homeowner, you check the ratings, reviews, and references of a contractor when you are looking to service your pool—which, as you know, is a major financial investment. These contractor reviews and ratings tell a story about the level of service a company provides. Most importantly, make sure that you only hire professionals who are licensed, insured, and qualified for the work you need completed.