Orlando Sentinel 3/09/08
Before hiring pool service, know what you're getting
March 9, 2008 | Gene Kruckemyer, Special to the Sentinel
Pool owners obviously would rather spend time splashing around their backyard oasis than scraping calcium off the pool tiles and unclogging leaves from the skimmer.
That is why many owners turn to companies to help them maintain their pools and maximize their enjoyment in the water.
"People hire a pool service for the same reasons as they do to hire a lawn service; they don't have time to do it themselves, or they don't want to mess with it because of the chemicals and equipment," says Steve Bludsworth, owner of All-Pool Service & Supply in Orlando.
But what should an owner expect of a reputable pool-maintenance company?
Generally, companies provide a month-to-month agreement intended to keep pools in shape visually and chemically, and prevent larger problems from developing.
Services vary from company to company and from pool to pool, but typically included in a standard agreement are testing and balancing the water chemistry, vacuuming, brushing the sides of the pool, emptying skimmer baskets, cleaning the filter as needed and checking to make sure that all the equipment — such as the timer and pump — are working efficiently.
Usually covered by the agreements are the chemicals needed to maintain the water balance, which is affected by six factors: pH, alkalinity, calcium hardness, dissolved solids, cyanuric acid and temperature.
Fees for a regular service at larger companies range from about $100 to $120 a month for average-sized, screen-enclosed pools, with another $20 to $30 for unscreened pools. Smaller companies might charge a little less for their services.
Agreements generally provide for weekly cleaning calls, but some pools might require extra visits.
"Some pools don't get much use, but others are used daily, have a lot of kids in them, they're heated or they have a lot of leaves," Bludsworth says. "Those need it more often."
Not covered in most service agreements are additional tasks, such as adding or removing water from the pool, cleaning the deck, repairing equipment and treating stains in the pool.
"One thing we leave for the owner to do is keep the water at the right height. We leave a door hanger every week telling them what they need to do," says Brandy Striano, owner with husband Paul of Paul's Pool Service in Lake Mary.
If the water level is not correct, surface leaves won't be collected in the skimmer, and if the water is low, there could be insufficient water returning to the pump through the skimmer, which can cause the pump to overheat and burn out.
Other treatments and services are available for additional costs, such as specific chemicals for algae prevention and setting up and servicing a salt-chlorine generator.
Some filtering systems are designed for annual cleaning instead of regular backwashing. This is usually an added cost and should be discussed with the cleaning company before the work is done.
"Owners should match the service to their pool. They don't need to underbuy or overbuy," Bludsworth says.
Performing the janitorial part of pool maintenance does not require certification, but if work is needed to make repairs on motors, timers, lighting or other electrical components, companies are required to have the proper state licensing.
Also, pool owners should make sure that the company is insured and has experience.
"When you hire a pool service, you assume they know what they're doing," Bludsworth says. "But a lot of guys think, 'Hey, I'll be in the pool service.' They get a truck and off they go. It's a very transient business, but most of the established companies have been around a long time."
He also says pool owners should check to make sure a pool company belongs to a professional association that promotes ethical business practices.
Striano also warns pool owners to be wary of companies that quickly recommend draining the pool to clean it. Under the wrong conditions, a drained pool can bulge out of the ground.
"You don't want just any person coming into your pool and draining it," she says. "In Central Florida, water level is an issue, and there is a risk of a drained pool popping out of the ground."
Pool professionals who provide this service should have separate insurance policies that cover pool-popping.
If a company does require a contract for six months or a year, Bludsworth says, "Do your homework. Don't sign a long-term agreement until you see how good a job they can do."
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