Diving into Debt: Myths About Installing an Indoor Swimming Pool

Six things to consider before you put in that pool

You’re ready to take the plunge and install a backyard swimming pool, but your excitement should be tempered with a serious reality check about dealing with contractors and the swimming pool construction process.

Hiring a contractor to install your swimming pool is not something you do every day, and involves a huge investment of your time and money. It is important to know your consumer rights, and your responsibilities, including protecting yourself from unscrupulous contractors and illegal activity. Here are some of the top myths about hiring a company to install your residential swimming pool:

1. All pools are alike, so what’s the big deal?
This is definitely a myth that can get you into consumer quicksand, if you’re not careful. The size, shape and layout of a backyard pool depends on many things – your family needs, the size and shape of your property, and the skills of the pool contractor. Before you begin looking at contractors, create a rough plan for your backyard pool and consider the ages of your family members, the general measurements of your yard, and the topography and features you want to include.

2. I can select a swimming pool contractor by phone or on the web.
The Better Business Bureau and the National Pool and Spa Institute both caution against choosing a swimming pool installer over the phone or on the web. Visit several contractors in person to get a feel for their operations, and have them visit you, then obtain at least three bids with the identical specifications, and compare them.

3. It’s rude to investigate the contractor.
Hopefully, most people know that this is a myth. But some of us get taken by contractors who make a great sales pitch, appear honest, and speak the technical language of swimming pool installers. You have to be a proactive consumer, however, to insure that the contractor is legitimate and will fulfill his promises. Ask to see his license and certificates of insurance. Contractors are required to obtain licenses from state, city and/or county agencies, so get his license number and check it out with the licensing board. The licensing board also can tell you if the contractor has any citations, accusations, or court judgments against him, if his license is active, etc.

Ask the contractor for references of customers (one whose project is completed and another who project is current) and check them out.

4. My contractor will do all the work.
Wrong again. Many contractors will sub-contract some of the pool work, depending on how extensive it is. For example, some pool installers don’t have the skills to lay tile, and will sub-contract that work. Ask upfront who will be doing all phases of work on your pool. If the company you hire uses sub-contractors for some of the work, should research that firm’s reputation as well.

5. I must pay for the project in cash.
Absolutely not. In fact, the Better Business Bureau cautions that you should never pay in cash. Instead, use your credit card, check or a money order. And never pay the full amount, or even half, up front. This illegal practice, called “frontloading,” is when contractors take excessive down payments or payments for work not completed. When your payments get ahead of the work, you are in a precarious position. The contractor could ask for 50 percent of the total cost, perform 15 percent of the work, then abandon the job, leaving you with a hole in the ground and no money to finish. Final payment should be made when the final plastering phase of construction is completed.

6. I should let the installer write the contract, because he’s the expert.
True, but you should be heavily involved. Even a well-meaning installer can write a contract based on misunderstandings. Be clear about what you want in the contract and read every word of it to make sure all your demands are being met. Among other things, the swimming pool contract must include a description of the work and the specific materials and equipment to be used. A plan and scale drawing of the shape, size, and dimensions should be included as part of the contract. Insist that the contract include everything you feel is important, including cleanup and removal of debris and materials. A swimming pool contract should also include approximate dates the work will begin and end, and a schedule of payments.