For most of us, building a pool fulfills a bit of a personal dream. We have visions of spending the summer in the backyard with friends and family, cooking hamburgers on the grill, enjoying a few drinks and just enjoying ourselves. Unfortunately, that dream can become a nightmare if you don't choose the right pool builder.
The right builder can help you achieve your goals and make a backyard pool, spa, or kitchen that fits your needs and your budget and can be enjoyed for years to come. The wrong builder can cost you time, money, and rob you of your dream. With a little investigating and diligence on your part, you can minimize the chance of getting ripped off and left holding the bill.
Before choosing a builder, you first need to determine what type of pool you would like to build. The type of pool you build will be based on several factors such as personal taste, geographic location, and budget.
Begin by finding out what type of pools builders in your area are building. Are they predominantly in ground, above ground, gunite, fiberglass, etc? Determine which is suitable for your area, and what type suits your lifestyle and budget. I think one of the best questions you can ask other pool owners, is "If you were starting over, what would you have done differently?" Learn from other peoples experience and mistakes. In my case, I wish I had wired in extra lighting around the side of my pool and in my landscaping. Sure, I can do it now but it will cost more and be more trouble than if I had done it during my build.
Once you know the type of pool you want, you can begin to look at designs. Look at the websites of any pool company that builds your type of pool. You'll quickly realize that there are many ways to design a pool. The more you view, the more you will find what works best for you.
Next you'll want to get a basic understanding of pool equipment. You don't have to be an expert, but you should know the pros and cons of various pieces of equipment. Do you want a DE (diatomaceous earth) filter, cartridge filter, or something else? Will you chlorinate your pool with a simple feeder or maybe a saltwater chlorine generator? The list goes on, but you get the point. By having some understanding of what the equipment options are, you will be better prepared to ask the right questions of prospective builders.
Now you need to develop a list of potential builders. Start with any personal references from friends and family who have built pools. A reference from someone you already know and trust is a great place to start. You can also drive around your area and look for gunite trucks or any other tell tale signs outside a house where a pool build is underway. Don't be afraid to knock on the door and ask the owner how things are going and how they feel about their builder.
Once you have a list of builders, start to narrow them down. Check your list against the Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.org). Find out how long they have been in business. You don't want to be the guinea pig for a new builder. Let a few other people have that luxury. You want someone who has been around awhile and is likely to be around in the future. The last thing you want to do is find yourself with a big hole in your backyard and a builder who has skipped town - it happens all the time!
The BBB will also tell you how many complaints a builder has had. You don't necessarily have rule out a company because they have had a few complaints. Anyone who has been in business for awhile, in any field of construction, is bound to have some complaints. The BBB will let you know how many of those complaints were resolved. Unresolved complaints should serve as a red flag. If you are considering a builder with some complaints, ask them about the complaints. Find out how they were resolved and see if you can get the contact information of the customers. A pool build is kind of like a wedding. They rarely go off without a hitch. The biggest difference between a good builder and a poor one is how they deal with their mistakes.
Once you have narrowed your list to between 3 and 5 builders, start making appointments. Schedule each one a day or two apart so that you can make an apples to apples comparison. Each company will have it's pros and cons and they will each have their own unique sales pitch. Some of them will make your pool design by hand on a piece of graph paper and others will have elaborate computer software to do the job. Either method is fine. They will also have their own preferences on equipment. Some may rave about ionic purification while another may tell you it's bunk and that a standard chlorine feeder is all you'll ever need - others still, will prefer a saltwater chlorine generator. This is where all your research will come in. You'll already have a working knowledge so you won't be so easily impressed with a good sales pitch. Remember, just because a builder may prefer a certain method, or brand, does not mean they can't or won't build to YOUR specifications. You are the customer!
A good salesperson will try to match your needs to your budget and come up with something that fits both. They may also open your eyes to new possibilities you had not considered. I recommend going online and doing some research after each meeting to verify any new information and get others opinions.
This next statement is important. DO NOT SIGN A CONTRACT DURING YOUR FIRST APPOINTMENT. Should I say that again? DO NOT SIGN A CONTRACT DURING YOUR FIRST APPOINTMENT. Wait until after you have met with each builder and carefully considered all your options. You may find that builder number three put together a better package than builder one, but you may just be more comfortable with builder one. If that is the case, make a second appointment and give any of the builders you liked a second chance to compete on price and benefits. Don't be afraid to haggle and ask for some free upgrades.
Another of life's lessons that I hope we have all already learned is get it in writing. If a builder tells you he is going to give you "xyz" for free, have him write it in your contract. Your salesman may not be with that company next week. You want proof of what was promised.
Finally, when arranging payment, the builder will layout a payment plan. They'll want a large percentage before they dig and additional percentages at each stage of construction. If possible, arrange it so that each payment is made AFTER each subsequent stage of construction. If they tell you they need 20% at tile and coping, tell them you will pay 20% when tile and coping is complete. You'll want to negotiate giving them as small amount as possible before work begins and make sure the final payment (at least 10%) is not made until ALL WORK IS COMPLETE. Again, this should all be in your contract. You want to make sure they have strong motivation for keeping you satisfied and completing the job in a timely manner.
Don't forget to ask lots of questions and learn as much as you can before even meeting with a builder.
And please, when you do build, come back here and share your experience so that others can learn from your success.