hard-to-service pools
Pool Service by Jason’s most challenging pool service customer Photo: Jason Broswell

Hard-to-Reach Places

The service pitfalls of poor pool design

Homeowners have their ultimate pools in mind, and builders have ideas on how to make those dreams happen. What they both sometimes fail to consider is how that aesthetically pleasing backyard getaway will be serviced. A pool may be a dream come true for the homeowner but a nightmare for a service technician.

Jason Broswell, owner of Pool Service by Jason in Northridge, California, is concerned some pool builders don’t think about the long-term maintenance of a new pool design. “Builders [sometimes fail to] look at a pool from the service perspective,” he says. “They put the check in the bank, build a pool and never see it again so they just don’t care who has to deal with it after.”

Service technicians see a lot when they’re making the rounds. From poorly planned fences and landscaping to owners who leave their pools full of floaties, there is much to contend with. “By far the worst of the worst is just a poorly or completely improperly designed pool,” Broswell says.

A hard-to-service pool that Heritage Recreation maintains. Photo: Heritage Recreation

Some pool owners love an extra deep pool, but keeping the deep end clean isn’t as thrilling as swimming in it. Paul Domey, owner of Heritage Recreation in Sutton, Massachusetts, says it is challenging to vacuum and brush a pool that’s 10 feet or more deep. “We all carry these 8- by 16-foot poles,” explains Domey. “If you’re a service company, when you get to a pool that’s more than 10 feet deep and you’re going to vacuum the bottom of the deep end, you have to get down on your knees or your stomach, and you have just the handle out of the water as you try to push that 16-foot pole across to get to the other side of the 10-foot deep pool.”

Kenneth Mullins, owner of Pro Tech Pools in Los Altos, California, says improperly planned equipment rooms and underground bunkers are likely the top issue of hard-to-service pool designs. “I came across this time and again,” Mullin says. “Filters, pumps, heaters, automation panels, etc., that were incredibly difficult to perform even the most basic task on, such as opening a pump basket. The equipment set was installed with no thought for any future service or work being performed on the components.”

Equipment located well below the water level presents yet another issue. Domey says it’s about more than just cleaning: Parts wear out and need to be replaced, but they can be located more than 8 feet below the water level. “They put a valve on,” he says. “We can shut the main drains off, but at some point that valve wears out. So how do you replace it?”

In such a case, the pool has to be drained to replace the valve. That said, he was once offered an alternate solution: “At a conference, somebody said to buy a loaf of French bread and just stuff it in there real quick,” he explains. “And you’ll have 30 seconds to work on that. It does work because the bread slowly gets wet and crumbles.”

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Functional aspects of pool designs are hidden to enhance beauty, often with disastrous results to the service tech. “Emptying the skimmer basket is a simple task,” Mullins says. “However, this task becomes a difficult one when the skimmer lid is a stone that is too large or too heavy for the service tech to remove, especially with wet hands. Or even worse, the stone has not been precisely cut so it sticks in place — making it very difficult and in some cases dangerous to remove.”

Of course, service companies are free to turn down jobs that seem overly complex. But often when prospective clients inquire about pool services, they fail to describe the full situation. Domey says homeowners will often send photos that don’t feature their convoluted grottos, waterfalls and inaccessible skimmer baskets.

Not every tricky-to-service pool is a disaster, but a few stand out for service pros as the worst of the worst. Broswell says there is a pool on his company’s route that makes him want to terminate their service every time he’s there.

“I charge a double premium for it,” he says, “and that’s the only reason it stays on the books. The builder put the skimmer on the north side of the pool in a recessed area that gets little to no circulation. It’s basically useless. There are so many alcoves and corners in this pool — so many dead spots. There is a too-shallow and too-small-for-use Baja ledge with a floating walkway across it that has no circulation and is a trap for dirt and leaves. I have to climb up on the outdoor kitchen counter to brush and net part of the pool in a recessed alcove.”

If service technicians had input on pool design, there are a few details they’d be sure to include. “Filters and pumps would always be 6 inches above water level,” Domey says, who adds that waterfalls would be no more than 6 feet tall.  “If I was going to design a grotto or a cave, I would use a full rock that could act like a cover or a hood and lift up out of the way, so I can gain access to scrub those walls without getting in the pool — so I could attach a cover without needing a canoe or an inflatable.”

For Broswell, hydraulics and circulation should be top considerations. He says flow rates, velocities, secondary sanitizers, secondary filtration and multiple skimmers should all be part of the pool planning process as well. Mullins says this takes considerably more thought, costs more and takes more time, but the end result is a pool that not only looks beautiful the first day it is filled but is also “a pleasure to use, and service friendly to the pool tech for years to come.”

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