Brian Kelly knew the Florida
Commercial Pool and Spa Exam wouldn’t be easy.
The president of Shamrock Pool Services in North Lauderdale, Fla.,
took several days off to study, and managed to pass the test. But
to earn his state contractor’s license, he also had to pass
the Florida Business and Finance exam, a marathon mouse-clicking
session that lasted almost 7 hours. Kelly was one of the few who
passed on the first try.
“It wasn’t an easy test,” he says. “But I
thought it was fair and beneficial to the general
Several states, including Florida, Texas and California, have now
adopted regulations requiring any tech who does more than pool
cleaning to be licensed in some way.
However, no two states divide their licensed service personnel into
quite the same classifications, or organize their tests in the same
manner. Here, we examine the process of obtaining a license in
three different states, through the experiences of industry
professionals who crossed the finish line.
When the state of Washington introduced the National Electrical
Code as its exam standard, even veteran techs agreed that the
requirements became a real challenge.
“Almost nobody passes the exam, even an electrician
who’s been active in the field,” says Phil Holt,
manager of Leisure Pool-n-Spa, LLC in Kennewick, Wash.
“It’s just so much material.”
When Washington introduced the NEC licensing requirements, Holt
took advantage of his years in the industry: He submitted an
affidavit of experience to the state, and was issued a temporary
license pending his passing the NEC-based exam. But even this
proved to be a difficult hurdle.
“The only way you can become licensed in Washington is to
become an electrical administrator,” he explains. “This
means you have to hire or be an electrician, and to do that, you
have to have training, which you can only get under a journeyman
electrician. So, you’d have to hire somebody to train under,
just to start the process of becoming legal. Becoming licensed in
this state is nearly impossible.”
The test itself was equally perplexing for Holt. “When I went
to take the exam,” he says, “I failed on the first
attempt, because it had everything to do with wiring a building,
and nothing to do with repairing a spa. We don’t bring wires
to [the spa]; we aren’t electricians. There’s nothing
[on the test] for anybody who’s been in the spa repair
After some additional studying, Holt was able to pass the exam,
which qualifies him to work as a maintenance electrician. “I
can do electrical repair work that’s not associated with
swimming pools and spas,” he says. “So I’m now
licensed to do every type of electrical work except the kind I need
In 2003, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation adopted
the NEC as its statewide exam standard. The state also stepped up
license enforcement efforts in major cities. This crackdown led to
friction between officials and pool industry groups, such as the
Aquatic Professionals Education Council, who opposed what they saw
as a bias toward non-pool-related electrical questions on the
In early 2007, APEC began working with TDLR to develop the
Residential Appliance Installer license, a certification relevant
to both electrical work and pool service. Thanks to cooperation
between both groups, March 2010 saw the official adoption of this
revised set of testing standards.
“When the governor signed [the measure], that was when people
[in the industry] realized that they needed to start working toward
getting licensed,” says Noel Conley, owner of Miracle Pool
Service in Garland, Texas. “The first thing I did was buy [a
copy of] the NEC 2008. I started studying it, bought some other
electrical books, and took some training classes. I went out there
and crossed my fingers, and hoped I could pass the test the first
And pass he did; in fact, Conley was one of the first techs in his
state to be officially licensed under the new standard. Since then,
he’s devoted much of his time to spreading helpful
information about the exam to other techs. But Conley, a longtime
supporter of industry licensing, isn’t just trying to keep
people out of trouble.
“Licensing was something I’d thought we needed even
before I knew we were working illegally,” he says.
“There are people out there who will disagree with me, but if
you’re working with line voltage, it’s important that
it’s not just anybody doing the job.”
In the state of Florida, simply cleaning a pool requires no special
license. However, a service license is necessary for any tech
wishing to perform work on mechanical components, such as the pump
or filter. In addition, separate electrical and gas licenses are
also necessary for any tech performing such work.
“Florida has decided to take a strong licensing point of
view,” says Jennifer Hatfield, director of government and
public affairs for the Florida Swimming Pool Association. “The
state has had all sorts of licensing categories in place for
Of all the states with specific licensing requirements, Florida
seems to be the most proactive about educating techs on the exam
expectations. “The state will give you a list of books that
your exam’s based on,” says Steve Bludsworth, owner of
All-Pool Service & Supply in Orlando, Fla.
“And there are schools that teach you about the
Florida’s testing standards are as high as its organizational
strictness. “I think some of the testing requirements may be
the most stringent in the state of Florida,” Kelly says.
“To even sit for the [commercial contractor] test, you have
to have a contractor’s license in good standing for five
years or more.”
After the industry-specific test comes the Florida Business and
Finance exam, which covers state accounting and business law, and
often takes nearly 7 hours to complete. Though no tech would deny
that the test is tough, Kelly says its range of questions was
In fact, he sees the test’s difficulty as a positive:
“I think it’s beneficial to the people of the state of
Florida,” he says. “If you’re going to be a
contractor in this state, you’ve got to be good, from here on
Licensing is spreading to new states at a gradual pace, but experts
agree that it’s here to stay.
The Northeast Spa & Pool Association has
already introduced a measure for builders’ licenses into the
Connecticut legislature. And New York may not be far behind, says
Larry Caniglia, NESPA’s executive
director in Hamilton, N.J. “I do think it’s going to
expand across at least our region, and ultimately across the
country,” he explains.
However, the expansion isn’t likely to come off without a
hitch. “Look at the economy across the country,” says
Hatfield, who also works as a government affairs associate for
APSP. “There’s a trend toward less
regulation, not more, because people don’t want any barriers
to someone’s ability to make a living. With the economy the
way it is, you may see some states being a little hesitant for
regulation like licensing.”
As more state legislatures address licensing, Hatfield plans to
continue researching the pros and cons of various state codes.
She’s now working to assemble a model code template, which
she hopes will be flexible enough to spark legislative discussion
across the country. “It’s not something that
we’re going to go and try to force on people,” she
says, “it’s just that we’ve had members in
different states tell us they want licensing. I think it could be a
positive in many ways.”