In the months since the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa
Safety Act went into effect, problems have come to the surface and
compliance is far from complete nationwide.
While many reputable firms are busy retrofitting commercial
pools, still other companies are doing sloppy work and/or
overcharging for services.
“A lot of service techs are seeing money on the table and
wanting to get in on it, but they’re not experienced and
that’s where the trouble comes in,” said Mike Stinson,
owner of Mike the Poolman in Folsom, Calif. “Or pool
owners hire people who aren’t licensed and they do the
install incorrectly, then a professional has to go in and fix
Monte Vajnar agrees. “A lot of service guys out there are
replacing [drain] covers, but not sumps. They’re not doing
work up to code,” said the co-owner of American Pool
& Safety Inc., a Sylmar, Calif.-based firm handling
VGB-compliant pool renovations.
Retrofits can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars for
drain cover replacements to $5,000 or more if plumbing also must be
addressed. Prices climb higher if the renovation is more extensive
and includes system tests, engineer’s fees and the like. It
is not unheard of for remodels to cost tens of thousands of
Such an atmosphere leaves plenty of room for price gouging, and
Stinson and Vajnar have both heard of such tactics throughout
But the problems run deeper than issues of workmanship and
Many public pool owners and operators aren’t happy about
having to come up with the money for retrofits, but they’re
trying to comply. However, some are ignoring the law for a variety
“Many, many pool owners are doing nothing,” Stinson
said. “They’re calling the bluff of the inspectors
because they’ve heard there aren’t enough [personnel]
to go around.”
Thomas Lachocki said he’s hearing that people are
confused, and there’s a lack of confidence in the
government’s ability to enforce the law. “A lot of
ambiguity remains over who will enforce the law or, even more
sadly, what’s required for compliance,” said Lachocki,
who is CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation in Colorado Springs,
The mood in Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun is uneasy as well.
Kevin Chadwick, manager of the Water and Waste Management Division,
Environmental Services Department, said nearly 9,000 semipublic and
public pools in his area are affected by the new law.
“The main complaint we’re hearing is that many pool
owners are stressed by the economy right now,” Chadwick said.
“Apartment owners and HOAs, condo owners and neighborhood
pool operators are very concerned about the [retrofitting] expense,
though if it improves safety, some said they’re happy to
Chadwick’s agency enforces Maricopa County codes and state
law — not federal law — yet it has felt the pressure of
heavy workloads as a direct result of the VGB Act. Requests for
remodeling permits increased sevenfold from June 2008 to June 2009,
and he had to add another engineer and assign four inspectors to
full-time field work.
Meanwhile, the 21 pools run by Boston Centers
for Youth & Families are all in compliance now. Most of the
retrofits were completed in four months by two professional
companies and were relatively simple, such as cover replacements.
But some were more involved and one included liner replacement,
said Pat McDonough, BCYF facilities manager. The overall cost was
more than $150,000.
“I understand how the law came into effect,”
McDonough said. “The loss of life, you can’t put a
price on it. But most federal laws have a two-year window; this had
only one year.”