The seemingly innocuous word “slope” almost marred one homeowner’s backyard dream.
The swimming pool’s design was spot on, but upon completion of the project, the client suddenly brought up a concern. The lead bar for the automatic cover sat outside the box when the pool was open.
“Listening to the homeowner, you could clearly hear that he had something else in mind when the pool builder was selling it to him,” says John St. Clair Jr., president of Cover Star Central in Indianapolis. The builder, with whom St. Clair worked to install the automatic cover, was just as puzzled.
Originally, the builder and manufacturer told the client how the cover would look when it was open. They said it would “slope,” or slide backward, into the recessed vault. The homeowner misunderstood and assumed that this meant everything disappeared into the box — fabric, bar and all.
By the time the client figured it out, it was too late. St. Clair immediately realized something had to be done to prevent such misunderstandings in the future.
To avoid such problems, industry experts reveal how to improve communications with customers regarding covers during and after construction. They raise key points about what to share to get the most satisfaction out of the product.
1 Think design when talking safety.
Similar to St. Clair’s lead bar troubles, builders should discuss where they’d like to place the turn-on switch for automatic covers. Safety cover standards from the American Society for Testing and Materials require switches be located where they have 100 percent visibility of the pool.
ASTM safety guidelines are frequently quoted in building codes. “You need to have 100 percent line of sight to make sure that when you close the pool, there are no toys or animals or people in it,” says Tom Callahan, vice president of Poolsafe in Escondido, Calif. “I bring that up because sometimes people get intricate with their landscaping, and they think about planting a pretty bush,” [which may obstruct the view of the pool from the switch].”
A lot of these applications can be explained better with a photograph. “Visual communication is substantially stronger than verbal,” St. Clair says. Builders see what customers want and customers know exactly what they’re getting.
Today, there are a variety of ways for covers to be concealed in the overall design of an aquascape. Cover boxes can be camouflaged with the same material as the coping or deck. St. Clair could have done a hidden lead bar if the customer had vocalized this wish.
However, there are still some limitations. When installing manual covers, make sure the deck material isn’t so abrasive that it wears out the cover.
It can become a quandary: You always want to grant the customer’s wishes, but what if the deck and cover are incompatible? “There are times when you have to say to a customers: ‘You need to make a choice on whether you want this sharp edging that will damage the safety cover or not because we cannot do both and do it correctly,’” says Paul Domely, vice president of Heritage Recreation Center in Sutton, Mass., a builder who installs mesh safety covers.
In addition, builders can talk about options available to minimize wear and tear, such as heavy-duty belting or super-heavy vinyl that can be placed over rough edges — or even padding.
Homeowners may want to see what the anchors will look like for mesh covers, which are mostly used in winter. Some important things Domely discusses are pairing them with different deck materials, or warning clients about the possible chipping that anchors might cause.
On pools with raised spas or other elevated features, when the cover goes over it doesn’t follow the height change by laying against the surface in a perfect 90 degree angle. Instead, the cover rises at a 30- to 45-degree angle, thus leaving gaps open on either side.
To fix this, Domely fills in these gaps with edging material provided by his manufacturer. These are secured onto the original cover and pressed into place by the spring mechanisms. The material is black so that from far away, it’s hard to see them. Homeowners might think these are exposed areas. But by explaining how it all works, Domely can show clients that the pool is entirely covered.
2 Plan for add-on features.
Builders often install covers on pools with waterfeatures by placing anchors directly on the raised wall and using deadbolts with eye hooks to secure the cover. Straps then go around the waterfeatures.
But the anchors should be a topic that builders bring up with their customers, according to Domely. “You have a beautiful waterfall, which you spent a lot of money on, and they drill anchors into it. I would want to be aware of how those anchors will look. It’s rare you can hide those,” he notes.
Occasionally, Domely has turned down a job because of special features that inhibit the safety design of a cover. One such pool had a large raised wall with flower beds on one side and a waterfall directly across from it. He would have to drill side anchors on both.
Domely passed on the project because the cover would not stretch tight enough. On his own pools, he has been in situations where he had to talk a client out of an elaborate scheme to plan a proper cover installation.
Another topic for builders and homeowners to discuss is when to operate waterfeatures when a solid cover is on the pool. If a timer turns the feature on when the cover is closed, water can collect on top. This renders the pool just as dangerous as an open one to unsupervised children and animals. Many cover manufacturers sell shutoff switches that prevent the waterfeature from running when the cover is closed.
Along similar lines, some customers might want to know about in-wall steps vs. hinged ladders. While ladders are less expensive, every time the pool owner wants to close the cover, he or she has to push the ladder out of the way. For a few hundred dollars more, some people might want to buy the convenience of in-wall steps.
1 Offer customers cleaning and sanitizing tips.
Most good installers know they must teach their customers how to maintain covers.
They will spend 20 to 30 minutes with a homeowner explaining how to clean the tracks and boxes, and maintain adequate drainage for those with automatic installations. Installers also would do well to show clients how to fold and store mesh covers when they’re not in use.
Recessed boxes are usually discussed because leaves and debris can easily collect in them. Homeowners are told to clean them out occasionally and, if there are a lot of trees around the residence, they’ll need to maintain the boxes more frequently.
Pool chemistry is another key point to address. Installers tell customers to keep their pool water properly sanitized at all times. “A pool that’s out of balance can adversely affect the cover or cause it to wear out prematurely,” says Monte Slavens, president of Cover Star Bay Area Inc. in Brentwood, Calif.
For homeowners who don’t have time to do one-on-one training, St. Clair leaves an instructional DVD, which was given to him by his manufacturer. It acts as a handy owner’s manual.
2 Provide a checklist for proper operation.
Most of the wear and tear on an automatic cover is the direct result of improper operation. “They’re pretty self-sufficient,” St. Clair says. “Over time, you may need to replace the fabric, or pulleys and ropes. But it’s all based on usage.”
St. Clair’s DVD shows customers how to check if all the equipment has been installed according to the specs. For example, it instructs homeowners to look at the tracks and see if the ropes are properly positioned. That way, they can call a service company right away if the cover appears crooked.
In addition, installers emphasize the importance of monitoring water levels. “These covers capture the buoyancy of the water,” Callahan says. “That’s what gives them strength.”
If the water is too low, the cover will sag, placing stress on the mechanical equipment, Slavens says. For the same reason, water should not sit on top of the cover. Consumers are warned not to open the pool without removing this excess water. Slavens provides his customers with an automatic sump pump for this purpose.
On the other hand, excess water can wear out the cover on free-form pools with tracks set on the deck. This occurs when the vessel’s edge is set inside the rectangular frame of the track. The friction of the fabric against the decking strains the moving parts.
Builders also need to inform customers about walk-on cover lids. The aluminum, concrete or stone trays feature extra brackets for support. Without this reinforcement, the brackets underneath are not strong enough to handle the weight. Thus, they can bend, snag the fabric and, as a result, damage the cover.
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