Some homeowners have preconceived notions about what pool covers can do.
Take Tom Brady, for example.
The quarterback for the New England Patriots had difficulty understanding why he needed a winter cover for the pool at his $20 million mansion, considering he already had a retractable cover.
In a series of emails made public during last October’s “deflategate” scandal, the MVP was miffed when he learned from his manager, Ben Rawitz, that a winter cover would cost him $8,500.
“[W]hy can’t we just use the same cover we have on now?” asked the QB.
Rawitz explained why his existing cover was inadequate for winter use: It rested on the surface of the water and would not support the weight of the snow.
This only seemed to further confuse the Super Bowl champ, who had some choice words to say about the pool industry.
“[T]hese [explicative] idiots (sic) if that’s the case why don’t we have that same cover for the year round cover?” he wrote.
Again, Rawitz had to educate him on the differences between covers. The winter cover, he explained, would be anchored to the ground and therefore difficult to take off every time he wanted to take a dip.
Seemingly satisfied with that answer, Brady then asked if the cover came in white. When he was told it didn’t, Brady called the cover company “morons.”
There’s just no pleasing some people.
While the email exchange is humorous, it illustrates an important point: Managing a customer’s expectations is the first step toward a successful cover installation. And it makes life a lot easier.
This applies to both automatic covers and the anchored-on variety. Each has its own characteristics that customers should be consulted on to avoid misunderstandings or callbacks down the line.
Let’s start with manual covers.
The notion of a contractor punching holes in a beautiful new deck gives some customers pause. That’s why some dealers go through great pains to explain every step of the process and how it’s going to look.
Something Mike Mancini finds himself discussing with customers is the extra cost he charges when the cover is anchored to a deck made of interlocking pavers or natural stone.
The general manager of Fox & Spa Leisure Center in Burlington, Ontario , Canada, says it’s critical for homeowners to understand that he’ll need to bolt the cover onto a series of 12-inch aluminum pipe rods that run through the pavers into the ground. This way the anchors are bearing the load of the cover, not the stone which could shift or be pulled off entirely under the weight.
This can come as an unexpected expense. Some homeowners kvetch at this and threaten to find another supplier.
“That’s the biggest thing we have to deal with when pricing a job,” he says. “When you’re in a competitive environment, that $300 to $500 makes a difference.”
While it might be tempting to forego the added precaution of deeper anchor rods just to give the customer a deal, that will only spell disaster later. Mancini tries to be flexible, but only if he’s confident in the long-term performance of the installation. For example, if a project calls for 40 rods, he’ll see if he can get away with 25 — without compromising the integrity of the project.
Another common frustration dealers face is when homeowners discover that their mesh cover didn’t keep their pools sparkling clean over the winter. This typically occurs when pools have features with different elevations, such as waterfalls and raised walls. Covers seldom create an airtight seal in these situations, so homeowners may find some debris in their pool come spring.
“It’s not like getting a suit fitted,” says Dan Lenz, vice president of All Seasons Pools & Spas, serving Greater Chicago.
Again, this is part of managing customer expectations.
“We need to put it out there that, come spring, you might have a little extra work to get the pool clean,” Lenz says.
Mancini finds that this works to his benefit. He allows customers to rent automatic cleaners for $25 a day. Once they realize the benefit of the product, they usually end up buying one from him.
Longevity is another thing customers should be educated on. Many are under the impression that a mesh cover should last 18 years or more. That’s not always the case — especially if the cover rises with elevated features. In this type of installation, the cover isn’t resting on the water. This sagging puts added pressure on the fabric.
When this is the case, dealers suggest going with a cover composed of 3-foot square panels. Though pricier, the tighter grid makes it more durable than one with the standard 5-foot by 5-foot panels. Still, customers should expect to replace it in 10 years, Lenz cautions.
What makes automatic covers challenging is that you might not be able to meet a customer’s exact specifications.
Installers run into situations where certain pool and cover configurations are simply not possible or are ill-advised. The gap between expectation and reality comes partly from the Internet and home-improvement TV shows, which can leave the false impression that a dream backyard can materialize, no matter what. Disappointment is sometimes inevitable.
Because homeowners are so much more educated about products than they were a couple of decades ago, they come to the table with their own ideas, which can’t always be accommodated. For example, some request hiding the cover box under stone or concrete within the pool deck. It’s a nice touch, but problems occur when they specify that it be located toward the shallow end of the pool. This often is the case when homeowners have a view to the deep end from a patio in their backyard. They don’t want to see the leading edge bar facing them.
While that’s certainly understandable, some installers have concerns about this kind of set-up.
The shallow end, after all, is where most people enter the pool. All the foot traffic on this side of the deck could compromise the longevity of the vault housing the cover, some installers say. That’s why it’s important for the cover contractor to get involved early in the conversation between the builder and homeowner to make sure that what they’re planning is advisable.
“We basically want to be part of the design concept before it becomes anything but a concept,” says Vincent Fuggetta of Vincent Fuggetta, LLC, a Florida firm specializing in sales and service of safety and automatic covers. By being a true partner in the design phase, he can help identify solutions to ensure a functional cover.
And sometimes, you need to know when to pass on a job.
An architect once asked Lenz to build a infinity edge pool adjacent to a man-made water-ski lake — and outfit it with an automatic cover, with its leading edge facing the lake. He immediately saw the flaw in that plan: The leading edge bar would catch the wind off the lake, causing the cover to billow, creating a “bounce house effect,” as Lenz described it.
Convinced this was a disaster in the making, Lenz told the architect that he’d opt out of the job if they couldn’t reconsider the design.
Fortunately, all parties involved found a workable solution: Instead of having the leading edge bar facing the lake, they turned the pool 90 degrees. This way the 32-foot length of the pool ran adjacent to the lake where the cover would be sealed in the track along the wall beneath the infinity edge. But they only came to this arrangement because Lenz was firm in his convictions.
“Sometimes you have to be willing to walk away from a $250,000 job,” he says.
However, dealers say it rarely ever comes to that. With careful consultation, covers can exceed expectations.