Inspections are a standard part of purchasing a home. Most prospective buyers hire a professional to go through the house, checking plumbing, electrical and engineering to make sure everything is in good condition.
When buying a house with a pool, it’s vital that that part of the purchase receive the same attention. That means it’s time to call in a pro who knows the features and potential pitfalls of a pool. The inspector must be ready for any kind of pool. “When you take on a new client and get to the property and have to figure things out — it’s like solving a murder mystery,” says Kelly Halley, owner of Always Sparkling Pool & Spa near San Diego.
The first thing most inspectors look at is the fence and gate leading into the pool area. The fence should be high enough to prevent a child from climbing into the pool area and have no holes or missing planks. The gate should be constructed so that it swings away from the pool, and that the latch engages automatically. Codes for fencing and gates vary by municipality and state, so it’s vital to check local regulations and ensure the fence is at least up to code. In addition, barrier regulations may vary for aboveground pools.
In some cases, a pool may be old enough, or there may be other conditions such as the size of the homeowner’s lot, that mean fencing isn’t required by law. However, a good inspector will always recommend that proper barriers be installed.
Decking around a pool can be a trouble spot. Inspectors should look for major cracks in the deck, which can indicate settling around the pool and can pose a tripping hazard. Other tripping hazards can include improperly secured or incorrectly sized skimmer lids.
The last step before reaching the pool is to check the mastic between the deck and pool coping. In some cases, the deck, mastic or both have been painted, which can hide problems.
Finally, the inspector examines the pool. The first step is to get the vital statistics. When was the pool constructed, and of what material? How big is it? “I always measure the pool so I can tell people how much water it holds,” says Rick English, owner of English Pool Consulting in San Diego. “I don’t guess — I measure and calculate. Then I can tell them how long to run their pump, that kind of thing.”
English is a former pool builder who got into the inspection business about 16 years ago. He’s also been an expert witness in pool-related lawsuits. That and inspecting pools are all he does now. “When you do an inspection for somebody, you’re not looking for other work,” he says. “You’re not looking to get their service account or resurface their pool. I refer work to people I trust.”
The surface of the pool should be examined closely for cracks and staining. If it’s a gunite pool, staining or the presence of calcium nodules could indicate a history of imbalanced water chemistry or a poor plastering job. Tile, and its surrounding grout, should be checked for cracks. If it’s a vinyl pool, ensure that there are no tears in the liner and that its bead is seated all around the pool. All jets should function properly.
An essential task is to check main drain covers, suction covers and other anti-entrapment devices. Covers should be secured and all safety systems should be functioning as designed. Many older pools do not have VGB-compliant safety equipment. If that’s the case on a pool being inspected, the buyer should be made aware of it, even if the pool isn’t required to be brought up to standard. Ports for suction cleaners should be examined. A cover must be installed over the port to prevent entrapment and injury. This is also the time to check ladders and handrails to be sure they’re well anchored and not broken or corroded.
If there is an auto-fill device, make sure that it’s working as it should. The pool should be checked to make sure it hasn’t settled. The water level should be within a half inch on both ends of the pool.
The equipment pad can be a common source of trouble. All electrical connections should be checked and ground-fault circuit interrupters must be in working order. GFCIs work by checking for variances between the neutral wire and the hot wire. If there is difference of 4 to 6 milliamps, the device assumes that current is leaking to ground and trips. This is an important safety measure.
Ascertain what type of filter is being used and ensure that the media is in good shape. Any O-rings on the filter housings should be examined. The rings might need lubrication or replacement.
The pump should be checked for proper operation, as well as for rust on the housing or in the motor. This might be a sign that the pump was left uncovered. Another thing to look at is the size of the pump. “If I feel that it’s too big, which a lot of them are, I’ll recommend that when they change the pump they get a two-speed or variable-speed pump,” says Gary Graham, owner of Graham Home Inspections Orlando in Florida. “I often see 1.5 horsepower pumps on little 12,000-gallon pools, which is ridiculous.”
Take a look at the heater. It should have the proper clearances from flammable materials on all sides (including the top!). The heater inspection panel should be opened. Since it’s not uncommon for heaters to go unused for months at a time, the unit should be checked for rust and wild animal nests. Then, fire it up to make sure it’s heating properly.
The inspector should also ensure that the pool and its equipment are properly bonded. “In many of the inspections I’ve done, the equipment has not been bonded,” Halley says. The National Electric Code requires bonding of metal structures, fittings and parts that are horizontally within 5 feet of the pool wall and vertically within 12 feet of the pool’s maximum water level. This can also include fences, if they’re within the prescribed distance from the pool.
All pool entries, such as ladders, should be checked for stability. If the pool has a beach entry, make sure it’s no steeper than 1 in 7.
If there is an inground spa, check that it empties and fills as it should. It’s crucial to make sure the drain is VGB compliant here as well; keep in mind that spas can double as “kiddie pools” for some homeowners.
Not all pool inspections are performed on behalf of prospective homebuyers. Graham said he gets many calls from those who have just had pools built, and they want to be sure that the builder did his job correctly. Others homeowners have inspections just to catch problems before they get out of hand. “There are so many things that people aren’t aware of, especially if they don’t have pool service,” Halley says.
Reports should state clearly what was checked, if there are any items that need to be acted upon, and what should be done. Photos are a critical part of a report, especially since the report will be read by laymen.
This also is a time to make recommendations to homeowners on changes that might save money or make their pool more inviting. Pumps can be changed. Solar heat can be added, either to extend the swimming season, or to replace a gas heater. A customer will appreciate knowing if rebates are available from their local utility for some of that equipment. Some pools might benefit by the addition of a chlorine generating system, and that can be brought to the homeowner’s attention.