A major pool equipment manufacturer has changed its warranty policy in a way that might also move the needle in business lost to online sales.

Zodiac Pool Systems, based in Vista, Calif., now will honor warranties on equipment only when it has been installed by a licensed, qualified contractor. The reason for the change was primarily to enhance safety for pool owners, according to company officials. Any benefit to pool service technicians is secondary.

“It wasn’t the direct intention in this case,” said Scott Ferguson, Zodiac’s director of customer operations. “I can see how it would be helpful, and that’s great with us. We want to support our core dealer base as much as we possibly can.”

The other two major pool equipment manufacturers, Pentair Aquatic Systems and Hayward Pool Products, have no such qualification on their warranties that are available online. Pentair’s warranties do specify that if damage is caused by installing the equipment contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions, the damage will not be covered under warranty.

Zodiac began publishing the change in September 2012. It’s being billed as a “running change” to account for equipment that may have been in stock before the update. It applies regardless of where the equipment was purchased.

The change covers most Zodiac, Jandy and Polaris products, with the exception of automatic pool cleaners, the Nature2 Express sanitizing system and the AquaPure Ei plug-in chlorine generator.

Regardless of Zodiac’s original intent, the policy could give a boost to pool service techs, who previously sold the bulk of equipment like that covered by the policy. Now, even if they don’t get money from the sale, they might make up some profit on installing a piece of equipment purchased elsewhere.

One tech has already begun to show his appreciation for the policy. “I just started buying some of Zodiac’s salt systems for that reason,” said Todd Starner, owner of Starner Pools in Bradenton, Fla. “If they’re going to support me, I’m going to support them.” Starner also said the move might have the effect of adding support for a bill now moving through the Florida legislature that would stiffen licensing

requirements for pool service techs.

Others who have been concerned about Internet retailers undercutting traditional pricing are taking a positive attitude toward Zodiac’s move, at least initially. “I’m hopeful and I think that anything positive should be rewarded,” said Dale Howard, owner of B&L Pools in Phoenix, a six-store retail and service company. “If we make little steps in the right direction, that’s better than nothing.”

Howard did say that other initiatives from the “Big Three” pool equipment suppliers to support minimum pricing have started well, but ultimately fallen short of expectations by retailers and service techs. The Arizona Pool Dealers Association, of which Howard is a member, has encouraged its members to either not install equipment purchased by consumers from Internet retailers or charge double their normal labor rates for the installation.

Some techs would like manufacturers to go even further with their warranty requirements. “I think it’s a great start,” said Bryan Chrissan, owner of Clear Valley Pools in Murrieta, Calif. He said he’d like manufacturers to require factory training on installing and servicing their equipment to ensure that pool techs are qualified to do the job.

Though Zodiac is the first of the Big Three manufacturers to institute this policy, other companies have similar restrictions. Heater manufacturer Raypak, based in Oxnard, Calif., has required professional installation of its products to qualify for warranty coverage for some time. “It’s to protect the homeowner from hurting themselves,” said Terry Doyle, Raypak’s marketing manager.