A new law went into effect in Suffolk County, N.Y., requiring pool and spa contractors to meet higher standards.

On July 17, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed a law mandating that contractors earn APSP certifications to work on swimming pools. Contractors also must prove that they’ve attended a minimum of six hours of continuing education on pool building, installation, maintenance and service since their last license applications or renewals.

The Long Island Chapter of the Northeast Spa & Pool Association began campaigning several years ago to have an existing contractor’s license law amended to include certifications for pool professionals.

At the time, “it really wasn’t a license; it was a registration” — only requiring insurance and incorporation papers, said NESPA Executive Director Lawrence Caniglia. “We asked the legislature to really make this license a license that would [mandate] certain educational and experience requirements.”

The new law differs from the one recently passed in neighboring Nassau County in that it allows contractors with a Certified Pool Builder designation from APSP to perform general maintenance work, such as cleaning and repairs. In Nassau County pool builders can only service pools they’ve constructed. They cannot market their pool maintenance services to the community at large without first being credited as a Certified Maintenance Specialist through the APSP, Caniglia explained.

“That was the one pushback in Nassau County,” he added.

Steven Bertolino, owner of South Shore Pools in East Islip, N.Y., said the Nassau law could have been eased to allow builders to perform maintenance tasks without a separate certification, but overall, raising standards is good for the industry. “I think it takes contractors who do windows and doors out of the picture,” he said.

However, more requirements could be unnecessary for veteran pool builders. “What about the guy who has been building for 45 or 50 years?” Bertolino asked. “Now he has to take all these classes through APSP and get certifications?”

Caniglia said the law will go a long way toward making pools safer. “You can rest assured, as a consumer, that the company in your backyard is properly licensed and properly vetted through a national certification. You have security that the company is doing a safe job.”

Home improvement contractors who build or service pools have one year to earn the necessary certifications. Violators could face a $5,000 fine or up to one year imprisonment.