Kent Westfall has seen many advances in pool/spa plastering. As an industry veteran with nearly a half century under his belt, he sports a history of shared experiences, but some unique ones, too.
For instance, do you know what it’s like to plaster a pool in Palm Springs, Calif. — one of the most brutally hot regions in the U.S.? Within weeks of moving to the area in 1978 to escape the traffic in nearby Orange County, he quickly found out. Talk about a baptism by fire — that year the city broke records, experiencing the most consecutive days over 125 degrees Fahrenheit in its history at that time.
In trying to determine the temperature at the bottom of a pool, a regular thermometer wouldn’t suffice. “So I got a candy thermometer, and it showed 160 [degrees],” says Westfall, owner of Kent Westfall Pool Inspections in Bermuda Dunes, Calif. “I came out here in July ... Then I’m in the bottom of a pool saying, ‘Maybe the traffic in Orange County wasn’t that bad.’”
But he quickly learned how to survive in such conditions: Take care of yourself, cover up head to toe in white to block the sun, employ fans and tarps when necessary, and avoid the dehydrating effects of liquor. But at least as important to surviving the heat — and even more so in life: “When you’re working in the pool, you have to work with the other guys as a team, keeping an eye on each other,” he says.
No doubt his mastery of this practice, in addition to a variety of industry interests and experiences, helped him achieve his current title of technical advisor for the National Plasterers Council.
A Young Introduction
A native of Nebraska, Westfall moved with his parents to Orange County while a teen. As dictated by stereotypes about the Golden State, pool care immediately became a part of his lifestyle.
“The house had a pool in the backyard, and my Dad said, ‘It’s yours to take care of,’” Westfall recalls. “So as a young kid, I was struggling to keep the pool clean and sanitized.”
Shortly after high school, Westfall joined his friend working at a local pool plastering company, first as a laborer cleaning and preparing the pools, then as part of a plastering crew.
For a time, Westfall planned to become a commercial diver, inspired by Jacques Cousteau. So he took a break from pools. After studying the skill and doing some work in Louisiana, he decided that path wasn’t for him. But the skill certainly has come in handy in his work as a plasterer and inspector.
After moving to the Palm Springs area and briefly working for somebody else, he started his own business, Kent Westfall Plastering Services, in 1982.
Early on, he showed an interest in the technical aspects of the craft. His company became the first PebbleTec applicator in the area after an architect requested it. Embracing the then-new technology helped differentiate his young company.
“I was a small company, but we were doing two pools a day, six days a week, and we had a three-month backlog,” he says.
He worked with the manufacturer to smooth some of the kinks that come with any new process, and even helped develop a couple systems to collect the slurry that results from the process so it can be disposed.
Westfall also was an early adopter of pozzolans to help control the setting and increase the durability of the plaster. “When I moved out to the desert, they were still using asbestos as a water-retention product,” he explains. “But that was eventually outlawed.”
While doing research, he came across a book on cement that explained the benefits of the additive, so he tried it. “I just had an interest in solving the problems because they were there,” he says.
His company evolved to include renovations and, eventually, even new construction on a smaller scale. During this time, he became one of NPC’s original members and helped state and government agencies perform stings to catch unlicensed plasterers.
After closing his plastering company in 2011, Westfall ventured into other aspects of the pool industry.
For a while, he ran a mobile reverse-osmosis trailer that would clean and remove the total dissolved solids from a body of water, then return the processed water back into the pool. After that experience, he began his current pool-inspection service.
On the sidelines, fellow NPC member Greg Garrett and pool chemistry pioneer Robert Lowry asked for Westfall’s help inspecting pools and teaching classes — both NPC’s flagship start-up courses, and chemistry classes for Garrett and Lowry’s organization, the Pool Chemistry Training Institute. Garrett trained Westfall on pool forensics, then put him to work in the classes.
“Both those guys were very, very helpful in educating me,” he says.
After Garrett’s passing, Lowry relied on Westfall to teach Garrett’s classes, and as Lowry became less able to travel, he also sought help. And NPC asked him to replace Garrett as NPC technical advisor.
“With the industry enabling me to earn a living, and then Greg teaching me and then passing away, I felt like it was something that I should do,” Westfall says.
In the year since Westfall took the NPC position, he has played a role in converting the organization’s flagship plaster start-up class into a virtual offering, allowing the organization to offer it in both formats.
The organization has collaborated to include its start-up class as part of the required training for California’s service-technician apprenticeship training. And Westfall hopes to include more related topics in the program, and collaborate with other apprenticeship programs around the country.
At the base of Westfall’s service sits a love of giving back.
“We have some of the best and brightest people in our organization, and I’m proud to say I’ve learned an awful lot from them,” he says. “So I want to continue teaching, and hopefully make it easier for all the younger [pros] coming in. That part I enjoy.”