NESPA Executive Director Lawrence Caniglia
NESPA Executive Director Lawrence Caniglia

A pool dealer in New York recently told me that she lost a job to a landscaping company that had never built a pool, but underbid her “just to get the work.”

What annoyed her even more was that any problems that would inevitably arise later due to an inexperienced pool builder would become her problems.

I often hear that the swimming pool industry has a bad reputation with consumers. One issue is that the business is full of people who work a year or two as a service technician and suddenly consider themselves professionals, or worse, qualified pool builders. With the knowledge required of building codes, safety standards, water chemistry and all the other highly technical aspects of pools, we know it doesn’t work that way.

Add that perception of incompetence to the rare but infamous contractors who take their customers’ money, dig holes and disappear. It’s no wonder we are commonly looked upon as a bunch of losers out there to make a fast buck who couldn’t care less about the consumer.

Many in the industry believe the situation would be improved with pool-industry-specific state licensing. This would be an obvious boon to our business, because in order to qualify for a pool contractor’s license, an individual would have to possess at least the minimum knowledge necessary to properly build or service a pool or spa.

Would this eliminate all unprofessional and disreputable contractors in our industry? No. But it would be a healthy start.

In an ideal situation, qualifying for the initial license would require a minimum number of hours or years in the field spent actually performing the work necessary to gain the practical knowledge. This would be in conjunction with classroom training and an exam. Licensing renewal also would require the applicant to pursue continuing education.

Ensuring that licensed pool contractors are aware of current technology, codes and consumer rights would give the public a more positive picture of us as a group.

Not everyone in our business is in favor of state licensing particular to the pool industry. Sometimes it’s just a knee-jerk reaction to more government regulation, or a resistance to additional education obligations. Some believe that enforcement is impossible. However, every state requires building permits for new pools. The local building code official would only issue permits to licensed contractors, much like the current practice for electricians, plumbers, etc.

Enforcement of pool service licensing could easily be accomplished through the liability insurance carriers. State insurance regulations can be used to require carriers to obtain proof of licensing before underwriting a policy.

While licensing has worked well for other trades and would certainly benefit us, we cannot be complacent and let the legislators enact it without our input.

We are the experts in our trade. Some in our industry may object, but licensing specifically designed for pool professionals is already happening. For example, service technician licensing that requires a certain amount of experience and education is already on the books in Connecticut, and we are working to add licensing for pool builders soon. Other states will soon follow suit, with or without our input. Imagine the regulations that might be enacted if we are not part of the process.

Being uninvolved is not an option.