3 Steps for Managing Unexpected Expenses During Pool Renovations

man renovating pool after unexpected expenses during pool renovations

There is a common saying about pools and boats. A pool or boat owner’s two favorite days are the day they buy their pool or boat and the day they sell it. As enjoyable as pools and boats are, they require a good deal of maintenance to keep them operating and in good order. That maintenance costs time and money.

No one likes an unexpected expenses during pool renovations. The key to making pool ownership less painful is accurately projecting capital expenditures and including them in your reserve study and budget.

However, even with the best planning efforts, unexpected expenses can occur. This usually results from an oversight or omission during the reserve study, or something totally unpredictable or uncontrollable occurs (e.g. environmental conditions).

Sometimes a pool renovation project can encounter an unexpected problem that will result in a large additional expense. Here are 3 steps to help you handle these situations:

1. Fully Understand The Situation

If you are unclear about any of the details, ask your pool contractor to meet you on site to walk you through the problem and possible solutions. This gives you a first-hand appreciation, keeps your contractor honest, and allows you to ask all the questions you want to know. Then you’ll be in a better position to return to the board with a recommendation and background information to support it. 

2. Consider Getting A Second Opinion

If there is any doubt as to the contractor’s claims or recommended solutions, ask for a second opinion from another qualified pool contractor. Most reputable contractors will be CAI members and PHTA (Pool & Hot Tub Alliance) members and have earned industry specific certifications (CPO, CSP, CBP, etc.).

Sometimes a quick phone call and discussion is enough to put your mind at ease and confirm what your contractor is stating. Other times you may need to ask that second contractor to make a site visit. Paying for a consultative visit is well worth it, as it may prevent a more costly construction mistake.

3. Discuss With The Board

Present your findings and recommendations to the board and ask for a prompt decision. If the matter is complicated, you may want to ask your pool contractor to present the information. This could be done virtually or in person. After presenting, emphasize to the board that time is of the essence.

Following these steps should facilitate a quick decision and continuation of the project. Not following these steps may lead to more confusion, controversy, and delay a board decision. This will lead to a project set back, potentially causing the pool to open late, upsetting the entire community.

man renovating pool

Of course, it’s always better to be proactive than reactive. Many “unexpected” expenses can be mitigated by educating the board of potential issues in advance of the project. The more you know, the more you can predict, and the better you can prepare your community for budgetary contingencies.

When planning a large project for your swimming pool, ask your pool contractor what expenses might occur that are difficult to predict beforehand, and how severe they could become. Do not assume all the possibilities are spelled out in the proposal. Unfortunately, some pool contractors leave out this type of information from their proposals to avoid dissuading the customer from approving the project.

To help you plan ahead, let’s discuss the 3 most common surprise expenses that can occur once a pool renovation project starts.

1. Plaster Delamination

One of the most common and misunderstood upcharges, pool plaster delamination occurs when the top layers of the pool plaster surface separate from the lower layers or the pool shell. This can occur for a variety of reasons including: improper bond coat application between the layers, painted surface not removed, water penetration. This loose plaster must be removed before the new surface can be installed, or the new surface will not adhere properly and will subsequently delaminate.

Most delaminated plaster is invisible when underwater, because the weight of the water presses the loose areas to the substrate. Unless there are already large areas of delaminated plaster (chunks missing from your pool surface) and/or noticeable pockets of cracks that flex when stepped on, it is nearly impossible to determine how much delaminated plaster there will be on a project.

Delamination results in an upcharge because of the additional labor needed to chip out, remove and dispose of the loose plaster, and due to the additional material needed to fill the voids where the loose plaster was. This can add significant cost.

A worst case scenario would be a situation where a previous pool contractor replastered on top of a painted surface. In this case, the entire plaster surface must be removed and the paint sand blasted off. Then the project can resume. While the worst case doesn’t happen often, the delamination remediation charge in these type cases can double the cost of replastering.

2. Main Drain Sumps Are Not VGB Compliant

Main drain sumps are the empty space under the main drain grates where the main drain pipes terminate. Per code, they must be a specific depth and size, which depends upon the size of the suction pipe coming into the sump and the main drain grates being used.

It is impossible for the pool contractor to know if the sumps are properly sized without scuba diving the pool and taking detailed measurements before the project. This would require an additional cost, and would not change the fact of whether or not the sumps are compliant. If they are not compliant, they will need to be dug out and repoured, at additional expense.

The good news is because there are standard sizes, your pool contractor should be able to quote this possible additional expense before the project starts so that you can budget for it, if needed.

3. Bond Beam And Waterline Tile Problems

Waterline tile is what we see when we are standing in the pool. Waterline tile is affixed to the top part of the pool shell, called the bond beam. The bond beam also supports the coping part of the pool deck. Coping is the edge of the pool, usually one foot wide and made of concrete, brick or stone. There should be a joint separating the coping and the bond beam to allow for expansion and contraction movement without damaging the waterline tile.

Sometimes pool builders do not properly separate the coping and bond beam, and this leads to bond beam failure and occasionally tile failure. In severe cases, the coping will crack the bond beam and waterline tile; sometimes the tile will even fall off into the pool. In less severe cases, this problem may not be visible until the tile is removed. The good news is that most pool contractors can quote a per linear foot price to repair the bond beam and tile, so you can budget for this contingency, especially if you see visible signs of tile failure.

As we discussed previously, sometimes there is just no way to foresee an unexpected expense. But many times a better understanding of common issues will help you prepare for “unexpected” expenses during a pool project. The more you know about what might happen and how to plan for it, the more you’ll be ready to lead your community to make the right decisions and keep your swimming pool in good working order for future generations.

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