Rick English discusses the ins & outs of pool and spa inspections
Do you offer pool inspections? Are you thinking about adding this service as an additional source of income? Do you have the necessary licensing and/or certifications? We spoke to Rick English, a 22-year veteran pool inspector to learn what it takes. According to English, a pool inspector’s greatest asset is experience, but the available industry certifications can also go a long way in distinguishing a pool inspector. Here, English explains some details of the craft.
Are home inspectors qualified to do pool inspections?
Home inspectors are taught a very brief overview of what to look for, including basic things like whether the pump is working or if there are cracks in the pool? So, they do very limited inspection. I’ve seen the pool sections of home inspection reports and they are as small as three lines. My pool inspection reports are 25 to 30 pages.
What kind of license is necessary to become a pool inspector?
You don’t need much more than a driver’s license. There is no license required for a pool inspector in California. Some states require inspectors to be certified. In California, home inspectors have certification from trade associations but there is no certification for a pool inspector. NSPF has certifications for pool inspectors (Certified Pool Inspector or CPI) but it focuses on commercial pools. It doesn’t cover all that you would do on a residential pool inspection.
How can you become qualified to do a residential pool inspection?
It doesn’t hurt to have CPI certification, but I don’t have it. I like a lot of the certifications that are offered by Pool and Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA). They have the Certified Maintenance Specialist (CMS). The Certified Service Professional (CSP) is one of the better ones. The one that would be really great to have is the Certified Building Professional (CBP). To me this is the best because of the focus on construction; a background in construction is really helpful. Experience is the best teacher. Before I became an inspector 22 years ago, I had built between 1500 and 2,000 pools. The more certifications you can put after your name the better.
What do you charge for an inspection?
I charge $600 which is way more than what somebody just starting out would get. But I come with a lot of experience. I tell potential clients to go to my website, www.poolinspections. com, and read my sample reports. If that’s what they want they can call me back - 9 out of 10 call me back. My inspections are very thorough. For a beginner to try to do what I do would be very challenging. However, there is no standard residential pool inspection. So, anyone can craft their own style of inspection and report.
How big is the pool inspection industry?
You can’t make a living doing pool inspections. You’d have to be doing 3 or 4 a day until you can get your price up. There’s not enough demand for that. Some home inspectors will do a pool inspection but it’s very basic. A very few high end home inspectors will do a detailed pool inspection. They will charge an extra $250 to $300. But most home inspectors just check the basics.
What would you consider bad inspection practices?
It is a policy of the California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA) that you do not do inspections looking for other business. If you’re doing an inspection because you want to get a resurfacing job or sell them a new pump or filter – well, that’s bad business and I think it’s unethical. And it’s against the Association’s code of ethics. That code says that an inspector shouldn’t accept any work from an inspection client for at least one year after the inspection. I don’t have a big problem with a pool service company taking on a service account after an inspection unless the focus of their inspection is strictly to badmouth the existing serviceperson.
How do you get business as a pool inspector?
A lot of people think that the best place to get business is through
realtors but that is not true. The best place for pool inspectors to get business is from home inspectors. A lot of home inspectors do not want to do pools because they don’t want the liability because they don’t know what they are doing. And a lot of their insurance policies specifically exclude pools.
California has many chapters of the CREIA, California Real Estate Inspectors Association. There are others like ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Find a local chapter. Join up and attend their meetings. They need speakers every month. So, offer to give them a talk about pools. If you get to know them then some will refer pools to you. A home inspector will see a home every day and a certain percentage of those will have a pool so if you have 5 or 10 home inspectors that regularly refer you, you will have plenty of business.
What kind of Insurance is necessary?
You need to go over your insurance policy very carefully and make sure that it covers pool inspections. There’s a saying that we have in the inspection business: it’s not a question of if you get sued, it’s a question of when. If the homeowner sues the realtor, the realtor is going to drag in the inspectors. Sometimes a home buyer could sue the pool inspector directly because of an error or omission in the inspection.
Describe the major components of a thorough inspection?
I have a checklist but I never show it to the client. I know some inspectors do but I think that’s very dangerous because it opens you up to a lot of liability.
The first thing I look for is safety components such as fencing and gates. If there’s a diving board I’m going to recommend that they remove it or that they get the manufacturer to come out
and look at it and certify that it safe. I look at slides and make sure that they are up to CPSC standards.
I inspect the electrical components, the bonding, the breakers, the GFCI’s. I spend a lot of time looking for light junction boxes, because they are hard to find, and the older ones are dangerous.
Then I look at the structure of the pool - that is, the tile coping, deck, and plaster. I’ll look inside the skimmer for cracks. I’ll check whether it is manual fill, auto fill or no fill. Then I look at the equipment and test each piece of equipment. I check the valves for leaking. If there is a spa, I turn it on and make sure all the jets are working. If it’s a pool/spa combination, I will drain the spa into the pool and inspect the drains in the spa. The drains on the spa are critical and they hardly ever meet VGB and California standards. I can also get a look at the plaster of the spa which gives me an idea about the plaster in the pool.
I also measure the pool and draw it on my computer. I can then estimate gallonage. Using the gallonage I can calculate turnover, velocities and get a rough idea of heating times.
A big part of the inspection is debriefing the client and explaining what is going on. It’s very important to get their email address and their money. You must get paid on the job or before. Never bill escrow because you don’t know if the sale is going to close. That said, the pool inspection should not determine whether or not the house is going to sell. Most of the repairs are only going to cost a couple thousand dollars. The pool inspection shouldn’t kill the deal.
Are there any typical problems inspections will find?
Filters are very dangerous. As an expert witness, I’ve worked on several cases where a serviceperson cleaned the filter, turned on the pump, and the filter lid exploded off, hitting the serviceperson in the head. The last person I worked for had $250,000 worth of reconstructive facial surgery from a filter explosion. In manufacturers’ installation manuals, it says that the filters have to be separated a certain distance from any electrical switch that can turn on the associated pump to avoid injury in case of an explosion. But for an experienced installer, reading the filter installation manual is like most people reading instructions on how to install a light bulb.
Lack of bonding is probably one of the most common things I see. A lot of people don’t know the difference between bonding and grounding. If the equipment gets moved from its original location, or else replaced, then bonding may be ignored. They move the equipment but don’t connect to the bonding grid. Bonding problems are very common, especially in older pools, or when the pump is replaced.
Fences are supposed to swing out, away from the pool. The code is very specific about this. But it is a very common violation. This is a drowning hazard.
I worked a drowning case where teenagers lodged a piece of wood in the gate to keep it open. A small child came, got in the pool, and drowned. The lawyer argued that the child would have had enough strength to push the gate open, but not enough strength to pull the gate open.
In drowning cases like this, they always sue, and they are often 7 figure judgments.
Also, I always recommend that they comply with VGB standards, even if it isn’t required. But any work on a pool that requires a permit also requires VGB compliance.
Richard “Rick” English is owner of English Pool Consulting in San Diego, California. He has his Certified Pool Operator (CPO) Certificate and Certified Building Professional (CBP). He works as a forensic consultant in litigation involving pool construction, pool service and pool safety. He has been qualified as an expert witness in California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Texas, New Hampshire, Idaho, Washington and Kansas.