Pool are usually inspected for a specific reason. For example, it’s common to see inspections for overall safety, energy efficiency, structural integrity, surface issues, water quality or leaks. In these instances, the goal of an inspection is to identify specific problems in the pool system.

Then there’s the other kind of inspection: those that take place as part of a real estate transaction, where the pool inspector’s job is to provide an overall “snapshot” of the pool’s condition, necessary repairs and possible problems in the future.

Usually performed on behalf of the buyer, this class of specialized inspection is similar in many respects to inspections that take place for roofs, septic systems or termites. Given that the pool is oftentimes the second-biggest investment homeowners ever make, it’s not surprising that people buying a home with an existing pool want be informed of the pool’s condition.

Unfortunately, pools and the many nuances that come along with them have long been obscure to most home inspectors. “It’s what you don’t see that matters,” says Tom Krause, a certified pool inspector for American Pool Inspection in Phoenix, Ariz. “Most home inspectors have no idea where to look. That’s why they need experienced pool professionals.”

WHO'S QUALIFIED

When there is no pool inspector in the mix, it’s easy for home inspectors to miss major problems, which can leave the buyer saddled with expensive issues down the line.

“A home inspector will confirm that there’s water in the pool and the equipment sounds like it’s running and that’s about it,” explains Dennis Boyd, owner of Pro Pool Inspections in Nashville, Tenn.

Boyd is an experienced service technician who started doing inspections as side work. “I targeted the real estate industry because I had so many inquiries from people wanting to know what they were buying. I started out just wanting to be able to do inspections as needed. Since I started doing it, my inspection business has blossomed. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the fact that in Nashville, we have 106 people moving into the area each day on average. So there’s a great deal of buying and selling.”

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Both Krause and Boyd took the National Swimming Pool Foundation’s Certified Pool & Spa Inspector course. A prerequisite for that course was NSPF’s Certified Pool Operator training. While that training was helpful, both claim the real training comes by way of work experience. “I don’t consider myself qualified because I took the CPI course. I consider myself qualified because I’ve been working on pools for 20 years,” Boyd says. “The certification just gives you a credible foothold.”

“To be a good pool inspector you really need to have worked in the industry and worked on enough pools to be experienced enough to know what you’re looking at,” Krause says. “And, you need to be CPO certified. You also have to have a passion and interest in what you’re doing; you have to like pools.”

INSPECTION POINTS

How deep an inspection goes can vary. Although every pool is different, Boyd goes through about 30 items in his inspections, starting with features around the pool, including fencing and decking as well as slides, diving boards and other features directly related to the pool.

“We define that as any kind of apparatus that is used for enjoyment specifically for the pool,” he explains. “We’re looking for cracks, signs of damage or repairs and trip hazards. We’re looking for evidence of ground movement, which might get worse over time. If we see a structural problem, like a leak, we’ll recommend bringing in a leak-detection company or a structural engineer.

“Then we look at the interior surface for cracking and delamination. Is it pitted, scaled or stained? If it’s a liner pool we look to see if the liner is bleached out or if it looks new. Are there patches in it? We’re also looking for fl ow back to the pool — are the returns all operating? We look at the ingress and egress features, steps, ladders, handrails and their condition.”

From there, Boyd moves on to the equipment pad. “We visually inspect the equipment area for possible leaks and obvious damage to any of the major components and plumbing,” he says. “We’re looking at everything from an operational standpoint; is it running per the manufacturer specifications? We’re looking at the age of the equipment, which we usually determined by serial number. And we’re making sure everything is hooked up and connected according to manufacturer recommendations and industry standards.”

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Part of the challenge, he explains, is carefully qualifying what is and isn’t part of the inspection. “We do look at electrical for basic things like if there are bond and ground wires connected to metal components, if there are GFCIs and are they working, but we are not licensed electricians,” Boyd says. “That’s why we include a disclaimer that states our recommendation for a separate electrical inspection.”

Along similar lines, he adds, “We also automatically recommend that the filter media be replaced because we have no idea how the pool was used. In the CPO training they say that 80 percent of water management is handled by the filter.

We err in favor of proper filtration and recommend a fresh start.”

For his part, Krause puts pools through a 75-point inspection that also includes water analysis and filter examination. “I take the filter apart to see if it needs to cleaned or replaced, because that’s a big difference in cost. In a pool, it’s what you don’t see that costs you money. If you don’t take the filter apart and inspect cartridges, you have no idea what the condition of the filter is,” he says.

“The water analysis reveals the most problems,” he adds. “I inspect many pools where the water may look clear but it’s completely out of balance or doesn’t have any chlorine. So I do try to educate people as to why they want the water properly balanced and sanitized.”

SAFETY FIRST

Unsurprisingly, safety issues are of utmost concern in any inspection. These include both common-sense measures as well as less-obvious hazards.

“The number one safety issue is simple: Is there a lock on the gate?” Krause says. “Second is the condition of the fence. After that, if I see toys floating in the pool, I let homeowners know that’s a safety hazard because kids will be attracted to those toys. A lot of times it the simplest things that people miss or don’t think about.”

“We always err in favor of safety,” Boyd says. “For example, we make sure the circuit breaker that turns off the pump is the same breaker that turns off the salt system, if the pool has one. I bring up that example because it’s a safety standard that is largely obsolete because salt systems have fl ow switches that turn them off when there is no fl ow. In this case, it’s basically a redundant safety issue.”

Some safety items are anything but obvious and do require the trained eye of an expert. “I look at the pressure gauge and make sure that’s working. It’s a $15 item but many people don’t think to ever replace it. But if that pressure gets too high it can blow the filter, which is a tremendously dangerous hazard,” Krause says. “I think the most dangerous thing on a pool is the locking ring on a cartridge or D.E. filter. If they don’t tighten that ring down, it can let loose — and if someone is standing there, they’re going to be hurt.”

ETHICAL BOUNDARIES

Pool inspection work requires more than a solid knowledge of the inner workings of a pool — it also requires ethical standards. For some, inspections are simply another way to cultivate service and repair work, a clear conflict of interest. According to both Krause and Boyd, it’s crucial to avoid any whiff of self-serving impropriety.

“If you have a service company and you do pool inspections, it’s important that you keep the two completely separate,” Krause says. “It’s a bright line. If you’re using pool inspections to generate service and repair work, you shouldn’t be doing inspections in the first place.

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“When I do an inspection,” he adds, “I’m not thinking about how much money a pool company can make; I’m concentrating on making sure that when someone buys the house, they’re not hit with unexpected costs related to the pool. I want them to know exactly what they’re facing where the pool is concerned. I’m out to save the clients headaches, not generate business for my service company.”

“We always recommend getting multiple bids on work and make a point of keeping our service business and inspection business completely separate,” Boyd says. “We recommend our competitors all the time. There’s plenty of work in this market — the issue is protecting clients from the jackals and thieves in our industry. I’m happy when our professional and competent competitors are doing the work because I know the customer will be taken care of and that’s good for the entire industry.”

“I make recommendations but it’s up to them,” Krause adds. “I do provide an approximate dollar figure of what it will cost to get it fixed because people are usually in a hurry to get it done so the sale will go forward.”

GENERATING THE REPORT

Recording findings and communicating them to the buyer, owner and real estate agent is an important and often painstaking part of the process.

“The inspection is a snapshot in time. I take pictures of everything to record the conditions I’m seeing when I’m there,” Krause says. “My report is very methodical and very educational. Every part of my report is aimed at educating the client.”

For his part, Boyd developed a software program to automatically generate reports. “It was a nightmare doing them,” Boyd recalls. “I loved getting the inspection work, but the reports would take three to five hours. We were just looking at how to speed-up the process, so I worked with a company that had a program built for the home inspection world. We took the language and changed it. Now when I enter the information into the program, it uploads it to the cloud, so it’s available for everyone involved in the transaction. The protocol guides you through the process. Been using it since 2016 and it’s been a game changer.”

Eric Herman is Senior Editor of AQUA Magazine.