Renovation baby steps: Local vendor vs online

MiaOKCApril 11, 2012

Hi everyone! We are working towards getting our new-to-us pool opened and balanced and in working order. We just purchased this house/pool in December, and were clueless on what to do, so after a few weeks of manually starting and stopping the pump, skimming/leaf eating in the cold wind, and topping the water off every week or so, we elected to have a company come out and close the pool.

It is getting to be warm now and the pool is a giant pit of despair (or froggie breeding Xanadu, whichever you prefer) so we are having the company come back and tackle the opening, balancing and initial vacuuming.

We have decided to live with and swim with the pool for this first summer before deciding on any major changes or renovations. Having never had a pool except for in an apartment, we don't have a good idea of how we will use it or what our needs will be, so rather than rushing in with the jackhammer, we are going to live with it for a while.

That said, there are a few more immediate concerns we'd like to take care of this summer. First is update the electrical panel - it is outdated, doesn't have a cover, and is operational but not up to today's standards - we will have our electrician do this.

Next is a pump timer. Our electric bill was running about three times our normal usage to run the pool pump, and even at lower winter electricity prices, it was a lot. We have what is called "smart hours" utility pricing, so electricity is priced higher from 2p-7pm all summer long. We'd like to get the timer going to keep the pump on only as much as needed, and hopefully not at all during the peak pricing hours of 2-7. We actually have two/three pumps: one is for the pool, one is for the spa, and one is for the jets on the spa. I guess we'd need the timer for two of those and leave the jets off the timer as we operate it as needed with a switch?

We'd also like to get a robot or something to vacuum the pool for us, as we both work long hours during the week and do not have a lot of time to devote to the maintenance and since we plan to balance the chemicals ourselves, that limited time may be spent on that task. A lot of the horror stories we've heard from others revolve around the theme of "my friend hated having a pool, it was so much work!" We're trying to get out in front of that complaint.

Lastly, more for aesthetics than need, we'd like to get our two pool lights functional. Since we both work long hours, it's likely we may only be swimming past dark many times, and a big dark pool kind of freaks me out (see froggie Xanadu comment above!)

OK, sorry this is so long. To get to the point, the company that closed the pool has quoted some equipment to take care of those needs, but being a newbie, I take to the internet to comparison shop and it seems like the prices I was quoted were quite a bit higher than Amazon for instance. I know there are a lot of intangibles you get from a local company that you cannot get from an online retailer, but the price difference seems very steep even so.

Here's the quote:

Polaris Robotic cleaner model # 9300 is 1299.00 and has a $100.00 mail in rabate to the consumer your cost = $1299.99 + tax - $100 rebate. I see these for about $900 online.

A timer for each pump: FREEZE GUARD TIMER COMBO on the main pool pump $359.00 + tax. Timer only $169.00 plus tax.

Lights: $450.00 plus tax and 12volt transformers $160.00 (for each light).

Timer and lights would need to be installed by our electrician, so that is an additional expense.

We do have a pool warranty that we purchased with our home warranty, but it does not cover upgrades like timers and such, only breakdowns and repairs. Any thoughts that could help us out?

Here is a link that might be useful: Our Pool

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Mia, I am sure some of the experts here will chime in, but here are my the local company you are dealing with referring you to an electrician or are you on your own to find someone to install the intermatic timers and new lights? There is something to be said about purchasing items locally versus online as far as if there are any issues with those items and you need to exchange, warranty etc....
However if you are on your own to find an electrician to install them, that electrician is probably not going to care that you bought online vs a local dealer because if there is a problem with one of the items it will be up to you to get it exchanged not up to the electrician. I would check with the electrician to see if he/she can supply the timer box and lights. Generally they purchase at jobber price and sale to you with a markup. This may be more or less than the pool company is quoting you but the electrician would have more invested in ensuring they work properly for you. There are several good "online" pool parts dealers if you go that route.
Pool cleaner wise, are you sure that both of the "other" pumps are for the spa and that one is not a booster pump for a pool cleaner? Did the previous owner have a robotic cleaner? If I was on the fence about keeping the pool or not, I would probably not be buying a 1300.00 robotic cleaner. It will probably retain about 3/4ths of the value I guess if you used it for one season only but you will have to deal with selling it etc...

Now I am a DIY guy when it comes to pool maintenance, its one of the reasons I rely on the experts on this forum who graciously assist. However I am wondering if you are truly up to maintaining the pool based on work schedules. Do you want to come home and worry about cleaning and chlorine levels or do you want to come home and sit in the spa? Not sure on OKC prices but here in DFW you can get weekly chems and cleaning for about 130-160 a month. That keeps you from having to lug home those big buckets of chemicals and gets the pool profesionaly cleaned once a week. Generally they do require you to run a cleaner and brush it down and you might need to use some shock after a heavy swim load.

Back to the cleaner, did the pool company recommend the robotic style cleaner because the pool was not plumbed for a pressure side or suction side cleaner? Since you are not sure if the pool is for you or not and you are sure the pool is not plumbed for a pressure side cleaner, I would suggest a Kreepy Krauly cleaner before going with the robotic cleaner. Its a suction side cleaner and will work with 95% of the pools out there. If you don't have a dedicated cleaner line into the pool you plumb it into a skimmer. Depends on how many skimmers you have, if you have a main drain to how you do it but its the easiest of all the cleaners in my opinion. Pools are a balancing act, amount of work and effort put in vs. how much enjoyment you get back out of it. Now you may have already investigated this, but know that in most municipalities its not just as easy as filling in the pool if you decide you don't want it. Here in DFW there are companies that specialize in it. It runs about 5000 to drill the bottom, remove the decking and fill with dirt. Have to get a permit for it in the city I live in. Also I believe most places now require you to disclose that there is a filled in pool in the backyard when you sell. People have been sued when a new owner trys to put in a pool and discovers there was one already there.


    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 11:09AM
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Haven't posted here for a long time. Here's my opinion on on-line purchases - don't unless you can't get something locally or the brick and mortar store is gouging price wise. Support your local business.
While you can generally save a little dough buying online, if you're going and looking at stuff at a local retailer and then buying it cheaper on-line the local guy is subsidizing the on-line drop shipper. He's paying to keep the lights on, keep inventory in stock and paying the staff to answer your questions. If everyone bought on-line you know what happens? Your local pool store goes out of business. Now, not only do you not get to go there to ask questions about things you'll eventually buy on-line, you also can't get your chemicals tested, buy specialty parts and fittings quickly, get a service tech as easily when you need them and the people working there are unemployed.
There are consequences to always looking for a better price. Just to be clear, I'm a pool builder so I do have a dog in this fight.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 1:45PM
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In support of cascade, another way to look at it is would you bring your own steak to the Outback or hamburgers to Burger King and ask them to cook and serve it to you?

By trade, I am a professional tech and small business owner. I won't install products such as equipment pad gear I know was bought off the net normally. That isn't my customer. My customer wants me because of my education and experience and the understanding that I may not be the cheapest but I won't rake them over the coals and will always be straight, honest, and stand behind what I sell.

Having known cascade from this forum for as long as I have, I know he is very much like me in attitude. He's one of the "Good Guys". I've missed his input and welcome him back!


    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 6:29AM
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Thanks for the responses, Jasmar, Cascade and PoolGuyNJ. I completely agree with you about the benefits to local service and support of the local economy. I think the problem is the two pool companies I have had contact with may just be terrible.

First company was the one the realtor got to come inspect pool before closing. They also gave us a heart-attack inducing ($45K) estimate to completely refurbish the pool to like new condition. When I contacted them back with questions about the estimates, never could get a response. Unfortunately, we had to call in on our home/pool warranty Friday (when the pool was opened, one skimmer and one pump will not start), and guess who the warranty assigned to work on the pool?! Inspection company! Blech.

So, since we were not impressed with them after we bought the house, we solicited suggestions from friends who were pool owners and got company #2. Had them come, look at the equipment/setup to give us a reno estimate, and hired them for opening and closing. It's been four months and have not gotten the full reno estimate (got a verbal ballpark of $25K at walkthru), but got those prices for the necessaries above after two more followups. The opening and closing process has been a PITA, as the company seems very poor at communication. First came to close without an appt and did not use all the chemicals left by the seller which we asked for them to use up first and wanted to charge an extra $250 for chems I had sitting in my garage! They did waive the chem charges since it was their miscommunication, which was nice and stand-up of them. Second, when they came back to open, took three weeks to get an appt, they changed their policies from working on Saturdays, so we had to take a work day off to meet them, then the nice man they sent did not speak English and couldn't communicate what needs to be done with the pool. He could only say things did not work, but that was it. He indicated missing plug/part in the skimmer, but I don't know how that could be since his company closed it and put all parts in the bag which sat in the deck box since January. Also, starting up the hot tub only one of the pumps would work and it causes water to come up through the holes in the deck and spew all over the concrete. These little plumbed holes seem like they should be for air to go down into the spa to aerate the water, but we are having water back out of them. Again, he had no idea but could only shrug and say 'not work.'

They also charge $75/hr for vacuuming but we thought it was such a swamp lets have the pros tackle it first then we can maintain it throughout the season. They sent a kid with a Leaf Eater who only started 4 days ago. I thought I was inexperienced with only four months with a pool but even I beat four days!! He worked on it with Leaf Eater for about an hour and a half then packed up and left. He brought a vacuum hose but didn't use it. We still have a ton of leaves and silt in the pool. Now what? How was that getting it cleaned to be opened up? No followup instructions were given.

They also want to sell me those parts I mentioned in the first post but gave me no recs on installers/electricians - I'm on my own after they sell me the parts. That's not a great endorsement for 'buy local because they are more helpful and supportive.' When I called the day after the opening and said I wasn't sure what the opener was trying to tell me to do the next day, maybe five bags shock? or maybe he was coming back to do 5 bags shock?, they said they couldn't get him on the phone and said 'is it cloudy? yeah, probably five bags shock.' I have to think there is more to it than over-the-phone diagnosis. So our $500 package for opening and closing was less than satisfactory.

This co charges $220/mo plus chemicals for weekly service in OKC. That was too rich for our blood, maybe there are other services that are more in line with what you say Jasmar. Will keep looking. (FYI, we were not thinking to fill in the pool, but maybe the separate hot tub. It was Pool Co #2 who suggested filling it with dirt and making a planter, so if there are regulations about it, they were not too concerned with them.)

I know there are good local pool co's out there but I am having a difficult time finding them, even using friend's/realtor's referrals. Just so disheartened!

I ended up taking a water sample to Leslie's yesterday and was pleasantly surprised by their knowledgeable and helpful staff. They offered to show me how to use the test kit, explained what all the chem levels mean, and even helped talk me through backwashing and how to run the filter. They said the tests show no chlorine in the pool, so all the organic debris is eating it up faster than I can add it, so keep cleaning the pool and add more shock and some other stuff (floc/enhancer I think) in about four hours. Told me to keep a list of all the chems that seller left for us, and every time my H20 is tested they can help me find out what I need to buy and what I already have. so far best experience with a pool co! (and I know there are not a lot of leslie's fans here, but that has just been my experience).

When the pool co #1 comes next week to fix warranty problems, I will see if I can find out about plumbing for cleaners. I was back there looking at the sand filter pressure and noticed a big thing that said 'Polaris' with an on/off switch plumbed in on one of the PVC lines. Will take a photo and post if they cannot tell me what's what.

Here is a link that might be useful: Miracle of Chlorine!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 10:56AM
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I strongly urge you read the Pool School section at Trouble Free Pools. It will fill in a lot of the holes in your education. Best on the web that I have found. It will help you from having to try to reinvent the wheel.

Leslie's sometimes has advice that benefits them, not you.

Your pics are nice. But that which was green and isn't now is still in the water, just bleached unless it was sucked up by the filter. That which was on the walls and floor still need to be vacuumed to waste. Getting the other chems in balance and a bit of time running will see this pool sparkle!


    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 7:31PM
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Just a word if the light fixtures are bad alot of times home warrantys will cover them. Not the bulb being bad but if the fixture itself is bad,,,,,,,


    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 9:18PM
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Thanks Scott and Rusty. Leslie's had me vacuum to waste after adding the blue stuff (how technical I am!) so with the help of Professor Google, I figured out how to backwash first (pressure was up about 10psi over initial pressure) then vacuumed for a few hours with a leaf catcher. We found all the equipment in the deck box, segmented vac hose, vac roller head and a leaf canister labeled "Kreepy Krawly System" but we used it by plugging a hose into the skimmer basket and hooking it up in-line. Worked great until something ripped the leaf bag so we called it a day.

Shallow end is looking pretty respectable now! Did some calculations this weekend and found that the sf on this pool is as large as my first apartment. Deep end is 16x22 and at least 10 ft deep under the diving board, cannot tell exactly yet because it's still murky and I can't tell if my tape is bending or finding deeper part. Shallow end is 29x15 and 3.5 deep.

Hopefully pool co home warranty is sending will have some help for us (and maybe can explain the two inches of sand I discovered in the spa today!)

I've been working through pool school on TFP, and have come to realize that for me, it's one of those things that I have to DO to actually understand what I'm reading. I'd read it all the way through and then re-read other parts, and it was kind of woosh - over my head. Until I'm standing by the pumps and filters and trying to work the backwash valve, it doesn't sink in. That's why you'll find me with my laptop back there so often. :)

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 11:00AM
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Thanks for the welcome back Scott. The forum changed a bit and I didn't seem as relevant maybe. Fewer owner builder types looking for advise and more maintenance stuff. I'll try to check in more often to see if I can add anything useful.
I think I saw a thread where you had a health scare, hope everything is going OK for you.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 8:51PM
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