Pool and spa renovation market set to be major money maker in 2011

For many pool owners, the word "renovation" can mean a mere cosmetic change - something simple like an updated vinyl-liner or some new coping. But for others it means a complete redo of everything from a demolition of the existing pool to tearing out and replacing the plumbing to reshaping the shell, relocating the equipment or revamping the entire backyard. With many such major upgrades in the pipeline, the renovation market is taking shape to be a major money maker in 2011.

Underneath It All

Ccc 111 AqOne of the most important things to think of before you even begin a renovation is the contract, as without the minute details, both homeowner and builder can be left scrambling.

"I've seen guys get into these remodels, and they lost a lot of money because they just didn't think everything through," says David Peterson, president of Watershape Consulting, a pool design firm in San Diego. "They didn't set up their contract the right way to get flexibility, and they didn't warn the homeowner that as they start the demo they might find that there's a big problem that they don't know about. Everyone needs to be prepared for that."

The problem is all too real for Scott Cohen, designer for The Green Scene in Los Angeles, as he recalls a recent project where all that was initially supposed to be renovated was the tile and coping.

"When we started to remove the coping, the bond beam broke apart like stale chocolate chip cookies," says Cohen. "It could crumble in your hands. Some of that gunite tested out at 350 pounds of pressure. We ended up tearing out the entire pool shell and building a new pool to the tune of $85,000 when the client was looking at a $15,000 tile redo.

"Going into an existing pool remodel is kind of like exploratory brain surgery. We have no idea what we're going to find at some of these jobs."

But like Peterson, Cohen's contracts clearly state that the homeowner needs to expect the unexpected and it backs the company up in some of these hairy situations.

"Our contract is very defined, and it's very clear about what's included and what's not included on a remodel. I think that's very important in the discussion upfront, when we're signing contracts, that the customer understands that we don't know what we're going to find here."

Because of the unseen, Peterson recommends that newer builders steer clear of the renovation market until they are well versed in all the possibilities.

"If builders aren't experienced at it, they shouldn't jump in right away because they can get burned in so many ways. Surprises come up that cost a lot of money.

"I've heard of guys doing remodels and the pool popped out of the ground and next thing you know, they're buying the homeowner a whole new pool," says Peterson.

He recommends bringing in structural engineers to help with renovations as their knowledge could be extremely beneficial on a tough job site. Although they aren't required to help build a pool, the knowledge an engineer brings to the project can be lifesaving.

Today's Renovations

Both Cohen and Peterson agree that the pools and spas of today have far surpassed the design of yesteryear. Words like "dreary" and "dated" are commonly used to describe what pool design used to look like.

"I'm usually bringing a pool up-to-date in all of the latest trends in outdoor room design," says Cohen. After breaking out the old hardscape and tile, and a lot of times the spa, he begins by breaking the space into different rooms, one of The Green Scene's fortes.

"Often times I'm adding visual interest with a perimeter overflow spa, and I may have used glass tile to update the pool. I'll add water features, color-changing lights, and introduce fire.

"One of the biggest improvements you can make in the backyard from an entertaining standpoint is getting rid of that dinky barbecue and replacing it with an outdoor kitchen."

Peterson looks to upgrade the guts of the pool by replumbing it to today's standards with proper pipe sizes and modernizing a project with the newest system equipment on the market, bringing an old pool up to today's energy efficiency and safety standards.

"There's much more to renovation than just redoing tile coping and plaster," he adds. "We're cleaning up projects as we go."

The Homeowner's Input

In the downturn, renovations have been a godsend to many builders.

"New pool construction has really slowed down. But there's still quite a bit of inventory of swimming pools out there," says Cohen. "Pools have a certain lifetime. They are going to be good for 15 to 20 years. They aren't going to meet with the look of the day. As each year goes by, there's more and more pent-up demand for pool remodel work."

Because the majority of renovation projects are on properties where the original homeowner, and perhaps pool designer, have long since vacated, understanding what the client wants, but still leaving room for creative interpretation, is key.

There's no denying builders and designers like Peterson and Cohen respect their clients and want to make sure they are pleased with the final product, but at the same time the designers are artists, and the pool and spa project is their canvas and they have an eye for what works.

When Cohen walks into a backyard he asks questions to not only get a feel from the homeowner for what they are looking for but to get to know the homeowner on a personal level.

"Any number of designers can look at the same space and see it sliced up a dozen different ways," Cohen says. "I think that's why, for homeowners, it's important that they talk to more than one person. Not that you need multiple quotes for pricing, but it's a good idea to meet with three different people to see if you're a good match.

"Not every client I meet is going to be a good customer for me, and not every customer out there thinks I'm going to be their best designer. I might look at this pool completely different than somebody else would, and it might be more the homeowner's taste."

With new home financing still tight and more people staying put in their existing digs, the renovation market definitely has the potential to hold its own as a strong category of industry success.

"I think what we're going to see as we go forward into next years, says Cohen, "is that this is going to be an explosive category because it'll take a while for new construction to come around."

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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