When you request bids for a pool replaster, do you know what you are really getting? Here are six key areas to focus on for every phase of your commercial pool project. Keep in mind that if you don’t ask for specifics, you get whatever the vendor wants to bid, which is often the cheapest product and process available so they can be the most competitive. Let’s review some of these valuable “need to know specifications” that help ensure quality, compliance, and value for money.
Did you know that all commercial pool and spas located in Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange and San Diego Counties require Health Department permits prior to starting the project? The degree of detail required from each county can differ, ranging from easy, over-the-counter submissions by form letter, to complete drawings, site plans and hydraulic schematics. Also, many cities are now requiring a “City Permit” for the same project in addition to the county permits. Your contractor should know what is needed for your location, so make sure your bid request includes “Acquire all necessary county and city permits” on the list of requirements.
2. Electrical Safety
With liability being a major concern, now is the perfect time to check the safety of your pool or spa for possible electrical issues, such as stray electrical current in the water emanating from pool lights, or other pool equipment. Metal products throughout the pool or spa system like hand rails, grab rails, light rings, pool equipment, and any metal fixture within 5’ of the water should be properly bonded to avoid possible electrocution. The contractor needs to hold a C-53 license for remodeling and construction of pools and spas, but it’s always good to specifically call out a safety audit, including electrical, as part of the bid submission.
3. Pool Shell Preparation Methods
How the old pool plaster surface is prepared to receive the new surface is critically important. The National Plasterers Council recognizes several methods for pool shell preparation. The whole idea is to get a sound surface for the new plaster to adhere to. Much like prepping a surface for painting, the proper preparation is often as, or more critical than the plaster quality itself. The three most used methods are:
A. Jackhammering or “stripping” the old plaster off down to the original gunite shell
The stripping method is the most commonly used because it fast, cheap and has a successful bonding record. The down side is that stripping is strongly discouraged by pool engineers because every time a pool is stripped, it can weaken the pool shell, expose structural steel, and can cause micro fractures and bruising of the pool shell. Also, this is a very dusty process.
Sandblasting to roughen up the old plaster and then apply a bonding coat
The sandblast/bond coat method is similar in cost to stripping method and is non-invasive to the pool shell, but has a higher fail rate of bonding for the new plaster. Some contractors have better success than others depending on the quality of bond coat they use.
High pressure water jetting to remove and or scarify the old surface
The water jetting method gives you the best bonding platform for the new plaster to adhere to. The high water pressure literally carves out the old plaster surface to the original gunite or will leave such a rough profile on the old plaster that the new surface has the best chance for long term bonding. Water jetting avoids gunite damage and shell trauma and is also dust-free. The down side is it’s usually a bit more costly and fewer contractors have this water blast technology.
You will need to specify which method you are expecting, or make sure that each bid specifies the method for plaster removal, depending on your prioritization of cost point, bonding success, and long-term impact on the life expectancy of the pool shell.
4. Plaster Materials
Plaster surface materials have evolved over the past 10-15 years. Simple white plaster is still commonly used for its lower cost, but it is the softest and most easily etched by aggressive water chemistry and chemicals. For commercial pool applications, it is worth considering replacing the soft, white marble aggregate in regular plaster with much harder and more durable white quartz aggregate. In addition, adding a “modifier” to the cement chemically changes it and makes it much less soluble, thus more durable. Adding the quartz aggregate and a modifier together can almost double your pool surface life expectancy from 10 years to closer to 15-20 years in the same water environment. Most quartz finishes will bump the price 20%-30% higher than standard plaster, so consider this in the bid specification if your community is looking at total cost of ownership for the project, instead of basing the bid on price alone.
5. Start Up Procedure
After the pool is plastered, the critical filling and start-up process begins. Fresh plaster needs to be “pond cured” under water, so filling with water begins immediately after final set of the plaster. The fill water needs to be immediately and properly adjusted for calcium hardness, PH and total alkalinity. If proper and timely adjustments are not made, the water can dissolve or remove important calcium compounds from the plaster surface and shorten the life expectancy. Make sure this start-up process is included in the bid and will be performed by the contractor prior to handing the responsibility for proper water chemistry back to the regular pool service.
There are two main elements to warranties – warranty of the process, such as against delamination, and warranty of the materials themselves. The first suggests how confident the company is that their product will successfully adhere to the old surface, with many warranties providing 3-5 year coverage, and a few going as long as 10 years. The second, focused on the materials used, usually provides 1-5 years of coverage. You can read more about warranties on our blog here. Just be sure that you understand what is covered, and what might void a warranty, in order to avoid misunderstandings down the road.
Commercial pools must follow strict guidelines in order to pass inspections, as well as to ensure the safety of the people who will use the pool. Make sure you are considering the elements described above, in the context of your community’s priorities, to get the most bang for the buck.