June 17, 2015
By Melissa Brown
These days, it makes sense to invest in and make upgrades to existing properties, given the hot real estate market and the desire to seek relaxation and pleasure from your own backyard. A resort-like experience just steps from the back door can help ease the stresses of daily life without the two-hour drive to the cottage. If you’ve decided it’s time to spruce up your backyard (and add value to your property), you may want to consider bringing in the professionals. Here are a few things to keep in mind on who to hire, and why working with experts can be to your benefit.
If the project includes a swimming pool, swim spa, or hot tub, consider hiring a landscape designer or architect to help make the most of your space. These professionals can advise where to place the water feature to maximize sunlight exposure, address the need for easy access and traffic flow, and allot space for lounging and dining. Further, they can make suggestions on the optimal location for mechanical equipment, which may include a storage room, change room, outdoor kitchen, bar, and/or barbecue. The last thing you want is to finish building an outdoor kitchen that is nowhere near the plumbing stack inside the house.
Working with a landscape designer and architect has many benefits, including expertise in recommending low-maintenance trees and plants that will enhance your space and provide shade, while allowing the sun to shine on the pool area. In addition, investing in their services can often result in cost savings. A clearly defined scope of work with precise details for the trades will help avoid unanticipated surprises and encourage clever uses of space.
Once the design and a plan for the backyard project is complete, seek out local professionals. The Internet is your first stop in gathering information about location and reputation. Some may offer a showroom or retail store where you can see how they operate, meet the staff, get a sense of their attention to detail, and see examples of their work. Other companies offer in-home consultation, in which case, the pro will usually have a portfolio or digital images of their work to demonstrate their specific design esthetic and skill set. (You can also check out the Backyard Lookbooks.)
If you see a company’s vehicles in your neighbourhood, observe their condition and appearance. Note also the mannerisms and demeanor of employees. You may even consider approaching your neighbour and getting their feedback on the quality of work being provided. It never hurts to ask and you may even save yourself some time by quickly finding a capable company to hire who are servicing your local area.
These days, the Internet makes it so easy to post online reviews, whether they are good or bad, so always do some research beforehand. Of course, there will always be those clients that could not be pleased, so look for the company’s response to these posts. Those that are concerned about meeting client expectations will always address negative reviews in a polite manner that invites a resolution to the issue and demonstrates their interest in customer satisfaction.
Once you meet with them, however, ask questions like how long they’ve been in business, their core competency, and past projects in your area. Consider approaching the meeting as a job interview—give them the opportunity to impress and don’t be afraid to ask questions to get the assurance you need. Keep in mind that in most cases, this will be a long (and possibly intense) working relationship, so you want to ensure it is a good fit from the start. Remember: You are hiring people, not a website—it is critical to have confidence in the person you meet and how they communicate, rather than be impressed with an attractive online presence.
Once the selection process is narrowed down to a few local professionals, invite them to bid on your scope of work, being fair by giving the same criteria on which to quote. Discuss timelines and budget so they can include these details to suit specific needs. If there are certain features or upgrades you want, provide this information, as the quote needs to be as comprehensive and transparent as possible. Consider who will look after the decking, fencing, mechanical room or cabana, site restoration, electrical, and gas work. Some pool builders work as general contractors, while others are a sub-trade to a landscape contracting company that will complete the planting, stone work, and/or carpentry.
The pool and hot tub professional will know the latest technology available for ease of use and ongoing maintenance. These professionals are committed and involved in the industry, as well as a great source of knowledge regarding what items are fads/gadgets versus well-tested and useful. In addition, they often attend industry events and workshops to learn what is new and how to stay on the cutting edge of available technology.
Automation is available in most applications, although depending on your mechanical equipment, it may not be required. The more elaborate your project, the more automation makes sense in terms of lighting and heating options. If you travel often or own more than one property, you may want to be able to control, lock, or activate certain features from a distance. Numerous companies have created smartphone apps that can interface with the home system to provide this kind of flexibility.
When considering hiring a particular company or person, ask for testimonials or contact information for recent clients to get a sense of their work ethic and ability to manage the project. A professional pool and hot tub company will gladly provide this assurance. Ask the clients whether they enjoyed working with the company. Were they polite, on time, good at communicating, and helpful when asked questions? Also, did they leave the site clean and was support available for after-service and maintenance? Was staff readily accessible and accountable? Most importantly, ask whether these former clients would recommend the company to friends and family.
Take into consideration that a pool or hot tub expert will have experience with water care programs and ongoing service. Ask about these details before you hire a contractor, as it will make ownership easier knowing there is a trusted source for effortless water care and warranty coverage. Some companies offer an in-house lab for testing pool and hot tub water with a printed analysis or prescription. Ask if they recommend a certain program for sanitizing the water to meet Health Canada criteria. Check whether the company offers weekly maintenance and spring opening and fall closing services, as well as whom to contact for warranty service. If these in-house services aren’t offered, ask who they recommend so it’s easy to get service when required.
The benefit of hiring a pool/hot tub builder or retailer in your community is they are familiar with building codes and local bylaws. Make sure you ask what permits are required and who is responsible for getting them. Since this is their area of expertise, they may offer this service and know how to easily navigate the nuances of specific properties. For instance, if you live on a ravine or in an area protected by a conservation authority, there will be certain requirements in order to meet environmental regulations. A professional pool and hot tub installer will know the best way to contend with these issues to avoid any unexpected challenges.
Many pool and hot tub professionals are members of the national, provincial, and/or local industry association, so be sure to ask what those are and visit the websites to learn about membership criteria. The benefit of membership in these associations is companies have access to professional development, shared learning, safety guidelines, and best practices, as well as peer exchange and annual awards. In the pool and hot tub industry, winning an award reflects a high level of pride and quality workmanship by the company, so look for those that have picked up an honour or two.
Smaller companies can benefit from these associations, as they allow them to operate as an independent business professional with the support of a larger collective. Industry specialists are able to collaborate with other like-minded professionals and share ideas that result in a more creative, higher-quality product and experience for the homeowner.
Some pool and hot tub professionals have attained educational accreditations, such as a professional engineer, landscape architect, or certified electricians or gas fitters. These designations offer peace of mind in knowing the professional values education and an additional level of expertise.
Given the Canadian climate and weather extremes, hiring an expert in the pool and hot tub industry can help ensure the project is built to withstand temperatures changes, which if not considered, can lead to very costly repairs. Hiring a pool or hot tub professional allows the benefit of years of experience and knowledge to assure a worry-free installation that increases your home’s value with a high-quality focal point.
Seeking a good fit from the companies you hire is the first step to creating your backyard oasis. Hiring pool and hot tub experts can ensure a positive experience with the best results, allowing continued enjoyment of the completed project for many years to come.
Melissa Brown is the president of BonaVista Pools in Toronto, a family-run, second-generation company her father, Bob Brown, started in 1969. She is a professional engineer (P.Eng.) who loves being in the field with her crew building pools. In her free time, Brown enjoys swimming in her custom concrete current pool with her four children. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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