March 1, 2024

Home | Op Editorials | An Open Letter To Home Depot
Home Depot commercial may portray pool builders in a negative light and give misleading information to consumers.
For decades, my associates and I have tirelessly worked to enhance the knowledge and image of pool builders as highly skilled professionals through educational seminars, technical publications, hands-on demonstrations, certifications, and licensing in many states.
Yet, in your recent commercial, those efforts were thwarted by your organization’s portrayal of a pool builder. 
The commercial, “Meet the kind of people who are in our parking lot at 5:45 a.m.” portrays pool builders with an old stereotype – a guy with an old beat-up truck and notepad drawing.  
The video pans in on each of the “people” in their vehicles as the voiceover describes their profiles and why they are coming to The Home Depot. The last profile is Ed…  “Ed’s putting in a pool for a friend… we all need an Ed!”  The visual is of Ed making notes on a pad. As the commercial continues, the store opens and each of the “People” climb out of the vehicles to go inside. “Ed” with a window sticker “my other truck is a boat”, walks away from his vehicle, an old beat-up truck.  
The original 1-minute commercial produced by BBDO Atlanta/BBDO New York was released in March 2022. A shortened 30-sec version was also released.  
As a licensed pool contractor in Las Vegas, Nevada, a Certified Building Professional, and former director on the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance national board, I take offense to how your commercial depicts my industry.  Not only is this commercial insulting to the many highly educated pool professionals across the US and internationally, but it also encourages the viewpoint that pool builders are simply a guy with old trucks and notepads. Furthermore, “friends” don’t know everything there is to know about building a safe and efficient pool. 
There are many states that require licensing for pool construction. Most have specific guidelines such as building standards and regulations, ANSI and ISPSC codes and in some states- water use restrictions just to name a few.
Nevada homeowners do have the option to build their own pool. However, the Nevada State Contractors Board has outlined in strict detail the guidelines for such activity including registering the project, permitting, insurance responsibilities and mandatory use of licensed sub-contractors to do the work. 
It is a crime for an unlicensed person to perform construction work even on an owner-builder pool project and that includes one’s “friend”.  
While it seems that your creative team at BBDO wanted to capture a variety of individuals, needs and projects, they did not take time to consider the negative and dangerous implications of the “Ed” character.” 
The Home Depot commercial could sway an unlikely consumer to seek a “friend”, an unlicensed and untrained individual to install their pool, jeopardizing the wellbeing of the family both physically and financially. 
Ed might be better off “Putting in a garden for his wife!”
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Proper pool tile installation on vanishing edge walls will prevent clients from thinking that the pool wall is leaking.
It all starts with using the proper pool tile material. Once water begins to infiltrate behind the tiles of the swimming pool, a whole bunch of problems can arise.
Efflorescence is carried to the surface from the shotcrete, thin-set or grouts. Even epoxy setting materials can promote efflorescence.
Epoxy setting materials are not 100% epoxy. Many still contain cement-based components. The technical sheets for most epoxy thin sets and grouts contain a disclaimer about efflorescence.
After the vanishing edge is turned off, areas on the wall may continue to be wet for hours – simply from water trapped behind the tiles. This is where many pool tile failures occur.
Water streaming out of cracks in the grout when the vanishing edge system is on, is another indication of voids behind the tiles.
But when a customer sees any sign of water on the “dry side” of the wall, they immediately think the wall is leaking. While this may sometimes be the case sometimes, in most instances, it is merely an improper tile installation.
The TCNA specifies that 95% of the tile must be in contact with thin-set. This can be achieved by back buttering and knocking down the comb/gauge marks. Failing to provide movement joints causes the corners to split and crack as well.
Swimming Pool Expert Witness
As a pool builder, when I’m creating a sophisticated outdoor living area, frequently I look to incorporate exciting transitions which immerse you into the entire backyard. The technique was accomplished adeptly by a very famous landscape architect in the California Bay Area, by the name of Thomas Church.
My firm, Creative Environments was selected to update the swimming pool area on one particular backyard design which was done by Thomas back in the mid 1930’s. In his original concept, there was no swimming pool incorporated into his design. The pool, however, was added to the yard in the late 1970’s. Roughly five decades later, our company finds itself with the good fortune of remodeling the swimming pool accenting this timeless design.
When we initially took on this daunting historical remodeling project, my son Nicco and our landscape designer, Peter Koenig did a lot of research on Thomas Church. We started by visiting his most iconic yard landscape design project of the Donnell Ranch Pool and Landscape in Sonoma. 
Thomas was known for his ability to design inviting backyard environments by creating different elevations. These micro-environments were ideal for various purposes and enhanced the enjoyment of the landscape experience. Thomas achieved this by installing steps that gradually transitioned you to a new texture or environment area as you traveled through the yard.
This particular project that we remodeled is a classic example of transitioning from one texture to another. Our designer, Peter Koenig, worked together with our clients and us to maintain the original integrity of the “Master’s Design”. The real trick here was to maintain the theme of the backyard and at the same time use the construction methods of today’s high standards.
This backyard is full of micro-environments that are separated by pathways along with the many different textures used along with elevation changes that transition from one area to the next. Did we honor the original integrity of the design? You can be the judge.
The test to see if we got this right was when I was invited to a social gathering by our clients. I took the opportunity to observe the 75 guests in attendance. Gradually, each found a corner of the outdoor living area to enjoy.
A swimming pool in the backyard used to be primarily just for daytime recreation. However, in today’s designs the pool and entire backyard is equally enjoyable both during the day and at night. With today’s LED lighting we’re able to intelligently position accent lighting to make the backyard a more usable space at night. 
First and foremost, I look to accomplish this by adding well-lit spas and water features that live poolside along with exciting amenities like outdoor kitchens and pavilions. There’s nothing cozier and more inviting than a fireplace and fire pit next to the swimming pool.
These elements all add up to creating a superior outdoor environment. When properly lit, the backyard becomes a thoroughly enjoyable evening experience as well. It’s definitely a privilege that we in the swimming pool industry are able to provide through the creative work we’re able to do. 
When conceptualizing the design we need to think past the swimming pool as our only dog in the fight and think about how the entire backyard space is used for entertainment. The projects which my son Nicco and I build, along with the help of Peter Koenig and the rest of our team of talented artisans, incorporate all of those exciting lifestyle features.
These completely immersive environments transition from the pavilion to the outdoor kitchen to the sports court seamlessly. When accompanied by beautiful landscape and lighting, well-conceived concrete paver pathways help navigate guests throughout the backyard to a well-appointed swimming pool. One that isn’t just filling in the negative space of the yard but by was oriented specifically to have guests transition to the right location and direction from the point of entry of the house.
Spa and water features only help to enhance the view. Not only from the house looking at the pool but also the view from inside the spa or pool looking back at the house. This particular project is a perfect example of the micro-environments we plan in every one of our projects.  
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you are planning a brand new yard or working with an older one. It all starts with a well-conceived design that permeates through all the other features that comprise the backyard entertainment areas. Owning a swimming pool in your backyard today is all about the “Lifestyle”. As my good friend, Vance Gillette would tell all of us in the swimming pool industry; we are not in the swimming pool business but rather in the “Backyard Entertainment Business”.
Thomas Church put a lot of thought into his designs that are still just as relevant today as they were 90 years ago. These days, we all need to listen to the old masters as we continue to improve and build upon on what others have done that came before us. If we want to grow our industry then we need to continue to improve upon the past.
My son Nicco, represents the next generation of pool builders who will carry this torch into the future. I asked him to relay some of his thoughts, and close this op-ed piece by discussing what being in the backyard entertainment industry means to him.
A swimming pool is not the entire yard, it’s a luxury component of our client’s private spaces. It, therefore, needs to coalesce with other microenvironments in harmony, rather than compete with them. An important role as a contractor on these projects is to step outside of the pool and envision the flow throughout the yard. We have to ask ourselves how well did we utilize the space given to us and is it balanced? 
The backyard entertainment industry today is only limited by our client’s and designers’ imaginations. It’s incredibly gratifying to bring a project to life and materialize our client’s dreams. 
I’m very fortunate to be working alongside my dad and learning from his immense experience as well as other builders and designers in the industry. My generation still has a lot to learn from the old guys but I’m excited to see where we take this industry in the next 50 years.
One of, if not the, most common complaint we hear from pool builders is that they keep running into borrowers who will not sign the completion certificate because “punch list items” are not satisfactorily complete. This is a common issue for builders who accept unfavorable stage funded loans because often the money the customers are refusing to release far exceed the value of those items. 
The simplest way to fix this is to work with a lending source that primarily gives cash directly to the borrower. This essentially makes them the same as if they were paying you cash. You follow your draws, make changes as necessary, and never have something ridiculous like a 25% final draw waiting on an umbrella stand that’s on backorder. 
First of all, a 25% final draw is unacceptable. With the rising costs and prices in today’s market, that can easily be $25,000. Multiply that by how many you could have out there at any given time and the cash flow can really be held up. You shouldn’t have to choose between offering financing and paying your bills on time.
As the President of Viking Capital, I can tell you that it’s not uncommon for us to speak with builders that have several hundred thousand dollars out waiting to be collected. The 25% final draw is a problem even if they do pay so working with a source that limits that draw to 10% lowers your exposure immediately.
Next, make sure your lending partner has your back. At Viking Capital, we view this as our role as your financing partner. A knowledgeable, well-trained operations director can have a conversation with the customer for you. It’s very important that you know you can lean on your lending partner to help. A call from the lender (vs the builder) can usually solve this quickly. There are two things that generally get customers off the fence in this situation and willing to release the funds.
They think that because they have not been asked to make a payment, the longer they hold out, the more money they save. We can explain to them that this is not the case. From the moment they take the first draw, they begin accruing interest on the amounts they take.
If they’ve taken 75% of the money (let’s say it’s a $100k pool), they are letting the interest on the $75k continue to build up and, eventually, they will see that their loan balance is increasing significantly while they refuse to pay you, which triggers them making loan payments. So…by the borrower understanding that not making payments is expensive, they often decide, correctly, that they should start paying.
Borrowers don’t generally understand that they have no warranty on the project until they release the final draw and sign off on “substantial completion”. A quality lending partner will explain this in detail and generally, combined with knowledge of accruing interest, they understand that it’s in their best interest to close out the loan and deal with the warranty items afterward. We’ve learned in our almost 25 year history, that when this message comes from a third party, and not the builder looking for his money, it tends to be taken differently.  
There is also the fact that a lending partner who knows your track record and trusts you can give the customer added confidence that the punch list items will be completed after they release the funds. A quality review from a partner who has vetted you and had no complaints can really help the situation. It usually boils down to “you chose the builder, you trusted them with your home and a significant project. If you like what they’ve done so far, you can trust them to finish the work after you pay”.  We suggest looking at Google reviews as well. If there are no complaints of unfinished projects, they can trust that they won’t be the first.
In short, a quality lending partner, like Viking Capital, can save you countless headaches, speed up your cash-flow and make sure your clients have a better experience overall.  There is more to a partner than rates. Rates change all the time and it’s impossible (and not productive) to keep chasing the lowest rate source. Choose your lending partner wisely and watch the hassles disappear.
For more information or if you are interested in working with Viking Capital, please contact [email protected].
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