May 2001: Volume 43, Number 5
Swimming Pool and Spa Websites -- Safety First Where the Water is Deep
by Ronald Y. Perez, WC&P Senior Editor
At the risk of appearing to rub the noses of many inhabitants of the northern and eastern parts of the country, it's the time of the year where sweaters, long-sleeve shirts and jackets start to drift toward closet corners. In fact, where I reside -- the desert Southwest -- it's not unusual to be met by at least one 100°F afternoon before Memorial Day. This focuses some attention on pools and spas.
Still, for people looking to have a pool or spa built in their backyard, a lot of technical details can't be overlooked? Many people get pools built in May to have them ready for a cool dip by July or August. Where do you turn? What questions do you ask? How do you protect yourself against chicanery of cracks or an incompleted project? After the pool is built, what kind of products do you need? Which ones are necessary and what's just a waste of money?
Well, the big "Dubya" in this column -- the World Wide Web -- offers a plethora of resources for all levels of Internet surfers, floaters to water chemists. And whether your cash that otherwise might have been spent on backyard watersports vanished in the stock market "correction" of the past year or was safely tucked away in money market or bond funds, you should be able to find a site below that fits the bill(fold).
One way sure way of losing a good part of your audience is to use a domain name like this. The only way I found this site was using a couple of different search functions. It's unfortunate considering the site is fairly comprehensive. A collaborative effort between the United Kingdom and United States, this site touts itself as the "swimming pool owners' guide to water chemistry." It's primarily designed for those who already have a swimming pool and want to keep their blue oasis in stellar condition.
In essence, the site is divided into three sections. The first part discusses care of your pool. Second, a technical section explains various terms and testing your pool water. The last section is for those still contemplating the idea of purchasing a swimming pool.
Behind the site
In the introduction page, we find that the author (mysteriously nameless but a Cambridge University graduate) has worked in the chemical industry for 30 years -- 20 of those providing technical back-up for products used in privately owned swimming pools. The best feature of them all may be the site is free of commercialization. Those are becoming more rare all the time.
Tips on basic pool care are given. Three main ones are maintain free chlorine levels, superchlorinate with shock chlorine and closely monitor the pH. No, these aren't ground-breaking news flashes, but the site strives to keep things simple. A maintenance program for pool chemicals and hardware also are provided. Near the bottom of the page is a glossary of about 30 terms in alphabetical order.
In the home page's technical section, a "layman's guide" to various technical terms are repeated from the aforementioned glossary. A lengthy explanation of pH is given as well. Next, the site invites visitors to test their water balance. I know what you're thinking, punch in a few numbers and wait 48 hours for a response from a so-called expert. Try again. It only asks for you to enter a few variables such as pH and total alkalinity among others. The site does all the rest. It gives you an immediate calculation along with its "verdict," presumably steps to take for a more efficient balance. As discussed before, the site doesn't mention products by manufacturer name. Instead, it recommends five products in general: algicides, chlorines, clarifiers, shock treatment and superchlorination and winterisers. If confused, you're instructed to use the glossary.
Last, the site gives three reasons for buying a swimming pool. According to the site, the No. 1 reason is to keep fit. Perfectly understandable. No. 2 says the pool serves as a "social cachet." Often true, but they couldn't think of one other good reason to put before status? Anyway, the third reason is for entertaining children. A little hokey, but the whole idea is to promote swimming pools. The site gives a cost breakdown of various pools from "above ground splasher pools" to in-ground concrete pools. Estimated prices are given in pounds. Have no fear, it translates into anywhere between US$435-to-43,500. Who said "social cachet" was cheap.
The site hits on many interesting areas, but fails to deliver a big splash on any of them aside from water analysis. Overall, the site comes off as more technical than anything else. It's not the kind of site that makes you want to go out and get a pool tomorrow. Then again, I've heard it's cloudy a lot in England.
Now, here's a name that's right on the mark. Plus, if you should already have a pool or spa and are interested in buying the right product for your specific needs, you've reached a viable site. Hence, this site is about as commercial as you can get and that can work to your advantage. You want as many options available to you while shopping for just the right piece of equipment, for example. If you happen to be a business owner looking to gain exposure, the site allows you to submit or view classified ads. This commercial component is the over-riding feature of the site, but other features are worth mentioning.
The first thing that struck me was the inviting "how to select a pool" button at the top of the home page. According to the site, factors to consider before buying are price, maintenance requirements, installation and service. Pretty basic stuff, again, but you've got to start somewhere. A product directory lists things from toys/floats to gazebos and, of course, will direct you to the proper business in each category. An online water analysis is also offered. Six trade associations are provided with direct links to their home pages (see FYI).
Let's assume you need answers a little closer to home. The site has a function that allows visitors to find a professional in their given area, narrowed down by type of business (service/repair, builder, retail store and spa dealer), zip code and state. After plugging in a rather general search, I was given no results. Hmmm, this may be something the designers of the site may want to put on their priority list.
As expected, visitors are invited to pose pool questions to a panel of experts. A snazzy little function allows you to calculate the volume of your pool. Pool owners will tell you maintaining a pool can become an expensive excursion. What other options are there? How about DIY (do it yourself)? Nine service tips for various categories are presented. Professionals from around the country share their experiences with visitors. The advice is clear and informative.
A glossary is available for those who seek a definition for that particular term or phrase. Compared to the glossary at ftech.net, this one rates very well with short definitions for hundreds of entries.
Overall, the site makes it easy to maneuver to where you can view all information from the home page. In other words, nothing is hidden behind some obscure button. A couple of the interactive features need work, but the amount of information at your fingertips outweighs the negatives.
Whether you work to have a pool or spa built on your premises or building pools is how you make your living, I hope we've hit on a couple of sites here that answer some of your pressing concerns. Pools and spas are expensive investments and should be treated as such. You're obligated to make your purchase worthwhile and preserve the optimum performance of something that should give you years of enjoyment.
The benefits of a spa and pool run the gamut for different people. Some want something for social situations while others see it as a luxury item that symbolizes the axiom, "You've made it," to a degree. You can add to the list things like exercise, source of relaxation, adding value to your property, etc. The point is making the right choice for your needs and making it a decision that doesn't result in dry returns.
Synopsis -- Treading Water
On the surface: Both sites have home pages that can be navigated with relative ease. The edge here goes to poolspa.com, which features plenty of direct links and packs a punch in a small amount of space.
Shallow water: You can always pick on something about any website. In these cases, the shortcoming for ftech.net is a rudimentary glossary and a lack of depth in some informative areas. Poolspa.com, on the other hand, has interactive difficulty that needs attention.
The deep end: As a consumer, ftech.net is a useful tool that stays impartial and lays a good foundation before one heads out in search of a pool or spa. If you own a pool or spa business or need a certain product, poolspa.com generally assumes you know the basics and gives more hands-on knowledge.
FYI -- Pool and spa sources online
IPSSA -- Independent Pool and Spa Service Association (www.ipssa.com)
NAGC -- The National Association of Gas Chlorinators (www.gaschlorine.org)
NSPI -- National Spa & Pool Institute (www.nspi.org)
NSPF -- National Spa & Pool Foundation (www.nspf.com)
PPOA -- Professional Pool Operators of America (www.ppoa.org)
SPASA -- Swimming Pool & Spa Association of Victoria (www.spasavic.com.au)
Aqua Magazine (www.aquamagazine.com)
Pool and Spa Living Magazine (www.poolspaliving.com)
SPA Magazine (www.spamagazine.com)
SPLASH! Magazine (www.splashmagazine.gil.com.au)