Extra coverage: more about pool covers

By Alice Richard
Monday, 04 April, 2016

Extra coverage: more about pool covers

Following on from our Industry Roundtable on pool covers and enclosures, we talked to some more pool cover experts to hear their opinions on the state of the industry. Simon Boadle, director of Sunbather, and Sancell’s Kathleen Wrigglesworth share their thoughts on pool covers.

‘Education’ is a commonly used word in the pool industry, and there’s no doubt that without educated professionals, the industry won’t advance. This is certainly true when it comes to pool covers — but the industry, in turn, needs to educate the general public on the benefits of using a pool cover.

The good news is that once a consumer experiences these benefits first-hand, they’re likely to be a pool cover user for life. Some more good news: many consumers are already educating themselves on the varying levels of quality in pool covers.

Interestingly, both Sancell and Sunbather find that the customers usually seek them out, rather than having pool builders recommend them. By the time a consumer makes contact with them, they usually know exactly what they want and why they need a pool cover. In fact, Sancell has decided to sell through its website — as well as through pool shops — in response to consumer demand.

“We do sell direct to public — more out of necessity than anything else. Potentially, price-wise, consumers would be better off to go through the pool shops, because we do charge a premium on our retail price, but people do like to buy direct from the manufacturer and we have to respect that,” said Wrigglesworth.

Boadle suspects that some pool builders underplay the value of a cover during their pitch to potential customers. “They are afraid that too many extras in their contract may lead the customer into signing up with someone else. When the inclusion of a cover is mandatory, such as under NSW BASIX, then the temptation is to go with the cheapest option. That often means that the supplied cover is of lower quality as well as being hard to use. And if you end up with a cover that is hard to use, then guess what? It is hardly used,” he said.

“There’s obviously a lot of cheap versions on the market, but people that are sitting there and doing the research and want the quality product, they’re the ones coming to us, we find,” added Wrigglesworth.

Flouting the rules

Given that the use of pool covers is mandatory in certain situations such as new pool builds and with heated pools, you’d think that they’d be more widely used. However, adherence to these regulations is often lax at best.

“You’ve got the building codes that [say] that if you have a fossil fuel heater on a swimming pool, you must have a pool cover,” said Boadle.

“However, not many people know that that piece of legislation exists. And it’s certainly not enforced.”

Since pool covers unequivocally reduce heat loss in heated pools and minimise evaporation, surely it’s a no-brainer to use them. But again, pool cover uptake comes down to cost and ease of use. While it’s tempting to put your head in the sand and pretend that pool covers are optional, eventually everyone in the industry will need to toe the line. And why wouldn’t you when the benefits to your client are so obvious?

“The industry needs to say, ‘Right, pool covers are here to stay; now I’m going to have to incorporate them.’ It’s a bit like safety fences, perimeter fences. I was in the business when no fences were required in a lot of states. And then everyone in the pool industry thought the industry’s going to collapse; the sky’s going to fall because the cost of the pool’s going up too high. Yes, the cost of a pool has gone up incredibly over the last few decades, but there is a certain percentage of the public that battle their way through the legislation and put the pool in because that’s what they want,” said Boadle.

“Once everyone is facing the same hurdles, the same costs, you’ve got a level playing field and away you go again.”

Because you’re worth it

As with most things in life, there’s no doubt that with a pool cover, you get what you pay for. And while for pool builders and consumers alike, it’s very tempting to skimp on a pool cover in favour of spending more on another part of the pool, you’ll almost invariably find that opting for a reputable brand — even though it might cost more — will pay for itself in a short time.

Sancell sees plenty of customers who’ve learnt this the hard way. “You hear people say, ‘Oh, I got a Bunnings cover last time and it started flaking off in six months.’ We hear that often and then they’re swayed to come to us,” said Wrigglesworth.

“When we speak to them and tell them we’ve got a three-year warranty and then a pro rata warranty after that, it often works out cheaper for them to make that little bit more of an investment to begin with, than just to buy your Bunnings cover which is imported from China, or something cheap from eBay.

“We always tell customers, ‘Look, it may be a little more expensive now, but it is going to last. And we guarantee that it will last three times, five times, ten times — depending on what micron you buy — longer than a cheaper alternative.’ And that’s another environmental angle, I suppose. The less often you have to dispose of a cover, the less often you’re impacting the environment.”

Control pattern

Even in the solar pool cover market, customers are increasingly seeking automated options.

Sancell has experienced a definite increase in requests for automated and hidden systems, Wrigglesworth said. Rather than a manual cover that’s unwieldy and gets in the way, customers increasingly want a pool cover that’s out of sight and easy to use.

Boadle said this is particularly true for the higher end of the market and it is now becoming a trend in the commercial sector.

“We’ve been supplying commercial pool covers for 20 years. In the early days, it was energy savings that drove it, and a lot of outdoor swimming pools put these on. Nothing was motorised so it became quite an onerous thing for the pool supervisors to manually haul covers and rollers at the end of the evening. As a result, they were either not used, or some of them were just pushed into a corner.”

Naturally, hefting these heavy commercial covers led to some OH&S issues and, in one case, led to a council discarding a cover that was saving about $15,000 a year in gas heating costs after an employee’s elbow was crushed by a roller.

“That has actually encouraged us to pour a lot of time, money and research into automation of larger pool covers and over the years we’ve developed motors and control boxes, automatic boxes, etc, that enable most people to just push a button and watch the cover go in and out. Now, that obviously comes at a price. Our clientele are quite happy to pay for that because they understand the benefits of pool covers.”

The future for commercial pools

“I think it’s fair to say that commercial operators as well as domestic pool owners do not want the cover in the way when the pool is open. It’s an eyesore. So the next stage of development — in both the domestic arena and the commercial arena — is to have the cover retract and hide away below the ground when it’s been retracted,” said Boadle.

“We’ve got a product called a Downunder, which I think everyone’s pretty well aware of now, which will roll a bubble cover or thermal blanket under the ground quite easily. And now we’re doing exactly the same for commercial operators, so we’ll be automatically winding 25 x 6 m wide pool blankets onto a roller under the ground and they will completely disappear and the public will just walk all over it.

“I think that is definitely the trend, and if we can achieve that, it means that covers should be more acceptable to more people in the community.”

Why wouldn’t you use a pool cover?

“There is no doubt that once people use a cover, they suddenly realise how valuable they are. If you’re trying to heat a pool or stop water evaporation, it all happens on the surface of the water. 90% of the heat goes straight out of the top of the swimming pool. It’s not the filter; it’s not the pumps; it’s not this; it’s not that. It’s just exposed water and if you put a cover over that, you basically stop it dead,” said Boadle.

“We often see, particularly in really hot parts of the country, that people are really desperate for a pool cover because they can pretty much see the water evaporating. So I think it still is a really relevant reason to have a cover. Water costs money and it’s not cheap. It’s definitely a big factor,” said Wrigglesworth.

While most consumers won’t fully appreciate the benefits of a pool cover until they’ve experienced them for themselves, a recommendation from a trusted professional is the next best thing. The key to increasing pool cover use is to educate your clients on the benefits of pool covers: reduced energy use for heating; less debris in the pool; and massive reductions in evaporation. Once your client has experienced these benefits (and the associated cost savings), you’ll have a happy customer with an increased respect for your expertise.

Image credit: ©Irene Scales/Dollar Photo Club

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