When DIY doesn’t save much

In theory, my pool needs to be drained and refilled. Over time, hard-water particulates and chemicals build up in pool water, especially in Arizona low desert, where hard, salty water is now piped in from the Central Arizona Project.

I’ve resisted this for a year, since I’m always skeptical when someone comes up with an extra way to take my money away from me. However, it’s pretty clear they’re right: a band of white hard-water scale keeps building up on the tiles. Though it will wash off with in a hard spray from the hose, that job is a hassle under the best of circumstances and mighty unpleasant in the winter, when the air is cold.

Cost of the job is generally estimated at $200. An alternative to draining and refilling is to have a company come around with a gigantic filter in a truck and spend the day filtering the entire 18,000 gallons. That also costs $200. One way or the other, I figure I’d better get this done before my monthly income drops to half of its current munificent flow.

So. This morning I call Leslie’s. Their CSR quotes a price of $95.

Izzat so? say I.

Well…yes, but: the $95 is just to have a guy come over here with a pump, drop it in, and turn it on. I could do that myself, and I’ll bet the rental would be a darn sight less than ninety-five bucks. No chemicals, no start-up, no nothin’ else is included. I ask how much the chemicals would be. He doesn’t know: you have to go to your local Leslie’s store to find that one out.

I call Swimming Pool Service and Repair, the outfit that rebuilt my pool after it was vandalized. Alyssa, their longtime despatcher, says it’s $185 to drain, refill, and restart the pool. That includes the chlorine, stabilizer, and acid, and yes, they do the entire job for you.

Back on the phone, this time to the local Leslie’s outlet. How much for the chemicals to restart 18,000 gallons of pool water?

Well. It’s $36 a gallon for the “conditioner” (which I take to mean stabilizer but am not sure), and you need two gallons. Then you need the shock treatment, for which he did not quote an amount but which I know to cost a little over $8, plus the usual 8.3% sales tax. So now we’re up to $86.64, and we haven’t paid for acid, which I happen to have on hand and which he doesn’t think will be needed anyway but which we know will be needed because CAP water tends to the basic. So for a mostly DIY project, I’d pay at least $182, compared to $185 to have someone who knows what he’s doing come and do the whole job for you.

Factor into the equation that if you dork with the chemicals yourself and mess it up, it’s your problem; if a pool company applies the chemicals and something goes awry, they’ll come and fix it.

Interesting play on consumer psychology. Leslie’s strategy of having you buy and pour in the chemicals leads you to assume that you’ll save money by doing part of the job—probably the most difficult part, we might add, given that these caustic compounds need to be applied carefully and in the right order. Consider the advantages to Leslie’s:

Leslie’s collects $95 for about a half-hour of an employee’s time and the wear & tear on one submersible pump.

Leslie’s sells you the chemicals at the retail price instead of including them, at wholesale, as part of the job.

Because the consumer does most of the work, Leslie’s doesn’t have to pay an employee to do the entire job and do it right.

Leslie’s escapes any liability for incorrect application of chemicals—the company doesn’t have to stand behind the quality of work done when it does no work.

The consumer, after paying the full retail price for the chemicals, assumes all responsibility and liability for their use.

By the time taxes are paid on the Swimming Pool Service and Repair bid, their fee comes to about $195. In the best-case scenario (which experience suggests is never the likeliest scenario), Leslie’s underbids Swimming Pool Service and Repair by about $13, but I end up doing all the work, and I get no warranty or service support whatsoever.

Makes that extra thirteen bucks sound like a bargain, doesn’t it?

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Brenda December 28, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Don’t forget to include the cost of the water. Will it change your base rate? We move up to a higher monthly cost when our usage exceeds the annual minimums. Check with your water district to see if they have any specials for refilling the pool.

funny December 28, 2009 at 2:24 pm

If I move fast, the base rate won’t change. Base rate is based on February, March, and April, I believe. They try to zing you just as you’re starting to pour water on your nascent summer lawn and your spring flowers and veggies.

Good thought on specials for refilling. It’s the water service, though, that wants you to hire someone to come ’round and filter the pool water.

Orinda December 29, 2009 at 12:26 pm

when i refilled my pool the city gave me a sort of rate rebate for that one incident. turns out you also can get them to “forgive” the rate if you have a leak and can prove you had it fixed.

LeanLifeCoach January 5, 2010 at 8:20 pm

I’ve got to imagine there is a way to self-medicate and prevent this trasnfusion?

It has been too many years, but when I was a kid we had a pull. We emptied it once and never again. A little chlorine here and dash of shock there and we were good.

funny January 5, 2010 at 8:33 pm

@LeanLifeCoach: The water’s been in there almost six years. Phoenix is served by the Central Arizona Project, which pipes Colorado River water into the low desert. Because of irrigation upstream, the river water is highly saline, and it carries a lot of mineral salts. Pool water evaporates at a fast clip, especially in the summer — mine loses as much as three inches a day. Over time, evaporation causes the minerals to concentrate, throwing the water out of balance and also causing calcium deposits on the walls and tiles. This damages the plaster, eats the brightwork, and leaves a white crust all over the tile. To alleviate that problem, you can either hire someone to bring a gigantic filter in a semi-truck trailer and run the water through it for about 24 hours, or you can drain and refill the pool with fresh water…well, as fresh as our water gets around here.

Leslie’s has been nagging me to drain the pool for over a year, but I’ve put it off. But when I lifted Harvey the Hayward Pool Cleaner out of the water, set him down on the pavement, left him there, and came back to find him sitting inside a ring of dried calcium salts, I realized it really is time. {sigh}

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