Coffee heat rising

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?