By Trevor Fraser
The Farmer’s Almanac for 2022 forecasts Florida’s summer will be “hot, humid and thundery,” hardly the stuff of crystal balls. But if any Sunshine State residents are looking to install a pool this year for relief, signs point to no.
“If they’re going to buy a pool today, they’re not going to swim until next year,” said Ben Evans, president of American Pools & Spas in Orlando.
Supply chain delays, material and labor shortages and a backlog of orders are pushing the average construction times for pools by months, leading industry experts to want to temper expectations.
The issues date back to the early days of the pandemic, when homebound workers spent surplus stimulus income on improving their living spaces.
“People stuck at home wanted to swim,” said Dallas Thiesen, senior director for government affairs for the Florida Swimming Pool Association. “That’s the theory.”
As a result, Florida saw a 23% increase in requests for pool permits in 2020, according to the association. “That’s unheard of,” Thiesen said.
Nationwide, pool building increased by more than 20%, with Florida adding an additional 103,000 pools by October of that year, according to a study by insurance risk experts Cape Analytics.
Evans says the effect of the pandemic boom was like a whipsaw on the industry.
“At first, I thought I was going to have to be downsizing,” he said. “Then it just exploded.”
In an average year, Evans said his company might put in around 500 pools. For the past two years, he estimates he’s built more than 700 per year.
Organizing the supplies to meet such heavy demand in even the best of times would be a logistical challenge, Thiesen said. Then came the covid delays.
“It’s just one thing after another,” Thiesen said. “Today you can’t get this, tomorrow you can’t get that.”
Evans says parts such as pumps and heaters have been coming on time. What’s missing have often been single components, “like one piece of one cord,” sometimes manufactured by only one or two companies, meaning factory slowdowns would cause heavy ripples through the industry.
Pool builders also are one of the companies fighting for microchips, needed for automated heaters and cleaners.
On top of material shortages, construction crews have struggled to find enough workers to fulfill a usual amount of orders, Thiesen said, not to mention the explosive demand seen today.
“Our industry is facing the same kind of labor shortage everyone else is,” Thiesen said. “Getting [materials and labor] to line up, that’s all been contributing to longer lead times and longer build times.”
On the bright side, a number of counties, including Orange, updated their permitting processes during the pandemic, which cuts down on at least one traditional source of lag.
“They can do everything online, which really does streamline the process,” Thiesen said.
Evans says he’s been trying to warn clients about waits.
“There’s a lot of expectations we set forward at the beginning of the process,” he said.
Thiesen recommends potential customers check out the FSPA’s Pool Buyer’s Guide, which features a breakdown of the phases of construction, to get an idea of what their in for.
Altogether, the perfect storm has turned what was a five- or six-month process into something that can take a year or more. Thiesen says people should expect roughly three to four months to get started and four to six months for the build.
“There’s just not enough hours, time or people in the day,” Thiesen said.
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