Why Hiring a North Carolina Licensed General Contractor Makes Sense

Brian Taylor – General Manager – Atlantic Solutions Inc. February 11, 2014

Construction

I cannot begin to tell you how many times, in the course of my swimming pool career, I have witnessed the result of a customer’s poor hiring decision when choosing someone to construct, renovate, or repair their swimming pool.

            To be fair, those of us who are contractors typically end up benefitting from the customer’s decision to hire an unqualified provider but I want to take a moment to discuss why buyers make this decision, what the typical pitfalls are in doing so, and how hiring a licensed professional can help prevent a less than satisfactory experience or, even worse, a hiring nightmare.

First, let’s cover some basics that many decision makers may not know. For the sake of our discussion we are speaking from the law as it applies in the State of North Carolina. The North Carolina law is written as follows (follow link for full law with subsections):

An Act

 

This law was put in place to protect the citizens of North Carolina from having work bid or performed, with a value of $30,000 or more, by individuals who are not licensed by or recognized as licensed by the State of North Carolina.

            What the law really does is put in place a set of qualifications for license holders to meet in order to bid and complete jobs valued at or above $30,000.   Some of these requirements include:

  • That the license holder can prove that they have not had a license revoked in North Carolina or in any other state.
  • That the license holder has never been convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude relating to building or contracting, or involving embezzlement or misappropriation of funds or property.
  • That the licensee has passed an exam showing proficiency specific to the work that they will be bidding and/or contracting.
  • The licensee must prove financial stability, annually, at levels determined by their licensing classification.

            So now that we know what it takes to be a North Carolina Licensed General Contractor let’s look at a few common questions that we typically get from our customers:

  1. “We have a pool company or pool man that is a Certified Pool Operator (CPO) and they really know their stuff. They should be able to do our work right?
  2.   Not necessarily. Many pool service companies and individuals have a fair amount    of training, expertise, and certifications but that does not mean they are LICENSED to  complete pool repair, renovation, or installation.

            Certified Pool Operator certification    is a demand of the governing Health   Department   and certifies the holder has demonstrated knowledge of pool   chemistry  and facility operation.

            A contracting license shows that an individual has demonstrated knowledge of   swimming pool construction, repair, and renovation as determined by the State of  North Carolina.

  1. “Anyone can bid the jobs I am looking to get done right?”
  2.   If the anticipated value of the job is $30,000 or more, only a licensed general contractor should be bidding on the job. This is the stage at which most unlicensed  bidders get in over their heads as they do not have sufficient expertise to estimate a   job while assuring they will have enough money in the job to allow them to complete it properly and to proper code.
  1. “Well the job is going to be split up into phases. You know like painting the pool, renovating the pump room, and installing a dual drain system.

            A.  If the total scope of the work to be done is $30,000 or more, only a licensed general contractor should be bidding on the job. You cannot split out phases of a job in order  to bypass this requirement. If someone encourages you to split your renovation into  separate contracts, they are more than likely trying to skirt the law – illegally.

  1. “Do I even need to hire a licensed general contractor?”
  2.  If your project is anticipated to be $30,000 or more you need to hire a licensed general contractor.

            When you are spending that kind of money, you want to know that the person doing your work is qualified in their field, falls under the domain of a licensing board, and  that they have the monetary assets that show that they are not some “here today  gone tomorrow” company.

  1. “I know a guy who can save me a ton of money, who cares if he is licensed?”

            A. There is no barrier to entry, in the State of North Carolina, to enter the swimming pool  trade. If you secure a business license and have enough money, you can walk into a  variety of wholesale companies and buy everything you need to build or repair an  in-ground swimming pool.   That doesn’t mean that you should be able to or will be able to build an in-ground swimming pool but you can at least get the supplies to try.

            This same statement is true of swimming pool repair and renovation. The only thing protecting you from hiring some random person to work on your major asset is you. The question is, why would you even consider hiring someone that isn’t licensed?

            Check out your local news stations troubleshooter section or investigative reports  specials. Watch the stories about people getting taken or in instances where they  have had repair and renovation jobs that have gone wrong. More than likely, at the  end of the story, you will hear the reporter say something to the effect of “the company doing the work is not licensed.” It just isn’t worth the risk.

            When you hire a licensed general contractor you have someone doing the work that   has had to prove that they have demonstrable knowledge of their field of license, has  audited proof of financial stability, and most likely carries full insurance coverage.  Most importantly they are governed by a licensing board.

  1. “How can I know if someone really is licensed to bid and complete my work?

            A. That is easy. Just ask the contractor for their license number. You can go to   www.nclbgc.org where you can type in the license number, the qualifiers name, the  company name, etc. to find out if they are licensed AND current with the State of  North Carolina. Here is an example of what you will see:

Taylor

  1. “What else should I do to make sure that I am hiring the right contractor for the job?”

            A. You should ask the contractor plenty of questions.

            The first question I would ask is whether or not the contractor is fully insured and if  they fully insure their workforce – including any subcontractors they may use. If they  are not or do not run, don’t walk, away. The last thing you need is someone getting hurt on your property who does not have insurance coverage.

            Ask your contractor for references, check their better business score, and talk to some  of their current clients. Notice I didn’t say “or” I said “and”. References are pre- selected to give you a good reflection of the company, the BBB can be quirky, and  current project customers can probably tell you the important things such as if the  contractor started on time, leaves a clean worksite, is easy to communicate with, and  if they are on budget and on schedule.

            Make sure you understand your bid proposal and ask questions until you do.  Any  contractor that takes pride in their trade will not have any problem meeting with you  to discuss your quote and explain what will happen when you approve the proposal.

            If your contractor asks your for a significant or full payment up front, that is your  signal that you should seek out another provider. A modest down payment or   payments scheduled at job completion phases is not out of the norm but full payment   is a red flag.

  1. “I am ready to sign my contract and get started, now what?”

            A. Depending on the scope of work and size of job, it may be prudent to go over the work  plan with your contractor. You will want to know how your project is going to proceed, what stages you can expect, any demands that the project will place on you, and generally you want to know what is going to happen first, second, third and what   the anticipated completion date is going to be. You don’t want a surprise at 8:00 AM   when your contractor fires up a concrete saw and starts a cascade of tenant calls for instance. You wouldn’t believe how many times we have pool users show up to swim only to find the pool empty for plastering – they typically are not happy. Make sure  you know so you can communicate the pool being closed ahead of time.

            We hope we have communicated the benefits of hiring a licensed general contractor for your next project. Hiring a licensed contractor and doing your homework by checking the contractor out thoroughly should help you ensure a quality outcome, prevent costly mistakes, protect you from unforeseen pitfalls and liabilities, and deliver you peace of mind knowing that your project is in competent and experienced hands.

 

 

 

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This is a before and after picture of a commercial pump room that needed some

This is a before and after picture of a commercial pump room that needed some renovation to correct years of poor patch work – which was flooding the pump room – and to also make the system more user friendly.

This is a sub level pump room meaning that all of these lines are below the level of the pool water. This necessitated blocking each line for the repair duration.

Things that are noted in the picture:

  • The use of multiple types of valves makes it difficult to source repair parts, if needed, for the facility. Metal valves should not be used in a corrosive environment and are subject to premature failure due to the use of chlorine in the water and can also contribute as a source of staining of the pool due to erosion of the metals in the valve.
  • The layout of this plumbing makes using these valves difficult for the user.
  • There is an injection point located within the handle radius of one of the valves. This would typically result in breaking the injection point during valve operation. Also, if the injection point or tubing connected to it were to fail, the result would be the draining of the pool.

PW

The issues with the plumbing were fixed by:

  • Removing the injection point from the plumbing
  • Removing and replacing of line valves with new, universal, butterfly valves
  • Elimination of crossover plumbing
  • Staggered installation of the valve locations to allow for easier operation

PW 2

“I think we might need some help in our pump room.”

That is the quote from a facility owner who asked us to come down and visit his facility that was being fully renovated.   Boy was he right.   He had a real mess on his hands and, as unbelievable as the picture seems, it is not uncommon to find pump rooms just like this in facilities throughout this area.

I have attached a picture that we actually use when talking to facility managers that find themselves thinking the same thing and wondering where to start or who to call to fix this problem. We can help you.

The picture:

 

Pump Room Work

The picture in the upper left shows what we found, the lower left shows where we started, and the picture on the right shows where we left the owners after renovation of their pump room.

Unfortunately, most pool designers don’t think about working on pool equipment and most builders don’t deviate too much from what the designers planned out. What you end up with is a placement of equipment that is not arranged or installed with future maintenance needs or even daily operation needs in mind.

A repair technician or pool operator needs to be able to operate their pool equipment without tripping all over piping or having to figure out a “spaghetti bowl” of unlabeled and poorly laid out plumbing. The system valving, piping, and equipment placement should have a logical layout and should be clearly labeled so that any operator with a base level of competence could walk in and operate the pool system.

In terms of maintenance and repair is does no good to cause yourself further expense and aggravation to have to cut away components of a system just to access the components needing maintenance and/or reparir.

Finally, if you see multiple cuts in plumbing, excessive replacement fittings, messy priming or glue joints, or (believe it or not) used equipment or fittings, do yourself a favor and call in a professional.

Let’s face it, from the pictures above, which pump room would you want to work in?

Pump Seal Installation

You typical swimming pool pump acts as the “heart” of your swimming pool circulation system and is the piece of equipment that provides the flow of water to and from your pool.

One of the key components of your pool pump is the pump seal. This is the part that separates the water flowing through your pump from the motor that powers it. A failure of this part usually results in a breakdown of the pump itself either in very short order or through damage to the motor itself over time.

Here is how the pump seal works:

Pump Seal

The two portions of the seal, as seen above fit together, on the shaft of the pool pump motor (as seen below) and must be placed in a specific way to operate correctly.   A typical pool pump spins at approximately       3450 rpm and thus creates a significant amount of friction/heat. The ceramic and the graphite portions of the seal are placed facing each other and help to create a complete pump seal.

Pump Seal 2

So, what happens when the pump seal is placed “backwards” or incorrectly – meaning the graphite and ceramic portions are not facing each other? The motor will spin normally and will still create a great deal of heat/friction but, ultimately, the seal itself will fail due to the melting of one or both of the seal parts (see picture below). This meltdown or seal failure results in water entering the motor itself and causes damage to the bearings or other parts of the motor which ultimately will cause the motor to sieze. Alternately, the seal could melt to the point that it damages the impeller, diffuser, seal plate, and/or other components of the pump body which could also cause the pump to sieze.

Pump Seal 3

 

NC hotel executive charged after Rock Hill boy, 2 others died

Young Boy

If You Manage The Operation of A Facility That Has a Pool, You Probably Want to Read This.

There is a strong likelihood that further charges and/or lawsuits are going to be brought forward against other individuals involved in the installation, maintenance, and servicing of this pool heater.

By Elizabeth Leland, Gavin Off and Rick Rothacker

Posted by The Charlotte Observer – January 8, 2014

11-year-old Jeffrey Lee Williams died of carbon monoxide poisoning after staying at a Best Western Hotel in Boone, North Carolina. (Charlotte Observer/MCT)

A business executive who managed the Best Western was indicted Wednesday on charges of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths last year of three hotel guests poisoned by carbon monoxide.

A grand jury returned the three counts against Damon Mallatere, president of Appalachian Hospitality Management. The jury also indicted Mallatere on one additional count of assault inflicting serious bodily injury on another hotel guest who was poisoned but survived.

Damon Mallatere formed Appalachian Hospitality Management in 2007 and managed hotels once owned by his late partner, Boone hotelier Ashok Patel. At the time of the deaths, Mallatere ran the Best Western on U.S. 421 and four other hotels in Boone. On Jan. 1, Hotel Equities, an Atlanta-based company, took over

Though Mallatere is the only person charged, an Observer investigation last year uncovered multiple missteps that contributed to the tragedies in the hotel’s Room 225.

Investigators have determined that carbon monoxide from the swimming pool water heater seeped up from a corroded exhaust pipe into the room, killing Daryl and Shirley Jenkins of Washington state in April and 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams of Rock Hill in June. Jeffrey’s mother, Jeannie, suffered serious injuries.

Mallatere’s attorney said in a statement that the 50-year-old businessman is “extremely disappointed” that authorities chose to press charges against him, instead of a firm he considers more culpable – the gas company that converted the pool heater from propane to natural gas.

“It appears the conversion was not properly performed, and this led directly to extremely high levels of carbon monoxide being produced by the pool heater,” attorney Paul Culpepper of Hickory said.

Culpepper said Appalachian Hospitality discovered other appliances at other hotels were also improperly installed, and he suspects there may be problems at other businesses in Boone.

“The police department knows about this,” he said, “and nobody’s made any warning to the public.”

Contacted later, police Capt. Andy Le Beau said he has relayed the information to town inspectors, and he believes they are checking for potential problems.

In a statement, the Williams family said it hopes the criminal case “will serve as a staunch reminder for future generations of decision-makers in similar cases that the public’s safety is of paramount concern.” The family said it wants to make certain no other family goes through “this same needless and absolutely avoidable tragedy.”

The family blamed Jeffrey’s death and Jeannie’s injuries on the way the pool heating system was designed, installed, inspected and repaired. They also cited delays and failures in the initial investigation into Daryl and Shirley Jenkins’ deaths.

An attorney for the Jenkinses said the family was pleased with the grand jury’s action, but would have no further comment.

Experts say problems with the pool heating system may date back to 2000 when the hotel was designed and built with the exhaust pipe running horizontally across the pool room.

Then, in a move that an expert said was risky, maintenance workers in 2011 replaced the existing heater with a used pool heater from another hotel operated by Appalachian Hospitality. The employees were not licensed to do the work, and did not get a permit or an inspection, in violation of the North Carolina building code.

Next, in February 2012, Appalachian Hospitality hired Independence Oil and Gas to convert that old pool heater from propane to natural gas. The contract required Independence to take out permits, test systems and install new equipment if the appliances could not be converted, according to a contract provided by the management company.

Another report provided by Appalachian Hospitality shows the gas conversion of the swimming pool heater passed the town’s inspection.

But some expert investigators have determined that the system was improperly converted, and it was releasing exorbitantly high levels of carbon monoxide.

Police investigators discovered that the exhaust pipe was riddled with holes due to corrosion and that some of the fittings were jerry-rigged. The pipe ran directly beneath Room 225.

It would take two deadly events in the room and multiple missteps by authorities before the problems became publicly known.

The first deaths came on April 16. Daryl and Shirley Jenkins were visiting Boone from Longview, Wash., and died on their second night at the Best Western. Though there was no evidence of foul play, some authorities assumed they suffered heart attacks. Daryl was 73; Shirley, 72.

Their family members immediately suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. But firefighters at the scene said they did not test for carbon monoxide and did not find any obvious hazards in the room.

Dr. Brent Hall, the medical examiner, noted signs of heart disease during his autopsies of the Jenkinses, but not of carbon monoxide poisoning. Hall did ask the state to test the Jenkinses’ blood for carbon monoxide, among other toxins, but he did not ask that the tests be expedited.

Weeks passed without further investigation. The Jenkins family grew increasingly frustrated.

It was not until June 1 that the state lab finally tested Shirley’s blood and found lethal levels of carbon monoxide. The lab said it emailed the results to Hall on June 3.

Four days later, before the results were made public, Jeannie and Jeffrey Williams checked into Room 225, which had recently been reopened to guests. Jeffrey died that night and Jeannie suffered debilitating injuries.

Officials with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the medical examiner system, have said they do not believe any state employee erred in investigating the deaths. They said Hall is an appointee of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, not a state employee.

On Wednesday, DHHS Communications Director Ricky Diaz issued a statement saying the department is working to enhance the medical examiner system.

“Whenever there is tragedy, there are lessons learned,” Diaz said.

Hall has been faulted for not alerting the public to a potential health hazard. In June, he resigned his post as medical examiner for Watauga and surrounding counties, and has not spoken publicly about what happened.

The Boone Fire Department also was criticized for not testing Room 225 for carbon monoxide after Daryl and Shirley Jenkins died, as was the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Raleigh for not completing toxicology tests sooner.

When public officials do not do their jobs properly, the negligence generally does not rise to the level of criminal conduct. So it didn’t surprise legal experts that no authorities were charged. To convict anyone of involuntary manslaughter, a jury would have to find that the person acted recklessly and with disregard for the consequences, which can be difficult to prove.

They said the Williams and Jenkins families are more likely to prevail in civil lawsuits where the standard for negligence is lower. The families have up to two years to file wrongful death lawsuits. Possible targets include the hotel, Appalachian Hospitality Management, the Best Western chain, Boone authorities, as well as any person or company that worked on the swimming pool heating system. The Williams family also wants to hold the medical examiner system accountable.

The state has already taken some regulatory action.

The State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating & Fire Sprinkler Contractors is seeking injunctions against three employees of Appalachian Hospitality who performed unregulated maintenance, specifically by installing the “swimming pool heater with associated exhaust piping connections.”

The board also will consider disciplinary action against Dale Thomas Winkler, a licensed contractor who worked on the system. At a private conference last month, no resolution was reached in the case so it will now go before the full board in a public hearing. A date for the hearing has not been set.

Defining ‘reckless’

Though legal experts said it’s uncommon for a business owner such as Mallatere to face criminal charges, there are two well-publicized precedents in which business owners were charged: A fire at the Cocoanut Grove Night Club in Boston in 1942, where 492 people died. And a fire in 2003 at The Station night club in West Warwick, R.I., where 100 people died and hundreds more were injured.

“It doesn’t require evil intent,” said John Barylick, a lawyer in the Rhode Island case. “It just requires that you were stunningly careless.”

Charlotte attorney Jim Cooney said generally such cases are resolved through civil court, not criminal.

“Typically speaking, for lack of a better way of putting it, stuff happens,” Cooney said. “It’s got to be more than you just screwed up. It’s got to be you screwed up and you knew you screwed up and you didn’t care. That’s what we define as reckless.”

Staff writers Ames Alexander and Fred Clasen-Kelley and researcher Maria David contributed.

 

Freezing Conditions

It is that time of year when temperatures drop, freezing conditions persist, and pool equipment is damaged.   Take steps to protect your pool equipment by considering the following steps and options:

  • Consider installing a freeze protection device on your pool equipment – these devices register the temperature of the water in the plumbing line and turn equipment on when there is a potential for freezing temperatures. The switch also can be set to turn off once the temperature raises above freezing. The general idea is that moving/circulating water tends to keep from freezing.

 

  • If you intend on shutting off your equipment, make sure that you open the drain plugs and allow the water to drain from it – turning it off does not simply solve the problem. Equipment including pumps, filters, heaters, etc. are equipped with drain plugs to allow for the equipment to be drained.

 

  • If your equipment does freeze over but has not burst, allow it to thaw completely before you start it again.

 

  • If freezing is becoming a continuous issue in your pump room, take steps to allow for some amount of heating to occur or take steps to insulate the space to help prevent extended duration of freezing temperatures.

 

  • Pay particular attention to back-flow prevention devices that are typically installed off of you waterline feed into your pump room – they can create a huge mess if allowed to freeze and burst.

 

  • If you can’t drain your equipment and you have no other choice but to try to make it through an extended period of freezing temperatures, at least leave your equipment running. Contrary to some people’s thinking, it is not advisable to shut your system down.