By Mike Farley
This time around, I’ll follow a detour from the design-oriented publications we’ve been covering to take a look at a truly unique resource: If you build residential swimming pools and spas or are considering moving into the field, the National Spa & Pool Institute’s Residential Pool & Spa Builders Reference Manual is a useful and informative text unlike any other available to the trade.
Written and reviewed by dozens of NSPI’s builder members, the manual offers a comprehensive overview of pool and spa construction while providing a good foundation of general business and technical information. That makes sense, because it is basically the textbook for NSPI members studying to pass the institute’s Certified Building Professional (CBP) exam.
Unlike similar fields – such as landscape architecture or even garden design, which crowd my shelves with scores of books by generations of scholars and other experts – the pool and spa industry has always been short of this kind of practical/technical information. To its credit, NSPI developed the CBP exam and text in an attempt to fill this cavernous “education gap,” generating its latest edition in 1998 to serve a broad (some might say too broad) a range of market niches.
This breadth can indeed be a drawback. The manual surveys everything from business finances to excavation, from safety issues to structures, and from loss prevention to hydraulics. The result is a sprawling compilation of general information spread over 14 chapters and a glossary.
Some parts are useful to anyone in the business. Nonetheless, because the text moves over such broad subjects in so rapid a fashion, it cannot and does not cover any given subject to any great depth – and that can be troubling to anyone with detailed knowledge of one area or another, because he or she doubtless will find omissions large and small. Even so, the manual is impressive for the across-the-board foundation it provides for further study and exploration of individual topics.
In studying the text for my own crack at the exam (I passed), I found myself exposed to information that I will probably never need to consider in my work as a designer and installer of custom concrete pools and spas in my market. In the exercise, however, I’m reminded of studying landscape architecture in college: As an undergraduate, I took classes that had nothing to do with residential garden design – but that were nonetheless required for the degree in landscape architecture. This text serves a similar purpose in that you come away with a generalists’ understanding of the field – something in which I see great value.
In other words, while I would certainly recommend that anyone involved in pool and spa construction should read this book as a foundation, I would suggest just as strongly that it is a starting place and that you should aggressively pursue other resources to develop expertise in your market niche.
The exam that goes along with the manual is pretty tough and takes a full three hours to complete. As is the case with the text, the questions cover a great deal of territory and not all of it was necessarily relevant to what I was doing – but that’s what this kind of testing is about.
The manual and can be purchased only through NSPI headquarters in Alexandria, Va. Once you’ve received it, you can take the test at various regional and national shows – but you must be an NSPI member to take it and earn the CBP recognition.
To be sure, no single manual can possibly be all things to all people, but this one certainly has a place on the shelf of anyone who is serious about building residential pools and spas.
Mike Farley is a landscape designer with more than 20 years of experience and is currently a designer/project manager for Claffey Pools in Southlake, Texas. A graduate of Genesis 3's Level I Design School, he holds a degree in landscape architecture from Texas Tech University and has worked as a watershaper in both California and Texas.