South Florida’s seasons, with the exception of summer, don’t really resemble the spring, summer, autumn, and winter observed by most areas of the United States. Those traditional seasons are governed by both the weather, and to a certain degree, by the calendar. Tropical south Florida has summer pretty much all year long, and a rainy/hurricane season that runs from May through November—recognized whether a hurricane shows up, or not.
If winter shows up at all is generally a day, maybe two, somewhere around February. This year it was on February 19-20, when temperatures dipped into the teens in central Florida and into the 40’s in south Florida. Enterprising Floridians already have t-shirts made reading “I Survived Winter, February 19-20, 2015.” By February 23, temperatures were back up into the 70’s and it was life as usual in this southernmost state.
Everything Under The Sun
Perhaps the most recognized season in south Florida is tourist season—which, just like summer, runs pretty much all year long, and brings different groups at different times. Snowbirds come during the calendar winter from November through March, families with children come during the calendar summer from June through August, and international guest come any time at all.
With so many residents (18,801,310 according to the 2010 census), and a constant stream of visitors, it can be a challenge to find enough down-time to catch up, repair, and prep all the amenities that go with living in a warm, tropical climate. Even a well-organized HOA board cannot completely spare a community from the challenges of constant traffic and normal wear and tear on amenities. So what is the best way to prevent damages associated with constant usage, tropical heat, and very little down time?
Tropical rain storms, high humidity, and blazing temperatures, all take a toll on outdoor amenities—especially swimming pools, hard surfaced courts such as tennis and basketball, and kids' playgrounds. The additional exposure to corrosive salt air, mold and mildew just increases the opportunities for damage to most surfaces. What pro-active measures can be put in place to extend the life of amenities? And who is best equipped and suited to manage damage prevention and repairs? The chances are good it will take several skilled professionals, and a team effort to keep everything at top performance in south Florida during peak season.
Plan the Work—But Prepare for Delays
Bill Parrish, who is the repair manager for All Florida Pool & Spa Center, in North Miami, knows firsthand how hard it is to schedule routine care and repairs when it is “pool weather” just about 365 days a year.
“Our South Florida area definitely sees an increase in population and events over the winter season,” he says. “It begins in October and seems to run through May.” Parrish notes there is a peak around Thanksgiving until just after the New Year, followed by “six to 8 weeks of non-stop requests for service and increased traffic on the streets. This is the time when hotels and condos are at maximum occupancy and many of the seasonal homes will be at full staff and occupied by the owners and their guests.”
This is the time of year when Parrish sees schedules fall apart. “I do not have many preparation tips for this period as so many of our tasks are driven by crisis at this time. We see pool heaters which have been previously dependable, suddenly stop working, light bulbs go out, and pumps stop working,” he states. Then there are the accidents like broken glass in the pool, the need for emergency pool chemical deliveries, and even cases where unauthorized individuals have tampered with the equipment. While Parrish doesn't offer a laundry list of preparation tips for this time of year, he does have some practical suggestions for condos, co-ops and HOAs:
“Have your own staff on hand, vendor relations shored up with accounts paid up-to-date, and good overall supervision about the property.” He recommends daily property walks as well during this extremely busy and challenging time. Parrish warns this is also the time of year when budgets may take a hit.
“There are unavoidable budget busters that occur with pools and spas at any point in the year,” he says. “However, unexpected issues such as serious pool leaks and failed heaters will command immediate attention and the property manager and board usually contact their active vendor and hope for the best as far as price is concerned. From my perspective as a service provider, we try to offer our products and services at fair market value, comparable to our competitors.”
Parrish encourages HOAs and property managers to compare not just the cost, but the value they receive for the goods and services provided by a vendor, particularly when they are shopping for a new source, or if cost appear to be marked up excessively. “A reputable vendor has unending expenses and administrative cost. Then the product must be delivered and installed incurring additional expenses like fuel, commercial insurance, liability and workman’s compensation,” explains Parrish. Does a vendor have a commercial location in a high profile area, with a proven track record and solid references? What about warranties and guarantees? This is not the time to skimp on quality or make hasty decisions based on price alone.
Up to Code
Laws and codes requiring timely compliance is another area where skimping or delaying a decision is never the best course of action. In December 2007, President George Bush signed a major law governing pool and spa safety. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGBA), and/or the P&SS Act was introduced by Florida U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-23, and designed to prevent tragic drain entrapments and eviscerations in pools and spas. The law was introduced after the 7-year-old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker III (for whom the Act was named), drowned in June of 2002 when she was trapped underwater by the suction from a spa drain. Under the law, all public pools and spas must have compliant drain covers installed and a second anti-entrapment system installed, if there is a single main drain.
“We do still find a few pools shopping for protection as a result of the health inspector closing their pool, but it is not that frequent, says Parrish. The overwhelming majority are in compliance. The new code-compliant drain covers have a 5- to 7-year usable life as far as their “ASME/ANSI A112.19.8-2007” certification is concerned. “Visual inspection is sufficient to confirm compliance, and is monitored by the pool cleaning technician. Inspection can also be an easy task performed by the staff or a board member.”
Parrish notes capital projects such as pool surfacing, deck improvements and major repairs are usually investigated and estimated a year or two in advance of the purchase, which allows for the planning and scheduling necessary to work around a jam-packed calendar.
A Safe Place to Play
It is a toss-up as to whether children and their parents prefer swimming pools or playgrounds when it’s time to play in the Florida sunshine. Most properties will provide for both.
Richard N. Hagelberg, CPSI, and CEO of Kidstuff Playsystems Inc. has more than 32 years of experience with all aspects of playgrounds and play systems. Kidstuff is based in Indiana, but sells play systems nationwide. “Safety surfaces for playgrounds are a large issue,” he says, and adds that his favorite product is mulch made of engineered wood fiber. “It is the least expensive, and if a child falls, the mulch absorbs the shock,” he says.
Hagelberg recommends regularly scheduled playground inspections by a qualified inspector at least four times a year. The National Recreation and Park Association (www.nrpa.org) is one resource dedicated to promoting children's right to a safe play environment. NRPA inspectors are trained to identify hazards on playground equipment, how to rank those hazards according to injury potential and how to establish a playground safety program.
Hagelberg also recommends using the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) Playground Safety Guidelines, available from the Commission in Washington, DC, or through Kidstuff Playsystems, which has a two-page maintenance check list for playgrounds available online at www.kidstuffplaysystems.com. The checklist provides a listing of important items to check, as well as a place to record original playground information pertaining to installation, insurance, and warranties.
“Record all inspections and save them with other important legal records,” says Hagelberg. “In the event of an injury, these documents are your best defense against liability claims.”
Rick Brewer, owner of Classroom Outfitters in Miami, provides equipment and offers solutions for safe playgrounds for ages two to five, and from age five and up. Like Hagelberg, he prefers engineered wood fiber mulch under play systems. Brewer recommends a depth of about 12 inches, which also meets standards for the American Disabilities Act (ADA) for wheelchair accessibility. He also recommends continual maintenance to keep mulch raked smooth and at the proper depth.
Brewer says he definitely sees an uptick in playground activity during the traditional summer months. Things he checks for before the kids get out of school and families arrive to visit are loose screws and nuts, any place where water can pool to create a slippery or moldy surface, and chips and nicks on painted surfaces. “When paint is chipped it can pose a safety hazard, and it promotes rust,” he says.
Another product several pros say are worth evaluating for play areas are sun shades and canopies. Attractive, durable options are on the market today that offer aesthetic and safety benefits to the amenities and the humans who use them. Sun shades over playgrounds, protect children and the adults who oversee them from harmful ultraviolet rays, and also help define and identify the play area within a community. Those same shades may also help extend the life of the equipment by offering some protection from the sun and other elements.
Staying Ahead of the Calendar
Ryan Hatch, vice president of customer relations at GreenSource Landscape & Sports Turf, Inc., based in Southwest Ranches, Florida, knows things green and growing may offer some shade and protection from the sun- and he stays busy all year making it happen. During the rainy/summer /hurricane season from May to October, Hatch says that finds many clients prefer to upgrade and replace landscaping in order to take advantage of nature’s irrigation, and save on the watering needed for new turf or plant material. Summer is the best time to step back and plan, and make corrections where needed. Winter is the time to gain control over landscaping challenges, switch out plants, and get a head start on the fast growing summer season; just keeping up with the growth cycle in the summer is a challenge.
Hatch recommends an annual professional inspection of hard surfaces, such as tennis/basketball courts, and parking lots. ”Safety is the biggest issue with extreme the sun, rain, and humidity, and safe doesn’t have to be expensive with a good plan of action,” he says. Hatch encourages HOAs to look past the upfront cost of reworking and replacing and see the long-term benefits of proper plant materials, and surface replacement/repair.
The experts in landscape, playgrounds and swimming pools agree, all properties are not created equally. Inspect and review regularly for the specific needs, repairs, and improvements required to keep a community safe and attractive. Consult with experts whenever necessary, and don’t forget local, state, and federal government regulations. Check for existing and new regulations affecting your property early, and comply early so none of your fun-under-the-sun plans are delayed or comprised at any time of the year.
Anne Childers is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The South Florida Cooperator.