We are thrilled that you are considering adding a living water feature to your outdoor environment, and that you have chosen to be an informed consumer. There are so many great backyard landscape ideas to choose from! The following is a list of questions you should ask a pond contractor to help you choose a professional for your project, although you’ve probably already thought of a few of them.
We hope you enjoy reading this report at your leisure, and we wish you the best of luck with your project.
The first question you should ask a pond contractor is: Are you a licensed contractor?
First and foremost, you should always, always, always (and we can’t say this enough), ALWAYS use a licensed contractor for any project around your home. With all the landscape ideas out there, there are lots of shady characters vying for your business. Yes, it may cost a little more than flagging down the beat-up truck driving through your neighborhood with a lawn mower in the back, but your home is probably your largest investment (even if it’s a part-time residence), and as such deserves to be protected. We’ve all heard the news stories about the folks who hired some guy, didn’t check his credentials, and then got taken for a ride, either by him disappearing with their money or not finishing the job, or worse. This won’t happen to you if you use a licensed contractor (do check the number you’re given, though, to make sure he’s in good standing), because of a little thing called the Recovery Fund. The Recover Fund is your insurance that if the guy you hire doesn’t perform according to his contract (something we’ll cover in a minute), you can go to the Registrar of Contractors, file a complaint, and get your money back! Now that’s peace of mind! You wouldn’t let just anyone watch your children, don’t let just anyone into your home!
A licensed contractor has passed muster with the Registrar of Contractors of the State of Arizona. This means that they have at least 3 years of experience in their current field, have passed a series of tests, have passed a background check, are bonded, and carry appropriate insurance. In addition, if by chance a licensed contractor screws up, you can file a claim and get reimbursed for the money you have paid out from the Recovery Fund (up to $37,000.00 per incident). To check a contactor’s license, you can call 602-542-1502, or on-line.
Now, about those contracts. You should always have a written contract with anyone about to do work for you. This just makes good business sense. It ensures that everyone involved has come to an agreement and there aren’t any hidden surprises or misunderstandings. Even if it’s just a work order that you have to initial, it’s a good idea. Yes, verbal contracts are enforceable in the State of Arizona, but good luck proving a meeting of the minds! Oh, and be sure to actually read the contract to make sure you know exactly what you’ll be getting for your money, which includes their after-the-sale service and warranty information. If you don’t understand something, ask. Some people talk a good game, but then won’t put it in writing – a very bad sign – throw them out.
The second question you should as a pond contractor is: How many years have you been in business, and what are your credentials?
This question won’t necessarily tell you how good they are at what they do, but it will give you an idea of how much practice they’ve had. Remember, anyone can start a business, print up business cards and flyers, call themselves a contractor, and bombard you with landscape ideas. Happens all the time. It’s the guy who’s been around for more than a couple of years that will probably still be in business should you need his help in the future.
The third question you should ask a pond contractor is: Are you a specialist in pond contracting?
If someone is a “Jack of All Trades,” how good can they really be at any one of them? A contractor who is dedicated to pond building has made it his life’s work. He most likely attends continuing education seminars and classes to keep abreast of new ideas and technology. He is focused on providing the best possible product to his clients.
The fourth question you should ask a pond contractor is: What construction method do you use?
A concrete bowl is great for a bird-bath or a swimming pool, but Koi and plants won’t be thrilled. It’s very high maintenance because it must be cleaned often, or you must chemically treat it. Pool pumps and submersible pumps are not specifically designed for a pond environment and will not pass larger debris; therefore, they will need to be removed and cleaned as often as twice daily, depending on your circumstances.
You need to ask yourself if you want it to be organic and low maintenance; is the bottom line price the main motivation; or do you simply want a fountain? Clarify in your own mind what you’re looking for, and it will be easier to shop for it.
The fifth question you should ask a pond contractor is: Do you use an all-organic method of construction & maintenance?
If you’re interested in an organic, low maintenance, living water garden, you want to be sure that the pond contractor that you’re interviewing for your project uses that type of construction method. The pond contractor who uses the organic method will understand how to establish a complete nitrogen cycle and ecosystem. This means no chemically-dependent water source, which in turn means that not only can birds and pets drink from it freely, but you can enjoy it, too! We believe that the best landscape ideas for our delicate Sonoran Desert environment revolve around keeping it natural & organic.
The sixth question you should ask a pond contractor is: How many ponds have you built using this method of construction?
If the pond contractor normally builds concrete bowls, but you’re interested in an organic water garden, keep looking! Yeah, yeah, he says he can do that, too, but it’s really a specialized field and takes some practice and education to do it right.
The seventh question you should ask a pond contractor is: Are you certified by your equipment supplier as an installation professional?
This is a good way to find out of the pond contractor with whom you are speaking is dedicated to a proven ponding system, or if he is just experimenting with the latest techno-toys on the market. If he’s certified, then he’s been working with a system that he knows works well and will satisfy his customers. If not, then he may just “do ponds, too,” which means he may or may not be using you and your project as a guinea pig.
The eighth question you should ask a pond contractor is: How much can I expect my monthly operating costs to be and how much maintenance time will it take?
If the pond contractor you are interviewing is using a pool pump to circulate a pond (i.e. the pump is measured in horsepower), then you will have either a situation where the pump does not run 24/7, providing the kind of circulation necessary to keep water clear, or you’ll be spending possibly $$$ a month to keep it running (not to mention, it’s rather noisy). The pump, which is the heart of the circulation system, needs to run 24/7 to ensure that debris are kept off the surface of the water so that they do not saturate and sink to the bottom, thereby becoming food for free-floating algae, and a clean-up nightmare for you. A circulation system in a pond is a little more costly to install up front, but a whole lot easier on the back! Frankly, this question should be a consideration for ANY backyard landscape idea you are considering: how much will it cost in time & money to maintain?
The ninth question you should ask a pond contractor is: Do you provide after-the-sale service?
How many people do you know who hire a contractor to do a job and then can never get ahold of them again? Maybe you’ve had this experience yourself once or twice. Well, that’s fine and dandy if all they’ve done is dropped a couple of plants in holes and everything is doing fine, but this is an investment for most people. This is something that can either make or break a landscape or outdoor environment, and you want to be darn sure that the pond contractor you hire has a plan, and a track record, for customer service.
The tenth question (the $64M question!) you should ask a pond contractor is: Can you provide me with at least 5 references who have had their pond for over a year? AND, as an aside: Where can I see your work?
You want to be darn sure that the pond contractor you’re hiring has satisfied customers. One way to do that is to check his licensing for complaints, true, but another is to talk to actual customers. Now, you may not go through the trouble to actually call the references, but you should at least have them provided to you. Most legitimate pond contractors have at least a few people who would not mind receiving a call from someone for whom they have worked.
With the answers to the above questions, you should be loaded for bear and ready to move forward with your project. If you'd like to go out and see some of our work, and what we can do for you, visit some (or all) of our public displays.
When you're ready to hire a true professional to build your pond, contact us!
Barbi Holdeman, co-owner of The Pond Gnome, enjoys sharing their 17+ years of education & experience with you! She writes about Phoenix Ecosystem Pond Installation, Pond Maintenance, Wildlife around the Pond, Koi and Goldfish in the Pond, and the Pond Lifestyle. If you enjoy what she writes, please share it!