GCA Standard Pool Cages Vs Builder Grade

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I don’t mean to tell you that after 3 years your pool cage is going to fall down but for the commonly built builder’s grade enclosure, after 3 years, the overall condition and appearance as quickly fallen into a state of deterioration.  You’ll probably notice that the epoxy paint has started to fade or turn green.  Fasteners rust and corrode, leaving the structure less than half of the strength of its original strength and often leave rust stains.  The screen; well builder’s grade enclosures usually are built with Artisan screen, a Chinese made mesh that has a life span of 3-5 years.  Since builder’s grade enclosures are template manufactured, and not built site specific, they can also have some members that are not plumb or level, causing a headache for the discerning eye.

Common Builders Grade Pool Cages

We frequently hear from customers who have gotten a builders grade pool cage.  They call us in frustration and ask “How long is a pool cage supposed to last?  It was just built in 2014 and the screen is falling out, and it looks run down”.  After an explanation of builders grade standards and the quality of materials used, the next quest is usually “why would ____________ (XYZ Pool Enclosure Company) they give me such junk? “ (more on this towards the end)

These builders grade pool cages have largely been the standard in Florida for the last 20 years.  To be quite frank, they are actually pretty good for our business as we do hundreds of pool enclosure restorations every year, many of them on structures just a few years old.  Ultimately though, longer lasting materials up front are better for the consumer.

Pool Cages: The GCA Standard.

We deliver on that with our GCA Standard pool cage.  Rather than just settling for the status quo we’ve put together an enclosure intended to stand the test of time, and prevent dissatisfaction down the road.  Here’s what our GCA Standard Includes:

Site Specific Layout & Fabrication:  This is a big problem that you’ve probably never thought about, but if you’ve got a discerning eye will bug you forever once your pool cage is complete.  Most builders grade pool cages are built using templated pieces simply by taking the length, width and height of the structure.  All the piece are then chopped up and prefabricated in a shop based on those dimensions.  Here’s the kicker(s)….  

  1. Your pool deck is not level.
  2. Your pool deck is not square.
  3. The roof line of your house is not level either.

Building in the real world is never a perfectly clean slate of work as the blue prints would assume.    If you take prefabricated, templated pool cage pieces and mount them on to your pool deck which isn’t level, and then try to connect them to the house which is out of square (relatively) you’ll see that they don’t fit together too well.  Because aluminum as a metal is relatively pliable the framing will be bent to accommodate the other pieces and ultimately screwed together.  The end result is that the pool cage may have some members that are out of square or out of plumb, and may be weaker as the forces on the structure are not distributed evenly.  If you’re not one for the details, you might never notice the out of plumb and square members, but we find that a crooked aluminum beam jumps out many homeowners and nags at their eye. Next time you look at a pool cage see if you can notice any out plumb/square beams.

Site Specific Pool Cage Construction

When we build pool cages for our clients, we don’t just cut out based on a blue-print from a hypothetical world that exists on our desktop like many pool cage contractors do.  We take into account the full worksite and everything that we will built on.  Using site specific laser tools, we build a 3d rendering of the actualy work site include dips in the concrete surface, or changes in the eave height of your home down to 1/16th of an inch.  The details of square (or lack of) on the pool deck are accounted for as well.  Once the site if thoroughly measured and rendered we design the pool cage within the program to account for the slightest imperfections in the work area.  We then take the measurements down to the nearest 1/16th of an inch and/or degree and fabricate each piece based on these specs.  In other words each cut on your pool cage in unique to your project site, where as with a builders grade pool cage every cut of metal is the same and assumes you have a flawless project site (that only exists in the computer world)

2604 Powder Coat Finish: Standard aluminum members, used by most contractors, come finished from the mill with an epoxy paint.  Epoxy paint is the among the lowest quality finish in existence.  To get a better finish we purchase our aluminum ‘raw’, and then have the metal finshed with an America Architectural Metals Association (AMAA) 2604 powder coat by a local firm.   We also offer a 2605 powder coat with 10yr warranty for an additional cost.

Polyester Screen:  Rather than using a fiberglass base mesh which has a life span of up to 9 years, our GCA Standard comes with polyester screen warrantied for 10 years.  The polyester screen.  At 6.5 oz per sq yd Polyester Screen is 18% heavier than competitor offerings.  Unlike mesh made of dip coated fiberglass, polyester screen utilizes an extrusion coated polyester core yarn which results in a bal burst strength that 180lbs+, compared to 63lbs for the top of the line fiberglass screen, phifer 18/14 screen.

Nylotech Fasteners: We’ve all see rusty screws on a pool enclosure, and we can all agree that the red stains are extremely unsightly.  Besides the unsightly look, these fasteners also have lost a substantial bit of the their structural integrity.  The bottom line is that you are left with an enclosure that is no longer capable of withstanding the original design specification strength (150 mph in most of our service area).  To avoid these short lived fasteners, we are currently using Nylotech & Protech fasteners. The fasteners designed specifically for Florida come with a 10 year warranty against rust & corrosion are Miami-Dade approved.    

Engineered For Maximum View:  Limited by the structural constraints of traditional thin aluminum members, pool enclosures were built with supporting members every 5-8’.  The frequent beams always in the line of site created a ‘cage’ like feeling.  We found that most customers prefer a few beams as possible, and now engineer all of our GCA Standard enclosures for maximum view with spans up to 40’ (exact span may vary based on location).

Assigned Project Manager: Most operations that build pool cages, have little to no management or oversight during the administration and building phases.  This creates the kind of headache and frustration that leaves you with a poor taste in your mouth.  If you’ve dealt with service providers, you know what I’m talking about.  Permits get forgotten about, materials do not get ordered, details get left out.  Here at GCA we specific project managers for each new pool cage or pool cage replacement.  Our small team of project managers walks each project through the administrative steps using our 39 point process before we even stick a shovel in the ground.   

We have a few great articles on the permitting and project management process here:

What A Dedicated Project Manager Means For Your Project

Why It Takes So Long To Get A Permit (And What We Do About It)

How We Get Your Permit Faster Than Anyone

Why Do Builders Grade Pool Cages Exist?  

When most folks learn of the low quality materials and constructions standards when it comes to pool cages, and the opportunity to get something with a longer lifespan, they usually ask the question above.  The reality of it is, that most folks don’t even think about what goes into the pool cage.  For this reason pool cage builders, and then general contractors that sell them (with their houses), generally try to weasle the price down to as low of price point as possible.  The lower the price point, the better it sounds.  When it comes to general contractors, they frequently ask for ‘the cheapest pool cage’.  Then they come back and ask “what can we do to make this even cheaper”.  This errodes away at the quality of materials used, but they have no reason to care, as after they sell the house, it is no longer their problem.  If you just plan on owning a house for a couple years, then maybe a builders grade pool cage is for you.

Nearly every contractor knows how low of a quality pool cage they are selling, but they won’t tell you, because few people know just how low of a quality pool cage they are getting, or that a better quality pool cage exists.  With a lack of knowledge, everyone shopping for a pool cage just seeks the lowest price, and this enmasse causes the materials to errode to the lowest grade possible.

How Much Does The GCA Standard Pool Cage Cost?

Of each and every pool cage we do is different in cost.  VERY rarely will we run across two pool cages exactly the same size and price (the exception being pool cages in cookie cutter communities).  In relative terms however the GCA standard is usually around 30% more expensive than a builders grade pool cage.  If a builder’s grade structure is bid at around $10,000, the GCA standard with the materials and specs outlined above will probably cost around $13,000.

Why We No Longer Put Our Name On Builders Grade Pool Cages.

We no longer ‘build’ builders grade pool cages.  Considering the price you would probably say well “why not?”.  No doubt there is a huge market for builders grade pool cages to general contractors, developers, and homeowners looking for a low cost solution to a screen enclosure.  For many the quality of materials and standards might not matter.

In our years of building builders grade pool cages, we found that most customers were unhappy with them.  From the get go of the project our customers did not like the un-organization of the permit process (low cost pool cages go into a commercial work queue with no project manager).  They wanted someone they could call who KNEW every detail of their project at all times.  We’ve heard from unhappy customers asking “why you sold me screen that is tearing in just a few short years”.  We’ve seen pool cages metal beams turn green in 3 years of exposure to the Florida elements.  We’ve had customers leave us a bad review because the metal beams were not level or plumb.   After so many complaints, we decided that the only level of quality we would offer is something that makes everyone happy and we can put our name on!

This doesn’t mean that we forgot about builder’s grade pool cages altogether.  We’ve got a large fabrication facility, and we buy lots of metal.  So while we won’t put our name on a builders grade pool cage, we do fabricate the pieces and sell them to other contractors (Minimum order of $100,000 for fabrication).  Recall near the top of the article, I mentioned that builders grade pool cages use templated pieces, we fabricate those pieces, and then they get picked up and assembled by other contractors.  If you get a builders grade enclosure through another contractor, there is a good chance your metal came from our factory (Minimum order of $100,000 for fabrication).

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