Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa, "Creating Water as Art."™

Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa, "Creating Water as Art."™
Pools as an art form - the way it should be!

Friday, February 6, 2009

It's an issue of liability...

Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa
Paolo Benedetti

Unqualified landscape contractors building infinity edge pools... hmmmm? How did this come about???

The California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) has a very powerful lobby in Sacramento. The Landscape Contractors (LC) figured that since they were already in the backyard doing all of the other disruptive work, why not also do the pool? After all, it would allow them to better schedule the project and make a buck at the same time.

So they lobbied hard & had the law modified to allow them to "sub-contract for the building of the pool." This was provided that they sub-contracted out the work to a licensed swimming pool builder. This is all & good... the volume swimming pool builders are still in the loop. But the homeowners pay a higher price, because the LC is now marking up the swimming pool contractors work.

But after managing enough projects with swimming pools as a component of the project... guess what? Suddenly, the LC is now magically qualified to obtain a license to actually build the pools. Granted, I know what you're saying... "but they passed the State Licensing Exam, so they must be qualified."

Over the years, I have sat on numerous committees that have assembled various versions of the swimming pool contractors licensing exam. It is a "basic" exam, designed to test an applicants entry level skills.

This test does not qualify someone to perform engineering recommendations, hydraulic calculations & line sizing, material specifications, design details, or construct complex engineered structures & foundations.

I proffer that there are few contractors in the swimming pool industry who are qualified to build a code compliant pool that meets the various published construction standards. The balance are barely qualified to "tie their shoes." The construction industry as a whole (not just the specialty trades) has been plagued by those who are always looking to do things "cheaper."

Many in the construction trades never even went to college. Few have attended any free trade specific training courses, like those available from trade shows or manufacturers. Even fewer have paid to attended advanced educational courses, like those I teach @ Genesis 3 programs. Unlike some other states, California does not have a "continuing education" requirement, in order to maintain ones contractor's license... it's no wonder the industry is still building things like they did in the 1930's! There is no incentive to maintain one's basic level of education or to improve oneself, let alone stay up to date on the modern technologies.

They can offer a less expensive project because they use generic mail-order structural plans, smaller diameter reinforcing steel, space the steel further apart, lesser grades of steel, thinner concrete walls, weaker psi concrete, utilize waste materials in their structures (rebound & trimmings), install sub-standard smaller pipes, "wet set" their tile & masonry, add calcium to their plaster... these are just the most prevalent ways that they "cheat."

Projects that have already been designed & engineered, utilizing geo-technical reports as the basis for the structural engineering (specified project), should be treated as a project that is set in stone. The earth is, what it is... there is no changing that.

But when a client decides to a put a specified project "out to bid," they oftentimes receive a number of bids that are fairly close to each other. There are always a few that are way above & a few way below. The client should really focus at the ones that are way above, and find out, "Why!?" (remember that old saying, "you get what you pay for?")

What is that firm offering, that these other firms are overlooking? What do they offer that the others are not? Where is the "added value" in spending the extra money?

But, it is human nature to instead look at the lowest proposal. Or just plain old cheapness... (remember that old saying "you get what you pay for" and "you get what you deserve?"). But the client does not ask, "how can you build this project for so little?" Is there a Ponzi scheme going on? Is the builder on the verge of insolvency & is merely looking for some quick cash? What are they leaving out? What shortcuts am I being "provided?"

Oftentimes the lowest bidder, can at least "get the ear" of the property owner.... and one of the first things out of their mouth always is,

"This project is way over engineered. Let me get MY engineer to "value engineer" (there's the misuse of that phrase again!) your project. I am sure that he can bring the cost down." Translated, he just said, "There is no way to build this project for what you are willing to pay me. So I have this guy, who can dumb down & degrade the project, to a level that I can understand and build for the little money you want to spend."

Maybe the low bidder just turns around and orders some boiler plate "mail-order" structural plan from a catalog, to replace the original site-specific structural plans. These generic plans are not site specific, usually do not exceed the site's soil conditions or surcharges, and the geo-technical report is almost never reviewed by the structural engineer (from the mail order engineering company).

If a "new engineer" is actually employed, the new engineer assumes A LOT of liability. The liability in knowing that someone without any vested interest in the project (original engineer & designers), designed it to a certain standard. And that occurred after a lot of discussion & input from the owners, designer, soils engineer & others.

The new engineer just knows that he has to "get the price down." So they start to reduce the safety margins that are built into all structural design calculations. This results in smaller diameter steel, lesser grades of steel, thinner concrete walls & floors... an overall weaker structure.

If built as designed, it might function okay. Except, that after construction starts, the contractors' shoddy building practices and ignorance of proper construction practices, exert their influence onto the project, and the project quickly becomes "sub-standard" (because those safety margins were taken away during the "value engineering" phase to "save you money").

Then along comes Mother Nature, who exerts some forces upon this marginally engineered, and sub-standard built structure. A seismic event, ground heave, soil expansion, ground subsidence, hurricane, avalanche, high surf, etc... and "pop, pow, whiz, bang... Golly geepers Batman! it is cracking, tilting, moving, settling, leaking, rusting...." Worse yet, someone gets entrapped on a drain that has excess line velocity...

The low-ball bidder comes back & says "I did everything that the structural plans showed... the plans must have been faulty." Well, maybe not, but marginal at best! Add to that marginality, poor construction practices & you have the recipe for disaster.

Now this is where I come (back) in....
to start a forensic evaluation of the garbage that was built. The original engineering is consulted along with the geo-technical investigation. The differences in the structural designs is evaluated. If failures have occurred in the areas of any changes, that L-word pops up again (liability). If material samples fail to meet the minimum design standards, then the L-word pops up again. If special inspections were not performed or deputy inspectors were not hired, then the L-word pops up again.

It will always cost more to repair a failing structure, than to build it correctly in the first place. Though the client usually will prevail in litigation, there is the additional cost of litigation, attorney fees, expert witnesses & consultants (ME), material testing labs & engineers. Add to that the time away from work & life and the added stresses.

And let's not forget the cost to access the project & repair that damage. After all, your yard has long been completed by now, right? Somehow the old structure has to be removed & rebuilt... remember how messy it was the first time??? But now the yard's completed, and they are going to tear up a lot of good work in the process...

There are a lot of people plying pools... landscape contractors, swimming pool companies, & water shape design/build firms (like However, most are always telling the clients how they can save them money...

like a cheap set of imported tires - just what I want to trust my money & family's life to! No thanks - don't do me any favors!

As that old TV commercial used to say, "you can pay me (more) now, or you can pay me (a lot more) later!"

Paolo Benedetti - Aquatic Artist
"Creating water as art."™
Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa