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!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

What were you thinking?

Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa
Paolo Benedetti

Landscape contractors are not qualified to build swimming pools, let alone complex hillside caisson & grade beam vanishing edge or infinity edge pools.

In the State of California, Landscape Contractors (LC) can now act as an "outdoor general contractor." They can act as the primary contractor with a property owner. when contracting for the construction of a swimming pool, provided that they sub-contract the construction of the swimming pool to a licensed swimming pool contractor. They cannot solely build swimming pools, as any swimming pool contract must be a part of a larger project, for which they are contracting.

After they manage enough project, wherein a swimming pool is a component, they are magically qualified (in the liberal eyes of the great State of California) to take the contractors licensing exam. Though it is merely designed to tests an applicants "entry level" ability, many tout the license as their qualification to build any type of complex swimming pool structure (e.g. hillside pools with drilled caisson or bench stepped foundations).

Case Study:

A landscape contractor (LC) is doing the landscaping, irrigation and lighting on historic California estate, a one-of-a-kind $100,000,000 1920's era property! During one of the many meetings, he hears a comment that the owner desires to rebuild the 1920's era swimming pool. Though they are not licensed to build pools, the LC knows that he can act as the GC for the pool. He sees dollar signs flash across the sky, and offers to the owners "we can do the pool." Hence, the farce begins.

The owner's representative, does his due diligence and discovers that the LC is legally entitled (but not necessarily qualified) to build the swimming pool. The LC locates a locally licensed swimming pool contractor, who agrees to be a "consultant". The LC wants to maintain control of the entire project, and wants the swimming pool contractor to "consult as needed."

The LC locates a local civil engineer to perform the structural engineering. Granted, the structural engineer has never designed a swimming pool before, but hey how hard can a swimming pool be right? Little is he aware, but there are many specialties within his field of engineering, one being swimming pools.

He proceeds to engineer the swimming pool without the assistance of a geo-technical report or investigation. The LC and engineer fail to perform any research regarding the pitfalls of building a swimming pool in close proximity to the ocean. They also neglect to refer to specific California Building Codes (other than those that apply to swimming pools) that apply to structures in high tidal basins, subject to flooding, or near bodies of salt water. They also fail to do any research as to the detrimental effects upon steel, concrete or electrical systems in such close proximity to natural bodies of water.

The project starts off on the wrong foot, when the property owner insists that the project be placed in the exact location as the prior pool. The prior pool failed for reasons, that the LC & engineer failed to even investigate. The project was designed to be an exact replacement of the prior pool, with the addition of a spa, and a new equipment room. They were all designed to mirror the existing structures in appearance. They let the domineering owner dictate what was to occur, without educating them as to the inherent pitfalls. And they failed to offer suggestions to make this project a success.

They started construction by removing the existing swimming pool - but made a critical mistake - they failed to analyze it as it was torn apart. Next, they they drilled into the rock, creating what the engineer called "piers to tie the structure to the bedrock." Epoxy coated reinforcing steel was also cemented into the rock. A concrete box, reinforced with epoxy coated steel was formed & poured to contain the new swimming pool. At this point in construction, a winter storm hits the California Coast.

As it turns out, the existing pool has constantly been subject to severe storms - a few each year. Though on a calm day, the placid Pacific Ocean is 150 feet away, and below some house sized boulders. However, during the few severe winter storms that occur each year, the pool is literally hammered by wind blown waves and tidal surges. The waves actually crash against the cliffs that are behind the pool. Had they merely asked a few questions & looked at some historical images, they would have recognized this.

As they cleared away the storm damage to their form work, removed 2-3' diameter boulders, seaweed and dead fish, they realized that this structure may be subject to future storms. But they failed to take any action.

The project progressed quickly, as the LC's irrigation crews plumbed the pool, utilizing whatever piping was available on their trucks. On any single run, the suction & return lines dangerously vary in size. They are "cosmetically" brought into the equipment room so as to appear marginally adequate. The auto-fill standpipe has so many changes in elevation, that it has a permanent airlock. It simply cannot register changes in the pool or spa water levels.

Another winter storm hits, as the project is nearing completion the following winter. This storm tears out the pool equipment from INSIDE the reinforced concrete building, and carries it out to sea. The cartridge filters and heaters were last seen bobbing out in the Pacific Ocean! Inches of sand, fish, aquatic life and seaweed are cleaned from the shell, AGAIN!

When the masons arrive to install the marble veneer inside the pool, they observe over 50 feet of cracking in the floor area of the shell. When they inquire as to why the pool is already cracking, they are met with a shrug of the shoulders. No investigation is initiated, to determine WHY the shell is cracking BEFORE the pool is even completed.

The LC made a few telephone calls and retains a firm in Mountain View that will inject epoxy into the cracks, sealing them. This firm does not advise the LC that the epoxy is only a filler. They also do not advise that it does nothing to reinforce or stabilize the failing structure... like placing a sunscreen on skin cancer.

The masons begin their work, as the new pool equipment is installed. Shorty after the pool is filled with water, the estate manager observes that the lights in the pool are going on & off, going from bright to dim - though they are turned off! There is some inductive electricity in the pool, causing the filaments to glow. A few weeks later, the pool service technician reports that he feels "tingling" on his aluminum pole as he vacuums the pool.

I am called in to evaluate the project. We determine that the epoxy coated steel and other mistakes, has resulted in a poor bonding grid. The concrete used in the project is cracking & failing. The plumbing on the spa & pool suctions is reduced to such a small diameter & with so many elbows, that the line velocities are exceeding dangerous levels.

It is determined that the spa is loosing water, though a leak detection firm cannot locate any leaks. While examining the progression of construction, I discover that a step was later added to the floor of the spa. But there was a suction grate in that area, prior to the installation of the new step. That warranted further inspection. I discovered that the LC, "extended" the suction line, by placing a curved piece of 3" diameter corrugated drainage pipe into the step, to help extend it to the face of the new step.

Not only is this against every pool construction standard in existence, they failed to seal the original wall where this pipe originated. Water was just seeping through the porous gunite & new step, into the soil below.

Though I have never personally met the owner(s) I know that they are not of significant physical stature (not tall). When I was in the empty spa, I realized that it was almost 6 feet deep! There was absolutely no thought placed into the ergonomic design of this spa. On a project of this magnitude, the spa should have been fitted to the owners physical attributes, jets placed where they wanted them, and "their" custom seats placed to afford them the view that they wanted while in the spa. The air line for the spa venturi's was actually terminated in the rocks behind the spa, so that the owners are subject to the constant sucking sound of a small "shop vacuum" while trying to enjoy the spa.

The marble chosen for the interior of the pool was a significantly soft material and allowed for water to weep through it (marble is not recommended for constantly submerged applications, it decays & is not waterproof - Marble Institute of America).

Major storms still hit this structure, and it has to be drained with a sump pump and shoveled of debris. No provisions were made to vacate this waste water directly to the nearby ocean (a dump line). Nor was there a vacuum port installed for routine maintenance of the pool or spa.

The equipment room is subject to flooding and corrosion of the equipment, boilers, and electrical components. An appendix to the CBC (Calif. Building Code) specifies the methods that must be taken, when structures are built in such close proximity to the ocean & may be subject to flooding. Suffice it to say, the surcharging (impact) from the waves & storms was not considered when this project was engineered. Sealed submarine doors, extended waterproof venting and waterproof electrical systems were omitted (overlooked).

As it turns out, while this pool appeared simple on the surface, it was in fact a very complex project. It required a creative mind and strong personality ...One that could present options and alternatives, to the owners determination to rebuild the structures in the same location. There were creative options, and granted they would have been more expensive, they would have satisfied both the owners desire for an "authentic period reproduction" of the original structures and the need for totally sealed waterproof and submersible buildings.

Everyone involved in this project was involved in litigation. It will literally cost over a couple of million dollars to remove & replace this pool and the related structures. It cost the LC everything he owned - because he thought that "swimming pools are easy to build."

Now, I am sure that he's thinking otherwise.....

and the property owners are wishing they had hired the best design & build firm on the planet!

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