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!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Swimming Pool & Spa Construction Defects - What a mess you have...

Watershape and aquatic consulting, infinity vanishing edge swimming pool designer, negative edge pool and spa contractor Paolo Benedetti of Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa, discusses how you can avoid swimming pool construction defects.


You will get what you pay for!

Quality, keen supervision, training and education all have related costs. Those costs have to be passed along somewhere. Isn't it wiser to spend more and get a quality job, than to suffer the headaches of litigation and then owning a patchwork of repairs that will always be suspect? In fact, you may have to disclose the defects when you sell the house - dragging down your property value!


Building inspectors are not concerned with workmanship. They are only concerned with "life safety" issues. All 50 states have adopted the UBC (Uniform Building Code), though many municipalities and region of the country do not enforce these codes when it comes to the construction of swimming pools. Many states have adopted even more stringent codes, to address specific construction issues in their region of the country. California for instance has their own building code, that is way more stringent than the UBC. Local ordinances can make regional building codes even more stringent (like requiring fire sprinkler systems, hurricane windows, cast iron drain lines, fireproof roofs, etc.).

Some localities "get it." For instance Los Angeles requires soils reports, structural engineering and even a "special inspector' to monitor the placement of the shotcrete (gunite). They realize that their inspectors cannot stand around all afternoon watching the shotcrete be installed, so they require that a deputized individual "babysit" the contractor.

Florida requires that even the plumbing systems be completely specified. They understand the importance of calculating the hydraulics, line velocities and TDH (total dynamic head) of a system. They realize that a properly engineered hydraulic system saves energy, is quieter and results in a safer bather environment (because the line velocities do not exceed those of the pipes).

Since the codes are updated every few years, the code that applies to a specific project may be 4-5 years behind the date of construction. The codes that apply to a project are those that have been adopted by the local government at the time the permit was applied for.


Because some localities do not even require structural engineering (though the codes require them), the strength of your pool is at the mercy of the contractor. Human nature being what it is, do not expect them to hire a structural engineer on their own. Many will just "wing it."

Even if structural engineering is required, it may not be "site specific." This means that it may not be sufficient to overcome specific issues on your site. These can be poor soil conditions, up slopes, down slopes, setbacks, building or structural surcharges (objects so close that they apply stress on the shell), high water tables, loose/unsupportive soils, potential environmental surcharges (seismic events, vertical sheer planes, snow loads, avalanches, mudslides, waves/tidal surges, storms or wind loads).

While generic engineering may be applicable, they cannot be blindly applied to a project without a structural engineer's review of the site conditions. And since many of these conditions exist UNDER the surface - impossible to identify without digging inspection pits or boring samples for a soils report. Superman's dead, so there is no one with x-ray vision to forecast what they'll find when they dig.


Let's face it, most swimming pool contractors do not even possess college degrees. And those that do, rarely have soils or structural engineering degrees. So, why would anyone allow them to specify the strength of the pool shell (it is in effect the equivalent of a basement full of water).

Pools are designed structurally to be empty. They are designed to withstand the forces of the earth, not the weight of the water within. Even if they hire a structural engineer, the structural engineer cannot determine the minimum strengths required without knowing the forces or instability of the earth that will totally encompass the pool. I know, it's all common sense...


In many states (Texas for example), contractors do not need to be licensed. They do not need to pass a competency exam and complaints are not received or investigated. Nor are they are not required to have a certain level of financial stability. The only recourse for property owners is litigation - an expensive proposition. Unless you enjoy conflict and lawsuits "for sport," it is a waste of time and money. It is truly the "wild, wild west!"

Besides checking references, go online. Scroll through 5o pages of search results, inquire of the local court systems and the Better Business Bureau. If they have been involved in many lawsuits (either to collect monies or being sued), then something is amiss. Contact the opposing parties & get their "off the record" opinion - these are the references that the contractor will not provide you (and the folks you really want to talk to!). Check on-line contractor or local business referral websites (e.g.: Yelp) for comments - send a message to the people who posted on-line comments (again, these are great independent references).


The construction defect cases that have been the easiest to settle, were those where the property owner or their representative took thousands of pictures. With the advent of digital cameras, besides the investment in the camera, the images are free. Invest in a good quality camera. The larger the resolution, the greater the details that can be "zoomed in on.'

Large images also allow for comparisons of scale, which helps determine the precise placement of objects within the construction. They also document the quality of the workmanship, care and adherence to the plans and contracts.

Without lots of pictures it is difficult to ascertain exactly what occurred during construction. So, in order to prove what occurred, destructive testing will be required. This usually entails drilling cores (plugs) out of the walls, floors and slabs in order to determine the quality and strength of the concrete. Side radar scanning will be used to locate the reinforcing steel, it's placement and depth. Camera's may need to be inserted into pipes to verify their sizes & placement. Most of these tests (and related expenses) can be avoided with lots of pictures.


Keep lots of notes and an organized job file. Keep a diary of the progress on the project, the weather if it negatively impacted the project and the dates of promises, change orders or project revisions.

Assign a number to every document that the contractor provides you (except for equipment manufacturer's owner's manuals & reference materials - keep these in a separate binder for later reference). If a salesman provided a "cartoon" drawing of the project, number it. The same goes for all communications, emails and phone calls. It is easy to document them & keep them in a set of binders. If your project turns out to be trouble free, then you can easily throw out this material.

However, if the project turns out to be a nightmare... then you have everything documented. It is extremely rare, that a contractor is this organized. And this will work to your advantage. Things that they promised, but didn't deliver are documented. When they later deny ever making such promises, you will have the proof to impeach their testimony.

Who do you think that a judge or jury will believe... a well organized homeowner or a confused and disorganized contractor who contradicts himself (because he's too busy to keep notes & records)? It all adds up.


Building codes are in effect the laws adopted by a local government, as to the minimum acceptable construction standards. They are to be enforced by the building inspectors on their periodic progress inspections. Building codes get more stringent with each successive generation - so it's acceptable to design or build a project to be in compliance with the most recent codes published, whether or not they have been updated or adopted by the local agency.

Industry and Trade Standards are the "workmanship" standards that are published for various sub-trades. These are the "law" in civil courts. When a project experiences overt signs of poor workmanship, the "standards of care and workmanship" on the project will be compared against these standards.

Almost every trade has published minimum standards and "acceptable trade practices." Just because a contractor (or contractors in a region) use a certain methodology in construction, does not make it correct. National trade & contractors associations have developed these minimum standards, as a means of regulating workmanship. They've drawn a line in the sand, as to the minimum acceptable levels of performance.

Many of these trade standards are even referenced in the building codes. The UBC references many of the ACI (American Concrete Institute) standards, even going as so far as to incorporate them into the code by reference. The same goes for plumbing, electrical, tile, masonry, shotcrete (gunite), plaster and other trades.


Most pool plans are constructed with a plot plan (where the pool & equipment will be placed on the lot) and one page of generic mail order structural engineering.

A thorough set of plans should include :
project layout (plot plan)
project cross sections & elevations
grading elevations (rough & finish elevations)
surface run-off & drainage plan
gas & electrical service (from service entrance to equipment pad)
low voltage conduits & schematics
high voltage conduits & schematics
plumbing schematics for the suction & returns
plumbing schematics for the spa jets suctions & returns, airlines and jets placement
lighting schematics, placements and watts/lumens
equipment pad laid out to scale (w/a project specific materials list)
wiring diagram for the equipment pad
electrical load calculations, breakers & wiring sizes
construction details, cross sections & notes
construction specifications
waterproofing measures
project specific notes (safety, anti-drowning, local codes)
applicable codes & standards (referencing the codes & date)
urban run-off control plan (varies by region)

If a project is well defined and specified in advance of construction, then there is little "wiggle room" for the contractor to cut corners and deliver a poor quality product. Spending a little more in advance, by purchasing a well defined set of plans, specifications and standards, will save you thousands in lawyers fees, reconstruction costs, loss of use and stress.

Like the commercial says, "You can pay me now, or you can pay me a lot more later."

"You only pay for quality once!"

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