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, May 8, 2009

Are they REALLY saving you money? Warning, hacks abound!

Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa
Paolo Benedetti

Though I design high-end custom luxury swimming pools & spas, we are also a design-build firm. Subscribing to the absolute highest imaginable standards, I can only build a few creations each year. When a design client says, "We just want your plans, because we're going to put this out to bid. We know that we can get it built for a lot less." I know that this is not the client for me. The lowest cost and receiving a quality built project are diametrically opposed.

They are telling me that they are merely focused on the price... not the quality. I have had many of my designs eventually built by the "low bidder." The clients are so proud of themselves because they were able to obtain the project for 1/2 the price of what I would have charged. I often hear (initially), "we just cannot justify spending twice the money for the same thing."

But the purpose of my complete plan set, is to provide potential bidders with a set of plans & standards that they will be expected to build to - these are called specifications.

The "same thing" assumption is where they go wrong. First the low bidder decides that the structural engineering that has already been defined (the engineering that everyone else bid off of), is "over engineered." They disregard the original structural engineering & proceed to purchase some generic mail order plans. Mistake #1!

Next, they decide that the plumbing is "too big!" There is a cut-rate builder on the S.F. peninsula who went so far as to tell one of my design clients, "Paolo always is about over kill. Who ever heard of a 4" suction pipe on a spa jet pump?" He proceeded to downsize the pipe to a 2.5" pipe, almost tripling the line velocity! Can you say "suck an elephant through a garden hose!" The resulting noise at the pump from cavitation, was enough to wake the dead! But what the hell, the pool builder can't hear it from his house!

The site was beautiful & clean immediately after the shotcrete was applied. The design clients say, "Just look at the yard, it is so clean. See, they really care about my property." This could not be further from the truth... the property should have had yards and yards of concrete trimmings & rebound piled up - WASTE from the shotcrete (gunite) process. Where did it all go, you ask? They shoveled it into the beach entry, and into the floor of the pool, and into the spa benches, and into anywhere else they could. Why? Because they not only save themselves the hassle and expense of having to haul away 5-10 yards of hardened concrete in a few days, they also save themselves even more money in not having to place structurally sound & virgin material into the pool shell. And, hell, who wants to have to shovel all of that crap out of the pool? But, the finished pool "looks the same..." - maybe, on the surface all is well, but there is cancer inside!

This same hack, deleted some unique design details as "unneeded" (read that as: too complicated, time consuming, and beyond my capabilities). But remember, all of the competitors bids were based upon these details being included. He is remarkable at degrading a project to fit his low-ball bids & construction methods. Next he changed the shape of the beach entry, effectively making it shorter. By doing this, the results were an increase in the slope of the beach entry. The results were in excess of the industry standard of a 7-1 slope. After shotcrete the client saw that the beach was "still too big" for their tastes. So, they call the builder, who sent out a laborer to saw cut off the amount the client desired. No concern for the structural steel that was removed, no concern for the integrity of the bondbeam bars - just get in there & bust it out.

The plans specified an underwater anti-drowning sonar system. The system was custom designed by the manufacturer, SonarGuard, based upon the original shape & depths of the pool. The original plans were sent to SonarGuard, who ran computer models to validate proper detection & coverage in the pool. SonarGuard specifies the placement & depth of each underwater sensor. Deviations from the plans in the pool's shape or depth, or installing the sensor conduits in the incorrect location, results in a system that does not perform to it's designed potential. This same builder, decided that he could put the conduits where he pleased, installing them at the wrong depth, incorrect angles, and even omitting sensors. This system, when properly installed is supposed to prevent drowning of the homeowner's toddler children. Yet, the builder chose to totally disregard the specifications for this "life safety" system. Again, the design clients thought they received a comparable bid... but, it's not quite the same thing so far, is it?

Special stainless steel rebar was specified for use in securing some large boulders to the beach entry & in fabricating a poured in place concrete bench. Of course this was not done, and in a short period of time, the rebar will begin to corrode & rust through the concrete & bleed out from under the boulders. But it "looks like the same thing..." - not quite!

The glass mosaic tiles were installed without any regard to the specified installation practices, which called for a waterproof membrane, waterproofed leveling bed, special thinsets, fortified grouts and expansion joints. Instead, the tile was installed without regard to any cure times, membranes, or expansion joints. But the clients say "it looks the same..." - until it begins to fall off!

On another project, a $1,000,000+ pool had developed cracks in the shell prior to completion. This builder's solution was to inject epoxy into the cracks, so that the pool could be tiled. The wheels were falling off even before the pool was completed! Shouldn't someone say, "Whoa, something is wrong here. The pool is cracking - we need to find out WHY before anyone proceeds!" Instead, he is out to save you money ...just a little wood putty here, duct tape there, a little chewing gum over there, and some bailing wire, and she's good to go! Please - don't do me any favors! But in the end it still looks the same... - Yeah, right!

How does someone get away with this you ask? Well oftentimes these very same pool builders often work for general contractors (GC) & developers who build "spec homes" or custom homes. Since the GC is always about staying within budget & saving a buck (thus making more for themselves), these low-ball pool builders "have a home." The quality of the swimming pool rarely matches that of the home. The pool builder justifies their practices with comments like, "I do this all the time," this is standard in our industry," "you didn't pay for that," "it's okay, I've done this before."

People actually buy into this line, and the myth is perpetuated. These are the same hacks also do repair work for commercial properties - you know, apartment complexes!!! Have you EVER seen a beautiful apartment complex pool?? Do it fast & do it cheap! Look out Tim Allen there's competition!

Over the life of the the property, the client will end up paying for a lot of unwarranted repairs to correct rusting reinforcing steel, failing masonry, structural cracking, burned out pumps & motors, reset faulty tile work, listen to loud pumps and pay for excessive energy costs (noise & extra energy consumption are due to small pipes with big pumps). They'll never be able to remove the rebound & trimmings, correct structural deficiencies, or replace the undersized pipes that run under & through the concrete pool shell.

If only it had been done correctly in the beginning! That few thousand dollars that they saved by deleting the deputy (special) inspectors & laboratory testing during construction, seems like it might have been worth it now, doesn't it?! There is a reason that these hacks do not want special inspectors around their jobsites! This is why I specify them and relish their presence. They keep everyone honest and guarantee the client that things are being done according to the specifications (remember those?!).

CalTrans (CA State Dept of transportation) would never accept a bridge that was cracking before completion, let alone epoxy inject the cracks! You couldn't accept a cracked foundation on your house, nor would you let someone just fill the cracks with epoxy! You wouldn't let an electrician put undersized wiring in your home, lest you have a fire. Your wouldn't let the plumber install undersized sewer lines, so that you can experience sewage back-ups. But property owners allow the low bidder pool builders to "justify their own modifications to the defined plans." It's like placing the fox in charge of the hen house!

But, like the design clients said when they insisted on putting the project out to bid...

All pools are the same
, and mine looks just like your plans - WRONG AGAIN!

My Italian Grandpa always used to say, "Buon non è poco costoso ed a buon mercato non è buono" (translated from Italian: "Good isn't cheap, and cheap isn't good.").

Grandpa, I could not have said it any better!

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