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, October 27, 2011

Independent Inspections & Testing Laboratories

European swimming pool designer, consultant and builder, Paolo Benedetti discusses value of special inspectors, quality assurance and material testing laboratories.

Standards & Specifications
Every project must have some minimum level of standards and specifications. Usually the minimums are established by the building codes, building department or the inspecting government agency. These may include soils reports, structural engineering, civil engineering & grading or erosion control plans.

The property owners may chose to have even more detailed plans prepared that illustrate construction details, hydraulic and plumbing system design, vessel and landscape lighting, high and low voltage electrical schematics, equipment specifications, finish materials, and the standards and specifications by which all of this is to be installed.

In the absence of detailed specifications, the owners are apt to receive the bare minimum in quality that the contractor or his sub-trades can get by with. But oftentimes, these bare minimums do not comply the published industry standards and acceptable trade practices.

The adopted building codes in every region may not specify or dictate the installation standards for every detail of a project. However, there are a myriad of other accepted standards that step in to fill the voids. These may be published industry standards, acceptable trade practices or even codes that are referenced (and thereby included) in a regions approved building codes.

Building Inspectors
Government building inspectors are generalists by their very nature. They must know a little about a lot of various construction codes & standards. Their primary purpose is to ensure the safety of the construction. An individual inspector may excel in a particular field, due to prior experiences.

In some large regions, the government building inspectors are specialists. An inspector may only inspect one aspect of construction projects, whether it be foundations, plumbing, electrical, framing & structural, etc.

Rarely are they concerned about workmanship. Provided that a detail is not unsafe or installed in violation of a code or statute, they will not concern themselves with the methodology, materials or the final "fit and finish."

Who should do the quality control inspections?
So how does a property owner ensure that they receive what they are paying for, that the installations are done correctly and the materials are not substandard?

The first step is to ensure that the project is completely specified prior to the bidding process. This ensures that the contractors and sub-trades are notified of the level of workmanship, installation practices, assembly materials and the quality standards that are expected of them.

The second step is to hire individuals to enforce compliance with the project specifications. Rarely can this can be performed by the developer, general contractor or swimming pool contractor, as most do not have the requisite continuing education, training or intimate knowledge of the myriad of applicable trade standards. Therefore, the owner must employ specialists to inspect the various stages of construction.

Some of these inspections are performed by members of the original project design team. A soils engineer should inspect the completed excavation to ensure that the exposed conditions are no worse than those predicted by their exploratory drilling. The structural engineer should inspect the installed reinforcing steel, to ensure that it has been installed as per their engineering plans. A project architect may chose to perform the inspections on the portions of the project that they designed.

Deputy/Special Inspectors
Many building departments have come to realize that their inspectors cannot possibly remain on site during the gunite, shotcrete or concrete placement. Nor do they possess the testing facilities to sample and test the materials to ensure their compliance with the specifications outlined in the structural engineering. Therefore, many building departments require Deputy or Special Inspectors perform these services. These inspectors are sworn or licensed by a government agency to inspect, observe, sample, report and issue "correction notices."

Their services are usually retained to double check & inspect the reinforcing steel - ensure that it is of the correct size & strength, placed in the correct patterns & spacing, blocked correctly and that the proper clearances were established. They may even take a sample of the steel to a laboratory for testing.

Deputy Inspectors are also utilized to observe the placement of the concrete. They are the "eyes and ears" of the building department. They ensure that incompetent materials such as trimmings, rebound & blow-back are not merely shoveled into the structure. They ensure that a blow pipe is constantly utilized to expel loose material. They will ensure that poured in place concrete is placed correctly & consolidated.

They will also obtain random samples of the concrete throughout the day, to ensure that the concrete is of the mix design and strength. These samples are later cured and tested to ensure that the concrete develops the proper compressive strengths.

Their use in swimming pool construction is usually limited to inspecting the reinforcing steel and observing the concrete placement. However, there are deputy inspectors available to inspect all aspects of any type of construction project.

Independent Inspectors/Consultants/Owner's Agent
Since building inspectors and deputy inspectors are not concerned with the installation practices employed, property owners must have another avenue to ensure that other aspects of a project are being installed correctly.

Independent inspectors or consultants who specialize in swimming pool construction can be hired to perform periodic inspections as construction progresses. Their intimate knowledge of the various standards that govern the sub-trades, will ensure that a project is installed to the acceptable trade standards and practices.

For instance, a building inspector merely checks the plumbing manifold to ensure that it is under pressure. But an independent inspector will inspect the plumbing to ensure that it is of the correct size and diameter, that it is routed and connected correctly, and that provisions for the prevention of back flow & back siphoning are in place.

These consultants can review the installation practices with the sub-contractors, to ensure that they are aware of the standards to which they will be held. Though they may not be a part of the building codes, these various trade standards have become the acceptable methods of performing various trades. In a civil court, these are the standards to which a tradesman will be expected to perform.

On some large projects, the property owner will employ an "Owner's Agent." This person is usually a person with a construction management or engineering background. Their sole purpose it to inspect and approve the construction workmanship of the general contractor, swimming pool contractor, and sub-contractors. Sometimes they have the authority to act on the owner's behalf in making design or project modification decisions and to authorize change orders.

Pay me now... or Pay me a lot more later!
Litigating construction defects means the expense of an attorney, lost work time, cost of experts and testing labs to analyze deficiencies, the inconvenience of repairing the errors, additional expenses to modify a design, living with the deficiencies during the litigation, mental and physical stress, and sometimes the necessity to completely demolish a project and start construction anew. Remedial repairs often entail re-engineering or re-designing portions of a project, resulting in design concessions, further delays & expenses. The finished project "will never be quite like it should have been."

It is always more economical to employ your own inspectors during a project, than it is to litigate and repair construction defects after a project is completed.

Paolo Benedetti - Aquatic Artist

"Creating water as art."™
Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa©