Your New Swimming Pool or Hot Tub Spa
Careful planning is an essential first step to
any building project, and pools and spas are no exception. A site
must be carefully chosen, budgetary and legal restrictions taken
into account, decisions that need to be tackled before your pool or
spa becomes a reality. As you begin to plan the addition of either
of these water features to your own home or backyard, keep in mind
that they are permanent structures and will be prominent features in
or around your home for a long time to come. This fact alone should
encourage you to spend the time and energy necessary to create a
facility that will still give you pleasure years after completion.
Swimming pools and spas are no recent
invention. The remains of 5000-year-old pools are still visible in
India and Egypt today. Today, the United States lays claim to more
than 8 million pools and spas. That's not surprising, when you
consider the various benefits of owning these facilities. Pools and
spas provide the entire family with a great place to relax,
exercise, escape the heat, and spend time with friends and family.
Your Pool and Spa
How you will use your pool or spa is the first
things you need to consider, as you plan it. You may want a spot
where you can relax and entertain guests, or as a healthful exercise
or therapy center. Each use has certain requirements, and defining
the uses now will help you choose the best location for your pool
and decide on the style of pool that best meets your needs.
If you intend to swim for exercise, your best
choice will be a rectangular pool-the longer the better, and deep
enough at both ends to negotiate turns safely. But a pool used for
relaxation and entertainment should have a large shallow area to
splash around in, space around the pool for sunning, and adequate
room to set up tables and chairs nearby.
In addition to the use of your pool, you need
to consider the financial aspects of owning a pool or spa. The
effect of a pool or spa on your property value, the expenses of
maintaining your pool or spa, and the legal responsibilities you'll
incur as your new facility attracts friends and kids from the
The value of the property usually increases, when you add a swimming
pool or spa to it . If the pool is attractive and not highly
specialized, it will be considered an asset, although perhaps not by
families who have small children or who don't want the upkeep of a
There are other ownership expenses, though construction is usually
the major cost of a pool or spa. Because these features generally
increase the value of your property, the assessed valuation may go
up, resulting in an increase in your property taxes. Assessors don't
treat all pools in the same way. In-ground pools are permanent
structures and are taxed on the same basis as your home.
Above-ground pools are usually taxed as permanent structures,
especially if they are framed by decking, although some communities
look on them as temporary and not subject to taxes. In areas where a
pool can be used only for part of the year, the taxes may be reduced
Before work begins you would want to check with your insurance agent
to be sure you have adequate protection. The need for insurance
protection begins when the first employee of the pool builder sets
foot on your property. Though the contractor and his subcontractors
should carry liability and property damage insurance, make sure of
Owning a swimming pool can actually lower your
fire insurance cost. If you live in an area where the fire hazard is
high, or where there is no municipal water supply, your pool will be
a valuable source of water for fighting a fire.
You will require water to fill your pool, fuel to heat it, and
electricity to operate the filtration system. You'll have to pay for
water to fill your pool, unless your community allows pool owners a
free fill. Expect a higher water bill for the month when you fill
Gas, oil, or electricity to heat your pool
will be the biggest utility expense. Rates can vary widely,
depending on the type of fuel as well as the size, use, and water
temperature of your pool. The pump in the filtration system requires
electricity, but the expense of running the pump will be
significantly less than your heating cost. The pool's size and water
temperature, the area's climate and electric rates, and the length
of time the filtration system needs to be operated will determine
the cost. To obtain a rough estimate of your total utility costs,
check with your local utility companies, pool builders, and other
pool owners in your neighborhood.
Routine pool maintenance will include keeping the water chemically
balanced and sanitary, maintaining the support equipment, and
cleaning the pool surfaces. You can contract a pool service company
to perform these chores, or you can do some or all of them yourself.
If you elect to do your own maintenance, your
major expense will be for sanitizers and oxidizers to keep the water
clean. Their cost will depend on the pool size, the water
temperature, the amount of time the pool is used, the number of
people using it, and whether or not the pool is covered. Again, pool
service companies, aquatic consultants, pool builders, and
pool-owning neighbors can help you calculate your maintenance costs.
responsibilities: The regulations and laws relating to an
owner's responsibilities and liabilities vary from state to state
and from community to community. Your best assurance of safe
operation is to comply with your community's zoning laws and health,
safety, and building codes.
For added protection, surround your pool area
with a childproof fence and a pool alarm, or a multiple barrier
system. You also should have a phone by the pool at all times. Make
sure that young children using your pool are supervised by an adult
who has proper lifesaving skills. If you have a pool safety cover,
keep it in place when the pool is not in use, and remove it
completely whenever anyone is in the pool. Keeping water clear and
in proper chemical balance and the pool in good repair will also
help to ensure the safety of swimmers.
A pool or a spa represents a dramatic physical
feature in any backyard. So it makes sense to choose its location
with the same type of care you would give to any other important
project involving your home.
There are various professionals who can help
you decide where to situate your pool or spa. These include
architects, landscape architects and designers, soils and structural
engineers, aquatic consultants, and pool and landscape contractors.
But even if you decide to seek their help, you should do a little
homework before hand studying the microclimates of your property,
familiarizing yourself with building codes and other regulations,
sizing up the landscape, and evaluating possible sites, particularly
if your property has some unusual features.
Building a swimming pool or spa-like any other
addition or alteration to your property-entails a myriad of legal
requirements set forth in deed restrictions, zoning laws, and
building, health, electrical, fire, and safety codes. Take the time
to look into all of these before you commit yourself to doing the
job. When you design landscaping for your installation, remember
that additions such as fences, decks, and gazebos must also conform
to these same requirements.
Aimed at protecting you from faulty construction methods, these
codes set minimum standards for design, construction, and materials
used in building. Some communities have specific codes for pools and
spas; others apply the requirements of the regular building code.
Though most local codes are patterned after
one of the national codes, communities can modify or add to these
standards to satisfy local needs. For example, some communities do
not allow vinyl lined pools, while others ban one piece fiberglass
pools. Check with your building department early in the planning
stage-your pool options may be fewer than were first apparent.
Health and safety
codes: Your community may have specific laws covering
such facets of pool ownership as water quality, lifesaving
equipment, and protective fences and gates. Some communities
incorporate provisions for pool construction into their health and
safety codes, rather than in their building you need to consult both
your local health and building departments to determine pool
requirements and the jurisdiction each department has in pool
Deed Restrictions and
Deed restrictions: Somewhere in the deed to
your property you may find restrictions that could affect the design
and location of your pool, spa, and accompanying structures. These
restrictions may bind you to rules set by a homeowners' association
or provide for a utility easement or right-of-way under, over, or
through your property. Though the rules of a homeowners' association
can be changed by a vote of the members, deed restrictions can be
altered only by mutual agreement among all parties bound by the
restrictions or by court action.
These city or county laws govern land use-yours included. They can
determine where you can place your pool or spa, how close to the
property fines you can build, and how large you can make any may
also contain ordinances governing the amount of lighting and noise
you can create.
Zoning laws usually have provisions for the
granting of variances. If you can show that meeting the precise
requirements of the laws would create an "undue hardship,"
and that you would not be encroaching on the privacy of your
neighbors, a hearing officer or zoning board of appeals can grant
you a variance. Application must be made through your local building
or planning department.
regulations: Drought, an energy shortage a pool accident,
or some other crisis prompts additional government. Among the
different regulations proposed by local and state government
- Restricting the use of water for filling
- Banning the use of natural gas for heating
pools and spas
- Mandating solar heating for all new pools
- Requiring that an alarm be installed on all
new pools or spas
- Requiring window alarms or automatic
closers on new structures
- Banning a specific type of swimming pool or
- Requiring that covers be sold with new
pools or spas
- Requiring fencing and self-closing gates
around pools or spas.
Utility companies and building and planning
departments can tell you about any restrictions currently applicable
in your community.
Climate and Weather
Weather records can determine the average
length of the swimming season in your area, but it's the day-today
weather on your property that determines your poolside comfort.
Since the warmth or coolness of any outdoor
pool or spa will be decided largely by its orientation, it is a good
idea to study the microclimates of your property along with the
regional climate and weather patterns. Any buildings, trees, or
other obstructions on or even near-your property can have quite an
effect on the amount of sunlight and wind the property around your
pool site receives.
A pool or spa in almost any outdoor location
will serve well in midsummer, but wise planning can extend the
season by several weeks, or even months. In many locations, if a
proper design is adopted, there is no reason to close for winter at
If you've lived in your present area for a
number of years, you should have a feeling for the general climate
in terms of average seasonal air temperatures, rain and/or snowfall
patterns, prevailing wind directions, and number of sunny days. If
not, you can get climate information from the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Center,
Asheville, NC 28801. Request the current annual issue of the Local
Climatological Data for your area.
You also may be able to get accurate climate
and weather information through U.S. Weather Bureau offices, public
power and utility companies, meteorology departments on college and
university campuses, and agricultural extension offices.
No matter how much official information you
gather, take stock of the local weather as well as you can. Your
neighborhood almost certainly will vary somewhat from the recording
stations. And by all means talk with the "old-timers" in
your neighborhood. They can extend your knowledge of the local
climate by many years.
Sun and shade:
Theoretically a pool or spa with a southern
exposure (in the Northern Hemisphere) will be warmer than one that
faces north. One that is west-facing will be warmer than one with an
eastern exposure. And a pool facing south will be warmer than one
There are exceptions to this rule, though. In
desert areas, where noontime temperatures can be extremely high for
several months during the year, a north facing pool can hardly be
considered cold. In some coastal areas, on the other hand, a south-
or west-facing pool can be cold because of ocean winds and chilly
fogs in summer. If you're installing a lap pool, orient it on a
north-south plane to reduce eye strain from the sun.
Consider the wind:
Wind is almost as important a factor in selecting an outdoor pool or
spa site as the sun. Too much wind blowing across the area on a
temperate day can be unpleasant, as can no breeze at all on a hot
summer day. Wind also draws heat from the pool or spa and causes
water and chemicals to evaporate, adding to your energy bill and
overall operating expenses.
Place the pool where it uses the winds to the
best advantage, then control the wind, if necessary, with fences,
screens, trees, or plants. A grove of trees clustered around a pool,
for example, can divert and disperse the wind, making any additional
screening unnecessary. For a spa, there are various options with
barriers such as a solid fence and baffles.
Three wind systems-prevailing, daily, and
irregular, high velocity winds-can have an effect on your poolside
In some parts of the world, like the trade wind belt between the
equator and 30 degree latitudes, the prevailing wind blows
constantly for weeks or even months without letup. In the United
States, prevailing winds are felt only in Hawaii, the Mojave Desert,
in the high mountains of the West, and in parts of the Great Plains
Diurnal or daily
wind: Fortunately, these winds-important factors to
consider in choosing a pool site predictable. Some of them are most
prevalent during the swimming season.
In coastal areas and on the shores of large
lakes, the still air of morning gradually gives way to increasingly
strong breezes from the water during the afternoon. These onshore
winds die down when the sun sets. By early evening, the air flow has
reversed. In some areas, these afternoon sea breezes, approaching
gale force, swoop down over the coastal mountains and make most pool
activity impossible unless adequate windscreens have been installed.
Inland mountain areas also experience
reversible daily winds. Generally, the air flow is upslope during
the day and down slope after sunset. Near the entrances to canyons
and valleys, the evening breezes can be quite strong and cool.
Meteorologists call these winds "foehns"
(pronounced "ferns"), but residents know them under
various local names-chinooks, bores, Santa Anas, or Boulder winds.
They flow downslope or out of mountain basins. Though these winds
are usually hot and dry, in some areas they feel cool relative to
the local air; in the Pacific Northwest, the foehn can be moist.
Before you make any decisions about the
location of your pool, take a close look at how it will fit within
the overall makeup of your property. A plot plan allows you to do
this with ease. You will also need to consider such issues as access
to the site by the contractor, landscaping elements, such as trees,
your view of and from the pool, the slope of the site, the character
of the soil, and any drainage problems.
Making a Plot Plan
You will find it easier to evaluate the
placement of various sizes and shapes of pools in your home garden
environment if you work with a plan showing all the features of your
property. Later on, you can use the plan to draw in decks and other
structures, as well as landscaping and lighting. Several companies
offer excellent, reasonably priced computer software for this
purpose. Otherwise, you can make a scale drawing on graph paper with
provision for overlay sheets of tracing paper. The tracing paper
allows you to sketch various pool ideas without redrawing the base
Surveyor's drawings usually locate your
property and show streets, property corners, and distances between
corners, plus the locations of any structures on the site when the
lot was surveyed. Available through your county recorder or title
company, these plans make an excellent starting point for your base
map; simply transfer information from the plot plan to your graph
paper. You'll save hours of complicated measuring if you can obtain
copies of a surveyor's plot plan, architect's drawings or house
plans, and contour maps that illustrate vital statistics of the lot
and buildings. Architect's drawings usually show site plan, floor
plan, elevations, and foundation details. Contour maps show the
slope of the land with a series of lines, each separated from the
next by a fixed difference in elevation-very helpful if you are
building a pool on a hillside lot. Ask for contour maps in the city
or county engineer's office or in the department of public works.
Your Plot Plan
Your plot plan for a pool or spa should show
- Dimensions of your lot Location of your
house on the lot, as well as any doors and windows and the rooms
from which they open.
- Location of decks, patios, walks, fences,
walls, and other structures.
- Points of the compass-north. east, south,
- Location of easements or any other
rights-of-way contained in your deed.
- Utilities (water, gas, and sewers) and
underground wires that could affect your spa or tub location.
(Units should never be located beneath utility wires.)
- Sun and wind patterns.
- Potential problems beyond the lot lines
that might affect sun, view, or privacy - tall trees or a
neighbor's second-story windows - for example, front, side, and
backyard setback boundaries.
- Contours of your lot ( if you don't have a
contour map, mark high and low spots, direction of slopes and
natural drainage patterns.)
- Natural features, such as rock outcrops,
soil types, or wet spots.
Access for the Contractor
Before excavation can begin, you must provide
adequate access for heavy equipment. The minimum width for access to
the pool site is about 8 feet, though 10 feet is preferable.
Sometimes, small equipment can enter through a space only 5 feet
wide, but because excavation will take longer, the cost will be
higher. If equipment cannot be brought in, the pool must be hand dug
at a prohibitive cost. (This technique is still often used in
southern California to excavate hillside lots with existing homes
and landscaping) Alternatively, you may be able to bring in the
equipment over a neighbor's property, but you, not the pool builder,
must make the arrangements. You may have to remove fences and gates.
If heavy equipment will cross a sidewalk, patio, or lawn, take
measures to prevent damage. Again, this will be your responsibility.
Though you don't want to build your pool over
a gas or water main or under a power line, your pool site should
have ready access to necessary utilities. Some pool contracts
require additional payment for unusually long runs to utility lines.
Check that these costs have been included in the builder's bid.
Trees and Shrubs
Generally, it's preferable not to build a pool
or spa too close to trees and large shrubs. Leaves, blossoms, and
fruit dropping near and in the water will add to your cleaning
chores. And a tall tree or shrub may provide unwanted shade.
In any case, these features will form an
important part of the larger backyard landscape. For trees or shrubs
that you want to keep, try to locate your pool so that the
prevailing winds blow the debris away from the pool. In addition,
plot the shadows thrown by the trees; then determine whether or not
you would welcome that shade in and around your pool during the
Assessing the View
Pleasing aesthetics, privacy, and safety are
concerns when you choose a pool or spa location. When seen from
inside your home, the new installation should be an attractive part
of the landscape. On the other hand, the view from a neighbor's
upstairs window may infringe on your privacy. And if there's a
beautiful view from your property, try to position the pool so you
will be able to take full advantage of the view from poolside.
If children will use your pool or spa, you
need either a clear view of their activities from the house or, as
in the case of small children, you will have to be at poolside when
they're swimming. Mark the fields of view on an overlay of your plot
plan. If you've already decided on a potential site, use an enlarged
plan of the proposed pool area to mark the fields; you will want a
large plan when it comes time to mapping out your landscaping.
Slope, Soil and Drainage
Ideally, you want a pool site that's level and
slightly higher than the land around it. (The same applies for
in-ground spas. If you install an inground spa, consider the
following information during planning.) The underlying soil should
be stable and easy to dig. Also, you'll need a dry site, with good
surface and subsurface drainage. Good drainage conditions will
depend on the slope of the land and the nature of the soil.
By analyzing a contour map of your lot, you
can determine where the land slopes and how steep the slopes are.
You should also be able to locate any high spots, depressions, flat
areas, or drainage paths. If you don't have a contour map, wander
around your property and take note of any of these features; then
mark them on your plot plan.
Even if your property has no ideal level area,
remember that hillsides can become sites for magnificent swimming
pools and spas.
Because soil conditions affect the ease of
excavation and also have the potential for damaging or even
destroying a concrete pool or spa shell, you must determine the type
of soil underlying your property.
Once you've zeroed in on a possible site, you
can have the precise nature of your soil identified by having a core
sample analyzed. Gravel, sand, silt, and clay require special design
features in the pool or spa. Though the pool or spa contractor may
have had experience with these conditions, you may want to consult a
Commonly called "garden soil," loam is ideal for a pool or
spa site in many parts of the country since it's easy to dig. The
walls of the excavation will be stable and not likely to collapse.
In other areas, though, it may settle or compact causing damage to
The bane of pool builders, sandy soil usually caves in during
excavation. Because the walls must be shored up with wood or sprayed
with concrete to prevent collapse, the construction cost is
increased. Sometimes, a concrete pool in sandy soil must be built
with a thicker shell, or closer spacing of steel reinforcing bars,
or supported on pilings.
Whether waterlogged from surface runoff or in an area with a high
water table, wet soil is best avoided, if at all possible.
Excavating for a pool in wet soil is very expensive. And the
pressure of the underground water can collapse an empty pool built
in such soil, or float the pool out of the ground. This is also a
risk with pools built near bodies of water where tidal variation can
damage or even carry away an improperly anchored pool.
Known also as clay, it becomes a problem only when a significant
amount of water percolates into the ground. The pressure exerted on
the sides of even a filled pool can cause it to collapse.
Some communities ban pools that cannot be
reinforced to withstand the pressure of wet expansive soil. A
concrete pool in expansive soil may have to be built with a thicker
shell; it may also require expansion joints inside the pool between
the shell and coping (the lip around the edge of the pool), the
coping and deck, and within the deck. A trench dug around the pool
and filled with loose material can help absorb the soil expansion.
Surface drainage must be directed away from the pool area and any
drainage lines must be made leakproof.
Despite the advent of plastic plumbing pipe, corrosive soil can
still present a problem when constructing a swimming pool. Though
metal pools and the metal wall panels used with some vinyl-lined
pools are treated against corrosion, special precautions may be
required in highly corrosive soil. Your pool contractor or soils
engineer should be aware of any problems in your area.
Other considerations: Rock beneath the soil
requires drilling and blasting and may add substantially to the cost
Filled ground is unsuitable as a pool site
unless the soil was compacted properly (this is difficult to assess)
or unless the bottom of the pool will be deeper than the disturbed
The weight of a filled pool built on
improperly compacted fill compresses the soil and allows the pool to
settle into the ground. If it settles evenly, the shell can pull
away from the deck or, in the case of a concrete pool, from the bond
beam. Uneven settling can crack the shell of a concrete pool. An
expensive solution is to support the pool shell on piers or pilings
that sit on solid ground.
Even though you may not see evidence of fill,
dig some test holes on your potential sites. If you find layers of
different kinds of soil or any manmade debris, you can be sure that
the area was filled.
drainage: Usually, any natural drainage on the surface of
your property or a neighbor's property can be diverted away from a
pool or spa site. Surface drainage need not be a problem if you
avoid building your pool or spa in a low-lying area from which water
cannot drain. During storms, muddy water collecting there can spill
over into the unit.
Water running off a slope or down a drainage
path can fill your pool or spa with debris. If you can't find a site
free from runoff, you can landscape the area to divert the water.
Disposing of underground water and pool or spa
water is another story entirely. Subsurface drainage problems-water
accumulating just under the surface of your site, or a spring
running under the properties not an issue for spas, but may make the
excavation for a pool more expensive; a drainage system may have to
be installed under the pool to carry away the water.
Sometimes, a soggy low spot or especially lush
vegetation will alert you to an area of poor underground drainage on
your property. Most of the time, though, the condition is hidden
until you dig a test hole or start excavating your pool.
Ask your pool-owning neighbors if they had any
subsurface drainage problems; you can also consult local soils
engineers, pool contractors, and building inspectors.
Water drainage involves disposing of the pool
or spa water if you have to drain it, and disposing of the water
from the filter when it is serviced. Dumping 30,000 gallons of
chlorinated pool water in your garden would kill all your plants-not
to mention the damage it would inflict on neighbors' yards. For
information on correct drainage and disposal of pool water, contact
the state or regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection
Whether you plan to install a spa or a pool,
designing and building on a sloping site requires the services of
experts. The steeper the hillside, the more important these experts
are. The angle of the slope, the nature and stability of the soil,
the design of the pool shell, and the method of anchoring the shell
to the slope all must be considered.
Despite the problems, a hillside can allow a
designer to create impressive designs. The pool can appear to soar
into space or be nestled in a grove of trees. Few hillsides are too
steep for a pool builder pools have even been suspended from the
edges of cliffs.
Support and drainage:
A hillside pool needs to withstand earth pressure on one side and
have well-engineered support on the other. Downslope supports for
the pool should be built on a solid foundation, preferably rock.
Retaining walls on the upslope side, sometimes incorporating the
pool structure itself, must be sufficient to contain a possible
earth or loose-rock slide and resist earthquakes.
Surface water must be routed around the pool
to a lower slope, and decks must be designed to prevent water from
seeping into the ground near the pool.
Hillside sites also pose special construction
problems for spas. For a portable spa, a level cut has to be made in
the hillside and a retaining wall built to hold it up. Any retaining
wall over a few feet high should be engineered by a professional. A
slab made of reinforced concrete is then poured to support the spa.
An in-ground spa on a hillside also requires a
retaining wall, but one on the downhill side. The wall supports the
spa shell and helps to contain the sand base on which the shell
Depending on the lot, you may be limited in
the choice of size, shape, and type of construction you choose for
your pool or spa. Take the time to seek out companies and
contractors with a reputation for tackling tough problems.
Pool or spa access and adequate decking can be
a challenge. It's a good idea to plan the area completely on paper,
including all steps, decking, and structures. If the site is too
confined, any installation may be impractical.
Finally, consider the costs involved. The
additional expense of building a pool or spa on a steep hillside can
occasionally equal and even exceed the cost of the unit itself. But
if your lot is not excessively steep, expect only a moderate
increase in cost.
Some spa and tub enthusiasts prefer an indoor
setting, for several reasons. There's the obvious advantage of
having the spa or tub sheltered and accessible day and night,
year-round. (In harsh climates, it's often necessary to have an
indoor site that provides complete shelter of the support system
plumbing.) And where privacy is essential but impossible to achieve
in the garden, the house will provide it.
Where the safety of children especially
neighborhood children difficult to assure at an outdoor site,
lockable doors solve all manner of legal and personal worries.
Compelling as one or more of these reasons may
be, they do not make it any less difficult to locate a spa or tub
inside. Integrating a spa or tub into the layout of a home takes a
good deal of thought. As one side effect, these facilities are
marvelously efficient manufacturers of humidity-a plus if you live
in a dry climate, an uncomfortable handicap if your air is
characteristically heavy with humidity. To accommodate this, your
home's HVAC system (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) should
Choosing an indoor
location: As anyone who has had to fit a new bed into a
well-ordered house knows, an object 5 feet across cannot be slipped
into a place unnoticed. When it is for such a singular purpose as a
spa or tub is, the task of fitting it in place becomes doubly
Your first consideration should be traffic
patterns. To be an oasis of calm, the spa will have to be away from
the comings and goings of people in a hurry. This means putting it
in a room that does not carry through traffic or serve several other
Try to locate your spa near a dressing area;
trails of water across the house can be a nuisance to clean up.
Consider locating it within reasonable reach of the outdoors. Even a
nook-size deck or patio nearby can provide a pleasant place to
Once the problems of location are solved, the
special requirements of construction must be faced. Weight and
humidity are the two most complex and vital concerns.
Standard floors are designed and built to
support 40 pounds per square foot. A small spa filled with water and
two adult bathers can easily apply 250 pounds to the same square
foot. For this reason, it's critically important to provide an
adequate foundation. To support a spa safely, an existing wood frame
floor usually requires re-engineering; often, even a concrete slab
in the basement must be replaced with a thicker, reinforced slab.
The requirements your building code sets for
an indoor spa's foundation, plumbing, and wiring-coupled with the
need for efficient ventilation-explain why the best time to think
about an indoor spa is prior to new home construction or room
addition. Major remodeling within an existing building is
unquestionably the most problematical route to a hot soak.
In addition to the need for an adequate
substructure, flooring should slope toward a drain and be
constructed of such materials as ceramic tile, concrete, rubber,
reinforced PVC, or masonry-materials that aren't affected by large
doses of water.
Walls and ceilings must have insulation with a
vapor barrier to resist moisture. (This applies to interior as well
as exterior walls.) The rest of the house also needs protection from
the increased humidity levels.
condensation: Efficient ventilation and a dehumidifier
are your best means of controlling the condensation that can collect
on walls, windows, and ceiling, even when the spa is not in use.
Covering the spa with a thermal blanket or a solid spa cover will
also minimize condensation.
To have the maximum control over your indoor
climate, it may be necessary to back up the natural cross
ventilation with a forced air system or a closed-loop energy
In addition to ventilation, plan on
double-glazed windows and skylights that improve insulation and
inhibit condensation. Walls paneled with unfinished wood and
moisture loving plants are useful because they absorb excess
There are a variety of professionals who can
help you plan your pool.
landscape architects: Many homeowners retain an architect
or landscape architect for projects involving a pool and the
surrounding environment. These professionals are state licensed and
trained to create designs that are structurally sound, functional,
and aesthetically pleasing. In addition, they are familiar with
construction methods and materials, understand the mechanics of
estimating, and they can negotiate with and supervise the
contractor, ensuring that your work is done in compliance with
Landscape designers usually have the education and training of
landscape architects but are not state licensed. Some landscape
designers are licensed contractors, however, and can both design the
landscaping for your pool and actually build it.
Soils and structural
engineers: If you are planning a pool on an unstable or
steep lot, in an earthquake zone, or where drainage, groundwater,
fill, or clay may pose problems, your building department may
require that you consult with soils and structural engineers and
obtain engineering reports.
Soils engineers evaluate soil conditions on a
proposed site and establish design specifications for foundations
that can resist whatever stresses unstable soil exerts.
Structural engineers, often working with the
site evaluation and calculations provided by a soils engineer,
design pools and foundations for other structures. They may
recommend soil modifications.
Pool and landscape
contractors: Pool contractors specialize in pool
construction, while landscape contractors are involved in garden
construction. Both are state licensed. Some also have design skills
and experience; their fees for designing usually are included in the
price bid for performing the work.
Pool and landscape contractors are responsible
for hiring workers or subcontractors, ordering materials, scheduling
work, obtaining permits, scheduling inspections, and seeing that the
job is completed according to the contract.
Choosing a Professional
The best way to choose a professional is to
collect recommendations from pool owners and inspect the person's
work. Though some excellent professionals have no professional
affiliation, many belong to the American Society of Landscape
Architects (ASLA), the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the
International Association of Aquatic Consultants OAAC), the National
Spa and Pool Institute (NSPI), or other organizations. To locate
members in your area, contact a nearby office.
It's important to check out all prospective
builders. These are the principal ways to evaluate them:
- Visit their showrooms and offices.
- If you're working with a landscape
architect, ask for the names of several pool builders.
- Ask the companies you're considering for
names and phone numbers of their customers. Ten or so should
give you a good sampling.
- Check for a company's membership in a trade
- Call the Better Business Bureau. The
quality of the information you receive varies; it can range from
an evaluation of the builder's reputation to only an
acknowledgment that the company is a member.
- Some building departments sell lists of
pool permits issued for the year with the names and addresses of
owners and builders. Ask owners about their experiences.
- Check the records in the county clerk's or
recorder's office for legal actions filed against companies
you're considering. Several actions filed in a short period, or
a continuous history of law suits, warrant further
- Verify that the salesperson who calls on
you actually works for the company he or she represents.
- The company must be licensed by the state
to build swimming pools. You may be able to check with the
contractors' licensing board for specific information about the
- Find out whether the company uses its own
men and equipment or hires subcontractors to do some or all of
the work. Don't eliminate companies that subcontract much of
their work for that reason alone; many small companies operate
very efficiently this way.
Once you've considered all the information
you've obtained, select three or four companies and ask them to
submit bids on the pool you want. Unless you are certain what kind
of pool you want, choose the companies that will bid on your pool
based on their reputations, rather than on the type of pool they
Have each builder you're considering bid on
the exact same package you and your consultants have prepared. If
the companies are equally proficient, you can make a final choice on
the basis of the bids they submit and the convenience of their
construction schedules. But take your time, particularly if the bids
If, on the other hand, the proposals don't
include all the same elements, you'll have to take the differences
into account when comparing bids. Neither automatically accept nor
reject a bid that is unusually low. Instead, find out why. If the
bidder forgot you had mentioned boulders at the pool site, and you
signed the contract knowing this, he or she could probably recover
the added costs in court if you did not pay.
Without a signed contract, you'll have nothing
but trouble. A contract is an agreement between two parties covering
the performance of certain work for a certain amount of money.
A good contract-whether it's the standard
contract used by the builder or one prepared by your
attorney-protects both your interests and the builder's. It must be
tightly written, describing everything to be done and by whom, as
well as everything not to be done.
Don't sign it until you read and understand
all of it.
A well-written contract should contain the
specifications: These must be in sufficient detail so as
to allow no question about what is to be built. A plan drawn to
scale and attached to the contract should show the location of the
pool on your property; the pool's shape, size, and dimensions; and
the location of the support system, including filter and pump, solar
panels (if any), heater, return lines, and main drains with pipe
sizes, skimmers, and accessories.
Contracts for air-sprayed mortar (gunite)
pools should contain a tolerance provision with a financial
consideration for undersized and oversized dimensions. If a
dimension comes out smaller than what you contracted for, you get a
rebate. If larger, you pay an additional fee. The tolerances for a
well designed and well-built pool should be within 1/8 inch.
The contract should specify all the work to be done, materials to be
used, equipment to be installed (including manufacturer and model
number), and any optional features to be considered. The date work
will start and end should be stated (unless local weather conditions
don't allow it), as well as any penalties for late work. It should
also note the time when the owner will become responsible for the
maintenance of the pool.
In addition, the contract should lay down
conditions for suspension, arbitration, and termination (under
federal law, you are allowed three business days after signing the
contract to change your mind).
grading: The contract should state the costs of gaining
access to the site, relocating utilities, and excavation of any
unknown underground hazards whether man-made or natural. It should
also assign responsibility for final grading and for the removal of
building debris and surplus earth and rock.
Costs and payment:
Outlined in the contract should be the cost of the specified work
and any options, the payment schedule (a series of payments based on
work completed), and the question of ownership in the case of
Consider the payment schedule carefully. On
the one hand, to ensure that you won't have paid in full for an
uncompleted pool, you may want to make partial payments as different
stages of the work are completed. The builder, on the other hand,
would prefer to be paid before the work is completed, in order to be
paid in full by the time the job is finished.
Legal provisions in the contract should include the validity period
for the agreed upon price, responsibility for permits and zoning
compliance, and provisions for mechanic's lien releases as the labor
and materials used are paid for (these come from the contractor and
any subcontractors and material suppliers involved). These releases
are necessary because even though you've paid the contractor, if he
or she has not paid those who have done work or supplied material on
your property, you can be liable for the amount owed. In addition to
requiring lien releases every time you make a payment, you can
request that the pool builder post a bond assuring payment to
Liability for damages and personal injury and
guarantee provisions for the contractor's work and any equipment
installed should also be written into the contract. Under federal
law, you must be advised that equipment warranties are available,
and you must be given the chance to examine them.
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