I’ve written about the beauty of building swimming pools and spas with water quality and serviceability in mind from the very start of a project. Although almost any body of water can be retrofitted with systems and features designed to generate quality, resilient water, it’s always better when it’s done right the first time.
Unfortunately, so often that’s much easier said than done. The challenge is that property owners and their project teams, including possibly landscape architects, architects, developers, and contractors, are not in the habit of bringing an aquatic specialist into the mix at the start of the design process. As a result, important technical and creative aspects of the design are left as afterthoughts.
It’s a common refrain in the aquatics industry. Those of us who make a living designing aquatic systems are asked to bid on projects that are nowhere near fully thought out. It’s common to receive a set of plans where the pool is represented by some kind of shapely blue patch on a site plan with very little detail beyond its size, contours, and location in the yard. Maybe there’s some rockwork and decking details on the plan and that’s about it.
On a purely practical level, it’s almost impossible to offer a meaningful bid in those situations because there are so many unanswered questions. But in the bigger picture, by not addressing fundamental issues at the start of the creative process, it’s inevitable that everyone involved skips big opportunities to fully deliver on the dream of an aquatic lifestyle.
From the Ground Up
Starting with the most fundamental issue of all, the ground itself, there are many projects I’ve seen where there’s no soils report or geotechnical information of any kind. An entire subject unto itself, suffice to say I believe it’s fundamentally nuts to build a reinforced concrete structure in the ground without understanding the geological forces that will impact that structure. The sad fact is, many of us in the industry have seen what can happen when vessels are built in unknown conditions. They can crack, shift, sink, and rise out of the ground leaving the structure inoperable and in need of major repairs or even demolition and complete replacement.
That’s an unacceptable outcome.
Beyond that potentially epic set of problems, there are all sorts of other key issues that should be considered at the outset, all of which would improve the customer experience. For example: Do they want an automatic cover? That simple question can determine the shape of the pool, its edge detail, and certainly the budget.
Other important topics include:
How will the client heat the pool? Do they want some form of traditional fossil fuel heating, or a system that uses solar or heat pumps or a combination of technologies?
Would they like an attached spa, maybe one where the seats and benches are designed to fit their height and hydrotherapy preferences? Perhaps they’d like to be able to stand up in a deep well or recline on a bed of jets.
And there’s the plethora of aesthetic and material choices. Do they want a tile pool, or exposed aggregate interior finish? Do they want colored lights, an associated water feature, a tanning ledge, a creative step design, a beach entry, or a vanishing edge?
On the more purely technical side of the design process, there are all the specific system elements that, when properly selected and engineered, result in reliable and efficient system performance. That means deciding on not only the chemical treatment system but also more basic criteria such as the location and number of skimmers, plumbing size, and turnover rate—all the decisions will have huge impacts on water quality and serviceability. The same is true of the size and location of the equipment pad and the location and length of the plumbing runs.
In Forward Motion
When all of those elements are examined with the client from the beginning, achieving the customer’s main objectives, providing what they truly want and need, becomes part of the project’s DNA. Everyone is on the same page from the start, rather than fitting in key design elements as an afterthought downstream.
Certainly, for many projects there are many designers and builders who are involved from the start (our company included), and in those situations with clients who are involved in the process, we see example after example of amazing water environments. There is mind-bending, great work being done, I just happen to think that should be the case every time for every client.
One of my fondest hopes for our industry is that as we evolve, homeowners and other professionals come to appreciate the value of fully considering aquatic possibilities from the beginning. It’s up to us who believe in the possibilities of aquatic design to make that case as often and convincingly as we can.