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A Subcontractor's perspective
Posted on Sunday, April 22 2007 @ 00:00:00 EDT
Topic: Construction
ConstructionI recently had a conversation with Greg, an excavation subcontractor from Riverside, CA. Greg does work for over a dozen different pool builders, but an increasing portion of his business is coming from owner/builders. He digs around 40 pools a year and has been at it for about 8 years. It was an interesting conversation as I was able to get some insight and perspective from the "other side."

Greg told me that he digs a complete pool in two days, but often times, keeps in touch with the customer for over two months as they come back with questions about other aspects of the pool building process.

What area in California do you do your work and do you see big differences in the way in-ground gunite pools are constructed between CA and AZ?
The area south and to the east of Los Angeles and Orange County is called The Inland Empire. This contains most of Riverside County and some of San Bernardino County. Locals recognize it as IE. TV News, news papers, malls, and sporting events share local references. Reading your site it is interesting to recognize the differences as well as similarities with building a pool in the IE and your area. I must point out that each pool contractor and building inspection department has particular individual requirements. The best way for me to add my experience to your printed wealth of information is to explain my understanding and add a reason for the process.

Can you describe the typical layout/exavation process as its done in your area?
The Layout process you describe is unique to AZ. In IE, Dig-Day is when the salesman from the pool builder meets with homeowner and excavation contractor. Typically the contractor arrives at 6:30 and makes access to the yard, and the pool company salesman shows up around 7am. The excavator takes the plans and the painted lay out is made. Pool shape and elevation are dictated by the customer (pool salesman). The salesman leaves the site with a layout plan signed off by the home owner. The entire process is always very uncomfortable for the homeowner. The rushed-confusion and excitement allow little time for the homeowner to digest and ask for changes. I as a sub to the pool company have no contact with the homeowner and the layout process take little time. In the event the h/o causes a delay in my progress, I charge the pool company up to $250.00 for a total ?pull off? site while lay out is established. Pre dig layout is not performed by pool companies because homeowner's typically never get comfortable with the layout and salesmen have to return too often to rebid the changes.

How is the process different when you work for an owner/builder?
When I sell an OB dig, I like to show up without a scheduled appointment and lay the pool out as per plan one week prior to excavation. I am unable to make an appointment for ?prior layout? for two reasons. I start my digs very early in the morning and finish my day at sunset or when the project is done. I price OB digs the same as pool builder digs and can not charge for the extra service. The OB customers require more direct attention and ask time consuming questions requiring explanation of size, shape, elevation and location. This part of the planning process is where I hope your site will direct my OB?s and is why I plan to require a OB to become a site member. The OB customer is asked to place patio furniture, sit on the deck, drink iced tea and look at the painted pool. That will allow time for changes prior to excavation.

Does California have the equivalent of a Bluestake (organization that locates utility lines in the ground before excavation)?
Dig Alert is the name of our utility location service. The pool company is left with the task of calling DA. I have a hard time explaining to my OB?s the importance of this task. Dig Alert is required in the IE if anyone digs a hole deeper than one foot. The excavator, plumber, electrician and concrete deck contractor need this task completed. Some city inspectors will not sign off on pre-gunite unless a DA number is provided during pre-gunite. When I am digging a pool builder pool and the code enforcement officers kicks me off, I send a $500.00 pull off charge to the PB. At that point the homeowner can be fined by the city up to $10,000.00. I have uncovered live electric wires in a rear yard after DA has been called. The wires were misplaced during construction and not marked by DA. Had I hit the wires and blown the transformer with out the DA, the General Contractor (Pool Builder or OB) would be billed the repairs by the utility company because necessary steps to protect the utility were not taken.

Do you have any advice for California owner/builders as far as things to do or keep in mind, prior to calling you for excavation services?
Dig Alert is a private company paid for their service by the utility companies. The service is free and takes 20 minutes on the phone. You must call more than four days prior to excavation. First task is to mark the street with white paint. Pick the point where the excavator will park his truck. Paint 8 inch letters ?pool? and a pointing arrow. It is best to paint on the asphalt as it wears off easy in time. Most PB do not even mark the street but if it makes you feel good, do it. Before you call locate your address on a Thomas Guide Map book. Have the page opened when you call (This will save 10 minutes on the phone). Monday is a busy time for DA, so call any other day to avoid a 15 min hold. You will be asked if a permit is required for the work to be performed, say yes and give the permit information if you have it, but most PB say I don?t have it. The operator will state that the DA is only good for two weeks, don?t worry about that, just get the registration number. If you protect the marks and have no additional utility construction the location is good for ever. Remember that you are looking to see that there is not any Utility around the pool area. You will be asked if there is any ?Boring? planned, answer NO. You will be told which utility Companies will be notified and asked to give your phone number for questions by the locate personnel. You will be given a dig alert registration number. Have a pen handy to record it and keep this number with the signoff card for the city inspector or code enforcement official.

What about any pool design advice/suggestions for California owner/builders from the perspective of an excavator?
Pool Size
The average Pool Builder pool is 450 square feet with a 7 to 8 foot diameter spa. The average OB pool is 750 square foot with a 8 to 10 foot diameter spa. It seems that OB?s spend the recognized savings to build a bigger pool. I think OB?s do not realize that larger pools cost more to maintain and larger spas cost more to heat and require more HP and jets to be effective. Pool design should take into account tractor access. When the tractor enters the site there must be a minimum of 8 foot of flat then 10 foot of ramp into the shallow end. Deep end ramps are much longer and cost more in excavation, steel and gunite. The entire ramp wall in a deep end dig needs more rebar enforcing and is more than one foot thick of gunite. Spa dam walls (free standing wall between pool and spa) are expensive in steel and gunite and should be less than 40% of the circle. At 40 % the interior angles of pool will be grater than 100 degrees and that is another detail to maintain for proper flow of auto pool sweepers. Curved walls are stronger than straight. Overall length of pool/spa structure should realize the limits of engineering. A 40 foot pool with a 10 foot spa at one end requires 50 foot engineering. Pool shallow ends at 3.5 feet deep provide comfortable steps and swim lane. For eight foot deep ends the pool should be 34 or more feet long. Reef ledges should be on the side of the pool and not at the end of longest swim lane. Keep in mind that bigger is not necessarily better as maintenance costs start to rise.

Pool Elevation
The type of coping used on the bondbeam and the pool distance from a patio or existing concrete are important factors in establishing pool elevation. With new construction it is best to start one inch below the mud sill (indent above foundation). Calculate the fall of your patio slab several feet past any proposed patio cover. This becomes the ?low drain elevation? and the point that the deck starts to rises up towards the pool. Calculate the rise to the pool at ?" per foot. The new established elevation is the level that the pool should finish or the top of coping. Subtract thickness of coping and bonding agent and you have the gunite elevation.
Note: see the Excavation page for more details

Raised bond beam
The raise in elevation of the deck around the perimeter of the pool is called Raised Bondbeam. Six inch intervals are standard as tile and steps factor well. Raised BB is both ornamental and functional. When the yard slopes toward the pool the raise BB will correct the slope to direct rain and irrigation water away fro the pool structure. It is important to design a pool yard that will drain away from the pool. Expansive soil that is soaked will heave decks and lift pools. New tract homes are required to have rainwater flow paths to keep slabs from lifting and ing. You should keep the same design principle in mind when designing the pool yard. It is best to keep skimmers in the zero BB elevation deck, not in raised or planters. Pool entry must be at zero deck elevation. Deep-end swim-outs should empty at zero deck or close.

Structural strength
The bond beam of a pool is like a brim on a Tupperware container. Without the brim or the Bondbeam the thin walls have little upper support. The side walls of a pool are like a floor joist, the vertical depth provide proportional lateral strength. For this reason some structural engineers demand the entire structure be excavated no less than 27 inches. Beach entries, Reef steps, and rock pockets are then required to be filled to desires depth with gunite. If your engineering does not ask for 27 inch min and you have expansive soil, demand the extra excavation.

Any other suggestions/information that California owner/builders might find helpful as they prepare to get their bids for excavation subs?
Most excavators use Bobcat brand skid steer loaders to dig pools. The largest Bobcats cost over $50,000 and smallest units cost just under $20,000.00. The smaller bobcats dig slow and carry less thus cost more to use. If your access allow, use the largest machine possible.

To contact Greg for more information, go to the Other Subcontractors page to get his contact information.

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