There are specific phases involved in constructing an inground gunite swimming pool, with each one having to be completed before starting on the next phase. On most of these projects, an entirely different crew will come in to carry out each phase of the building process. Having each phase done by different sub-contractors ensures an efficient process, as each team performing a particular phase is expert in what they do. Your project manager is the expert in handling the coordination of sub-contractors, ensuring there are no delays, and that each sub-contractor’s work is thoroughly inspected for quality and adherence to the plan.
Each phase of construction can take anywhere from a day to a week to complete. Here’s a quick look at each phase:
An experienced pool designer will come out and measure your lot, determine the property line, consider any easements, setbacks and underground utility lines while examining the area’s topography. Your budget will certainly be a factor as well as the size, shape and style of pool you’re envisioning. If you haven’t figured this all out already, your designer will likely show you some photos, or perhaps drive you around to see some actual pools in your area that they’ve designed and built.
Once you’ve agreed on the size, shape and style of your pool, you’ll talk about possible water features, rock formations and planter beds. Are you going to have a spa attached to your pool? You’ll look at your tile and coping options as well as those for plaster. You’ll consider special features like an infinity edge, built-in shallow-water benches and tanning platforms. You will also determine where the entrances will be. If you’re having a pool deck built, you will decide the size, the materials used, the texture and any accents. There are so many possibilities that the design phase can seem endless if you’re not decisive.
Once you’ve finished designing the actual pool, you need to determine what pool equipment you’ll install, and there are many choices. Do you want a slide and or a diving board? There will certainly be ladders and rails and of course an automatic pool cleaning system. Very often a pool builder will align themselves with a company that manufactures pool pumps, filters and heaters.
You’ll also consider having a salt chlorine generator, a mineral sanitizer unit or ozonator installed. If you want to control the pool equipment from a remote location, you’ll plan for handling the lights, pumps and heater from inside your home, or even your smartphone. If you want your pool to be eco-friendly there are heat pumps and solar pool heaters with zero emissions, water-saving cartridge filters, LED lighting and two-speed and/or variable speed pumps to dramatically lower energy consumption.
Once you and your pool designer have decided on all these items, he or she can start drawing the plans up. Once the plans are drawn up, you’ll meet to confirm all your choices before the plans are submitted to the city and/or county for permits. If you’re a member of a homeowners’ association, your HOA might need to sign off on everything as well.
This is when it all begins. An outline of the pool’s shape must first be staked and painted where it will be placed in the yard. To allow access, you may be forced to remove fences and trees. Your grass might be damaged due to the traffic coming into the backyard from the street.
Front-end loaders or excavators are usually employed to dig a pool, however some builders use skid-steer loaders, which work well on smaller pools. In a few short hours, the hole will be dug and you’ll see the rough shape of your pool. Excess dirt is usually taken away, but some homeowners choose to keep their dirt because they want to build up another area on their property. If you want to keep your dirt, you will save the cost of hauling the dirt away. It’s your dirt after all!
The excavators can run into problems if they happen to hit solid bedrock or a high water table or an underground spring starts leaking into the area being excavated. If your builder thinks there may be a chance that this could happen, he or she will most likely warn you, and the expected costs that this would add to the excavating phase.
Steel & Plumbing:
This is when the actual construction begins on your pool. The hole must be reinforced using steel rebar and the amount will vary depending on your location. In every case this steel rebar reinforcement acts as the actual skeleton of the pool, providing the structural support needed for the pool’s shell. The rebar is set 2” to 4” from the wall of dirt.
The steel rebar will be bent into position, wrapping around the curves and steps following the exact shape of the hole. Once the steel workers are finished, or perhaps while they’re still working, the plumbers will place the skimmers, cleaner lines, returns, and drains. During this time there may be electricians on-site to connect the bonding wire around the pool’s shell, hang the pool’s light niches where they belong in the wall, and make preparations for the upcoming gunite crew.
During this phase your hole will start looking like a pool. Gunite is actual concrete, which is shot out of a type of gun at a very high speed by forced air. The concrete is pumped continuously out of a hopper truck while being shot behind and on the surface of the steel rebar. Finishers then come in with trowels to carve out and sculpt the concrete into the finished shape of the pool, according to the plans.
Once the gunite phase is complete it must dry before any plastering can begin. It is going to take a few weeks for the gunite to fully cure. During this time it is critical that the pool not be rained on or for any debris to collect on the surface. As the gunite cures, you may notice small cracks appearing in the rough surface, which is not cause for concern since these will be covered over in plaster. However, if there are large cracks or areas of crumbling concrete, have your builder come out and inspect.
At this point your backyard will likely be a mess. Just be patient though, because there are just a few phases of construction left, and then you’ll be free to take care of your landscaping.
Tile & Coping:
While the gunite shell is curing, this is when it’s best to get started placing the perimeter tile as well as the capstones around the pool wall, which are usually brick, milled flagstone or precast concrete. The pool tile around the perimeter provides a surface at water level that’s easy to clean. Coping stones offer a safety grip inside the pool for easy grasping while keeping water from draining into the pool.
The deck could be built during this phase, and once done the expansion joint between the deck and the rear side of the coping stones should be caulked. Make sure the expansion joint is clear to the ground and that the deck is not touching any areas at the back of the pool wall. This enables the pool and deck to both expand and contract independently. By caulking the joint you prevent freezing water and debris from getting in and clogging the expansion joint.
It is now time for the electrician to come out and install the breaker box, normally referred to as a sub-panel. This goes where the pool’s equipment, the pump, filter and heater, is going to be placed. The sub-panel will most likely be a 100-amp box to power the time clock on the pump, the lights inside the pool, any extra outside lighting as well as any electrical outlet(s). The sub-panel can also power a salt chlorine system or booster pump to clean the pool.
The electrician must also connect the pool’s lights to the junction boxes outside the pool deck. Once that’s done, he’ll run an electrical conduit back from the junction boxes to the sub-panel.
Earlier, your electrician connected a bonding wire (a bare copper wire) to the steel rebar that created the pool’s shell. This is the wire connecting all of the pool’s steel components and equipment. It normally begins on the shell, goes on to connect to the ladder and/or slide leg sockets within the deck, then connects to the light niches underwater, and then goes to the equipment pad, connecting with the pool’s pump, filter, and heater.
By now the plumbers have installed most of the plumbing and you will notice them pressure testing everything before they backfill the trenches. Once the plumbing has undergone a whole series of tests, your builder will start installing the equipment onto the equipment pad. Most of the pool’s equipment will sit outside, but many homeowners choose to plant bushes and shrubs or build a little wall to conceal the equipment. If your heater is powered by gas, it must be properly vented towards the outside.
Plastering the surface of your pool is the final phase. This is the pool’s waterproof layer to protect its shell and steel, to provide a smooth surface and a nice luminescent layer that can easily be cleaned.
A plaster crew working at lightening speed is an amazing sight to behold. They work extremely fast, with a crew of just 4 or 6 completing the entire task in just 3 to 4 hours. When they’re finished the pool will be filling up with water. It’s always best to fill up the pool as fast as possible without stopping, which means you should have extra hoses so it can quickly fill up.
Your plaster crew will give you vital information on how to take care of your plaster. These instructions must be followed carefully. To carry this out, coordinate with your builder so that you have an understanding as to who will be handling the plaster care for the first few weeks, which is a critical time.
This is when all the last-minute equipment installation and cleanups occur. At this point, your pool should be almost finished and look like it. Your pool builder will do the initial start-up to get the equipment operating properly. He will also handle the initial balancing of the chemicals in the pool’s water.
Once this is all done, your builder will schedule a meeting with you so that you have a good understanding of how your equipment works. It’s a good idea to take detailed notes, because there will be a lot of information to remember. The chemistry in your pool will likely fluctuate, requiring daily checks and some balances for a time, but it will stabilize after a while. Now it is time to enjoy our new swimming pool!