Pool builder profile of high-tech pools

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Not every pool builder surveys an open field, clean sheet of drawing paper in hand, with freedom to create without constraint. But often it's the biggest hurdles that elicit the best performance. (And make it fun, too.) As these three builders demonstrate, no matter what obstacles arise, there's always a way to overcome barriers with brains and produce a beautiful, high-tech pool.

Creative Pools, Naples, Fla.

Qqq 210 AqMission: Create a high-impact, multifunctional pool in accordance with ever-changing specs in a small space using existing, concrete-bound plumbing

Equipment: 3-hp waterfall pump with 4-inch suction; 3-hp spa pump with 4-inch suction; 2.5-hp filtration/water features pump with 3-inch suction

Sanitization System: Salt chlorine generator with 48-square-foot DE filter

This interior courtyard contained a lovely Caribbean lagoon-style pool, but the homeowners wanted something with a Tuscany theme.

And they had an ever-changing list of features they wanted to accompany it. "It was what I like to call 'a work in progress,'" says owner Gale Graham. "When I went to work on Monday, I never knew what magazine the owner was going to bring me, asking for additions to the design."

An exceptional aspect of the job was the intensity of the plumbing and electrical work. In the plan for the new pool, water would come from seemingly everywhere - down the slide, over the waterfall, it would flow from the scuppers and come bubbling out of the rocks and the cave. Along with a good deal of water there would be natural gas, fog and electricity flowing all over the room. And it all had to come through existing PVC and conduit pipes, which were encased in concrete. This was no mean feat.

For example, Graham says, "We had a couple of 1-inch conduit light lines going into the spa, and we adapted one of them to become a gas line and brought it up under the pedestal for the fire feature, and the other became the fog line."

New water lines had to be laid for scuppers, waterfalls, bubblers, taps - eight features in all, and they all had to be valved separately and hidden completely. With each new feature the owner desired, the valving manifold grew. It finally ended up stashed in the rocks under the waterfall. If you thrust Graham's custom-crafted wrench between the base support rocks, "and if you hold your head just right," he says, "each valve can be adjusted."

Despite the small footprint of the project, with all the revisions to the plan as well as the constraints of space, this project took a year and a half to complete. Still, working patiently as a two-man team with an assistant of 25 years, Graham seems to have enjoyed the challenge.

"Seeing the joy on their faces of the owners and their grandchildren," he says, "we know the mission is accomplished."

Elite Pools, Baltimore

Mmm 210 AqMission: Construct a tranquil waterscape in a small urban backyard

Equipment: 3-hp pump for main pool with 2-hp pump for water features

Sanitization System: Twin 420-square-foot cartridge filters with erosion feeder and salt system, Pentair IntelliTouch controls with mobile touch unit

The owners of this urban home were looking for a peaceful backyard sanctuary from the city around them. The problem for the builder was access to the job site, which was exactly 6 feet wide.

"Other pool companies who bid on the job said they could not do the project unless major walls were demolished," says owner Michael Shaffery.

In order to accomplish the pool and leave walls intact, the company would need brawn and brains - muscle to man-haul tools and materials and broken concrete where machines could not go, and brains to manage the logistics of supply to a job site that had very little staging area.

"It's inside the city, so we had to stage everything very carefully. You couldn't waste one square foot of material storage space, or you'd have to move it two or three times," Shaffery says. "We could keep a few things there, but it was difficult, so mostly we ran things from the shop to the site. It was like a bachelor making dinner - they buy what they eat that night. We brought what we'd need that day."

The existing backyard was entirely covered with stamped concrete, Shaffery says, "so before we got to the pool, we had to stage containers and jackhammers, and had to break up and carry out by hand all of the concrete in buckets, manual-labor style."

The company used proprietary scheduling software to maintain a smooth transition between phases and finished the project three weeks ahead of schedule.

"It was a delicate situation with lots of supervision," Shaffery says. "I'm not proud of the profit I made on that pool, but I'm proud of the pool."

Haven Pools, Huntington, N.Y.

Vvv 210 AqMission: Build a stunning pool in a tidal zone without getting your feet (too) wet

According to Craig Bonawandt, president of Haven Pools on Long Island, his client's wish list "was extremely extensive but not impractical: a full-depth pool with an in-floor cleaning system, an automatic cover, laminar jets and very precise spa conditions. An ornate and vast hardscape was needed for extensive entertaining both day and night."

What made this pool somewhat problematic were the necessary dewatering efforts, which were complicated by stringent environmental regulations.

"Dewatering is always tricky in my area of the country," says Bonawandt, "where you're digging the bottom of the pool down below the water table. And, naturally, we were digging this pool in the spring when the tides were exceptionally high.

"We were up to our knees in water and stone. The ground was not clay; it was not trapping the water, it was just real soft sand that allowed water from the high tide (which was only about 20 feet away) to permeate the excavation."

Different builders approach this situation differently. Bonawandt's solution is to put a precast concrete ring in the bottom of the hole, and then put gravel on the outside of the ring. "Then we dig out the middle of it. The ring sinks, and as it sinks, it stabilizes the soil due to its structure and the gravel on the outside.

"It stabilizes the ground so you can keep on digging below the water table. And then of course we're pumping constantly."

Needless to say, with stringent local government regs, it's never as simple as that. "The DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) here is huge," Bonawandt says, "so you can't pump any water into the natural harbor. Even though it just came from the harbor a few feet away, if you pump it back there, the fines start at $10,000."

Instead, the company had to pump the water all the way to the front of the property and into a series of dry wells, where it would percolate back down into the soil.

"It's a bit tricky," Bonawandt says, "but we've been doing this for a long time. Next year will be our 42nd season."

With a solid foundation for the pool in place, Bonawandt was free to create a fabulous poolscape using fire, water, light and color. The pool design features a long lap lane, color-changing LED lights, four laminar jets and an automatic cover.

The lighting system in the pool floor creates ambiance for all types of entertaining, notes Bonawandt. "It's a Starfloor system by Fiberstars - the result is little points of light in the bottom of the pool. You have to either notch the floor or brown-coat it. In our case we notched the floor, because the gunite was already installed and the elevations set. So we notched the floor and ran the cables. The end of the fibers have these acrylic-like stumps and you plaster them right in."

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