Wednesday, September 11, 2013

International Aqua Design - suspected defects, now what

You suspect defects with your international aqua design, now what? It's time to hire a swimming pool expert witness to sort things out.

Something just isn't quite right

Your pool has been completed.  It doesn't operate quite right, tolerances vary, things are out of level, the equipment is noisy and the masonry and concrete is beginning to crack.  Your international aqua designer and builder has an excuse for every issue you raise.  You're not an expert but you know that they're blowing smoke.  You can just "feel it."

Few people actually listen to that "sixth sense," that tells them when something just isn't right.  And the people who are trained to listen to that sixth sense, police officers, special forces operators and trained interrogators, are naturally suspicious to begin with.  Go with your gut feeling - your instincts are usually correct!

Make your demands reasonable

A property owner needs to be reasonable.  They need to provide their contractor with sufficient time to remedy any defects.  The owner needs to put everything into writing.  Conversations can be debated - he said, she said.

Be professional, courteous and non-emotional.  List the defects that you are aware of, what you want done and the completion deadline you seek.  First class mail is usually sufficient.  If there is already some animosity, then certified mail - return receipt tells them that you mean business and are documenting everything.

You should also involve your architect, landscape architect or your watershape consultant.  They may be able to inspect the project for compliance with their plans.

Failure to reply or comply

If the contractor fails to reply or refuses to address the issues, then it is probably time to consult with an attorney and a swimming pool expert witness.

Your attorney can discuss with you strategies and tactics.  

Once the swimming pool expert witness has performed their cursory inspection, they will prepare a list of patent defects (obvious defects).  From their investigation they may begin to suspect latent defects (concealed defects).  Those may require invasive and non-invasive testing.

Collecting your documents

The swimming pool expert witness will want to review everything that you have in your possession:
  1. initial proposals, bids, concept drawings
  2. change orders
  3. contracts, specifications, equipment & material lists
  4. a list of sub-contractors and their lien releases
  5. plans and structural engineering
  6. permit inspection card and any city documents (regarding barriers, special inspections, inspection schedules, etc.)
  7. EVERY photograph and video that you took during construction (burn to a disc)
  8. copies of any communications between you & the builder (emails, letters, telephone call logs, etc.)
  9. any calendar or diary of their construction progress, dates of major milestones, no show days, etc.
  10. cancelled checks or receipts for payments
  11. any other documents (packing slips, owners manuals, instructional papers, use/care guides, pre-liens, correction notices, etc).
The swimming pool expert witness will review all of the documents.  Those documents will help to assemble a project timeline.

From your detailed and extensive collection of digital photographs, they will be able to zoom in on suspicious items.  Items and locations that may include potential latent defects are identified.  Those items may warrant additional inspections.

Once the list of actual damages (patent and latent) has been identified, the cost of repairs can be estimated.  Then your attorney will take over and negotiations begin.

Many times swimming pool expert witnesses will be retained following the case settlement to observe any corrective measures.  Though these repairs are usually performed by a third party contractor, the expert witnesses has intimate knowledge of the defects and the project that allows them to provide guidance and direction on the owner's behalf.

Contact the author, Paolo Benedetti of Aquatic Technology Pool and Spa at: or 408-776-8220. 
Visit his website at: 
All Contents © Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa, 2013. 
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gunite Shotcrete swimming pool steel

How does a swimming pool expert witness verify the steel placement on a swimming pool that has already been built?

Construction Documentation

Usually, property owners have lots of photographs of their swimming pool while it was under construction.  These are very helpful, even if there is not a ruler or scale in the drawing.

Usually there is an object of a known dimension shown in an image.  From that known object's dimensions, the expert witness can establish a scale for the image.  That image scale is then utilized to judge the proper spacing and placement of the steel reinforcement.

Take lots of high-resolution digital pictures!

Non-Destructive Testing

There are also devices that allow an expert witness to "see" inside the wall.   These radar devices look into the concrete to determine it's placement and depth under the surface.  Think of them as high tech stud finders.

Destructive Testing

Like it sounds, these tests involve destroying small areas of the structure.  These are usually limited to four or six inch diameter borings of the concrete.

Sometimes, a larger area is required to be opened.  These are usually limited to cases when the soils or material under or around the pool are called into question.

In one instance, the side scanning radar indicated one abnormally large diameter piece of reinforcing steel in the shotcrete.  Opening up this area with jackhammers revealed an 3/4 inch black iron gas pipe routed in the soil under the pool.

The pool builder took the shortest path by installing a pipe without any corrosion protection directly under the swimming pool.  After 8 years, the line was already so corroded a pen knife pierced the pipe.

Contact the author, Paolo Benedetti of Aquatic Technology Pool and Spa at: or 408-776-8220. Visit his website at: All Contents © Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa, 2013. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Aqua design international disaster

An aqua design group's - international disaster waiting to happen.

Experience and Training

An aqua design group's international failure at providing competent plans, nearly caused a castastrophic project failure.  This firm (that is really a landscape architecture firm) did not inherently possess the skills or knowledge to design aquatic facilities.  A review of their plans, associated construction details and project specifications bore this out.  

A qualified pool builder builder would have to significantly modify the aqua design group's substandard plans to meet the building codes, industry standards and acceptable trade practices.  

This would mean that the project could not be built for the cost projections provided by the international aqua design group.  The property owner would be hit with change orders and cost over-runs, just to make the project code compliant.

Plan review reveals deficiencies

While reviewing an international aqua design group's plans, I happened upon many deficiencies that could have been catastrophic, even deadly.  The Arizona based landscape architecture firm that promotes itself as "international aquatic designers and planners" had designed a perimeter overflow pool and underground equipment room for a high profile client.

Personnel Safety

The underground room lacked the required "confined space" ventilation, required by OSHA, to allow personnel to occupy the below ground vault.  The access ladder, light switches and lighting were also not OSHA compliant.

Electrocution Danger

The equipment room did not have any drainage or sump pumps to protect the room from flooding.  The international aqua design group even specified that the equipment was to be mounted directly on the floor!  And, NO GFCI protection was specified for these components.

In the event of a leak or faulty plumbing, the electrical equipment room would have flooded.  The water would have equalized with the water in the vessels.

Electrical and mechanical equipment would have become submerged.  This would not have only destroyed the equipment, but could potentially electrocute someone climbing into a flooded room.

Lack of Equipment Ventilation

Electric motors, pool pumps, heaters and other pool equipment require cool air to maintain the proper operating temperatures.  Without any provisions for cool air, the equipment will operate inefficiently, experience shortened lifespans and eventual overheating.

Auto-Fill Design

Contrary to acceptable trade standards and practices, the auto-fill line was designed to inject the fill water into the gutter of the pool.  The placement of the fill line in such a manner would have cause water to spray out of the gutter, creating a lot of noise and visual distraction.

Lack of Surge Tank

Though tight on space, the site was sufficient to allow a properly sized and built surge tank.  Instead, the international aqua designer chose to utilize the gutters as the surge tank.  Such a design would flood the gutters from bathers displacement or wave action - rendering the gutters ineffective.

Lack of Hydraulic Calculations

No hydraulic calculations, line velocity specifications or other design criteria were provided with the plans.  The line velocities at the suction inlets (drains) were not compliant with the codes.  The selection of pipe sizes appeared arbitrary.

After performing hydraulic calculations, it was determined that the international aqua design firm's pipe specifications were grossly undersized for the specified pumps.

No Protection against flooding

The equipment room was not provided with an absolute failsafe method of preventing flooding.  Inexpensive techniques are available to prevent flooding or back siphoning of the return lines, in the event of a check valve failure.  These devices were simple ignored.

Lack of Serviceability

The equipment room was not provided with a means to service the equipment without draining the pool!  Because the plans omitted shut off valves on every pipe, the pool would have to be drained to perform routine maintenance such as cleaning filters, repairing pumps or cleaning pump strainer baskets.  A waste of precious water, chemicals, labor and money!

Maintenance & Cleaning

Provisions needed to be made to allow for vacuuming of the various vessels.  Usually international aqua designs include dedicated vacuum ports in every vessel, that function as "central vacuuming" systems.  These are critical for overflow pools that lack skimmers.

Generic Mail Order Structural Engineering

To add insult to their work product, the aqua design failed to provide site specific structural engineering.  The engineering was not sufficient to withstand the soil and site conditions present.

The aqua design firm simply purchased some engineering from a catalog and forwarded them to the client.  This was a violation of the California Building Code (CBC) and the International Building Code (the nationwide building code).

Lack of Proper Licensing

Adding a final insult, the international aqua design firm was located out of state, and was not licensed to design or build projects in California.  The were not California licensed engineers, architects or contractors and therefore are prohibited from designing projects in the state. 

Landscaping firms that have turned into aqua design groups, hardly  possess the qualifications to properly design and build swimming pools - let alone resorts or public facilities.

Accreditation and Certification

There is only ONE accredited program (IACET) for the training and education of swimming pool designers - and that is from the Society of Watershape Designers.  To date only 35 individuals have completed the rigorous course of study to become SWD Certified.

Hiring an SWD Certified Designer ensures that your project is designed with your safety and best interests in mind!

Contact the Author:
Paolo Benedetti, BS, SWD Certified 
Aquatic Technology Pool and Spa 
phone: 408-776-8220. 
Visit his website at: 
All Contents © Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa, 2013. 
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Swimming Pool Expert Witness - Honesty

Honesty from a swimming pool expert witness is paramount!

An Issue of Credibility

False claims of experience by a swimming pool expert witness will only serve to impeach their credibility.

There are a number of swimming pool expert witnesses who are claiming to have been involved in the design, engineering or construction of tens of thousands of swimming pools.

Delve into the Facts

Was the expert witness the principal of an "engineering mill," that sold generic pool plans via mail order to anyone with a checkbook?  Does that permit them to claim those as experience? Claiming to have been involved in every one of those projects? Hardly!

Was the expert witness the president of a large franchise swimming pool company?  Because they delivered generic engineering to their franchisees, do they get to claim that as "involvement?" Does that allow them to claim that they were involved in every project that their independent franchise owners built?  Hardly!

Issues of Quality

Are there issues of quality or compliance surrounding pools build using those generic plans?  

The issuance of such plans by a licensed engineer without reviewing the site or soils conditions, is a violation of the International Building Code (the USA's National Building Code).  Structures must be designed to withstand the site conditions - something that the structural engineer cannot do without reviewing a soils report or the site conditions.

Have any projects that utilized those generic plans ever experienced structural failures?  
Were those failures due to the inadequacies of the plans or the lack of review of the site or soil conditions?  
Maybe the plans that were provided were inappropriate for the conditions that were present?
Were there quality or construction defect issues with any of the pools built by franchisees?  

If an expert witness is going to claim those projects as their "qualifying experience," then don't they also have to assume the failures associated with those very same projects?

It's all a matter of veracity.

Contact the author, Paolo Benedetti of Aquatic Technology Pool and Spa at: or 408-776-8220. 
Visit his website at: 
All Contents © Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa, 2013. 
 All rights reserved.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Concrete Filling Drilled Caissons - Don't just let the concrete fall

Filling drilled caissons with concrete - do not just let the concrete fall!

Free Fall

Recently, I was asked to weigh in on a project where the methods for placing concrete into drilled caissons were under debate.  

The concrete contractor insisted that the concrete could be dropped from the surface down into the 40 foot hole.  The swimming pool contractor did not feel comfortable with that, but did not know of any standards that dictated otherwise.

American Concrete Institute (ACI)

The ACI publishes a myriad of concrete standards.  Most issues regarding concrete, are discussed in their standard ACI 318.  ACI 318 has been adopted and incorporated into the International Building Code (IBC) as well as the California Building Code (CBC).  The IBC is the basis for building codes relating to concrete, that have been adopted across the nation.

ACI 318 states that concrete should be placed as close to it's intended location as possible.  So, in the case of drilled caissons, that means filling the hole from the bottom up.  The weight of 40 feet of 3-4" concrete filled hose is unwielding.  Usually a crane, backhoe or concrete boom is required to fill such deep holes.

California Building Code

The CBC is a little more compromising.  It allows for the concrete to fall no more than 6 feet.


Why is there any concern at all?  Separation.

If the concrete is allowed to fall a significant distance, the aggregate separates from the concrete.  A homogenous mix is not delivered to the final resting place.  Pumping the concrete from 40 feet also allows the concrete to bounce off of the reinforcing steel, also separating the aggregate from the cement.

To ensure that the specified mix design is delivered as specified, precise placement practices are critical.  

Contact the author, Paolo Benedetti of Aquatic Technology Pool and Spa at: or 408-776-8220. 
Visit his website at: 
All Contents © Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa, 2013. 
All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Swimming pool expansive soils structural design

Designing swimming pools to withstand expansive soil conditions

Expansive Forces

Expansive soils are found all across the United States and in many parts of the world.  The energy that they can place upon a structure is immense.

The concern with swimming pools is that the soils around the pool will swell and place an inward force upon the shell (called lateral pressure).  The expansive soils literally squeeze the pool to death, cracking it.  Expansive soils under a pool can push it right out of the ground.  And usually this is not an even force, so the pool ends up being out of level, creeps or moves, or the floor cracks.

Once a pool begins to leak, that water saturates the expansive soils making the situation even worse.

May the force be with you

Usually there is little concern about expansive uplift, as expansive soil deposits are usually only a few feet thick.  The act of excavating the pool, removes the expansive soils from beneath the pool shell.  This eliminates the vertical uplift concerns.  In these instances, the pool can be designed to overcome the inward pressures from swelling soils that remain around the walls.

Bench Pressing

Where the expansive soil deposits are deeper than a few feet there are a few options.  Left unchecked, the expansive soils will bench press the pool out of level, potentially cracking the floor.

Over excavation is the least expensive.  If the expansive soils are a reasonable depth, they may be simply removed.  The hole is then brought back up to the required depth with an engineered fill.  The engineered fill can be a cement slurry or imported and compacted road base.  From then on, it is construction as usual with fortified walls (to address the expansive soils around the walls).

In areas with unreasonably deep deposits of expansive soils, the options begin to get expensive.  The most common method is to isolate the floor of the pool from the effects of the swelling soils.  The pool is usually placed upon a series of drilled caissons and supported on grade beams.  The soils between the grade beams are removed and filled with a "void form."  

A void form is comprised of layers of cardboard or EFS foam blocks.  They are used to support the concrete until it is cured.  Eventually the cardboard void form decays and shrinks, leaving a compressible voids or pockets under the pool.  The EFS foam blocks are designed to compress and absorb the energy of the swelling soils.  Not to worry, as the pool is actually supported on the drilled pier foundation.  If the expansive soils swell, they move into these voids, leaving the pool unscathed.

Isolating the Walls

Some soils engineers are over concerned about isolating the walls of the structure from these expansive forces.  This can also be achieved through the use of EFS blocks.  Since they do not decay like void forms, they will continue to support the soils and sidewalks above them.  In the event of compressive forces, they absorb the energy, yet still support the surfaces above.


Keeping the soils around the pool dry, is of course the easiest course of prevention.  Maintaining the caulking in expansion joints and not allowing the decks to drain off into the surrounding planters, will assist in keeping the decks level and the pool structure sound.  

It is best to collect the water on the pool decks and route it a safe distance away from the pool, where they cannot flow back under the pool or decks. Deepened turn down footings around the edge of a patio slab will keep any irrigation water from flowing back under the slab through the base rock material.

This is why you need a soils report before embarking on the structural engineering design for a swimming pool.

Contact the author, Paolo Benedetti of Aquatic Technology Pool and Spa at: or 408-776-8220. Visit his website at: All Contents © Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa, 2013. All rights reserved.