Troubled Waters: Part I – A Pool On A Bluff
It’s a sad fact, but there’s no denying that the pool and spa industry has a questionable if not outright bad reputation. Ever since I can remember, fly-by-night companies have tainted the industry and, all too often, have left homeowners with serious to severe unresolved problems.
The following story is one of those situations, maybe the worst I’ve ever seen. Fortunately, it does have a happy ending, although it took a long time to get there.
The story takes place on a bluff in Montauk, Long Island, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The clients are a couple who have unlimited means. We worked mostly with the woman, a lovely person who expects only the best but is also very reasonable and easy to work with, very down to earth and very kind. She loves to swim and loves the water.
On a Bluff
Long before the couple built the pool, the woman’s sister introduced us and we shared our story and how we deliver the most impeccable water available. She loved the idea and from the start wanted one of our SRK HydroZone 3® pools.
The couple’s house is very rustic looking with a multi-million dollar view, a perfect spot for a beautiful vanishing-edge pool. The clients were working with a general contractor remodeling the house. The contractor had brought in a local pool builder who claimed they built pools the same way we did but at a lower price.
We first became aware there were problems when the builder called us in a severe panic. The pool was built, and he wanted us to come in and install our system after the fact. Apparently, he had been directed to bring us into the project, said he would, but never did. That is, until it was way too late.
I took a look at the pool and could tell immediately that it was built poorly with incredibly inadequate circulation and undersized plumbing; the flow rates were off, the filter was undersized, and there were surge tanks buried four feet underground that were completely inaccessible. The whole thing was a nightmare, and I told the contractor that our system would never work under those conditions.
So, I walked away feeling bad that these dishonest contractors had duped the homeowners. I couldn’t help but think this is exactly why our industry has such a bad name.
About a month later, the client called, asking us to get involved. The water quality was so bad the pool was unusable; the heating system was under performing and there were many other issues. I told her we would do our best, but it wasn’t going to be easy and it wasn’t going to be cheap.
Bad to Much Worse
Even though I knew this pool had problems, it was actually far worse than I had originally thought. The first problem was we couldn’t control the chemistry. Right away we knew something was going on and it was probably a severe leak, which meant the auto-fill system was running almost constantly and diluting the water, which in turn flipped the chemistry all over the place.
Because the pool was leaking so badly, I suspected there had to be some kind of ground movement. I asked the general contractor and the pool builder if they had a soils report and if there was some kind of foundation under the pool.
They had not run a soils report or looked at the foundation, meaning they built a pool in ground without knowing whether or not the ground could support the structure. That struck me as particularly odd given that the area is famous for ground movement, common for ocean-side locations pretty much everywhere.
At first, all I said was, “This concerns me.” I didn’t mention anything to the homeowner because the problems I thought might occur hadn’t become obvious yet. But right on cue, just a couple weeks later, the pool started to move; that is, it became apparent that it was moving.
The first thing that happened was the pool started leaking at an even greater rate. We couldn’t even begin to keep up with the chemistry fluctuations. The next thing we noticed was the vanishing edge and perimeter overflow edges were out of level. Within just a couple weeks, the deep end of the pool heaved out of the ground by an inch and a half, and then later it went back down and the shallow end rose up. You could almost watch the vessel heave up and down. It was like it was alive, or at least floating in liquid soil, which was pretty much the case.
Then we started seeing cracking in the weirs, which started to give way. Then the facial stone cracked and delaminated. It was obvious ground movement was destroying the pool. The builder came out and dealt with the crack by repointing it with caulking and doing various other quick stopgap measures.
This went on for about a year. We continued to do our best to service the pool, but it was obvious this would end up a completely doomed installation.
In the second year, the pool builder and the homeowner asked us to install our system, even though we had told them the pool wasn’t anywhere near what it needed to be for our system to work properly. Still, they kept pressing me to do whatever it took.
We stripped out the filter and all the other equipment, put in a properly sized sand filter, medium pressure UV, 7-gram an hour ozone, variable speed pump, and installed a new control system. We did what we could to retool the pool, and although it wasn’t perfect, it did function better after that, but the pool still leaked and it was still moving at an accelerated rate.
In other words, everything was still a big ugly tangle of half measures. That second year, the movement became even worse and eventually a huge crack formed down the middle of the pool.
That’s when we started talking with the client about completely replacing the pool.
To be continued. . . . Remember to read on for Part II