By James Scott
For all the purposes a pool serves, its most vital role is as a water feature—that is, a central point of interest within the overall landscape of your home. A luxury pool design recognizes this priority, blending the pool into the surrounding yard and enhancing the home’s existing beauty. Even if your luxury pool is still just a dream, this knowledge is important: It gives you an idea of what to look forward to when your dream becomes a reality.
Finding a competent designer or builder to be the person for the pool and its surroundings is a must to ensure your project’s success, but selection of a pool professional is just one milestone along the timeline of your pool’s construction. Here’s what else to anticipate.
It’s never too early to start planning for your project—especially when it comes to permits and initial paperwork. In many urban areas, getting permits can be a difficult and lengthy task; building permits can take two to six months, sometimes longer if variances are required for your particular project. Start laying the groundwork for the permit process before you even meet with a designer or builder: Have your survey map updated, locate any wetlands, find wells or septic systems on the property, and retrieve any plans of the property. Zoning and setback constraints will have an effect on your pool’s location and the overall design. Don’t worry, though—a competent designer will verify site attributes and limitations before beginning the design process.
With the initial research underway, your next task is to select a person to establish the overall design vision for your property. You may ultimately employ several other parties—architects, landscape designers, contractors, and so on—to assist with the project, but you should choose one person to have overall design authority. Make that decision known to all parties; otherwise, you may encounter strong competing forces within the design team, which can lengthen the project, increase frustrations among those involved, and add expense to your bottom line.
The next step is creating your pool design. The more conversation between you and your designer before putting pencil to paper, the more your design will be suited to your needs. Make sure everyone who will have design input—your spouse, parents, or children—is present for these initial conversations so that everyone feels like a part of the process and an agreed-upon plan of action can be developed. Consider aesthetic features you want as well as utility features; a skilled designer can help you think about these and show how to blend them successfully. Designers also find it very helpful in the planning stages for clients to have an “idea folder” with pictures and other relevant clippings that show desired design elements. Remember, the more you can relate visually to the designer, the more likely you will be satisfied with the final plan.
Openly discuss the project’s finances with your designer and builder. Agreeing on a budget is crucial to alleviating disappointment, frustrations, and extra time spent “going back to the drawing board.” As you discuss figures with the designer or contractor, consider whether you can tackle the project all at once or if it needs to be broken down into phases. There are often less costly ways to meet an aesthetic goal, but it requires being upfront with your choices from the beginning.
PREPPING THE SITE
Site preparation is required before breaking ground. This process includes having a surveyor stake out setbacks or property lines, deciding where access to the project area will be, gaining any approvals outside of a town’s jurisdiction (such as a homeowners’ association), and landscape protection (transplanting mature shrubs, having an arborist assess whether trees need to be protected). Discuss with your designer which of these tasks are your responsibility, and make sure they are completed on time.
MANAGING THE PROJECT
Many different tradesmen must be choreographed in order to successfully complete any project. I once counted the number of different vendors, subcontractors, and other people my company interacted with on one project—we had 68 different contacts! Granted, some of these contacts were responsible for small jobs, but we were still tasked with choreographing all 68 people for one project.
The project manager must know the best time for people to come into play and when they should back out. Tradespeople expect this stop-and-start process, but they also rely on a competent manager to make it happen efficiently. Most tradesmen are interested in coming in, doing a good job, and getting out of the way; being held up or asked to come back the following day causes frustration on a project, something the manager wants to avoid at all costs. Whether your project manager is a pool builder, an on-site architect specializing in pools, or even you, that person must be familiar with the construction process. Finally, whomever you choose, make sure he has strong organizational skills.
With most building projects, contractors allow a “punch list,” which itemizes tasks that need to be completed or small repairs that must be made at the conclusion of construction. Sometimes wrapping up the punch list can take as long as the whole project, which wastes everyone’s time. The best way I have found to avoid creating these time-consuming lists and ensure a satisfactory project is to establish payment phases according to project milestones. If you are required to pay for a particular phase as it is completed, you will be more likely to speak up about any concerns before reaching the end of the project—making it much easier for the contractor to resolve the issues or explain their final effects within the design.
Your selection of finish materials will affect the overall project timeline. For example, glass tile installation can add several months to a project, from delivery to installation and curing time. Also, certain tiles have long lead times to fabricate and deliver.
Your biggest task throughout the construction process is to have a realistic expectation of how long the project will take. If your builder is not forthcoming with that information, push for it. I suggest you ask for a relevant timeframe, a window that provides plenty of leeway for the project to be completed, as well as some extra time to account for any delays. Of course, you should also request a short list of major milestones within that window, so everyone involved can look to them without worrying about day-to-day progress. A project manager who keeps everyone informed, organized, and satisfied will ensure a project that leaves everyone—especially you, the homeowner—proud of the final product.
James Scott is a principal of Group Works LLC in Wilton, Conn. He is a third-generation watershaper and landscape designer. His experience in the pool industry spans over three decades, and he is currently pursuing licensure in landscape architecture. Group Works is a Platinum Member of the Genesis 3 Design Group and is aligned with the American Society of Landscape Architects and the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals. James thinks and dreams of color, shape, and form.