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25 Harsh Realities of Gunite Pool Construction

Posted by Blue Haven Pools & Spas on Dec 9, 2023 10:59:13 PM

—A frank overview of the annoyances that typically await and others that may


While a gunite pool provides years of backyard beauty, fun healthy activities, and therapeutic relaxation, let’s be frank: Fundamentally, getting one built is a messy, disruptive, and irritating process.

Consider what’s involved. In a weather-dependent outdoor job site—your backyard—various crews perform a series of noisy construction phases operating big machines and using a range of tools, equipment, and building materials.

They completely rip up your property in a sequence of activities that go on for weeks or months.

It’s hard to see how this set of variables could result in anything other than an ugly, protracted hassle. Even when the weather cooperates fully and construction proceeds smoothly without significant hitches, the process may test a homeowner's patience.

A variety of challenges present. While you will not face all of them, you will at least some; certain activities—and their consequences—are generally routine and inherent in every new gunite-pool build. Plus, your project could have some curveballs that slows progress.

You know how a doctor—when getting ready to cut or inject you—says “this is going to hurt”? You feel the pain—but at least you knew it was coming.

In the same spirit—but applied to gunite pool construction—let’s take a look at some of the more common activities and issues that surprise and aggravate homeowners—particularly if it’s their first pool project.

Ÿ Permits could take longer than anticipated.

Permits to build swimming pools are required in most major metropolitan areas of the U.S.

Depending on the municipality, a permit could take several days, several weeks, or several months.

Pool contractors can usually provide a general estimate of how long it will take. However, for various reasons, a permit could take longer.

A staffing shortage at the building department may have created a backlog. Or you could need to seek a variance for a special issue.

Your builder may need to revise the permit or tweak the pool design if a new code just took effect or government staff suddenly began enforcing one that’s been ignored for years.

As a result, your builder will be unable to begin our project as planned, throwing off the entire construction schedule.

While not a permit per se, if you live in a homeowners association (HOA), you will need a greenlight from your HOA. Glitches with its review process—or simply a postponed monthly meeting—derail the start of your project schedule.

Ÿ Current drainage may be inadequate.

Boring as it may be, it’s important to know: backyard drainage can impact your pool and deck.

Your builder may advise that upgrades are needed to ensure proper drainage for an inground pool and deck.

For example, you may have runoff water from your roof that’s currently harmless. But it won’t be once your lot’s been graded and a concrete deck—that will be sloped away from your pool—is in place.

A fix may be relatively simple, such as reconfiguring existing area drains in your yard. Or, it could be complex and pricier such as significant yard grading or even the addition of a retaining wall.

Ÿ Barriers must come down.

On some properties, a section of an existing fence, wall, or bank of hedges may need to be taken down to make way for the excavator.

In most cases, contractors will remove a certain amount of fence or wall at no charge. But the restoration will come at added cost.

And let’s face it: Depending on the original fence or material and condition, for aesthetics, you may need to buy an entirely new one vs. replacing only one section.

Ÿ You may need help from a neighbor—possibly with payment.

In some cases, the excavator cannot access the future pool site from your property alone.

If so, you will need to arrange access from your neighbor’s front, side, or backyard.

And yes, afterward, you will need to pay to restore any fence, wall, deck, or landscaping that was cleared to make the needed path for the machine’s entry.

Ÿ Some trees could die for the cause.

To make way for heavy machines to enter your yard or to create space for the pool and deck, you may have to sacrifice certain trees or landscaping.

In some cases, you may think a tree won’t be in the way. But it could have a root system wider than its canopy. Sadly, the extensive appendages may require the tree’s removal.

Ÿ Your driveway may sustain damage.

Heavy excavation equipment must enter your yard to reach the spot where it will dig your pool.

In some cases, the only way it can make it to the destination is to cross your driveway or other hardscaped area.

The sheer weight of the equipment poses risks. Your builder may be able to lay a path of wooden planks over which the excavator can drive.

Depending on the amount of space to be protected and the complexity (e.g., a sharply sloping driveway), they may tack on a fee for the extra labor and material.

Laying a reinforced path may prevent or reduce damage to your driveway or other hardscape. But depending on its material and current condition, even this precaution is no guarantee.

The result may be a driveway with new cracks, and once-minor deficiencies such as small divots or depressions significantly worsen.

Across the U.S., the standard in the pool industry is that contracts do not cover the cost, repair, or replacement for driveway or hardscape for excavator access.

Ÿ Sprinklers may take a hit.

Your contractor will look for the most-efficient route into your backyard. However, sometimes there is simply no clear path. That means heavy machines can leave victims in their wake beyond your driveway.

As the excavator makes its way onto the job site, it can easily trample sprinkler systems. It can damage or destroy lines for septic, drip irrigation, and drainage too.

Like driveways, standard pool contracts specify that your contractor does not cover the cost to repair or replace these systems.

Ÿ Utility lines could get whacked.

Your pool builder will use a third-party expert to identify various utility lines that may be buried in your backyard.

These companies specialize in using municipal records to locate underground gas, water, phone, cable, and electric lines.

Newer home developments are better off: Rules have taken effect that require utility companies to install tracer wires along with the lines. These wires make finding these lines later on much easier and more precise.

Despite this precaution, there’s no guarantee an excavator won’t hit and break a utility line.

In most parts of the country, utility companies are allowed at least a 3-foot variance in any direction indicating where it laid a line. So, the record may suggest a clear area to dig the pool—even though a line is present.

Sewage lines are particularly problematic. In many regions, permits are not required, and the lines are never marked in the first place. Even in new developments, tracer wire is not used to identify sewer lines,

Occasionally, pool builders can discern where the sewer lines are likely to be, but there’s no way to be sure.

Hitting a utility line is the exception, not the rule. But when it happens, the consequences are painful.

Homeowners bear the cost for the repair. Then, salt in the wound: The construction schedule stalls until restoration is complete—and sometimes must also wait for inspection by the utility company.

Ÿ Other problems may lurk below.

Pool construction can unearth obstacles that impede the pace of construction.

One is bad dirt. As excavation begins, crews may discover unstable soil. Or, they hit hard rock—such as boulders or caliche.

Remediation steps will be taken, such as using jackhammers or attaching a rock breaker to the excavator.

For poor soil conditions, your contractor may be able to address the issue by adding a thick layer of gravel to the pool bed. Or, concern could be serious enough to call in a soil engineer to perform testing.

In most cases, experienced pool builders know if a particular neighborhood tends to have problem soil and will advise customers in advance of the possibility. But exceptions happen.

While infrequent, crews may encounter other kinds of underground foes. Examples are a long-ago buried deck, junked car, previous home foundation, or decades-old swimming pool.

Expect extra fees for removal, rock breaking, or other remediation tactics. Odds are high that the construction schedule will also go awry.

Ÿ Water may be encroaching.

Continuing the theme of “underground surprises”: Another potential one is a low water table.

Crews begin digging a hole for a pool, only to find that water keeps seeping in. This makes it impossible to continue.

Your builder will bring in pumps to keep the excavated hole dry enough to allow digging to resume. Other measures may be taken to ensure the pool shell is built in dry, stable earth.

If the water table is particularly severe, your builder may suggest changing the pool depth, its design configuration, or its position on your property.

Or, the solution may be a new design in which your gunite pool is built partially or completely out of the ground. A custom concrete pool build out of ground can be a stylish, dramatic visual attraction in any backyard,  

Unfortunately, a design change will likely trigger added cost and construction delays, particularly if the design modification or pool repositioning is significant.

Ÿ Your backyard will be torn up—badly.

Yep, it will be awful—think bomb site.

Heavy machinery—trucks and excavators—will arrive at your home. Crews will work with a variety of tools and equipment ranging from roto hammers to big hoses to pump gunite.

A bulldozer will dig up tons of earth, and it may need to grade the dirt to level out the build site. Before that can happen, it may first need to break up an old deck, set of steps, landscaping, or a shed.

Deliveries of various building materials will be stored on site, such as pipes, steel, tile, pallets of stone or concrete pavers, and pool equipment. There may also be tarps, temporary fencing, or wooden forms.

Ÿ You will be living adjacent to a noisy hazard zone.

In addition to being an eyesore, your backyard will be unfit for family.

First, it will be loud. Louder than you imagined.

Various, intense sounds from heavy machinery for excavating, shooting concrete, mixing plaster, digging trenches, or activities such as a wet saw cutting tile or stone are common.

If your yard contains existing structures that need removal (e.g., an old deck, trees), the noise will be worse. If underground rock is hit, rock-breaking machinery or even jackhammers will produce painfully high-volume levels.

Second, you have a high-risk environment just steps outside your backdoor.

Do not underestimate the range of dangers a pool job site poses to you and especially your children. It won’t be safe for pets either.

From steel bars to a gaping open hole, a pool under construction is the last place you or your kids should be anywhere near.

It may come as a hard realization how much you rely on the kids being able to play in your yard—because now they can’t. Ditto for keeping your pets outside.

Ÿ Your job site must remain open at all times.

In other words, you need to ensure that anyone can enter your backyard (or wherever on your property your pool is being built).

That means leaving any gates or other barriers unlocked 7/24. Yes, at all times.

With this in mind, to prevent intruders, family members must be mindful to keep any doors or windows accessible from the backyard locked.

Why this open-backyard rule? Read on.

Ÿ Inspectors arrive when and how they like.

Most municipalities mandate formal inspections during pool construction. Depending where you live, expect a minimum of two and up to six.

Inspections occur weekdays between 7 AM and 7 PM. But don’t expect officials to contact you in advance of the visit.

Should you call and ask, it’s very unlikely anyone will give you a time—or even a “window” of when the official will arrive.

In addition, inspectors rarely knock on anyone’s front door to announce their arrival; they just head straight into your backyard.

If you’re not home when they come, you may not realize they were unless you go looking to check if they left a “red” or “green” tag where the permit is posted or have signed the permit card.

Ÿ Laborers may show up unexpectedly too.

Don’t be shocked to look out the window and see your superintendent in your yard although no one told you he was coming.

It happens. Say he went to take a look at the plaster job on another pool. But he couldn’t enter the yard because the owners weren’t at home and left Bruiser, their Doberman, unleashed in the yard.

Next week, he had planned to double-check the measurements on your pool tanning ledge. But thanks to Bruiser freeing up his schedule today, he suddenly had extra time to pop over to your place now.

Even a whole construction crew can arrive when no one let you know in advance. Or, they arrive earlier than scheduled. Or, hours later.

Why? For a variety of reasons, project schedules change and crews adjust.

For example, finishing some custom tile work at another pool took three hours longer than anticipated. So, they will arrive later to your job. The crew leader didn’t think to call and let your builder’s scheduler know.

Or, the steel crew was set to work a pool a few miles away from you. Upon arrival, they discover the soil remains too soggy from rain a few days earlier, and they can’t perform the scheduled work.

Your steelwork was not on the calendar until next week. But since the crew is nearby, they can tackle your job ahead of schedule.

It’s a last-minute change. The crew leader doesn’t reach your pool builder’s scheduler in time for him or her to let you know the crew is en route to your place.

Ÿ Pets can’t run free.

While pool construction is underway, no matter how gentle and friendly your pet is, leaving them free around the yard is not an option.

This applies not only to pets like Bruiser, but to ones like Muffin. Even a toy Maltese or Golden Retriever puppy can sidetrack crews and interfere with their work. The same goes for cats or your pet tortoise or pot-belly pig.

It’s imperative that crews and inspectors can enter your property—and with heavy equipment and tools—at any time to work without worry or distraction.

And certainly, you don’t want your beloved pet exposed to hazards around the job site or to get injured. And with laborers continuously entering and exiting your backyard, you wouldn’t want your pet to get out either.

Keep in mind, they were not hired for their conversation skills, but for their dedication to handle what matters most: laboring outdoors completing tedious work such as digging trenches, bending steel rods, hauling heavy materials, shooting gunite, laying waterline tile, applying plaster, installing decks, and hand-contouring features like pool entry steps.

Ÿ Extra electricity will be tapped.

Crews will use power tools for tasks such as pumping water, cutting tile, or cutting through rock for trenches with roto hammers.

To do so, they will need access to an outdoor electrical outlet for their equipment. In rare scenarios where an outlet is not available (e.g., a new home build that does not even have power), advise your builder in advance.

They will need to use a heavy, long extension cord and use an outlet inside your home. In special cases, they may resort to bringing in a portable power generator.

With the added energy consumption, count on seeing higher power bills during the course of construction.

Ÿ Some crews can’t communicate.

To clarify, crew members speak perfectly well…but not always in English. Or, their English is limited.

All project superintendents and schedulers speak English, but this won’t necessarily be true for every member of every different crew that works on your pool.

Certainly, it’s frustrating when you ask a simple question and someone can’t answer. However, the reality is that many building trades in the country, including pool construction, rely on workers who speak no or little English.

Ÿ Crews may litter.

Despite rules that pool builders make for subcontractors, the crews for some will not follow them in every case. Sorry, but don’t expect workers to consistently keep your backyard tidy during construction.

They may litter, leaving soda cans, cigarette butts, leftover materials such as pieces of pipe and steel rods, and empty boxes from materials such as tile and pool equipment strewn around the job site. It may sit out there for days.

The good news: This too shall pass; ultimately, the trash will be cleaned up as the jobsite transforms into a beautiful outdoor space.

Ÿ The weather may not cooperate.

Rain, hail, and snow are obvious culprits when it comes to pool construction delays. But so are very hot weather and humidity.

These conditions can raise the temperature inside the excavated hole to unreasonable levels for the crews toiling inside of it.

For certain stages of pool construction, other kinds of weather can be problematic: Heavy wind poses issues to plaster application. Lightening threatens crew safety—particularly during steel installation or electrical hook up.

When the humidity levels drop extremely low, even a light breeze can wreak havoc on a plaster application. Crews can’t properly shoot gunite on a bright clear day if it’s below 40 degrees,

Moreover, the resulting pool-schedule delays are usually longer than expect: The awful truth is that one day of bad weather does not translate into one day of pool-construction delay.

Ÿ Critters can enter—and meet their demise—in your unfinished pool.

Say your pool concrete has gone in, but the shell is not yet plastered.

If there are even just a few inches of water that have collected in the deep end (from rain or from your spraying down the fresh concrete), the puddle can become a magnet for wildlife.

A tiny body of water can attract bugs, thirsty rodents, frogs laying eggs, or other activity from animals and insects. Unfortunately, some small animals may drown too.

Ÿ A shipment could be delayed or arrive damaged.

If your pool plan includes a special-order item or material, it could incur an interruption to the schedule.

Say you have a special stone coming from out of state, a tile selection that’s not available locally, or a bespoke pool mosaic.

A shipping or supplier production snafu may postpone arrival. Depending on the phase of construction, crews may be unable to proceed to the next phase without the ordered product.

Or, the delivery arrives as scheduled—but is damaged, the wrong style or color, or the wrong quantity. Now, the job has to wait for another shipment.

Ÿ You have job duties too.

To achieve its tough, long-lasting quality, concrete needs to properly cure. That’s where homeowners need to pitch in.

You will help the curing process by repeatedly hosing down the fresh pool shell. Doing so enables the concrete to dry more uniformly for a better result.

The spray-down process varies by region and current temperature, but typically, it is twice a day for 5 – 7 days.

Ÿ Your water bill will spike.

Thousands of gallons of water are needed to fill a new swimming pool.

In some areas of the country, pool builders bring in water trucks to fill up new pools. But where water trucks are not a thing, your garden hose will serve as the source for the needed H20.

As noted, extra water will be used in spraying down the concrete to help it optimally cure.

Expect to have a water bill that month that reflects that.

Ÿ You may be temporarily unpopular.

Pick-up trucks gobbling up street parking. Bulldozer sounds. Roto-hammers and wet saws cutting tile or stone. Visits from big trailers, concrete rigs, and dumpster trucks. Dust, leaves, and blades of grass circulating in the air. Trees being cut down and hauled out.

Unless you live on a large lot with ample space between homes, just how happy do you imagine your neighbors will be with you during pool construction?

When your new backyard resort is complete, you may want to consider hosting a pool party—and inviting the neighbors to join the fun.

Thousands have survived the construction journey

As arduous the process of having a gunite pool built may be, take heart: You will be in good company.

Every year, thousands of families endure the building process and come out to triumphantly celebrate in their new private oasis.

The trials of pool construction might test your mettle. But a long-lasting reward awaits your family with years of healthy, sun-splashed fun and relaxation in a stylish backyard resort.


Learn more about building a gunite pool and delay factors, layout and excavation, and backyard conditions that impact costs.

Topics: Buyer Tips


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