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Out-of-Ground Swimming Pools: Custom Concrete Construction

Posted by Blue Haven Pools & Spas on Jul 1, 2019 9:00:00 AM

—How raised gunite pools beautifully triumph over building challenges

Semi Out of Ground Gunite Pool On a Slope

One reason to build a raised, out-of-ground concrete swimming pool (gunite or shotcrete) is for style: The configuration achieves a distinctive, multidimensional aesthetic and delivers an original backyard design. 

Another reason is functionality. Some homeowners opt for an elevated, “on-ground” pool design for a family member’s physical mobility needs. The design of some raised pools even yields safety and maintenance benefits.

However, the most common purpose for using an out-of-ground pool design is to overcome a backyard condition, such as a slope or hard soil, which makes it a virtual construction necessity.

Regardless of the reason behind the decision to build all or partially out of the ground, the outcome can be eye-pleasing and cost-effective. You can view some examples of these semi-on-ground pool designs to see how their configuration achieves results that are both beautiful and functional!

Out-of-ground pool construction: overcoming—and capitalizing on—backyard obstacles

Depending on factors in your outdoor property, your pool builder may suggest a plan for a concrete pool that’s positioned several inches to several feet up out of the soil.

A number of special considerations impacting construction can make a full or partial above-the-ground pool a smart solution for a new concrete pool.

However, the three most frequent ones come in the form of slopes, hard or rocky soil, or underground water sources.

Sloped backyards

The most common reason for an elevated design is a property with a slope. In most cases, the house sits at the peak or higher up, and the backyard slopes downward away from the home.

One way to tackle a hilly plot of land is to use its uneven grade to your advantage. On the slope’s high end, it makes sense to build the pool level with the ground, and at the slope’s lower end, build that portion of the pool above or out of the ground.

Both homeowners and contractors usually prefer this “elevated” approach to the alternative solutions for a sloped yard. These involve leveling the area for the pool using a costly, multi-phase process.

In a nutshell, it involves building one large or two small solid retaining walls, usually in concrete or stone. Then, your contractor must haul in many yards of fill dirt to the job site and distribute it as needed to bring all areas up to the desired grade.

Finally, crews need to heavily compact every bit of fill dirt throughout the yard. For many sloped yards, such a massive undertaking is both pricey and impractical. Worse yet, retaining walls may block all or part of a scenic view.

By building one side of your pool out of the ground, you may not only save money and possibly preserve a scenic view, but come out ahead with a more interesting, more dramatic pool. In fact, a sloped yard often makes it easier to build an infinity pool design that so many homeowners love.

Problem soil and “hard digs”

Another reason for building a concrete pool above the earth is due to what lies below it. Rocks, hardpan, and caliche pose serious excavation challenges that require special equipment and tactics to overcome.

Rock plagues a few geographic areas around the United States. When you can’t dig more than a few inches past the topsoil without hitting rock, excavation comes to a standstill without special machinery and tactics.

Elsewhere in the country, excavation crews may encounter hardpan. It’s a kind of tough, clay-like soil that’s so tightly compacted its consistency resembles concrete.

In desert regions, such as parts of Arizona and Nevada, the soil enemy is caliche. Sometimes called “nature’s cement,” caliche contains heavy deposits of calcium carbonate that bind tightly to other elements in the soil. The resulting rock-hard earth is notorious for making regular excavation a non-starter.

To save time and money associated with bringing in specialty excavation equipment and hiring crews to jackhammer through a backyard that’s filled with rock or rock-hard soil, consider an elevated pool.

Your contractor can excavate a few inches to a few feet through the soft topsoil, and then build a design that’s partially under the ground and partially above the ground.

Along with being a practical solution to a “hard dig,” a custom elevated pool will produce a visually intriguing final design.

Underground water sources

Do you have a pond, lake, or river near your house? Are you by the ocean or a bay? Is your lot located above the area’s water table—as indicated by frequent patches of wet or damp ground?

Another prime candidate for an out-of-ground concrete pool is an excavation site vulnerable to water from underground sources. To build a typical inground pool, contractors need to remove earth and create a dry, stable hole for the concrete shell. Water gets in the way.

So, before starting regular excavation for a pool, a professional builder will create a small test hole. If a water table is already present two or three feet below the surface, full excavation may be tricky—and costly.

Here’s why: Your contractor may have to bring in pumps and continuously run them to remove water from the pool hole while completing all of the other construction phases.

To enhance pool-shell stability in high-water-table areas, your builder may also add a special layer of pea gravel in the bed of the excavated hole. Installation of permanent hydrostatic relief valves may be needed as well.

These kinds of additional steps, materials, and equipment make construction more time-consuming and will increase anyone’s overall pool budget.

But here’s the good news: You can negate the time and budget required to deal with an underground water table by opting for an elevated, up ground pool. Its configuration circumvents most issues of water infiltration, and it still gives you all of the choices of beautiful features of a concrete pool design.

Pool design: taking style and functionality to new heights

Some homeowners want a total out-of-ground concrete pool strictly for its unique good looks.

Sometimes, the idea comes from a creative pool builder who presents this atypical configuration to clients who ask for something “original” or “different from all of the neighbors’ pools.”

In other cases, homeowners latch onto this out-of-the-ordinary concept from seeing an elevated pool in a magazine or on a trip. In fact, it’s not uncommon for vacationers to return from overseas—whether Caribbean resorts or European cities—where they see unique concrete pools built out of the ground. Upon coming home, they want to replicate the look in their own backyard.

Some people like the elevated design because they want to evoke the image of a large public fountain or pool-fountain they see at a park or in front of a museum. While they prefer the elegant fountain-inspired style, they still want a swimming pool in which the family can play and exercise.

In addition to the great appearance of a raised concrete pool, it may offer some unexpected functionality. If your pool is even just a foot above ground level, an added benefit is that the wall becomes a convenient place to sit and socialize near the water.

An on-ground pool also offers something of a safety benefit. While you should never leave a small child unattended near a pool, a fully elevated pool with raised walls around the full perimeter creates a barrier to wayward toddlers.

In some cases, you may gain a leg up on pool maintenance as well. Pool walls that extend over the ground may hinder windblown debris from entering the water. In sandy beach or desert areas and landscaped areas with lots of fallen dead leaves, this vertical buffer can be especially helpful.

Best of all, your builder can tailor a raised pool with the same range of decorative and functional features—from tanning ledges to graceful laminar water features—as a typical inground concrete pool.

You may have your eye on a particular elevated design, or your backyard may pose conditions that call for some variation of an elevated pool. Whatever the motivation, the result can be an attractive, functional, out-of-the-ordinary aquatic playground.


Topics: Design / Features, Construction, Buyer Tips


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