With each passing swim season, safety, energy savings and backyard aesthetics become increasingly more important to consumers.
Manufacturers are answering the call by offering innovative products that can potentially save lives and money while adding visual appeal. These options are opening doors for builders who are met with the challenge of installing covers on some of today’s more intricate swimming pool designs. Tools are now available to assist contractors with even the most demanding projects, from vanishing edge to free-form.
Here, two experts recall recent jobs and how they met their clients’ unusual requests. The examples show just what’s possible with even the most unique installations.
Steve Pittman was hired a few years ago to build a negative-edge pool with an automatic cover. What seemed like a standard project was anything but, since the client had a special request that Pittman had not previously encountered during his 32-year career as a specialty general contractor. In addition to keeping the cover and leading-edge bar out of sight when it was open (a fairly common feature on a pool such as this) the homeowner wanted to conceal the brushed aluminum, industrial-looking track that would run along the negative edge and up against the waterfall effect.
Before getting started, Pittman had to create a cross-sectional mock-up of the pool to illustrate what the job would look like upon completion. It involved several trades, including a stone mason and carpenter, as well as tile and cover installers. The mock-up took nearly a week to build, but when it was done it served as an excellent tool.
“Sometimes people are very demanding, especially with larger projects. And when there are several architects involved, you have to do things like that,” says Pittman, the owner of Combined Energy Systems in Littleton, Mass. “But you can really visually see what it’s going to be like.”
One thing the mock-up didn’t do was demonstrate how Pittman planned to hide the track. For this, he had to seek out a company that specialized in powder coating. This was a first for him, and he ultimately found a source in an unlikely place.
“I own a Harley and I was at a motorcycle event,” he recalls. “I approached a guy who did specialty paint jobs and asked him if he could work on the track. I sent him samples of the 2-by-2-inch tile that we wanted to match and they were able to do it.”
But the painting couldn’t begin until the crew had all the elements properly sized and aligned. First, the track had to be spaced far enough from the stone so it didn’t impede the waterfall cascading over the edge. It also needed to stay a proper distance from the weir so the cover could effectively encase the pool. Doing this required many intricate, angled cuts on the tile.
Second, Pittman wanted to insert one end of the track in a natural stone placed on the side of the weir, so it would blend with the surrounding environment. A stone mason had to carefully drill a hole in the stone so it wouldn’t crack. Third, they had to design the cover box to hide the leading edge when it was retracted. They used the mock-up to take measurements, ensuring the bar, track and custom end bracket were not positioned too high or low.
Though manufacturers are beginning to offer parts catering to negative-edge designs, Pittman says several in-the-field alignments were still needed.
“It took a lot of engineering to figure it out and make it work correctly,” he says. “There’s no real rule book for this, so you just have to make it up as you go.”
Once the track fit properly, the team dismantled it, shipped it to the painter and reinstalled it after it was powder-coated.
“This is really custom. If you are walking back down on the grass area, [the track] disappears,” he says. “If you look closely, it’s not tile; it’s the ugly piece of aluminum that was in the mock-up. It really blends in quite well.”
When a client approached Olympic Pools last year to cover an existing free-form pool, the homeowner was worried about the finished product. They’d had a bad experience with the contractor who originally built the waterscape and wanted to make sure they hired the right person the second time around.
“For [us], it was not that complicated, but to the homeowner, it looked [that way],” says Mike Sell, purchasing manager at the Taylor, Pa.-based company. “The biggest hurdle is to make the customer feel comfortable and exceed their expectations.”
To please the client, Olympic had to make sure there were no snags, especially when it came to installing the cover over the pool’s raised wall. Typically, when a wall is 1 foot tall or higher, a cover should be connected to the face of the vertical element instead of going up and over it, explains Construction Manager Anthony Santarelli. However, the clients preferred the latter because they were afraid that, over time, any pressure exerted on the anchors would pull the stone wall down.
But an “up and over” installation on the raised bond beam would present its own set of concerns. “When you have any type of wall treatment, the measurement needs to be exact,” Santarelli says. “If you are off a few inches, you can have an opening in which an animal, debris or leaves can get through.”
To avoid that possibility, the crew took precise measurements. “It’s all within an inch of the raised wall, so it’s a very tight fit,” he says.
Installing this cover may not have been a challenge for Santarelli, who has been handling similar projects for nearly 15 years. Still, he took a number of precautions to ensure he did the job properly.
“You really want to make sure you have a plan,” he cautions. “You don’t want to just start drilling.”
In this case, his strategy began with 90 minutes’ worth of two-point measurements, since he didn’t have access to the pool’s original schematic. After Santarelli received the cover, he laid it out to make sure it fit in all the right places.
Then he checked his equipment to identify any problems. As part of the inspection, he assessed and replaced the drill bit — perhaps the most common oversight on the part of many builders, he says.
“They might look good, but after you drill 50 or 100 holes with them, depending on what type of concrete it is, they can wear out with one or two covers,” he warns. “Some people try to use the same bit all season, and they tend to give you a problem.”
Next, he marked the holes before drilling so the crews could safely bore into the decorative stamped concrete. He stayed at least 2 inches away from the edge and avoided existing cracks. This is especially important when dealing with concrete that is 15 or 20 years old, he explains.
“If you just go in there haphazardly and start drilling away, you can cause a lot of chipping and cracking into that sidewalk,” he says. “When people pay that kind of money, one of the most important things is to avoid any kind of destruction to what they have done.”
While no pavers were involved with this job, Santarelli has a suggestion for those that do: Make sure to have extras on hand. When installing anchors in an existing deck, ask the client for any loose pavers left behind by the original builder. If laying the deck is part of the contract, make sure to purchase extra pavers at the yard.
“No matter what precautions you take, they do break sometimes,” he says. “Every day is a learning experience for me, and there’s not one pool that is the same.”