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4-9 akins video artBy Lew Akins

In many parts of the country, it’s not uncommon to encounter the unexpected when you start digging to make way for a swimming pool or some other watershape.  There might be field stone, a rock ledge, a buried outcropping or even hardpan.  Depending on the size, depth and extent of these stony intrusions, running into any of them can, as the video linked below suggests, take a homeowner’s budget expectations and throw them right out the window.

And it’s not just rock that can be a hidden issue:  Various types of soil can be problematic, as can the groundwater level in the location where the excavation will take place.  And it’s not just about big slopes, either:  Excavation can uncover surprises on flat land – including such buried treasure as old, forgotten air-raid shelters or even abandoned septic systems.

Everyone needs protection against such eventualities, homeowners and contractors alike.  My preference is to place everything on the table ahead of time, discussing possibilities that make sense given my experience with other projects in the general area as well as my familiarity with years’ worth of horror stories about projects run off the rails by “little surprises.”

Communication is the key:  If you do your job well and prepare clients with realistic expectations about what the process might involve, everyone will be better off because there’s a better chance the project will overcome any obstacles and move forward toward completion.

To see a brief discussion of what’s involved and pitfalls to avoid, click here.  


Lew Akins operates Ocean Quest Pools By Lew Akins out of three offices in central Texas.  He started in the pool business in California in the late 1970s, opening his own design/build/retail firm in Texas in 1984.  Widely acknowledged as a pioneer of the vanishing-edge concept, he added “design consultant” to his list of services in 1998.  He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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  • Lew, why not go a step further and hire a geotechnical firm to do a soils analysis and make recommendations before breaking ground? Not only does this take the "surprise" out of the equation, it will enable your engineer to create more accurate structural drawings.

  • The IBC (adopted by all 50 States) REQUIRES that the structures be engineered to overcome the anticipated loads that will be placed upon them.
    Soil surcharges are one such type of load.
    Since it requires that the engineered design overcome such loads, then every pool requires: (a) a soils report, and (b) site specific engineering designed to overcome the anticipated loads.
    How can the structural engineer design for soil conditions, if he is not provided the information about the conditions on the site.
    If you follow the IBC (the law), then you'd be performing a soils report before obtaining the structural engineering.

    Most of the conditions noted in the article would be a moot point, because you'd know about them IN ADVANCE.

    from Pebble Beach, Del Monte Forest, CA 93953, USA
  • The IBC (adopted in all 50 States) requires that the engineered structural design resist the anticipated loads. The IBC also requires that minimum soil conditions be met (e.g. load factors).
    So how can the structural engineering for a swimming pool be performed without knowing the soil conditions underground BEFOREHAND?
    This would also eliminate most surprises that are encountered during excavation.

    from Pebble Beach, Del Monte Forest, CA 93953, USA