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15yearsagoBy Brian Van Bower

‘Why is it that, on the pool/spa side of the watershaping business, it’s so difficult to find much by way of truly workable plans and specifications?’

That’s how Brian Van Bower started his Aqua Culture column in the April 2003 edition of WaterShapes before adding:  ‘In residential work, of course, the tone is set by local building inspectors and plan checkers, whose needs seem to vary tremendously from place to place.  But that’s no excuse for the fact that the plans used in a great many residential projects are grossly inadequate – especially when compared to the far more detailed and precise plans and specifications required by some of those same building officials for commercial projects.’  He continued:


‘My point is simple:  As watershapes become increasingly complex, I’d argue that those working mostly or entirely in the residential market should strive for something close to the commercial standard when it comes to the documents we draft and use.  What depresses me today is knowing, in most cases, that this objective is really nowhere in sight among either contractors or engineers.’


‘Early in my career as a swimming pool contractor, I’ll readily concede that I used inadequate drawings that left much to be determined on site.  Frankly, I was part of the problem on this front, and I am the first to admit I had the wrong mindset.’  


‘[T]he responsibility here is distributed across many shoulders:  on those of the engineers who don’t provide high levels of detail, of the inspectors who don’t require it and of the contractors who might not read or understand it if it were there.  It doesn’t take much to see potential problems that take root in this situation.  Indeed, I think it’s safe to say that this is a big reason that backyard pool projects have spawned so many lawsuits through the years – and why so many pools don’t function properly or fall prey to structural failures.’


‘I’m happy to report that such problems do not always arise.  In fact, my experience as a design consultant has been that about half the contractors I see are truly interested in doing the right thing.’


‘[C]ontractors who conform to the plans and specifications do not expose themselves to the same level of risk as those who try to slide by.  Their projects tend to be far more trouble-free – and when there are problems, the issues tend to be more isolated and manageable. And perhaps best of all, conscientious contractors tend also to be open-minded and are able to expand their own bases of knowledge by paying close attention to details that are new to them.’


‘As I continue to learn and grow as a designer, the documentation I provide tends to offer greater and greater amounts of information and levels of detail.  I find myself including more information on components such as conduits and electrical boxes for control systems or lighting, for example, or specific recommendations for plumbing configurations that support waterfeatures or water-in-transit effects.  And my plans include ever more precise instructions about aesthetics, including materials selections.’


‘My point in all of this,’ Brian concluded, ‘is not to deride those who are doing things in a less strenuous way, but rather to highlight the value and importance of pursuing and adhering to high standards when it comes to plans and specifications – even in localities where building officials don’t require it.  The benefits of doing so will pay dividends in reduced hassles, greater customer satisfaction and in your ability to control the devilish details that can make all the difference in determining the success of a project.’

Have things continued to evolve in the ten years since Brian wrote his column?  Has paying close attention to developing clear, coherent, thorough sets of plans caught hold in the marketplace, or is it still a rough-and-tumble exercise in getting by?  Please share your thoughts on the way things are in your own market by commenting below!

Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design consultancy based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of Genesis 3.  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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