In listing ten more guideposts Paolo Benedetti wishes he'd known before he started his business, this entire second set is about knowing, following and being on the right side of the rules when it's time to work with inspectors and the codes and standards they're sworn to enforce.
By Paolo Benedetti
It’s always fun to counsel newcomers to the watershaping trades: On the one hand, I get to help them avoid some of the mistakes I made or problems I observed when I started out as a pool builder. On the other, I hear things in these conversations that help me focus on the way I do things and sometimes help me reshape my own approaches.
My goal in all of this is to elevate the way people think about watershaping as a profession by providing my fellow watershapers with good, practical targets to strive for in their own businesses. And as you saw in the first part of this pair of articles (click here), a lot of it is fairly basic – the sort of thing you could figure out for yourself if you could step back and think things through.
In this second article, I pick up where I left off but with a sharpened focus on building officials, inspections, codes and standards. Several of the points I made last time are matters of opinion; this time, they’re about playing within the rules and being right with the world with respect to good business practices.
Again in no particular order:
There are lots of codes and standards that apply to building pools and spas that come from beyond pool-specific codes or standards. This is a particularly important point because of intricacies of modern watershaping that make what we do overlap with other fields of responsibility.
There are standards, for example, that apply to tile application that must be observed in pool projects to stay within defensible compliance. The same goes for masonry, and there are lots of applicable standards generated by the American Concrete Institute and the American Shotcrete Association that must be considered by you as well as by applicators – not to mention the various standards released by the American National Standards Institute, some of which apply directly to pools and spas but others that come at us from different angles.
Specific trades we work with get us involved with fire standards and electrical standards and more: There are parts of the National Electric Code – for instance, those pertaining to underground conduits – that apply to us but go beyond the Article 680 requirements that should already be familiar. You don’t need to be an expert in all areas, but it pays to discuss these issues with your subcontractors early in the process to make certain nothing will catch up with you later in the process.
If a client wants to move things around after you’ve obtained a building permit, it’s time to start all over and get approval for the new layout. And don’t forget to charge the client for the new plans and time involved in getting them through the process!
This is one I learned the hard way. Many years ago, a client asked us to shift a spa over by about a foot before we were very far into a project and we complied. When the inspector came before concrete application, he noticed the change, checked the setbacks and told us that we had to move the spa back to its original position.
We had to redo the framing, the steel, the plumbing – everything – and I learned a lesson I’ve observed ever since because I know that had I resubmitted the plans none of this would’ve been necessary. I love my clients, but they’re not always right!
Develop detailed plans for every project, but submit as little as legally possible to the permitting agency. This is just a matter of common sense. A modern, full set of plans includes infinitely more information than building officials need to monitor and approve progress on site; sharing this detailed information will only lead to piles of questions and lots of red flags you’ll need to address before you can move forward.
There’s nothing questionable about withholding that extra information, which is important for guiding multiple trades through a complex process but which goes far beyond what the rules require for the submittal set of plans we prepare for review and subsequent inspections.
Building inspectors are generalists and need to be educated. In their daily rounds, they’re out there looking at all sorts of construction projects and very few are what might be called experts in any given area.
This is a good time to tread lightly in getting points across, because inspectors have egos and don’t enjoy being challenged any more than we do. This is why I include code references all over my submittal plans: It’s a non-confrontational way to let them make notes on unfamiliar details and gives them easy ways to expand their knowledge bases. And when they do ask questions – like “What’s that for?” or “Why is that there?” – I can show them the applicable code on the plan and make it easier to keep things moving.
Pressurize and keep pressurized every single line and conduit that terminates underwater. As contractors, we have a certain amount of control over what happens while on site and might do a good job of protecting these lines and conduits during watershape construction. But what happens when an outside decking crew or pergola installer or landscape crew arrives on site and pounds in stakes to set lines and levels for these tasks?
Even a slight nick of an underground line can have consequences that only become more serious once they pull off site and you return to apply the interior finish: Repairing the broken pipes and conduits means breaking out decks, digging out posts and incurring all sorts of expense. This is why we monitor our pressure gauges as frequently as necessary: If repairs need to be made, we want to complete them as soon as they’re observed and, we hope, before they get locked in.
Code requires a 30-minute pressure test, but I go beyond that: We pressurize all lines that terminate underwater as soon as they’re in place and keep them that way until all landscaping and deck work is complete.
Regardless what an engineer might specify, go with #4 rebar and 4,000 psi concrete as minimums for every project. The point about rebar is a matter of its rigidity: While many engineering plans call for #3 bars, they are too lightweight for use in environments where 200-pound workers are stepping on them in the floor of a pool or working with them to set plumbing. For just a small upgrade in expense to #4 bars, you get a material that is much less flexible and will stay in place once it’s adequately tied to neighboring material.
As for concrete’s compressive strength, some engineers will specify 2,500 psi because it helps contractors save the expense and scheduling involved in having an inspector on site for the entire application process. I see it as a false economy, basically because ACI standards say the minimum level for concrete placed underwater is 4,000 psi: That’s what is needed, they say, to protect rebar from corrosion. End of discussion as far as I’m concerned.
When applying dry-mix shotcrete (gunite), an air lance is required; for wet-mix shotcrete, there should be vibrators everywhere. These tools ensure full and adequate coverage of rebar while removing any voids within the concrete matrix, and their use is mandated by ACI and ASA standards.
With dry-mix shotcrete, an air lance (or blow pipe) is used in parallel with the nozzle to blow away any loose rebound and prevent it from being encapsulated within the structure. Dry-mix trimmings are a waste product and cannot be relocated within the structure.
With wet-mix shotcrete, vibrators make it possible to consolidate workable trimming materials into horizontal areas, lessening the rebound-removal chore and disposal expense. But note: Wet-mix trimmings cannot be shoveled to other locations in the shell without vibratory consolidation.
Rebar should not be used as stakes. They may be handy on site and fill an immediate need, but once they’re driven into the soil and get some concrete around them, sections of rebar can’t be budged because of their surface profile. They will also create an earth-to-steel contact that the staking was intended to prevent in the first place.
Using scraps of rebar is a code violation, easily avoided with a trip to a building-supply store to buy a bundle of wooden stakes or pick up smooth-bore steel stakes that can be removed from concrete, although doing so can take some effort. (This, by the way, is yet another context in which my tip-wad of $20’s is a big help in motivating crews to behave themselves and suddenly find wooden stakes they can use in place of rebar.)
Sleeve every pipe and conduit that passes through a concrete slab. This is another code requirement – and a sensible one: When the slab for the equipment pad is poured without some sort of sleeving for the pipes, any subsequent movement of the pad will apply a shearing force to the pipe and will likely break it at some point.
In the old days, crews would wrap the pad’s riser pipes in newspaper and duct tape before placing the slab, which wasn’t much of a solution. Now they just place a section of corrugated drain line over the riser, pour the slab and cut off the sleeve at the slab’s surface for a nice, clean look. It’s a little extra work, but it’s necessary. And where groundwater entry is a concern, cast sleeves or cored holes may be used and then secured with link-seals.
Test panels and deputy inspectors are required on every shotcrete job. This has been part of ACI and ASA standards for years now, and it’s finally catching on with building departments, largely because they recognize that contractors have been getting away with substandard application practices having to do with using rebound and applying material that doesn’t achieve the target compression psi.
Having an inspector on site brings a voice of authority to the process that helps keep crews on their toes – and, one can hope, improve the way they do things for the future. And if that’s not enough, there’s always the wad of $20s they’ll watch shrink before their eyes if they don’t do the right thing.