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Backyard Lap Pool Project

This page documents the construction of our 25 yard lap pool built by Cascade Pools, Wilton, CA 95693 , (916) 687-7864. I highly recommend them, not only as true experts, but as ideal contractors to deal with. In fact, I have never dealt with contractors so qualified, so timely in their execution, so reasonable in their cost, and so motivated to make the project happen.

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Date Photo Notes
March 14, 2007 Excavation Begins The site is marked out with paint using a laser transit. Forms are then made out of wood and anchored with steel pins. Notice that the foreground is deeper than the background. The gutter angle is being set right from the start.
March 22nd, 2007 The excavation is nearly completed, but is interrupted by rain.
March 22nd, 2007 The deepest part of the gutter can be seen carved into the upper wall.
March 22nd, 2007 The pile of dirt is quite large and about as shocking as I thought it would be.
March 22nd, 2007 The two excavators used to do the dirty work.
March 23rd, 2007 I missed most of the under pool plumbing work as it was all completed in a day. The propane canister is part of a torch used to bend the large 4" pipe used for the returns and drains.
March 23rd, 2007 Here are the large 4" PVC drains, returns, and surge pipes. They set me up with the smallest pump that would create a boil (more on that later) in the pool, but plumbed it so I could get a much larger pump, if desired.
March 23rd, 2007 Shown are the large returns, surge, and main drains, and the gray electrical conduit for the lighting, and the smaller Polaris pipe and auto-fill in the surge tank.
March 23rd, 2007 The location of the equipment pad.
March 23rd, 2007 Down the middle are the returns while the two drains form a cross in the center. The surge tank is the formed up area in the foreground. The idea is that the main drains are typically nearly off and the returns create a boil in the center of the pool that forces floating debris into the gutters at the sides. The pool skims incredibly well.
March 23rd, 2007 The two drains and their intersection and one return stub.
March 23rd, 2007 The stub for the Polaris.
March 23rd, 2007 Looking towards the surge tank.
March 23rd, 2007 A wall cavity for a pool light. Three poool lights would have been better, but hindsight is 20/20 and those lights are expensive.
March 30th, 2007 The rebar for the gutters.
March 30th, 2007 More rebar and dobies.
March 30th, 2007 Yet more dobies to space the rebar from the ground.
March 30th, 2007 Rebar cutting and bending equipment.
March 30th, 2007 Lots of progress putting the rebar in.
March 30th, 2007  
March 30th, 2007 Here you can see the gutter taking shape. The far end of the gutter is shallower than the near end which quickly carries the water to the surge pit.
March 30th, 2007 The painted rebar spaces the steel from the dirt and is removed once the steel is complete.
March 30th, 2007 8"x8" grid of steel.
March 30th, 2007 Here is a look at the shallow end of the gutters. This end of the pool is also the shallower end at 4 feet deep.
March 30th, 2007 The steel installation is complete.
March 30th, 2007 The autofill and surge pit suction line.
March 30th, 2007 The surge pit and the pool wall are two separate walls, so the gunite will be twice as thick here.
March 30th, 2007 Gutter detail and dimension markings.
March 30th, 2007 Gutter detail and dimension markings.
March 30th, 2007 Pool light enclosure detail with cover. The cover will protect the inside from the gunite spray.
March 30th, 2007 The rebar for the bench. The bench gets wider at the bottom.
March 30th, 2007 The Polaris fitting.
March 30th, 2007 A different look at the pool light and the wire holding the fixture straight.
March 30th, 2007 A shot of the completed steel pointed towards the surge pit.
April 7th, 2007 In preparation for the gunite spray, piano wire is strung to indicate the walls of the pool and of the gutter. Piano wire is very strong stuff and can be stretched very tight. It works well for removing windshields too. Once the gunite is sprayed, it will be troweled with large steel trowels. The wire is strong enough to be trowled over and is how the gunite guys know where the wall surfaces should be. The pool guys do the wire layout as the gunite guys don't really appear to know how it should all come together. For me, how the gutters were precisely formed was the great mystery of the construction process. I had thought that styrofoam would be inserted in the gutter after the bottom was sprayed, but the wire is the elegant solution.
April 7th, 2007 The surge pit drains are inserted. After the gunite is complete, extensions are attached that guide the water down into the tank. I suspect that the water falling noise could have been made quieter by running the extensions at a 45 degree angle, but mine are set at 90 degrees. Since they extend below the water level in the surge pit, the noise ocurrs mostly inside the tubes. If noise is heard from the surge tank, it's the auto-fill running to keep the pool level up.
April 7th, 2007 The worker in the foreground is using pieces of wallboard to provide a surface under the forms for the gunite to spray against.
April 7th, 2007 The pipe in the left side of the surge pit is the overflow drainage in case it rains and the pool needs to shed some water. An extension is later added to this pipe that reaches down towards the bottom of the pit.
April 7th, 2007 The first step in the gunite spraying is to tack down the steel in the middle and at the corners so that it doesn't move around.
April 7th, 2007 More tacking down of the steel cage.
April 7th, 2007 Spraying of the edges starts.
April 7th, 2007  
April 7th, 2007 The pool guys making sure that everything goes as planned. These two men did all of the work on the pool except the gunite and plaster.
April 7th, 2007 The pool guys describe the gunite phase as carving sandcastles. Here you can see that the floor of the pool hasn't been sprayed yet. The Polaris connector can be seen, and some strange black holes are carved in the side of the pool. The holes are carved into the pool to support scaffolding.
April 7th, 2007 More carving.
April 7th, 2007 Here you can see the wallboard being used as a backer for the gunite. The inside of the gutter will not be easily seen through the grating, however, it does need to be smooth so as not to impede the flow of water.
April 7th, 2007 Another shot of the piano wire put to good use.
April 7th, 2007 The end of day one. The gunite guys will have to come back tomorrow.
April 7th, 2007 Here the pool wall can be seen as distinct from the surge pit wall that has yet to be sprayed.
April 7th, 2007 The exit stairs are taking shape.
April 7th, 2007 The completed exit stairs. Also visible is the grounding wire for the lane rope anchors and for the starting block anchors.
April 7th, 2007 We were instructed to get enough soaker hose to completely encircle the pool to aid in the curing of the gunite. Although the water isn't turned on in the photo, it works perfectly at keeping every bit of the gunite wet. Gunite is very porous and when it's hot out, a stream from a hose will disappear in to the pool wall.
April 14th, 2007 The plumbing to the equipment pad is completed with the addition of the solar piping and sensor wire conduit. The electrical conduit to the electrical panel is also present along with some EMT conduit that is there just to hold up the subpanel when it is installed later.
April 14th, 2007 Another view of the two large solar pipes and the gray sensor wire conduit. The remaining gray conduit continues straight towards the far side of the house where the main breaker panel is located. This work had to be scheduled after the gunite to prevent the pool wall from caving in when the backhoe was used to dig the trench. The first third of the concrete patio was also covered with soil. My irrigation pipe to the enclosed planters can be seen sticking up. Two years prior I had layed over 1,000 feet of irrigation pipe.
April 26th, 2007 It rained some more while we were installing the drainage pipe. The pool guys left the trench unfilled for us while we installed some proper drain pipe to solve a drainage problem that we've had since we moved in. My first attempt used the closest stormwater drain on the side of the house, however, that only left about 8.5 inches of drop over 125 feet. I also used that *really* bad black corrugated drain pipe. It's alwful stuff and I'll never use it again. The next year, my second attempt involved taking some of the dips out of the corrugated drain pipe and installing some straight sections of drain pipe.
April 26th, 2007 The current drainage solution was suggested by the pool guys. They used a transit level to determine that I had 26 inches of drop if I went all the way out to the front of the house. While that would have presented a significant digging challenge for me in past years, the pool guys had dug a trench for the electrical conduit, so we dug it out a bit more and made use of that. The hardest part was digging out in front of the house as that is where the services come in and had to be all hand dug. In the end, we only found the cable TV service during the dig.
April 26th, 2007 We used 3" drain pipe from each of the four down spouts feeding into a 4 inch line that ran across the flat part of the yard. That pipe has a high point in it that causes one down spout's runoff to run to the original stormwater drain I was using, while the other three down spouts' water travels out to the street. The run out to the street is through 6 inch drain pipe. That is because we get significant runoff from the neighbor's houses and the 4 inch pipe would otherwise be innudated. A drain pipe can only be run up to 3/4 full before the flow rate slows significantly.
April 26th, 2007 The location of the six inch pipe. I had researched some solutions for trapping water and soaking it back into the ground, but they are very expensive and I wasn't sure that the small distance between the patio and pool decking would support the underground solutions. As the pool guys found out, we also have hardpan a couple of feet under the surface. I may look into rain barrels next year.
April 26th, 2007 The primary difference between this pool and any other pool is the precision required to get the water to break all around the pool edge. To do that requires a very level edge. But the edge is not flat in the sense of a laser beam, but instead follows the curviture of the Earth. So instead of a laser level, a water level is used.
April 26th, 2007 The cement leveling pads are set out at regular intervals and the coping edge and angle edge lengths are affixed to the top with screws.
April 26th, 2007 The regions between the leveling pads are filled with white thinset mortar.
April 26th, 2007 A corner joint.
April 26th, 2007 Here is what one of the seams look like between lengths of coping.
April 26th, 2007 Here is a cross section view of the hand hold coping. Using this coping prevented us from needing bull nose tile around the pool. Not only did that save us some money, but it results in a very clean look to the finshed pool.
April 26th, 2007 A template was used to set the hold-down screw spacing. The stainless screws are turned into plastic anchors set in the gunite. The grating is held to the coping and angle plastic by stainless z-brackets and another stainless square-drive screw. The grating can be removed.
April 26th, 2007 The grating that we used is typically used for commerical pools and is called GrateTech. The specific product is the handhold 14" grate.
April 26th, 2007 A duck showed up a bit on the early side.
April 26th, 2007 Once the coping edge is in place, the gutter is coated with ThoroSeal.
April 26th, 2007 The big picture.
May 9th, 2007 The coping installation was ocurring at the same time as our drainage installation. And the drainage had to be completed before the decking could be formed because of the proximity of the two. Here you can see that a cap is being formed for the surge tank.
May 9th, 2007 The steel being installed for the surge pit cap. The surge tank can be cleaned out via the access hole, but it's not commonly required. There is a lot of post-construction sediment in there right now, so I may get in there and clean it out soon.
May 9th, 2007 The concrete patio once again sees the light of day. It needs to be resealed again, but we're waiting for construction to finish.
May 9th, 2007 A starting block anchor.
May 9th, 2007 Each patio will have a set of stairs. The middle patio is 6" lower than the other two because of the sunken living room.
May 9th, 2007 Wide lumber was used because the side face of the deck will be visible.
May 9th, 2007 The equipment pad forms.
May 16th, 2007  
May 16th, 2007 All ready to pour the deck at this point. We're currently starting the installation of the tile, so the pool guys moved on to the lane rope anchors.
May 16th, 2007 This is the back side of a lane rope anchor.
May 16th, 2007 The model number casting.
May 16th, 2007 The eye hook is stainless and replaceable, but the cup is chromed bronze. If we had it to do again, we would have used stainless steel rope anchors, like these. The high pH of our water here combined with the action of the curing plaster led to the anchors being corroded by the acid poured in the pool to lower the pH. Once the plaster was cured (about 6 months) the corrosion slowed down or might have stopped.
May 16th, 2007 The anchor waiting for installation.
May 16th, 2007 Another shot.
May 16th, 2007 The finished installation.
May 16th, 2007 Another shot.
May 17th, 2007 Time to pour the deck.
May 17th, 2007 Pumping in the concrete. We opted for a salt finish. The concrete decking won't match the stamped and colored patios as the decking would end up very hot on the feet.
May 17th, 2007 The starting block anchor distance and height is set.
May 17th, 2007 The surge tank access hole.
May 17th, 2007  
May 17th, 2007 The redwood bender board is used to get uniform thickness to the mortar base. The mortar base is required so that the plaster will be thick enough around the tile. The plaster ends up being 3/8" to 1/2" thick.
June 3rd, 2007 In the pool, the tile progress is going slow. It really could be done in two full days, but I was really concerned about making a mistake, and was double checking everything. At least the mortar base is down in the correct place.
June 3rd, 2007 We chose two turtles and two fish mosaics for the end targets.
June 3rd, 2007 After setting the tile, I used a 4" angle grinder with a diamond blade to score a line along both sides of the tile. I then used a hammer and a brick set to remove the excess mortar. To keep the tile going straight, we used a 72" long level.
June 3rd, 2007 The line looks bent in this photo because the pool is 2 feet deeper in the center than at the ends.
June 3rd, 2007 The plasterers are responsible for installing the two main drains so that they are centered between the tiles.
June 3rd, 2007 We were doing this after work, so often it was dark out. That led to about 6 feet of the line having to be pulled up when we followed the wrong chalk line. Fortunately the mortar hadn't set yet.
June 3rd, 2007 The end cross is used by swimmers to judge the timing of flip turns.
June 3rd, 2007 Our turtle and fish targets.
June 3rd, 2007 While we are still finishing the tile, the pool guys have now installed the pool equipment.
June 3rd, 2007 We chose LED pool lights purely for the fun factor.
June 3rd, 2007 With the tiling done, the plastering began. The edges of the coping were taped to prevent damage from trowels and all the plaster guys put on their spiked shoes.
June 3rd, 2007 Since the gunite is very porus and not very attractive, the plaster is used to waterproof the pool and to provide some visual interest. We used white plaster largely to keep the pool's temperature down. We aim for 80 degrees.
June 3rd, 2007 The night before the plaster went in, I discovered some loose tiles. The tile in the center of the pattern was slightly thicker than the corner tiles and several corner tiles were loose. To check them all, I used a plastic mallet and tapped every tile. If the tile sounded hollow, made a tapping noise, or a higher pitched noise, I pulled it up and mortared it back down properly. I'm pretty certain that I got them all. The plaster guys said that it's common to find loose tiles and they just stick them back on with plaster.
June 3rd, 2007 The air hose attached to the side of the plaster gun kept coming loose so I grabbed a stainless clamp from my fixit box and let them have it.
June 3rd, 2007 The plastering went much faster than the gunite. I think it only required 3/4 of a day.
June 3rd, 2007 When using the trowels, the plasterers always used an upward stroke on the walls.
June 3rd, 2007 The plaster must set pretty fast because they were moving very quickly once it was sprayed on.
June 3rd, 2007 The returns and drains are set by the plasterers. The large holes around the returns and drains are simply filled with plaster. The main drains can be offset in any direction to overcome the piping not being in exactly the right spot. They lined up the main drains with the tile stripe but didn't line them up with eachother when viewed perpendicular to the stripe. I didn't catch it until they were set so that is the way they remain.
June 3rd, 2007  
June 3rd, 2007 The pool guys hard at work
June 3rd, 2007 The floor being put in.
June 3rd, 2007 The stairs and bench are very nicely finished - probably as nice or nicer than any pool I've been in. Notice the footwear. The finishers wore either sponges on their feet or shoes made out of tape. Oils from skin contact will stain the plaster.
June 3rd, 2007 A plasterer cleaning up the marks from his shoes.
June 4th, 2007 A pool should be immediately filled after plaster and should be continuously filled from the deepest part up to avoid stains on the plaster. If the water is shut off, a permanant ring will be left in the plaster. Additionally, a sock is put over the hose ends to prevent erosion of the plaster surface from the running water. During the first day of filling, care should be taken to prevent dirt from getting into the pool. Since the pool is 44,500 gallons, it took a couple of days to fill.
June 3rd, 2008 No Photo Yet We bought a solar cover and cover reel recently. The solar cover heats the pool very well and got us into the pool in May at 72 degrees F. To get the right size, we ordered two 16'x40' covers, which led to an unexpected problem. Most residential cover reels will not hold 75 or 80 feet of cover. We ended up finding a Rockies Commercial Junior reel that does the job nicely, but at a surprising cost.

   Last update: June 11th, 2008