Gunite pools are the most common pool type because they can be built in any shape or size the homeowner wants. Gunite construction involves a number of steps.
Before construction can begin, the future pool owner must decide how the pool will be used. Will the design incorporate a hot tub or spa? Will the pool use a saltwater system or a traditional chlorine system? Will the pool be intended for swimming laps? How will the pool fit into the landscape of the backyard? After answering some basic design questions, a pool designer develops the plan.
As one would expect, the first major construction step is to dig the hole. Next, a steel framework made of rebar, or reinforcing rods, is installed to help prevent cracking and structural failure. Then, the rough plumbing for drains, inlets, skimmers, and lighting is installed.
Gunite, the primary component of the pool shell, is made of a mixture of concrete and water and is blown, or “shot,” onto the steel framework. To allow the gunite to properly set after it is shot and troweled, it must be watered several times a day in the summer, or once a day in the winter. Tile and coping are then installed, and the next phase of construction is the decking, which is made of poured concrete or pavers on sand.
All inlet covers, drain covers, filter equipment, and pool lights are installed and wired before a finish is applied. The most popular finish for a gunite pool is plaster. The plaster, which is watertight and prevents leaking, is sprayed and troweled onto the walls and bottom of the pool. Once the plaster is in place, the pool is continuously filled to the midpoint of the tile, and a chemical start-up begins. The plaster is cured underwater and has to be brushed at least once per day for seven to ten days.
Some local and state jurisdictions require installation of additional safety measures, such as pool signage or fencing, so familiarize yourself with the requirements for your area.
Salt Water vs. Chlorine
Another major decision a homeowner must make when designing and building a pool is whether to choose a saltwater system or a chlorine system. Both have pros and cons, and the decision will be informed largely by how much money the homeowner is comfortable spending up front and how much maintenance he or she intends to take on during the year.
Saltwater pools are growing in popularity because they aren’t as drying to the skin and hair as chlorine pools. Although the name implies otherwise, saltwater pools do, in fact, use chlorine, but not in the concentrations of a standard chlorine pool. Saltwater pools use a chlorine generator to create the chlorine needed to keep the pool clean. The generator runs constantly, so there is no need to shock the pool with high levels of chemicals every few weeks. Homeowners may see a slight increase in their electricity bills, but the generator eliminates the need to handle and store toxic chemicals and constantly test the water to ensure the proper chemical balance.
Because of the technology involved, saltwater pools do cost more than a chlorine pool to install up front, but they are typically easier and cheaper to maintain in the long run. A properly maintained saltwater pool should need major service only once per year. This annual service will involve draining the pool for easier cleaning, replacing filters, inspecting the chlorine generator, and addressing any other issues.
Chlorine pools require less of an initial financial investment than saltwater pools, but the investment of time spent maintaining the pool is much higher. Because the supply of chlorine is not constant, the balance of chemicals in a chlorine pool requires frequent monitoring. The water will need to be tested periodically for proper pH levels, calcium levels, and alkalinity. In addition to the normal maintenance tasks, approximately once per month, the pool will need to be shocked to kill any bacteria that may have developed. For homeowners who don’t have the time to devote to pool maintenance, most pool companies offer maintenance services.
Homeowners should consider renovating their pools after 12 years or when they start noticing cracks or leaks. Many homeowners today use renovation as an opportunity to upgrade their system with an ozone or a salt generator, which are additional sanitation options. Renovations can also breathe new life into pools that don’t reflect the owner’s style or taste. A renovation is a good time to add a hot tub, spa, or decorative water feature. Many contractors can also add features to create an outdoor living space near the pool. Homeowners should consult with their pool company to see if adding an outdoor fireplace, fire pit, or kitchen is an option.
Routine pool service typically includes such cleaning tasks as vacuuming the pool, brushing the tile and plaster, and emptying the skimmer and pump baskets. A technician will also clean equipment, like the pool filter and bags, and lubricate the O-rings in addition to checking filter pressure and backwashing when required. It is also necessary to test and balance the pool water with proper chemicals, refill the chlorinator, and add salt if that is the homeowner’s choice for disinfecting. A pool service professional will check all the pool electronics and execute an overall assessment of the condition of the pool and its equipment. Although some pool maintenance can be done by the homeowner, it is a time-consuming task, and professionals will not only be able to finish the job more quickly, but they will also be able to spot and alert the homeowner to any potential issues with the pool or its equipment before they become major problems.
In colder climates, homeowners who want to continue using their pools as the weather cools will need to consider using pool heating systems, which can be electric, gas, or solar powered. For areas that regularly experience freezing temperatures, winterization is an essential part of maintenance, preventing unnecessary problems and costly repairs in the spring.
In early spring and through the summer, most pool companies are extremely busy. If their schedules allow, homeowners should arrange to have their pool work done in the off-season months. Pool renovations, in particular, are best to have done in the fall and winter months when the pool would not be used anyway. Alternatively, homeowners could arrange for the work to be done while they are away on vacation. To ensure that the pool is ready for the warm summer months, pool installations, renovations, and other work should be scheduled well in advance.