So you think installing a fiberglass pool is easy? So did I. Part 1/3

So you think installing a fiberglass pool is easy? So did I. Part 1/3

So you want to install your own fiberglass pool. OK. For most people the prospect of installing their own pool means savings. The process of installing a fiberglass pool is not that difficult. Most mechanical people after a glance over some installation pictures have a basic handle on it. Dig, set, backfill, form and pour the concrete. Lets face it $3,000-$5,000 in potential savings can get about anyone's attention.

When I first got into the business, I did so almost by accident and thought it was going to be easy. I owned a construction company (and still do), had all the tools, equipment, trucks, and even staff to do it. I remember thinking how easy this was going to be. What turned out to be simple was an absolute battle. What wasn't so obvious were the so called tricks of the trade and the "what not to do's" learned only through experience. It took three 16 hour days to install my first pool and I earned every bit of it.

Permits

fiberglass swimming pool permit packHopefully you won't need this much paperwork

The first hurdle you will need to overcome is the permit process. In most states there is some type of state code. The problem is that each local municipality (many rural areas don't even have a department) observes their own building code and sometimes only some of the state. Building departments also must work with whatever zoning code is enforced in the area if a separate zoning department does not exist. Unfortunately it is up to you to wade through the home owners association, zoning department, then the building department (in that order) to make sure they are all OK with what you want to do and making sure you know EXACTLY what inspection each will want and WHEN. Overlooking an inspection could be your biggest mistake. Be diligent.

Layout

Establishing the elevation of a pool is the next thing you can seriously mess up. Before you know where to install the base (or foundation) you need to know what kind of deck you're going to be installing, how it's going to be installed, and what the thicknesses are. Then you must know how the layout how the fall (or slopes) on the apron will work. There's nothing more upsetting than water not draining away from the pool or worse into the pool or foundation of the house. I've seen pools where the rainwater collected in flower beds and flooded dirt and mulch all over the pool deck every time it rained. There's no easy one plan fits all when it's time to lay out your project. It just has to be right.

Excavation

Once we know how the space is going to be laid out and have determined the elevation of the pool shell, it's time to dig the hole. The physical act of digging the hole is easy. But there are few things we do and don't want to do. First and foremost DON'T over dig. Bigger may sometimes be better but not here. My first hole was over dug by 20" I had plenty of space to work and getting the backfill back in was easy, but it also cost me an extra $1,400 in stone and $500 in dirt hauling. This doesn't even factor in the time it took to dig that extra dirt or the labor to put all that extra fill back in. An ideal over dig is about 8" at grade which will translate into 20" at the base of the pool. Next make sure you know exactly what the shape of the pool is and where your stairs and bench seats are. DO leave the dirt for contours and steps. If you dig a square hole and don't leave the dirt where the features of the pool are it's easy to toss another $1,200 in stone away. Don't add dirt back into the hole to make up for excessive overdig.

do not put disturbed dirt back into the holeDon't do it
If you disturb it, it must come out. It will not compact and will eventually settle. Lastly DON'T dig your hole any deeper than you have to. A thicker base doesn't make it better. Four to six inches of the right material is perfect. If you dig extra deep and have an 8" or 12" stone base you will not be able to adequately compact that much material which means you will have to deal with settling of the pool (what I call hypercompaction). A thicker base also costs a lot more money in stone and is lot more work.

Now that the hole's dug you need to determine what type of soil you have. Sandy soil or peat will settle a lot while clay settles about half. This has to be considered when installing your base. If there is going to be settling (and there usually is to some degree plus settling from thick base as mentioned above) you must raise your base at the heavy points to account for the settle and hypercompaction. Unfortunately this is not a science but very much an art. Each pool model and size will react differently in different soil. This is just something you have to feel out and be able compensate for what hasn't happened yet. My first pool I set perfectly level and the next day it had settled 3/4". Now I know most installers talk about being level to 1.5"but that's pretty sad and not acceptable in most situations. Incredibly some installers accept level to 6" with the intention of hiding it with a cantilever concrete deck. As amazing as that sounds I fix a couple of these every year. This is the result of laziness and inexperience. With proper planning and diligence even the cheapest thinnest fiberglass pool can be set level to 1".

Setting the pool is next. Click here for part two.

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