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Owner Builder #1 - KF from Gilbert, AZ

Owner/Builder #2 - LY from Phoenix, AZ


Pool Builder Cost     : $32,500
(Avg from multiple builder bids)           
Owner/Builder Cost  : $22,102

Total Savings: 32%  : $10,398

Research Duration: 3 months
("How the heck do you build your own pool?")
Planning Duration: 1 month
(design, permits, layout)
Construction Duration: 5 months
(excavation, plumbing, steel, electrical, shotcrete - 3 weeks
no activity - 2 months
decking (w/ rain delay) - 2 weeks
no activity - 3 weeks
tile, cleanup, landscaping, plaster, fill, startup - 1 month)

CONTINUED BELOW

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I was really excited about the opportunity I was given to write up LY's story.  LY put a little different spin on the whole owner/builder method of building a swimming pool.  Instead of acting only as the general contractor, he decided he was going to moonlight and become a subcontractor as well - which meant actually performing some of skill work himself.  Some people have the necessary experience/skill to pull it off, and others just have the sheer determination to do it.  In LY's case, it was probably a little of both. And he ended up doing a pretty decent job as you can see in the picture of his finished pool below.

Here are the specs of his pool:

  • 9'6" Diving Pool - 684 square feet Surface Area / 125 foot Perimeter

  • Geometric / Contemporary Design - 37 ft length / 24 ft width

  • 12" Raised Bond Beam for Lounge area / Sheer Descent Water Feature

  • 9" deep Swim-Out step

  • Fountain Jets in Swim-Out Step

  • Deep-end exit steps near diving board

  • Marcite Plaster Interior / Tiled at waterline

The other reason I was excited about writing up LY's story was that his pool was completely different from mine.  Instead of lagoon/tropical , he went geometric/contemporary.  Instead of curves, he went straight lines.  Instead of an aggregate/pebble interior, he went marcite/plaster.  Instead of play pool, he went diving pool.  Instead of no tile, he went tile.  Instead of conventional light, he went colored SAM.  It was a completely different pool in just about every aspect.  The beauty of the situation though, was that the process he followed to construct the pool was virtually identical to mine.  What matters is the process and not the particulars of the pool specs itself.  In each case, the situation will be circumstantially different, but substantially, very very similar.

Here's a picture of LY's pool design.  If you were intimidated by this drawing (like I was) when you first saw it - take heart - I've looked at a lot of drawings from professional pool builders and I have to say that even some of the valley's best pool builder's design drawings can't compare with this!  He did it up in AutoCAD LT, which is a professional Computer Aided Design tool.  While its important that you draw up a design that captures every feature that you want, you don't have to use a professional CAD program to do it.  Whatever method you choose to use, it should be done clearly, concisely, and completely. You can go to the Pool Design Concepts page on this site to get more ideas on what items need to be incorporated into your pool design.

For his diving pool, LY was required to do some additional design work defining the minimum diving water envelope as defined by the NSPI (you can get all the details about this in the Pool Design Concepts page).  Because a diving pool contains more inherent risks due to the nature of the activities involved with it, the diving envelope primarily defines the minimum depths, widths, and lengths of the diving end of the pool to insure adequate diver safety.  The NSPI has come under some scrutiny in recent years as a result of incidents where people have been severely injured (i.e. quadriplegics) in accidents involving NSPI-approved pools.  They blamed the NSPI as having minimum depth standards that are not sufficient to prevent injury in all cases.  They sued the NSPI saying that they knowingly did nothing to update their standards after incidents were brought to their attention.  In one particular case, the NSPI prevailed (cached) over the plaintiffs in a high-profile case in 2001, and the case was dismissed.   Its interesting that when LY first started his project, he engaged with a pool design consultant who told him his diving envelope was too shallow.  He pulled out a copy of the NSPI standards to show her that she was all wet and that he was conforming to everything that the NSPI dictated for his type of diving pool.  He ended up firing her.  Regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, its good to at least know the different aspects to the controversy.  You can read the the other side of the story here.

     

As I mentioned before, LY was after a more contemporary pool design with sharp geometric lines.  He ended up designing a diving pool that was 37 feet long and approx 24 feet wide (at its widest spot).  Its a huge pool by most standards - 684 square feet of surface area and 125 foot perimeter.  The associated decking around the pool would also follow the same geometric design to enhance and support the modern architecture look.

Another thing I liked about his design is that he made good judicious use of raised bond beam sections.  LY designed it so that the bond beam would "step-up" at different locations around the perimeter of the pool, first from 0" to 6", then from 6" to 12". This design feature is nice as it provides some variation in elevation.  This technique is quite popular in many backyard designs.

     

Many people like to extend the raised bond beam to attached portions of raised decking for dramatic affect.  This often sets apart / highlights sections of the backyard to make it appear more inviting.  When entertaining, your guests will be naturally drawn to these raised lounging areas to hang out.  In the area where the bond beam was raised 12 inches, LY also put a sheer descent water feature for added effect.  He also added 3 entry steps to the shallow end of the pool and an extended swim-out (or Baja step as its sometimes called) area connected off of the first step.  As a finishing touch, he added a sunken brick-lined fire-pit with a circular bench seating area just off to the side of the pool.

     

LY visited a bunch of different builders during the initial stages of research.  This list includes Shasta, Paddock, California, and Rondo.  Each design was different, but they were about the same size.  The quotes ranged from $29K to $36K, and even with the lowest bid, it was more than he wanted to spend.  I took the average of all the bids he received to come up with the pool builder cost at the top of the page, but LY informed me that the bids he received didn't include the swim-out, fountains, or deep end exit steps near the diving board.  He estimated that if he had the pool builder quote all the extras, that it would have come in around $45K!  This would have amounted to a 45% savings as an owner/builder.  Since he didn't have any actual documented bids from the pool builders for this extra work, I ended up using the original lower number that I calculated just to be conservative.

LY's total project duration was approximately 9 months.  This may seem a little excessive at first, but understand that this includes the 3 months in which he did nothing towards the actual construction of the pool.  This 3 month time period was spent doing leisure research on finding out about the owner/builder pool building process - getting enough information to the point of being able to start the planning phase.  During that time, LY asked the oft mentioned question, "Can I really do this?"  He spent his time trying to figure out the whole pool building process on his own.  What really made him nervous was the fact that he didn't know how to communicate with the subs - "What does the excavator need to see on the drawing?  Do they need to tell me anything else?  How should the plumbing be designed?  Does the plumber know?  How do I even know he did a good job?  How about steel?  How do I know the steel guy did the job right?  What should the pool and drawing look like before the steel guy shows up on the site? ...."   Fortunately, for those out there contemplating the owner/builder pool building project, there's good news.  This website covers all those questions and more. The information from this site should reduce that research time down considerably.

During this time LY had to do additional research that most other owner/builders don't have to.  Because he was interested in doing some of the actual skilled labor work (i.e. layout, electrical, and plumbing), he spent additional time learning how to design pool plumbing and learning things that subs will do for you.  This kind of knowledge is difficult to pick up on your own unless you either know someone in the industry or can find someone who would be willing to tell you how its done.  Fortunately, when LY was in the process of picking up some equipment parts from a pool supply store, he struck up a conversation with the owner of the store when the owner  inquired about his project.  He was willing to show him the ins and outs of how to design pool plumbing.  LY said that they had a few lengthy sessions including one night where the rest of the employees left for the evening and it was just him and the owner.  LY was able to get most of the parts he needed to do his own plumbing job from this pool plumbing store.  He did a pretty job from what I've been told.  There were some leaks that he encountered near the end of the project and he ended up calling in a professional pool plumber to inspect the work  and fix a few minor problems.  Its hard to say how much LY saved on doing this sub work himself and I wish I had more detailed numbers from him to share with you.  I know there have been quite a few people who have contacted me over the past year saying they are also interested in doing some of the actual work on the pool, but unfortunately, that kind of information is difficult to come by.

     

Once LY was convinced he knew enough to get started, he spent about a month doing the planning activities: laying out the design drawing and applying for the permits.  Notice that I didn't include the activity of getting bids in that initial month long planning stage.  That's because he got his bids as he went along instead of up front like many people do it.  This is a valid alternative and in fact may even be more efficient due to how a pool design sometimes slowly evolves as the project progresses.  If you find that your design changes significantly down the road after you have already bid out certain subs, you'll find yourself having to get new bids later on.  The downside is that you don't know upfront how much your project is going to cost.

LYs actual construction period took 5 months.  This also might seem a tad long to some of you, but keep in mind this 5 month period also includes the combined almost 3 months in which KY put aside the project and intentionally let it lie dormant.  Notice that LY got the excavation, plumbing, steel, electrical, and shotcrete work done in a blazing 3 weeks.  He told me that he put in a lot of effort to get the pool to the point where the shotcrete was completed because he heard stories about people getting a lot of rain and washing in the dirt walls of the dig.  He was afraid that the washed out walls would affect the shotcrete structure, so he wasted little time to get the structure done.  Once it was completed, he said "general laziness" set in.  Hehe.  "There was no rush to finish and I took my time securing bids and scheduling contractors.  I was spending that time going over some changes with the tile and decking that I was rolling around in my head."   The nice thing about going the owner/builder route is that you can choose to put down the project if, say, it starts to get busy at work, and you need to slow down a little.  I've actually seen this "Laziness Effect" take place with other owner builders as well.  It was also true in my case.  I think sometimes people do things because they can.  Its not a bad thing.  Its a great luxury to have, as long as you're disciplined enough to pick things up again after a lengthy layoff.

     

So getting back to the schedule, if you do the math, the actual construction duration was really about 2 months.  That's not bad at all. That's why I always recommend to people (especially those doing it for the first time) to start their pool in the fall/winter time frame. There's no rush to finish the pool in a hurry, and if your schedule gets really hairy, you can just lay off for awhile. You can do this since the pool is unusable until the summer anyways. The subs are more available and responsive at that time of the year and you end up incurring less headaches.

     

One other thing I really wanted to highlight with LY's pool was the difference in light reflectivity of a pebble pool versus marcite plaster pool.  A lot of people I meet are wanting a pool lighting system that will produce deep saturated glowing colors at night. Fiber Optics and SAL/SAM lights are the two most common ways to get this effect. However, to maximize the effects of this type of light, the interior type you choose will make a big difference.  Plain white plaster is your best bet.  The plaster finish is smooth and light (in color), the properties that maximize light reflections.

     

You can see in the pictures above, how well the SAM light reflects off the bottom to make the pool glow with bright iridescent colors.  You can get the same type of affect with a pebble pool, but the glowing effect will not be as pronounced.   Aggregate interiors tend to be darker in color and a lot rougher - properties that cause light to be absorbed more readily.

     

Here are some final shots of LY's pool.  He started actual construction around the beginning of December and wrapped up the interior and starting filling the pool around the beginning of May - around 5 months.

        

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