Let’s Talk About Delays

I’m at the DMV (In the Washington, DC “DMV” area) so this seems like an appropriate time for me to discuss waiting.

Waiting sucks, no one likes it. But with any major construction there are always foreseeable delays – especially in the Luxury Pool industry.

First delay – I’m constantly amazed by how many designers and or pool builders are slow, tardy or don’t show to first meetings. This should tell you everything you need to know about the person you are dealing with. Are they comfortable with a tardy delivery? I like to say “how people do anything is how they do everything”. I once left a company because their lead employee was 20 minutes late to everything he ever did in life… and at least a month late on pool builds.

Second Delay – returning the design on time. Again, how they do anything is how they do everything. Now this is more relevant “off season” than during peak summer. To start working with a designer mid May will likely lead to delays just due to the season peak.

Engineers and permits – the designer / builders relationships and experience in that town can greatly affect timing. Engineers who have a FLUID relationship with Designers can turn around a set of plans in a matter of days but I’ve also seen it take weeks. Permits are a whole other story. Up in the country I’ve met building inspectors who hand me a permit on a handshake and a nod… but I’ve also spent close to a year in high end municipalities going to pre permit meetings, design review, Architectural Review Boards, variance meeting, variance meeting, variance meeting (did I mention variance meetings?), Environmental Meetings, Planning Board Meetings, Pre Excavation Inspections, Erosion Control Inspections, Highway Department Reviews, then finally get to apply for a building permit – which will be ready in 2 to 4 weeks. No one in these municipalities likes when I describe this… but I’m a believer that wealthy towns (via higher property taxes) enables them to have more oversight by employing more in house engineers and regulators. These engineers and regulators sometimes expand the scope of approval in order to create more work. Though I don’t dispute the virtue of the drainage and regulations often required and controlled by this process – I do dispute that current method of submit / approval is as effective as possible.

Excavation – we now have a design and permit and are ready to build. If the company does the excavation in house – they are still subject to delays based on weather and other projects. Because they can’t be assured when your permit is ready – most builders work on a First Deposit / First Permit schedule for who gets excavated (started). It’s not reasonable for them to hold a dig date strictly based on deposit. If someone’s permit is not ready they still need to keep working. Having said that – most pools take 1 – 2 days to dig and remove the soil – so if the delay you experience is substantial it is most likely due to the company’s operational style.

Weather – let’s talk about Rain. Most people think that rain delays are understandable – since they themselves don’t work outside in rain. That is rarely the issue – pool builders are warriors: rain, hot, cold, early, late… the real dilemma is trying to create a clean hole with as little damage as possible. Rain, today or within the last 3 days makes a freaking mess. Depending on soil type – this can lead to real drama resulting in additional drainage and gravel to control the excess water. Additionally the driving route (across your lawn) to the site can become a bad situation if too wet and precautions are not taken. When I worked for a large national brand builder they would dig in almost any weather in order to stay on the schedule of the excavator sub contractor they used. This is not acceptable for a quality installation. Ideal excavation is rare in some parts of the country – and there is no need to create more stress by digging in the rain. Similarly – gunite and plaster should be done on dry moderate days as well. I’m a firm believer in the rule of thumb – day of rain should slow you down by 3 days – between mud drying time and scheduling chaos of a rain day.

Other Work / Subs – a lot of time delays are created by two key things: their guys are still working on another project and your are simply waiting on them to finish or their sub contractors are too busy to get to your job. You would be amazed how much the latter is an issue in the NY Tri-State area. For a more in depth read about this – read my future post about NY Tri State and Pools. Excavation. Steel, Gunite, Tile & Plaster are all done by mostly by subs in this market. There is immense demand on these crews in the spring / summer months. So much that they control the market. If they like the contractor (which often has to do with speed if payment) they may go sooner to those clients… if not – they may choose to string them along or even just not return their calls at all. Ultimately they will serve their biggest / best contractors more rapidly than smaller / slower paying companies. In my years in this market I’ve seen high end companies who build 15 units get blown off for builders doing 100 units. I’ve also seen companies get rescheduled for small builders who bring coffee, lunch and pay the bill at the time of service. I will no longer work for companies who are slow to pay the bill – their customer satisfaction levels suffer because of it.

Gunite – has its own delay – while normally shot in one day. A pool “shell” should sit – untouched for at least a week before anything is done. During that time it is ideal to keep the shell damp by running sprinklers over the entire area.

Tile / Coping – don’t let this decision delay. I like to have the material selections finalized by the time the excavation starts. Anytime after that you are at risk of the project being delayed by the clients. Some tile / stones are not stocked and need to be ordered. Sometimes things are on back order and other decisions need to be considered. Regardless – don’t be in a position where the contractor can hold you accountable for delays.

Utilities – gas, electric, venting, water, waste, Internet, cable, communications… these utilities are relevant for the installation of the equipment and can cause delays and double work (re-digging trenches) if not coordinated well.

Plaster – see the same explanation of delays at other work / subs. Then add the struggle of arraigning water trucks to arrive the same day as the plaster install.

Finally – after plaster – there is a curing process that will keep you from swimming for up to two weeks after the water goes in the pool.

Then you still have to build the patio, landscape, irrigation, lighting, fence!

Landscape Lighting.

Lighting is Everything.

Those who know me have seen me fuss over the lighting in any room indoors or out. Dimmers, Zones, Color, Automation, adjust, adjust, adjust. There is just something wonderful about a properly lit space. Too much and its overwhelming, not enough and things fall flat. As a glass artist almost all my work is made with the intention of communicating the raw light that hot liquid glass radiates. I make paperweights that come on a lights base, globes that are lit from within and sculptures that are built with the lighting effect in mind.

Landscape Lighting is one of the most impactful and yet least expensive parts of an outdoor living project. Individual fixtures range in quality and price like anything else – but the general impact will be the same in the dark. Lighting creates defined paths, adds a feeling of safety, draws attention to key horticultural and architectural elements, and in many cases, it adds depth perception to the yard. By up-lighting trees at the edge of the property you create a visual understanding of the property boundary and add comfort to the entire space – reclaiming your own property in the evening.

Today’s Landscape Lighting is commonly made up of 3 key Components:

In creating a landscape lighting design, I like to begin with the functional lighting. Path lights, steps lights and other accent lights that may be important to illuminate for safety and or direction of guests less familiar with the space. Then move on to the more aesthetic lighting effects on the yard. One of the things to know about lighting is that it is very scalable. You can easily add lighting later – but ask your contractor to place plenty of extra wire in case you choose to add more. Don’t skimp on the tree up lighting and depth perception – you always need a few more fixtures than you think!

Very often the space itself will define the type of fixatures but the key ones that I like to use are:

Lighting techniques used to create a dramatic effect are some of the most fun things to do with an existing house. Whether shadowing, adding silhouettes, creating focal points, or just simply grazing the texture of the space – Lighting can instantly change the way the space feels after sunset. Most lighting installers will either demo the lights effect prior to finishing the install… or come back and adjust after a few evenings to assess initial installation.

As with all other lighting, in recent years most outdoor installers have moved to LED bulbs. This comes with two challenges and two enormous benefits.

Pros: The energy efficiency of running LED bulbs far exceeds its predecessor of incandescent bulbs. Additionally, the LED bulbs are able to run many more fixtures on a common transformer that incandescent bulbs did. Today you rarely need to use multiple transformers to accommodate the volume of fixtures… Though you may use a couple units to have different lighting zones.

Cons: LED lights are often too jarring of a white cool light for what people are expecting. Make sure your contractor is using a warmer bulb for a more comfortable glow. I feel awful addressing this in writing… part of me just wants to leave it at that… but the one last point I will make about LEDs for landscape lighting is not environmentally friendly at all… But it may matter in a few key spots in winter installations. LEDs won’t melt the snow. LEDs are so low energy that they don’t warm up enough to melt the snow that covers them – whereas incandescent bulbs are so bad with energy that they dump tons of heat and melt away the snow in a day or two exposing the light in the winter – where LED ones will need to be dug out.

Finally – I don’t recommend using colored landscape lights – but if there is a Jr Astronomer or Astrophotography in the family – it may be important to consider star gazing areas. In those spaces – it is commonplace to use dim red bulbs instead of white. This will better let your eyes adjust and throw less wasted light. For this reason – I also like to be able to have zones separating the path lights from the garden / up lights.