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The Green Scene in Watershapes, Oct. 2010

Bad Plot Plans, Big Changes
By Scott Cohen

In the very early stages of a project, it isn't unusual for the plot plans used for design concept/presentation purposes to be a bit off scale, sometimes by a fair amount.

Many properties are difficult to map, and even in those cases where it might seem relatively simple to get things right, the fact that one person generally does the job alone isn't an invitation to great precision.

Yes, you need to be reasonably careful in noting structural setbacks. But exact indication of, say, the contours of a freeform pool? That's just not required at this still-speculative point of the design process.

Once you've signed the contracts and the project is moving forward, "working drawings" need to be created and greater care should be taken. Even here, however, the process is still relatively loose, because ultimately the pool and other hardscape features will be laid out on site in a process that often involves making minor adjustments.

pool depth measurement

This image shows a water depth of about 33 or 34 inches, but this was after a crew had jackhammered away about six inches of the floor. Even this was a compromise, as the plans and contract led the homeowner to expect a depth of 42 inches at this point. (Note that the patio cover's post creates a surcharge against the pool shell: This would be fine if its footing had been dug to the pool's depth, but in this case, the post was here first, well before the pool.)

These changes - in response to sight lines and myriad other issues - are so common that I won't even bother to argue about what is and is not acceptable when it comes to tolerances.

My point here is, when things change more than a little bit, the homeowner needs to be involved. Artistic license is not permission to run wild!

Scenario: This lesson resulted from a project I was asked to investigate on behalf of California’s Contractors State License Board. The pool builder had drawn up a site plan that was off by about three feet, resulting in incorrect measurements for the locations of the patio posts and, in turn, interference in the layout of the swimming pool.

In this case, the pool had a freeform design and was to be long enough for lap swimming. It also included some decorative waterfeatures on the side away from the house. When the contractor went to set the shape of the pool in preparation for construction, he discovered that the already-installed patio posts were inside the boundaries of the pool. Naturally, he shifted the pool’s layout — but he did not secure approval from the homeowner to do so and also failed to modify the pool shell’s design or construction to accommodate the surcharge imposed by the too-close posts.


To read the entire article, buy THE CANDID CONTRACTOR: Lessons Learned From The Construction Defect Expert Witness Files of Scott Cohen

Contractors and homeowners will save thousands of dollars with this new book from Scott Cohen of HGTV fame. Cohen pulls back the veil on common construction mistakes with pools, ponds, decks and associated structures, explaining how to remedy them when they occur – or, better yet, avoid them entirely.


Scott Cohen is president and supervising designer of The Green Scene, an outdoor design and construction firm based in Northridge, CA. He provides consultation for clients nationwide and gives seminars on designing landscapes, swimming pools and outdoor kitchens.