Looking for some help with building our swimming pool

03/07/2011 - 08:57

We are just about to to decide whether to go with a swimming pool firm called Acquaform, who is very pricey, or to do it ourselves and really need some help with the way forward. Is there anyone out there who is available to help my overwhelmed husband, who is a skilled lay builder and DIY enthusiast. We have a renovated farmhouse in the beautiful hills of the South Langhe (Cuneo) on the borders of Liguria and Piemonte, and are in the process of landscaping and finishing off the outside. What have other lovers of all things Italian done with regard to building an infinity pool with steps?


It is entirely feasible to build any sort of pool (infinity, conventional, above/below ground) using the equivalent of 'breeze blocks' - or farm blocks, or timber, or gunnite or whatever is to hand - and then you 'line' it with whatever system you choose. It is your choice. "System Pools" just 'appear' to give you a 'fixed price'. But sometimes they also offer to get it built for you 'with all permissions'. Actually, that's not always true! You must inform youself about what (sometimes ridiculous) 'rules' will constrain your project, and then inform yourself about the technology of infinity pools (with their compensation tanks and pump requirements etc) - but the technology isn't rocket science. Getting the permission can be...(and also the understanding of how this pool  might work on a sloping site, and how much the unanticipated costs of retaining walls etc. might amount to). If you think it through well there is nothing to stop you doing a DIY job.

Thank you for your input and support. We have all the permissions that our Comune require..may we have overlooked any nationally?  We have looked into using an isoblock polystirene system to build the walls which will in effect give us our pool walls and insulate it at the same time, and a liner system. One thing bothering us is that the advice we have been given is to ensure accuracy within 2mm and that the forming of the infinity bit is a very precise job and only experienced operators are able to do it...perhaps we have been taken in a bit by the project manager from the 'firm'. Anyway, do you know anything about how in 'money' the difference is between doing it yourself and getting someone else in? How much should our budget be for DIY considering that we have been quoted E33,000 for a 10x4m,1.3h infinity pool with a roman end?

Infinity pools can be problematic and require greater attention. I've never heard of tolerances down to 2mm though. Not sure where that is coming from. The real key to succesful operation is that you have a really good filter system to block out leaves, small twigs etc which may be carried along with the returning water. Otherwise you run the risk of them becoming trapped in the main returning valve, stopping it from closing with the consequent emptying of the infinity channel or worse the whole pool. (Believe me, I've seen this happen a lot). That said, I've got to say that the price you have been quoted does not look expensive to me. I don't have much experience of liner pools but for a conventional tiled infinity pool, I would have thought that you would have been talking of a figure substantially above €40,000. (Well at least here you would). Are you sure everything is included? pumps, filtrations, surrounds, landscaping, iva etc?

Thanks for that comment and your experience of ensuring an efficient filter system seems like sensible advice and I shall make sure that is so. I'm told that other than the initial excavation everything is included in the quotation we have...it's all very technical and sometimes the terms are confusing but the Geometra was happy to explain stuff.

From bitter experience, it's a good idea to get the pool specialist to quote for, arrange and oversee the whole job. We had a pool ordered from the pool company.  They gave the specification for the hole to be dug, which we gave to the builders landscaping the garden.  The builders say the spec was not right and had to charge loads more for a bigger hole and to take the dirt away (its a freeform pool).  Then charge again to bring some of it back again.  The builders also chaged extra because the pool company only sent a man with a van and to do the installation and I don't think he'd ever seen a pool in his life, so the builders had to do it, despite paying the pool company. We took it up with the pool company but they just called the builders liers.  I was hear and witnessed the whole event, so it was true but what can you do. The bottom of the pool delaminated because the pool company decided they couldn't fibre glass for months after the shell was put in.  The builders had delayed the digging job, then the pool company delayed the pool delivery date, and then installed just before winter and then declared they couldn't fibre fill until Spring.  The contractors said this wasn't their problem and we had to get somebody else in to do it (who, incidently, declared that the original builder had used the wrong stuff).  Meanwhile, when the pool was relaminated (2 more times because the 2nd job also delaminated), and the fibre glassing finally done, the electrician came to install the pump box and we found it to be faulty.  The pool company said they'd inspected it on deliverly and felt it was fine then and declared that it had been sabotaged.  Which is rubbish.  The box with all the equipment looked second hand, with threads worn and not put in entirely straight and with a load of screws missing that you could see had never been there.  That aside, we live in a gated property and nobody is about to break over the gate, and stand outside the window of our house to steel a few screws, unscrew some hoses and screw them back in wrong. Nobody guarantees anything because they all blame each other.  A common story here. We finally got it finished and its lovely.  But it ended up costing us around twice as much as the original quotation and, like I say, the guarantees aren't worth the paper they are written on. Moral of the story.  Get the pool company to do the whole job.

In reply to by Noddy

Wow, what a stressful state of affairs for you. I am not dismayed that your project was beset by so many problems having had five years of handling contractors here in Italy etc...happy for you that you now have it all sorted. Frankly we avoid as many of them as possible and do it ourselves. Thanks for your reply and I will consider your advice seriously now before making my final decision. I will use you as hindsight!!

Following discussions about pools etc. I wondered if there is any real benefit in having 40 jets as opposed to 20 jets when considering installing a jacuzzi (idromassagio).  We need a low amperage and so a plug and play one is essential...anyone got any recent experience, had any good experiences with regard to models?

Hello again, I'm assuming that you are talking about a stand alone model and not jets in your pool. I can't really help you with individual models or number of jets but its really important that the unit stands on a completely level, very, very solid base. Otherwise you will have one side firing like mad and the other side coming out as a trickle.

Jacuzzi is a trade name. I make this point because Jacuzzi the firm have a patent (I suppose it is still in force) on a particular bit of technology which allows you easily to completely evacuate all water from every part of the installation (all the tubes etc., not just the bits you can see are empty). This is a very good thing for an external application, or a hard frost could cause damage, and it's also a nice idea for intermittenly occupied holiday homes where bacteria could be a problem. I've no idea about numbers of jets!

Hi there We have a place in Piemonte and (as sometimes costs can be very regional) I can say that your quoted price is acceptable and realistic (definitely not pricey). We didn't have an infinity pool but it costs us about 30k. Things to consider about doing yourself though: 1. Have you had a geological survey done? Pools literally weigh many tonnes when full, and our 'pool people' reminded us to get this done prior to digging the first hole in case we had to have vv expensive concrete piles dug down to the bed rock. If this was required then we would have scrubbed the idea as it would not have been economically viable. Hate you to 'do it yourself' and then find the whole think cracks or 'slips' weeks after filling. 2. The 'pool people' don't generally dig the v big hole or shift the spoil! Sounds obvious but for some reason we thouight they would do it all. 3. The 'pool people' told us that the planned site of the pump house was not going to work. Good advice that could have caused us problems later on had we tried to do it ourselves. Its up to you I suppose but our Italian professional builders didn't even entertain the fact of putting the pool in themselves. I would hope that alone would persuade you to reconsider (no disrespect to your husbands skills obviously) Ian

Hi and thanks for your comments and interest, which were very useful and I can confirm that we have had a geological survey. The idea of the whole thing slipping and giving way once done is terrifying!! We have bedrock about a metre down on the piece of our land we intend to put the pool on. This adjoins the house at first floor level with cantina etc. below that at ground level, in effect house 'stuck' to the hillside!! There are a lot like this on hillsides in Piemonte as you probably know. We have also been told already that the excavation costs, backfilling and landscaping are not included in the price and are ok about that, so we need all the spoil to go back in to level everything, (in fact we may not have enough!!). We have built a retaining wall 3m h x 30m l to retain the hillside. The pool pump room is within the limits given by the 'firm' and therefore fits their criteria.  Having done much research there is no better experience than one that is first hand, so thanks again. Hopefully we haven't forgotten anything.. not even the dreaded IVA!!

Hallo Ian, We are in the process of buying our property in Piemonte (Costigliole d'Asti) and are considering to have a swimming pool built. Can you recommend (or advise against) local constructors of pools? Thanks. Kind regards, Jeen Akkerman.  

" .. geological survey  .....Pools literally weigh many tonnes when full, and our 'pool people' reminded us to get this done prior to digging the first hole in case we had to have vv expensive concrete piles dug down to the bed rock. If this was required then we would have scrubbed the idea as it would not have been economically viable." I was taught at Uni that when you dig a hole for a swimming pool, the weight of the soil excavated normally exceeds the weight of the pool plus water when completed - and as the soil doesn't collapse under its own weight, it shouldn't collapse under the weight of the pool structure plus water.  [unless a lot of the pool is above water].   Localised soft spots can cause problems - differential settlement leading to cracking, but these are easily sorted out, without using piles [mind you =- there's a lot more profit in piling!!!]

You are right Alan and after your comments I checked with my other hal,f who is the engineer and to avoid the effects of soft spots or movement we are planning to build another wall around the pool structure to hold back the spoil we are infilling to form our patio.  Mind you the house we live in is full of cracks that need constant attention, however it has been standing for over 100 years so far!! We have tried to consider as many angles as possible but are still concerned that we may have missed stuff hence this discussion.

So - you are going to build a retaining wall around the pool. Why? Surely it makes sense to make the pool wall thick enough to perform the retaining role? Of course, this deletes the option of a 'system pool' - whatever 'system' (whether it is galvanised tin or plastic) implies some sort of masonry structure to support the border, (generally this is done by clay tavellone slung onto hastily thrown up masonry pillars). If (as it sounds) you have a good site geologically, why not get a quote for a full masonry solution (lined with plastic, even one of the custom welded liners which you can source in France very reasonably). You've probably got the skills to build this yourself, anyway, and somebody from America will freight you the Hayward bits and pieces for what look like Lire prices. And, to put another spanner in the works, how enthralled are you by the 'infinity' aspect? In my opinion they photograph wonderfully, but apart from that 'wow' factor in the sales brochure, I have to admit I have swum in them, and noticed pools in friends' establishments, and the fact that they were 'infinity' had completely passed me by until they showed me the invoice or complained about the difficulties of overwintering them! (I'd say a tolerance of 2mm was overly generous on an infinity iinstallation, I'd look for half a millimetre.)

In reply to by Fillide

Another pause for thought...Thanks fillide. I've spoken to the man who can and he says that the hollow polystirene block system, into which is poured concrete and has reinforcing,  has the added benefit of insulating the pool.   The additional wall is really just an extra security measure especially as the top 600mm is 'built up ground' in order for us to have the pool between two floor levels of the house. I have now probably decided to go for the skimmer option because apart form being  cheaper; when  playing  the ball will be easier to contain; not having to reduce the water level in winter for ice issues; leaves and debris can be a nuisance; room for the balancing tank is also a bit tight as we have been told that it needs to be within 20m of the pump room (could have got over the latter  though if I was determined.) I am still having my spa with ? jets. More to consider and put into the melting pot...only need to dig the hole and do a million other bits to get organised....the joys of the dolce vita!!

Yes, interesting point Alan about the soil/water weight. That makes sense. Maybe it was just  a money generating exercise after all! Regarding an infinity pool. Our pool isn't an infinity but if you are building your into the a hillside then you can get a bit of an infinity effect (well i think so!) http://www.piedmontvillas.com/images/full-view-of-private-pool.jpg Ian

In reply to by ianj

I enjoyed looking at your pool and the view you have is wonderful.  We have a fantastic view too.  Whereabouts in Piemonte are you and how much did your pool cost? (send us a private message)