Foam Core Construction in the Pool Trade
Foam core construction is becoming increasingly more popular in the pool trade says Nathan Giffin of Vertical Artisans.
Foam core construction is a relatively new technique in the world of swimming pool construction, but it is quickly gaining popularity due to its numerous benefits. This construction method involves using foam boards as the core material, which are then covered in a layer of concrete. The resulting pool is lightweight, energy efficient, and cost-effective.
To get a better understanding of how foam core construction is being applied in the pool trade we consulted with Nathan Giffin. Giffin is an expert in the field and has been working with foam core construction for over a decade. He has taught countless professionals and contractors on the technique and has helped bring it to the forefront of the industry.
Giffin has been teaching the technique of foam core construction to pool builders who are looking to add this building technique to their repertoire. He says this technique is particularly enticing for those in the pool trade. “With foam core, you can build outdoor kitchens, jump rocks, fire pits, bridges, and you could have rock work actually emanating up out of the pool onto the decks and over the decks,” said Giffin.
Giffin says the future of foam core lies in its strength and versatility. “For decades, the Department of Transportation and various structural engineers and civil engineers have been using foam core in roads, highways, and things like that to displace a lot of material. It’s really beneficial because it can handle a lot of load,” explained Giffin.
That foam core construction has become dramatically more popular in the pool trade is no surprise to Giffin who indicated that contractors may be looking for alternatives to offset the rising cost of construction materials.
One of the primary reasons he is such a proponent of foam core construction is that it is incredibly durable and long-lasting. Giffin says that foam core provides a strong foundation for elements like rock waterfalls, slides, and grottos, and that concrete stone facing adds an extra layer of protection. Consequently, he feels this makes foam core construction a wise investment for those looking to add a swimming pool to their property.
“The first mountain I ever built at a pool with my colleagues, we did steel rebar construction, which is your typical method. You’ll have a worker bend up all the steel, and then you’re welding it, and then you’re backing it and shooting it. By the time you’re all said and done, you’ve got six to eight inches thick of concrete,” explained Giffin.
“We had to dig about 18 caissons just to support the weight of 99 yards of concrete. We shot that for a waterfall that surrounded a pool slide. Six years ago, I did a slide of a similar size, and I used 60 billets of foam. For this project, we used less than twelve yards of concrete, and it’s just held up like a champ,” said Giffin.
Giffin says that the technique is bound to become more popular with homeowners as they become more aware that alternatives like foam core exist. The techniques that professionals like Giffin are using allow for a dramatically shorter turnaround time.
“For a medium-sized mountain, we can probably have the foam carved up in about a week. We’ll actually sculpt this stuff in warehouses and then have the client come out and actually walk on it,” explained Giffin.
“They’re completely bedazzled over the entire structure because it’s so large,” said Giffin who explained that once the client has had an opportunity to view the structure, it’s then scheduled for delivery.
“We put it in a truck, bring it out to the job site,” explained Giffin, “within day one, it’s delivered and glued together. Then all of our pipes are run and we’re structure coating it. That all happens on day one. The rest of the week, we’re just spraying the concrete on and finishing it. I’ve finished very large structures inside of a two-and-a-half week time frame.”
That foam core pool construction is a unique and creative way to build large, complex structures with simple tools was the net-net we got from Nathan Giffin. By using hot wires on the foam structure, you can create intricate sculptures that are both beautiful and functional.
Despite its many benefits structural foam is still a relatively new technique, and some pool contractors may not be familiar with it. However, Nathan Giffin has been working hard to promote and teach the technique. Consequently, he’s been teaching pool builders how to build with structural foam.
This method of construction has been used in the past to create everything from bridges to theme park rides, but it’s also great for creating custom pools. With a little bit of knowledge and some practice, pool pros can learn how to use this technique to create custom outdoor features.
It’s clear that foam core construction is a promising technique for swimming pool construction. It is energy efficient, cost-effective, and durable. With experts like Nathan Giffin leading the way, it is likely to become more popular in the future.
Want to learn more about foam core pool construction? Listen to our entire conversation with Nathan Giffin of Vertical Artisans on the Pool Magazine podcast.
One on One With Lucas Congdon of Lucas Lagoons
Lucas Lagoons has rapidly become a household name when it comes to resort style pools. We go one on one with owner / founder, Lucas Congdon.
Recently, Pool Magazine had the opportunity to chat with Lucas Congdon, owner and founder of Lucas Lagoons, a company that specializes in the design and construction of luxury pools and outdoor living spaces. Congdon is also known for his role as the star of the hit TV show Insane Pools, airing on Animal Planet, the DIY Network, and Discovery+.
About Lucas Congdon & Lucas Lagoons
Congdon started Lucas Lagoons in 2002, with the goal of creating one-of-a-kind outdoor living spaces for his clients. Over the years, the company has grown in size and reputation, with Congdon and his team designing and building some of the most extravagant and unique swimming pools and outdoor spaces in the country.
In 2015, Congdon was approached by the Animal Planet network about starring in a new TV show that would showcase his work at Lucas Lagoons. The show, titled “Insane Pools: Off The Deep End”, quickly became a hit, with Congdon and his team traveling all over the country to design and build some of the most amazing and over-the-top swimming pools imaginable.
What sets Insane Pools apart from other home improvement shows is the sheer scale and creativity of the projects that Congdon and his team Lucas Lagoons got to take on. From pools with waterfalls and slides to outdoor kitchens and living spaces, there is no limit to what Congdon and his team can do. Take a deeper dive with us as we go one on one with Lucas Congdon, owner and founder of Lucas Lagoons.
Interview: One on One With Lucas Congdon
PM (Pool Magazine): Is it safe to say that Lucas Lagoons has become kind of a household name by now?
LC (Lucas Congdon): “Yeah, that’s how it feels. Wherever I go, there are always people excited to see me or sometimes I get, where do I know you from? And then I know right away, like. I don’t know them. They’re a fan of the show and it’s flattering. It’s pretty cool. “
“Sometimes it’s one of those awkward moments where you’re like running to catch a flight you’re late for and someone stops you. You don’t want to be rude, so you try to make the time. But yeah, it’s pretty cool to just be able to share my passion and have people recognize that. And it’s obviously really hard to kind of start a company and let people know what you’re about and Insane Pools really helps show people what we’re about and that’s quality and fun and building one-of-a-kind pieces of art you can swim in.”
PM: Did you ever have the thought (I’m going to be a pool celebrity one day), did that ever dawn on you when you first started down this path?
LC: “Well, it’s kind of funny when you’re younger. It’s hard to know what you want to do when you grow up. I always loved the video camera. My aunt and uncle were the first in the family to have a video camera and every time they had it on and jump in front of it and act goofy and do silly stuff. When I started to college, I didn’t know whether I wanted to do like, landscape architecture or film. I got bored with school and just jumped into creating things. It’s cool because both passions ended up coming together. It wasn’t like I had this all planned out. One thing led to another. I just always made videos and loved sharing what I was up to and through YouTube. That’s how it kind of all got kicked off.”
PM: How did you get started in the industry and what was that path like for you from developing Lucas lagoons to becoming one of the most well-known pool builders in the world?
LC: “Well, I remember back to there was one winter there in Vermont where I was working for my mom doing stone work, and every morning it was like an hour drive to this beautiful home on Lake Champlain, but it was the winter, so we’d have to brush all the snow off the rocks before we started working. My fingers were so cold, and I remember right then and there thinking, I got to find another place to work. Shortly after that, I did a tour around the US with my girlfriend at the time and tried to find a place to move to so I could work year-round. We were kind of torn between California and Florida, but I was a young kid without any money, and California is pretty expensive. So I decided, you know what? Seems like there are the same opportunities in Florida, and it’s a lot cheaper to live there. So we chose Florida. After that kind of one thing led to another, I started doing tree work and some landscaping and then got into some water features. Finally, I had a client that said they wanted to remodel their pool.”
LC: “I knew nothing about pools, but I knew if I did some beautiful rock work like I did growing up in Vermont, around the swimming pool, it would look beautiful. I also had met Crash, who has been on the TV show and with me from the beginning. He had done some pool tile coping, and some remodels. He knew a little bit about it, and I knew about the rock work. So we did our first pool remodel and it came out beautiful. The rest is history. I realized that’s what I love to do and I found my passion. I changed my business name from Earthworks to Lucas Lagoons and said, ‘This is what I want to do’.” I want to build lagoon-style pools, and just kind of took off from there in 2003.”
PM: Congratulations on some of your recent awards. We had a chance to check out some of these projects, and they’re really breathtaking.
LC: “Yeah, it’s hard to keep them all straight. I have a list of some of the most recent awards, but they’re all just so unique and different. And when I first started out, we took the time to submit for a lot of awards. We won within the first couple of years almost 40 awards. Then I got so busy with the show, I didn’t submit Lucas Lagoons for awards for years. Just recently we’ve had some time to start submitting again and it was just awesome to get such great feedback from FSPA and then we also won a Pinnacle Award. It’s just been awesome.”
“Each job is just so uniquely different. We’ve been doing some modern designs, just to show that we’re well rounded and getting awards for those as well. Lucas Lagoons isn’t a one-trick pony. Not only can we do beautiful designs with a lagoon-style pool, but also if someone wants a more fine modern look. We’ve been having fun exploring that style as well and just really enjoy it. We’re always reinventing the wheel and that’s what keeps me interested in doing what we do.”
PM: How did you get first involved with doing the show Insane Pools and make the leap from YouTube to TV?
LC: “We got really, really, lucky. We had our YouTube channel and people were finding us through that. Then we had, I guess for lack of better words, just kind of like a talent scout who was looking on YouTube for ideas for a new show and saw what we were doing. He made a sizzle reel and pitched it to a few different networks. The first round nothing happened. The second round was drawn out and was like this multi-year process. So it was really like gut wrenching. You think you’re going to have a show, then you don’t have a show. That kind of back and forth. After a while, I stopped telling people Lucas Lagoons was going to have a show because it was just taking so long, they thought I was just making it up.”
“I just figured I’d just put it out of my mind and whatever was meant to be, was meant to be. Luckily ‘Insane Pools’ all came together and it was definitely a much bigger and harder challenge to do the show than I ever thought it would be. In the end though, well worth it. It really got our name out there and we’re obviously very proud of the show and the pools we did. I can say one thing, it was definitely a huge challenge to try to film the show and still be able to run a business at the same time. Yeah, lots of challenges.”
PM: Can you share that with us? What are some of the challenges of building a pool for a customer that’s going to be on a TV show?
LC: “Everyone thinks that just because you’re on TV, you’re just rich and made of money. That’s the thing with reality TV, they don’t pay you hardly anything because they know that it’s an opportunity for you. So you don’t really get paid much from the show. The clients know you’re going to get advertising for it, so they want a discount and they want something special. A lot of people have seen Extreme Home Makeover where they do things for free. There’s kind of that mentality that maybe they’ll get something for free if they reach out to the show.”
“Here I am, just a small pool business – Lucas Lagoons. I’m a self-started guy, and everyone’s kind of trying to get a deal and I’m just trying to make a living and stay afloat. Back then, I wasn’t famous, so we had small budgets. I knew this was my one shot to show the world what we could do. No matter what budget I got from my clients, I pushed it as far as I could. We gave it all we had and we put our own money and efforts and tried to get deals where we could and tried to make a million dollar look for a couple of hundred thousand dollars. It was definitely very difficult.”
“The first season was really tough because they put low budgets on the pool. I built something worth five times what I was paid. That was season one, I think that was seven years ago now. Obviously with inflation things have gone up. So people see that first season, they think for $150,000, I can build them the pool they saw on TV. Now, that’s our average design fee just to develop these types of massive projects we’re doing. So a lot has changed.”
PM: What’s been your favorite part about doing the show?
LC: “I think just being able to connect with so many people that I wouldn’t have connected with before the show, whether it’s homeowners or other people in the industry or kids that have been inspired to be creative and want to work with their hands. These days so many kids are just kind of stuck on devices and disconnected from this kind of hard work and art. So it’s been really cool. Kids have sent me videos of them building their own little ponds in the backyard, or making Lego pools or hand drawings of pools. Just so much fan mail. It’s really cool. I love that I’m inspiring the next generation to be creative and work hard, that’s really rewarding.”
PM: What would your advice be for any homeowner that’s looking to build a luxury resort-style pool like the ones that your firm builds? What’s a good starting point budget-wise?
LC: “On our projects these days, a smaller project starts at around half a million, our average jobs are around a million. We have jobs approaching 10 million. It’s very expensive these days with inflation and just the labor force to build. If someone doesn’t have a huge budget, I would recommend looking into some other options.”
“There are so many different ways of building a pool, right? I mean, if they’re looking for amenities around a pool, you could do a vinyl liner pool or a fiberglass pool and then just do like a nice covered outdoor kitchen hangout area just to have water to jump in and swim in. My first pool experience was an above-ground circular pool my aunt and uncle had, and we used to love playing Marco Polo in that thing as a kid.”
“It’s so easy for people to reach for the moon, but really it doesn’t take something huge and elaborate to be fun. For example, in the beginning, before we had the big budgets, we’d take an old pool and instead of building these massive footers and using pilings to hold up the weight of massive rocks, we would just add use a pond liner and lip it over the edge of the pool and use smaller rocks and build a beautiful waterfall. We’d cut out some planters in the deck, add some lighting. There’s lots of things you can do if you have the ability or the willpower, whether you can do it yourself or find some people to help you.
“My first pool remodel was $35,000, and it was beautiful. Our most expensive project to date is 10 million. So I built everything from $35,000 to $10 million, and no matter what the budget was, in the end, everyone was always just like, this is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. I think putting as much care and passion into it, that’s really all it takes. Take whatever budget you have and make it as beautiful as you can make it.”
PM: We were listening to your episode on Pool Chasers, and you were talking a little bit about that. You got your feet wet, so to speak, with remodels. Are you all self-taught?
LC: “Yeah, there was nobody doing what I wanted to do and I mean nobody. I tried to find people to learn from, and there was just really no one in my area doing it. I had to get little bits and pieces of information from whoever I could ask. Really, kind of the one thing for me is I can visualize what I want to do and figure out how to make it, I guess that’s my gift. That part always came easy to me. I didn’t think it was really that big a deal. Then again, I guess there are things that I think are just so hard that are easy for other people. I guess if it’s your gift, it just kind of comes naturally. “
“I was always creative, though. I grew up without TV and living off the land and would always just make things. My dad was a furniture maker, so he worked and had a shop at home. I had access to all of that so as a kid, I’d play in the shop and build things.”
“I didn’t imagine I’d be this successful. It definitely wasn’t overnight. I mean, I started in 2003. It’s 2023 here. So 20 years of just, you know, a lot of stress and hard work and ups and downs. You know something though, at the end of the day, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
PM: That’s awesome. We have to ask you a question that we’re sure you keep getting asked. When is the next season of Insane Pools? Are you going to do another one?
LC: “We’ve been trying to figure out how we can pull that off. Right now, we just have so many projects in so many different states. And Florida is a massive state. I mean, if you go from Key West to Tallahassee, it’s almost 12 hours of driving. So we have a huge area to cover. I’d love to find a way to do it. As of right now, we don’t have anything in the works but we are self-producing some episodes on YouTube again, because that’s manageable and are compiling lots of footage of all our projects. We’re saving that up and trying to find a formula or format where we can actually have a couple of full-length episodes ready to release. We’re just trying to figure out whether we can get that on Insane Pools as maybe like a special they want to run.”
PM: We’ve seen you been delving into a couple of other new things. One of them was shipping container pools. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
LC: “So I went out to Vegas and met the company and they have a cool product. I’ve been trying to find other more affordable options for people. I thought, put a shipping container pool in the backyard and maybe do like a little pool house or cabana. It’s a nice backyard for a reasonable price and they’re pretty cool. It’s just hard to permit them. In areas where you want to fit one, you have to crane it back there. So not as big of a success with that as I was hoping. Definitely some challenges. I still think it could be a cool option for some people.”
PM: Your firm is known for over-the-top resort-style lagoon pools. Is this going to be like a whole side of his business that we haven’t seen before?
LC: “I think what I’d like to do is kind of get my construction company really ironed out, doing the big projects I really love, and I do a lot of consulting and traveling. As we iron out the business, that’s kind of what I want to go after, coming up with not only the multimillion-dollar pools, but really cool, affordable backyards as well. I feel like no matter what people’s income is, they all deserve a beautiful backyard. Everyone wants the same thing. They want a place to make memories with their friends and their family. It’d be really cool to help people find a path, no matter what their budget, to get a backyard they can enjoy.”
PM: What’s next on the horizon for your team over at Lucas Lagoons?
LC: “We’re doing like 15 big jobs right now. It’s pretty nuts. I do a lot of traveling and consulting. I’ve been training and building other teams for the travel work. So my team is able to keep working here in Florida. Every day is different.”
“Some days I’m traveling or flying or driving. Right now I’m assembling a big team to do a massive pool in Texas. They’re on 7,500 acres. It’s going to be the biggest pool of our career.
“It’s going to be a huge, massive pool that goes over a lower pool and between the two is a 3,000-square-foot grotto with a huge lazy river and just pretty much any feature you can imagine is on this pool. It’s going to be pretty intense to build.”
“Then we’re also designing and going to build our first full-on commercial pool for a resort in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. It’s the Inn at Christmas Place and that’s going to be a Christmas-themed pool. We’re going to try to do a grotto-like an Igloo. We’re going to have some ice sculptures that are made out of acrylic.”
“We’re going to have a lazy river island with like an old truck with a Christmas tree in it. But, you know without making it look cheesy because Christmas can be hard to design for but it’s such a fun, awesome holiday. How do you do a Christmas pool that’s not just super cheesy? It’s been a challenge but it’s looking super cool. So yeah we’ve got some fun things going on.”
Listen to our entire interview with Lucas Congdon on the Pool Magazine podcast.
Featured Photo Credits: Kevin
What Were The Builders Thinking With This Movable Pool Floor?
A pool builder experimenting with movable pool floors was a costly lesson. Learn how this moving pool floor project was saved.
It started with a phone call from the owner’s personal assistant. They had movable pool floors in the pool and spa that didn’t operate properly. They wondered if I’d fly up to Whitefish, MT, and have a look-see at their problems.
A Failing Movable Pool Floor System
Upon my arrival, I was met with an odd home-brew moving floor system. In an attempt to reinvent the wheel, the pool builder attempted to create his own moving floor systems. The premise was that ballast tanks would be filled with water to lower the floor and be filled with air to raise it.
In theory, it may have worked, but as with any unproved and untested design, there are always kinks. Testing theories on a wealthy client and working out the kinks on a multi-million dollar pool project, is never the place to learn.
A Poor Choice of Materials
To begin with, the structure was fabricated out of aluminum. Anyone who’s spent time around chlorinated swimming pools knows that aluminum rapidly decays in salt or chlorinated water. The ballast tanks did not have any bulkheads, so the water sloshed from end to end. This caused the floor to list to one side or end, binding it within the pool walls. You can imagine a multi-ton structure wedged within the pool walls. The deck of the floors were finished in Ipe, a hard exotic hardwood. However, after submersion in water, the wood becomes gray, slimy, and slippery.
To make matters worse, the builder failed to recess the incandescent lights and wall fittings. So the shifting floor structure would sheer off the glass lenses and fittings. In a futile attempt to keep the multi-ton structure aligned, the builder cut guide tracks into the walls and installed roller wheels. Again, the forces at play here grossly exceeded the bolt-on wheel assemblies.
A Laundry List of Problems Unfolds
The moving floor in the spa was another disaster. The mechanism was a scissors lift, driven by a hydraulic ram. The builder sourced his hydraulic ram from a local tractor supply store. Over a few quick months, the leaking ram created an oil slick atop the spa. Needless to say, the cast iron ram began to corrode within the chlorinated water.
Once I began to evaluate the hydraulics, electrical, and moving floor systems, it became apparent that the entire project would require a substantial renovation in order to be safe, functional, and code compliant.
Out With Old Pool Floor & In With The New
I partnered with a local contractor, Shawn Hossack of Panorama Builders. Together we came up with a plan to remove the dangerous floor system and install a new fully proven and engineered system. Though we obtained bids from a number of manufacturers, we settled on systems from Hydrofloors – Twinscape Group. Their technical support and proven track record made the client’s choice simple.
The Scope of Work
The interior of the pool & spa was determined to be not completely plumb and true. The only means to correct these deviations would be to render them with mortar and tile them. First, the failing Eco-Finish would have to be removed from the walls, the walls roughened, and prepared for waterproofing.
Since winter was approaching, the decision was made to tent the project under a 100-foot by 50-foot tent and pump in 2,000,000 BTU of heated air 24/7. Over the winter months, the exterior temperature dropped to below -18ºF with the wind chill. Meanwhile, the interior temperature remained a comfortable 60ºF! The cost to operate the diesel heat exchanger and blowers averaged $10,000 a month.
To get the exact contours from which Twinscape could begin fabrication, the crews at Panorama tiled the top 3 feet of the pool in order to generate a 3-D model of the interior.
Since the walls are supposed to be perfectly vertical, these 3 feet would be a representation of the entire pool depth. From this model, Twinscape was able to begin fabrication, while progress was being made on tiling the pool.
The spa wasn’t quite deep enough to accommodate a properly designed scissors lift. We remedied this by raising the spa walls 18 inches and replumbing the jets. Once the concrete had cured, the tiling of the spa began in parallel with the pool.
The clients chose a beautiful blue tile from Interstyle. The hydraulics and mechanical systems were corrected to the best possible conditions without demolishing the decking and totally re-piping the pool and spa. Some pumps were eliminated and their pipes were re-purposed in order to reduce the line velocities on the remaining pumps. Some drains were converted to returns and unblockable drains and sump were installed. The ineffective skimmers in the catch basin were removed and their suction pipes were connected to the basin floor drains. Water chemistry management systems were installed to eliminate corrosion of the new floor systems.
During demolition, we discovered many electrical and bonding deficiencies. The incandescent lighting was converted to strip lights from Hydrolume and proper j-boxes and conduits were installed.
To eliminate the fall hazard over the vanishing edge, we partnered with Reynolds Polymers to fabricate and install an acrylic railing system. The panels were set into a channel within the floor. So, regardless of the height of the floor within the pool, there will always be a railing of sufficient height to protect pedestrians and bathers.
All in all, the repairs to the project took almost 20 months. The ensuing lawsuit resulted in a jury trial and a judgment of $4,750,000 – to date, the nation’s largest judgment in a residential pool construction defect case.
Going Above & Beyond For Pool Customers
Scott Payne knows a few things about making brand ambassadors out of his pool customers. As one of the leading pool builders in Pennsylvania, he says he considers it his personal priority to make sure that his customers are happy with the end product.
His company Scott Payne Custom Pools is a local fixture in Montgomeryville which is located roughly 40 minutes between Allentown and Philadelphia as the crow flies. Word-of-mouth referrals are important to the builder who says that when it comes to the backyard, his clients are looking for a firm that does it all.
Recalibrating For Success
“Over my career, I saw the disconnect with some of the companies I worked for in the industry. We set up the model of Scott Payne Custom Pools to be different. When you’re expecting a client who is spending a lot of money with you to GC their own project, that never ends well. So we vertically aligned with carpenters, landscapers, and hardscapers. We created a very good sub-base,” said Payne, “now most of that work is in-house for us. We employ Scott Payne Outdoors as our sister company and have four full-time carpenters in that company. We have landscape, hardscape and fencing in-house, with a landscape architect on staff. There’s a benefit to it, and the customers appreciate it. They want to write one check to one person,” said Payne.
Being a One-Stop Shop
Being that all-in-one solution for the homeowner means that quite often, Payne is handling every aspect of the backyard renovation. This goes for everything from the swimming pool, to the hardscaping, to the landscaping, to all of the carpentry that goes into building the various outdoor amenities his clients are looking for. “When clients call, they ask, ‘You do everything, right? Yes, ma’am. Good, that’s what we want.’ and it just reinforces the decision for them,” said Payne.
Payne said that being that one-stop shop is what his pool customers are looking for nine times out of ten. “I have a silly rule, and that is if someone asked me more than three times for something, I explore it just to see what it would take to become fluent in it,” said Payne, “for example, we do sports courts. Now we’re one of the top distributors on the East Coast for Versa Court. We do X Grass for putting greens. Now we do Danver outdoor door cabinetry. There’s just such a benefit to being that person and having all that in our back pocket. We’re a Generac dealer and do generators. Why? People ask for them or they had bad experiences with their existing contractor. They complained about it. So we got licensed. We’ll do 50 to 60 generators this year. It makes sense. We’re already there. We have an electrician there, and we have a gas guy there.”
On Educating Himself
For Payne, the path to becoming a top pool builder would mean educating himself on what he’d need to learn to make a difference in his own local market. That meant taking the time to take classes that would make him a better builder. “I made a promise when I started the company to forget everything I thought I knew,” said Payne, “I was taught things when I worked for a national builder who was very high volume. Everybody had the same sentiment and that was how it was always done. Their process never factored in if it was right or wrong or justified.”
“I developed a relationship with Kevin Ruddy from Omega Structures. And at the time he was entrenched in Genesis with Skip Phillips and Brian Van Bower. We had this amazing friendship and he kept telling me to come take a class,” explained Payne.
“I just thought it was such an oxymoron because everything that this company stood for was not what Genesis stood for. There was just no sense in doing it their way because it was going to benefit me, but it was never going to trickle down to my customer. Literally, I think the day that I started my company, I called Kevin Ruddy and I said, hey, I’m ready,” said Payne.
“He connected me with the office at Genesis. The first class I took was in October of 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a pool studio class at a Master Pools Guild event. So it’s a very nice hotel and I didn’t have a laptop. I did my pool studio on a desktop. I literally dragged my CPU down there with my monitor, my keyboard and my mouse. And I walked into class the first day and it just brought looks and laughter, but I set it up on a table where everybody set their laptops up, and that was it. I was hooked. And I’m very proud to say that I completed my SWD. 150 hours of education all over the country inside of two years,” explained Payne.
On Educating Pool Customers
Payne said that getting that education was key for him simply because building pools in Pennsylvania can be difficult at times. That education often comes into play when it comes time to educate the customer about what is involved with building a pool. “I think the consistency of state, county, and township regulations do not exist in Pennsylvania. It’s a state where every township has its own set of rules. We build in probably 40 townships in a 75 miles square area. Each has different rules and regulations. I have a full-time person where all they do is handle permits. They expedite engineering, download and fill forms out. It’s all they do all day.”
Other than the permitting concerns are the restrictions that come with building an inground swimming pool. “Stormwater management has become very prevalent in the past ten years. In almost every township it could cost the customer an additional $5,000 to $15,000, depending on how big the devices are,” said Payne.
While the pandemic spurred a tremendous increase in outdoor living improvements, rising costs are also something Payne said he has to frequently contend with. “When it comes to price increases, there’s a sadness to it. I have to be honest, we had a base price pool that we sold all day, every day. Pre-Covid that base pool was $59,000. The base price of that pool today is $84,000. It’s at the identical margin and we’re not making a penny more on that pool,” said Payne, who said it’s his unfortunate duty to break the news about what pools cost these days.
It’s also incumbent upon him to educate consumers about the pool-building process. “The process is horrible. It’s like a hip replacement,” explained Payne, “the client says, ‘I don’t want to go to PT, I don’t want to be in a hospital, but I want to dance.’ So I’m going to come in, I’m going to tear your yard up for six weeks, six months, hopefully not six years, right? But you’re going to have that first party and you’re going to remember Scott Payne Custom Pools. That’s why I do this,” said Payne.
Making every customer happy is the goal, even when things go awry, said Payne. “I think I was in business about two years and I was called out on a job for a woman named Rachel. She gave me her budget and her wish list. The number she threw out was not going to get this done. I politely start to excuse myself and say, listen, you’re probably more of a vinyl pool client than a gunite pool construction. She gets upset and I listen to her. She says, ‘I went through this hard divorce, and want to build a swimming pool for my kids, you’re going to be the builder.”, said Payne.
“I pictured my mom with my sister and me, struggling. So I said, okay, you know what? That budget, can you stretch it? And she said, ‘Yeah, I can stretch it.’ And I said, okay, ‘I’m going to bend. You stretch, I bend and we’re going to do this together,'” said Payne.
The project, which was one of Payne’s first, had its inevitable hiccups. One Payne counts as a costly lesson in doing the right thing when it counts. A few weeks after starting construction of the pool, Payne would hear back from his customer with an urgent concern. “I think it has something to do with the pool she said,” explained Payne, “the toilets are all backed up and I think you hit the sewer line. I walk through her backyard, and I walk through the neighbor’s yard, and I walk another yard over and guess what I find? A sewer line that goes right through the middle of the pool. The sewer line is leaving the basement at about seven feet deep. It’s under the pool. My excavator more than likely nicked it. Gunite comes in and shoots over it and concrete just seeped into the pipe,” said Payne.
“There’s a Marriott around the corner. I get them a room, and call my excavator,” said Payne, “I said, ‘can you do me a favor and bring the mini X and meet me at that job? He and I, over the next five or six hours dig down the front side of this pool to find the pipe. Sure enough, it’s broke.”
“We find the break. Now I have to make a decision, do I fix it or do I move it?”, said Payne, “The pool is parked on top of this pipe. I do the right thing. We dig all the way around the deep end of the pool and demo the equipment that was already set. We connect it, if you can imagine, like a question mark to the other side to the lateral going three yards down. We dig the hole, plumb it, put in cleanouts and get it inspected and backfilled. We reset the equipment, which is now junk. We redo all the plumbing, paid for that twice. We tiled, coped, and put the deck on the pool while still completing it in 28 days. It cost me $8,500 for that mistake but that story sticks out to me as a win, as setting the expectation at that point that we’re going to do things the right way, because it’s not about money. It’s about integrity.”
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