Pool Design

The first part of the whole pool process is the design phase. Your pool builder will come and measure your existing property, and take elevations (heights) of your terrain. Next your pool designer will take the information from the pool consultation and start building a 3D model of your house, property and proposed pool. He will present this proposal for feedback and constructive criticism. After hearing the homeowner’s initial thoughts, a revised plan is made and again is presented. Usually this plan is where the homeowner is happy, but there have been some plans with 5 revisions in the pre-planning stage. We want to get the initial plans right from the beginning.

Engineering and Soil Testing

After we are happy with the conceptual drawings, we will test the soil  for load bearing capacity and will submit our plans to a structural engineer that will work in cohort with us to finalize the plans for your individual property. This is a key step that a lot of pool builders skip as they think every pool can be built the same way. However each residence is different, and small details like the size of rebar or spacing could change which prevents a catastrophic failure of the pool shell in the future.


The next step is excavation. This step seems fairly simple, but is actually a lot more complicated then assumed. First the layout of the pool is meticulously laid out with spray paint. Depending on the pool shell structure and overdig line will also be painted and will be 1-3′ wider then the actual pool. If we overdig too much, then we have to backfill the pool wall with material that is not as strong the original compacted soil. Also the heights of the pool depth will be checked with a laser periodically. The first height that gets check is the “pool shelf”, which is the height of the shallow end. We aim for 1″ or less tolerance but we have to make sure we are overdug as we want a proper thickness of concrete. After reaching pool shelf height, we will again layout the pool again with paint and will start to excavate the hopper (slope) and the deep end, along with any benches, swim outs, etc. After the dig is complete, depending on the conditions we could bring in some limestone (gravel) for the bottom of the hole.

Steel Cage

After excavation is laying steel rebar down in a grid for reinforcement. Depending on type of pool structure selected, the way the steel is laid is different. For this article, I will go over laying steel for a gunite pool application.  Also a lot of people have commented to me over the years, that concrete is very strong already, why do you need so much steel reinforcement? And the answer is simple: Concrete has great strength in compression, but it has little tensile strength. The steel reinforcement is opposite; It has a lot of tensile strength, but almost no strength in compression. The steel size, placement, and other factors are very important for determining the future of your pool cracking or not. Here is an in-depth article about rebar in swimming pools: http://www.pooleng.com/Reinforcing-Steel-and-Swimming-Pool-Construction/av-64.aspx

Pool Plumbing

During the laying of the cage or after, the plumbing for the pool is ran. Some pools are going to have skimmers, a box where water goes into from the pool into the plumbing, or pools wiill have a gutter system around the whole pool. There are some advantages and disadvantages. Generally speaking through I prefer skimmers for residential pools and gutter system for commercial pools with high bather loads. Both systems are going to have plumbing lines ran from the pump and filter to the pool and from the skimmer/gutter to the pump.

Quality and Size of Plumbing

The pipe quality (rigid vs. flex pipe) is an important consideration as flexible piping is not as durable as rigid. Also the pipe sizing is math, not just 1.5″ plumbing for small pools and 2″ plumbing for all big pumps. The pool size plumbing lines will be determined by volume of water, pump size, pipe length, waterfalls/slides/deck jets/, hot tub, infinite edge, etc.

Keeping pipes under pressure during construction

The last important part of pool plumbing is putting pressure checks on the plumbing and keeping those pressure check valves on till the end of the project. These will show if the plumbing suddenly gets a leak, which is rare but possible when driving bobcats, and excavators over trenches with plumbing. Keeping the pipes under pressure will show there is a problem right away and mitigate the damages to repair the underground plumbing. If you dont get teh pipes under pressure, the pool builder doesn’t know there is a problem until the project is completed and he starts up the pool and you have a leak. This is a horrible position to be in, because the pool builder has no choice but to dig up areas that already completed to fix the leak and repair it.

Rough Electrical

Along with the plumbing being ran, the rough electrical will be finished at this time too. Conduits and light niches will be installed, along with bonding the pool. The steel rebar will need to be bonded in 4 equidistant spots and any metal that is with-in 5 feet of the pool (ladder anchors, umbrella anchors, automatic covers, basketball hoops, diving boards, etc) will need to tie into the copper grid. This is a vital step and is done on all of a pools. In the states, an inspector checks this important stage as a lot of builders dont understand the importance of bonding and will skip it if no one is checking. No pool inspection takes place in Cambodia, however we always bond the pool make sure it is done correctly the first time.

Concrete Day

After steel and plumbing it is time to build the concrete shell of the pool. In Cambodia, we can build the pool in two ways. The first is gunite and the second way is concrete blocks (dont use a builder that uses brick walls). The gunite application has concrete trucks that come and the concrete goes into mixer that shoots the mix incredibly hard at the surface. This material is fairly dry and we will “cut and shape” the walls and bond beam (top of the wall). The walls are typically 8″ (8″+ for us always), but some builders will do 6″ will is okay in theory on some applications. The nozzle-man(guy holding the hose) is very important as how he holds and where he shoots the material is critical for a good bond. Also important is to shovel out any “rebound” or leftovers from the hole and not be lazily tempted into just keeping them on the floor or shoveling them into the stairs, benches, or sundeck.

Curing the Concrete

After the gunite is finished it is critical to cure the concrete shell for at least 7 days, but 14 days is better. We set up irrigation lines on timer that will continuously keep the pool shell wet and moisture inside the concrete helping strengthen the concrete and help cure it during this critical time. Some pool builders skip this step, or they instruct the home owner to, “water the pool once or twice a day”, which is better then nothing but is not optimal. Plus its not the homeowners responsibility to cure the concrete, it is squarely with the builder of the pool.

CMU Wall

A CMU (Concrete Manafactured Unit) is a popular way in Asia to build a pool. First day the floor is poured with concrete and will have re-bar sticking up where the walls will go. Then Concrete blocks are mortared and laid where the pool walls go. The inside hollow cores of the block should be filled and vibrated with concrete, but I am not sure if other pool companies here in Cambodia complete that step. After the blocks are laid, The inside and outside gets a stucco coat of cement and then after it cures, a layer of water proofing goes on. When I say water proofing, concrete is never 100% water proof, but we want to slow the rate down slowly and thus a “water proofing” agent does just that.

Equipment Pad

While the pool shell is being cured, we will pour a small equipment pad approximately 7’x32″ for the equipment. If there is only a standard size filter and pump, the filter pad could be smaller, while an elaborate system of water features, spas, and multiple pumps could be very large. When we plumb the equipment we use pool cleaner and pool glue on all joints to ensure a solid weld. We also purposely plumb with less 90 degree elbows to help increase water flow as 90 degree elbows will restrict water flow. Along with this we try to plumb the equipment in a nice aesthetically pleasing way, while labeling all valves and pipes for future reference. We also paint all above grade plumbing with uv-protectant paint to help slow down the hot Cambodian sun from degrading the plumbing.

Pool Coping

Next step is going to be the coping of the pool. Coping is the material that goes onto the bond beam (top of the pool). There are numerous types of different materials, but some common ones are: brick coping, travertine, stamped concrete, broomed concrete, or tile.  I prefer not to do stamped concrete and most types of travertine for pool coping as it slippery when wet, but will install these materials if I know the pool is mainly for adults. Most coping will have 1/8 mortar joints and can be cantilevered out into the pool.


The patio, or deck, around your pool can really enhance your pool. Just like coping, there a lot of different types of materials. Concrete, pavers, and travertine again, along with tile, flagstone, limestone, marble and the list goes on. However I strongly suggest picking an option that does not get extremely hot like a bluestone does. All of the options will retain heat, but some like concrete and travertine will be significantly cooler then bluestone will be. Obviously the style and look will also play a big decision.


While the material and size of the decking changes from pool to pool, each project for the patio has the same 2 goals. Make sure water goes away from the pool and also make sure the water goes away from the house. We generally go for 1/8″ to 1/4″ of slope per foot and try to stay away from drains and catch basins, but depending on the property we might have to have a drain or catch basin (big round drain) to help with some of the torrential rain fall Cambodia gets.


After the coping is installed, the tile line will be started. Concrete pools need a waterline tile to prevent staining above the waterline. Some plaster companies will try to tell you don’t need tile for some of the special plasters, but I will only work on a pool with a tile line. Generally speaking the tile will be 6″ x 6″ tiles. 1″x 1″ and 2″x 2″ in a bigger grid is also possible. The tile material needs to be approved for submerged water application and the material to adhere it to the wall should be pool approved. Most tiles will be made out of ceramic, porcelain or glass. Each one should be installed a little differently.

All Tile Pools

One advantage of building a pool in Southeast Asia is the ability to tile to the whole pool. This is a beautiful option and in the west is rarely down as the labor cost is incredibly high. Luckily Cambodia has unbelievable tilers and their work is some of the best. Out of all the options for swimming pools, I try to get pool owners to go for an all tile pool versus a plaster interior. I don’t always win, and sometimes plaster interiors can be beautiful, but there is something about an all tile pool.


Plaster finishes

If you don’t select an all tile inside interior, your next option will be to do a plaster. There are a million different types of plaster. Beadcrete is the main plaster company we use and their styles are beautufiul. The pool plaster has tiny beads or aggregate into the mix. The colors go from a typical white or light blue to Caribbean blue, dark blue or out of the box green or black. The plaster will need to applied in one day preferably under a big tent to protect the extreme heat. The plasterers will start in the deep end bottom as once everything is finished the pool water will start by curing the bottom of the pool first. If no pool water is delivered at the right time, calcium and water spots can appear. The next 24 hours for chemicals are very important as the water will be interacting with the new concrete. The pool will also need to be brushed ( we will brush for you, no worries) twice a day and the filter will need to be cleaned at the end of these two weeks. After the two weeks, the plaster dust is almost non existent and the pool chemicals are a lot more stabilized.


Throughout the whole project, we will communicate about what has been completed, what will be completed that day and in the future. Normally we go through mini inspections throughout the process, but always at the end have through walk around with the home-owner. It is very important at this walk around that you make you concerns aware to us, so that we can make sure to fix the small details that might be bothersome to you. After you are happy with the project we will schedule a pool school appointment.

Pool School

The last step is an hour or two course that we call pool school. At this appointment, we go over how to clean your pool, check chemicals, how to turn on/off your pump, what the valves do, how to operate the pool app if automation was selected, etc. Essentially giving the how-to on how to run your pool. However dont worry if you forget something as most pool owners will text or email with questions for the next couple of weeks.

Finally time to relax and enjoy your beautiful brand new pool!