So how do you know how to build ponds? That’s a question I have been asked often and the reality is I didn’t know until I tried. I remember asking Ed Beaulieu some years ago, “How do I learn to build the bigger features,” I asked.
“You have to get the experience and just keep building,” added Beaulieu.
Sounds so simple, right? To an eager new pond builder, it’s not. I wanted to be the best right out of the gate and there are many learning opportunities along the way that can help accelerate the process. Learning opportunities can come from work, other pond contractors and fixing pond installation issues.
Repairs and maintenance activities are learning opportunities for us. Many contractors shy away from clients that have a failed system, whether it’s poorly designed, a bad install or maintained poorly; these are opportunities for contractors to use our skills and help a client fall in love with their water feature all over again.
Sometimes the best solution isn’t a “fix”, but rather a complete rebuild; and budget can often be a limiting factor. And I learned a long time ago not to put my expectations of what a pond should be onto a client. I listen, hear what they want, make the best recommendations and offer them options. Sometimes the best option is for them to find someone else.
When I take on a repair, my name is going on that feature and that means total ownership. Up front, be very careful to clarify what is and isn’t expected with the client. Effective and clear communication is vital, so set the right expectations up front!
Reputation at Stake
I have a rule to never tell a client no: there isn’t anything Springer Ponds can’t do for the right money. If a client insists on something that I don’t recommend, I calmly respond, “yes, we can do that but I will need you to sign a waiver.” I have never had a client take me up on the waiver.
This pond build is a classic example of one of our “learning opportunities.” Recently, we were contacted about a leaking feature and went through the first steps of a leak detect: turn off the system and find out what holds water.
Asking more questions, we learned that this feature was made of concrete, 20-yrs. old, utilizes a swimming pool pump and the upper pool is not holding water. Others had come in and “painted’ sections of the concrete; not so attractive in a natural water feature. We gave a proposal to remove the upper 20’ and install a new waterfall at the top, facing a parking pad. This proposal had a stipulation that we could not guarantee their feature would not leak with these changes.
However, we did guarantee that the newly installed section wouldn’t leak if we rebuilt the entire feature. And, of course, the new section would be liner and boulders, no concrete.
This water feature is situated next to street parking, then drops down a hillside, flows the length of the house and pools in two other areas along the way. A walking bridge goes from the parking area straight over to the second floor of the home. A big bonus is the stream is visible from every window and from the front door walk; it’s a prominent feature.
My objective was to repair their leak and add as much value as possible. The upper pooling area added no value and there was no filter previously, so I considered a micro wetland but the best option was to install a biofalls filter.
We rented a professional breaker to remove the concrete, which was almost 1’ thick in place and rebar was throughout. Topsoil was brought in — clay mix for better compaction — and the upper pool became home to most of the broken concrete. This helped fill the void, add stability to the hillside and saved money on soil.
Finding the existing plumbing, freeing it from the concrete, and connecting to it was a challenge. Once everything was connected, we tested the plumbing and turned on the system. The pump had leaks everywhere and the previous contractor used a pump with drain connections and grinded them quite thin. A drain is not supposed to be used with a pressure pipe, as they melted it, glued and clamped. What a mess!
At this point, communication with the client was critical and a change order was implemented. We replaced the upper plumbing connections and the cracked ball valve, but the pump wouldn’t prime. Upon inspection — removed leaves in the bottom of the pump house — we discovered that the suction line was flex pvc and the pipe was bent. During the initial installation, the flex was curved up into the pump house and this compromised the pipe. Also, leaves clogged the intake and the pipe collapsed.
Installing a pool pump is a different process and has very different specifications than the submersible pumps we normally install. We learned a lot about those requirements during our most recent recreation pond build. Flexible PVC is not spec’d or rated to work with pool pumps on the suction side. Plus, drain and pressure fittings are not interchangeable.
Lesson: Learn about the new things, don’t be afraid to ask questions. In the end, the suction line was replaced with hard pvc, finished the rock and photos were taken. We’re better pond builders for taking this job, finding problems and learning how to fix them while learning new skills along the way.
The client’s response, “We made Buddha very happy.”