As designers and builders of water features, we often encounter complex, challenging tasks requiring the seamless integration of our work into a larger overall project. These challenges can range in scope from unrealistic design concepts or desires to unknown site restrictions, and from budgetary restrictions to bad project management by other contractors and subcontractors. To mitigate these challenges, we feel it is critical to maintain clear communication with fellow designers, consultants, subcontractors and vendors throughout our involvement in order to help the overall project — and ultimately the client.
In conjunction with clear lines of communication, we feel that careful planning and adherence to the plan are essential in making certain that everything is executed in a timely manner and all parties are on the same page. The initial vision of what the final project could be can easily be thwarted by any number of poor decisions, scheduling mistakes and miscommunications. Being open and clear with the project’s team members saves both time and money.
Educating the Team
This begins with educating the client, other professionals, contractors, subcontractors and vendors involved in the project. Providing ideas, guidance and suggestions is our responsibility as the water feature specialists and will lead to a much more successful end product. Another key that cannot be stressed enough is to know your company’s limitations and the limitations of the materials and products being installed. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver.
The water feature plan, whether it is your company’s design or that of the lead designer for the project, sets the stage for all the players involved to be aware of the end goal. Accurate site plans, details and plumbing diagrams — including the specification of the correct equipment — are essential. This stage of planning not only helps to ensure a successful result, but it also aids in overall efficiency, ordering, sourcing of materials and scheduling. Your project team will also benefit from an understanding of the big picture as well as the individual components that make up the project. Having a poorly conceived plan or inadequate equipment included in the feature design can cause headaches before and during construction, leading to callbacks after your company has pulled off-site and eating away at your profits. Do it once. Do it right. As long as your company is communicating with the project team and the client throughout the process and living up to your word, the clarity will be appreciated by all parties.
Ponds and Constructed Wetlands
This year, we were asked to take part in a project that involved constructing a series of naturalistic ponds, troughs, scuppers and a constructed wetland bog to tie together an extensive backyard renovation. The overall site plan was designed by a landscape architect; the water feature detailing, construction and equipment specification were left to our discretion. The designer, general contractor and client turned to us to create a feature that was substantial and impressive while blending seamlessly among the disparate elements involved with the project and the site.
The landscape architect oversaw the design and development of the site on behalf of the client. There was a general contractor tasked with the architectural components and overall day-to-day operations throughout the site. There was also a pool contractor, two masonry contractors tackling the extensive stone walls and the work scope of the pool deck, an electrical contractor and our staff, which served as the water feature contractor.
The design intent was for us to create a series of natural ponds that would be integrated into a sloping site between a new outdoor kitchen and living area and the custom pool and pool house. Rustic stone scuppers and a stone trough were integrated into the stone walls that were intended to look as though they were remnants from a structure hundreds of years old and long forgotten. This aesthetic is consistent with the vernacular architecture of the historic farms and barns in this part of Chester County, Pennsylvania. As the water course flowed from the outdoor living area down to the pool area, it terminated into a sprawling constructed wetland that carefully mingled and integrated with the limestone pool deck.
Planning and Execution
Over the winter, we carefully began planning what became a series of three cascading ponds culminating in a wetland filter. The ponds would have large fieldstone boulders, waterfalls and native aquatic plantings that naturally blended into the surrounding landscape. The stone troughs were to be core-drilled and integrated into the stone walls as rustic scuppers. After specifying the pumping and filtration system equipment, an extensive plumbing diagram was created for the area allotted in the basement of the pool house. We provided the precise layout drawings indicating where pipe penetrations should be cast into the basement’s concrete-foundation walls. As the final design and detailing were being completed for the outdoor living area, pool and pool house, we coordinated our water feature components, detailing and pricing in order to integrate the project as a whole.
As construction began on-site, we had a plan in place and knew how much material we needed, where it was going and how long it should take to install. As rough grading activities occurred, our pipe trenching and installation took place directly alongside the pool contractor’s piping, stormwater piping and domestic well-water piping, as well as a gas supply line and myriad electrical conduits.
Rough plumbing can be installed months before the shape of the water feature will even be realized on-site. Our plumbing system utilized a surge tank to make up the hydraulic differences of the systems being utilized and to provide maximum control of each component of the entire water feature. We were careful and intentional in pitching the distribution piping down to the surge tank to allow for proper winterization. Thoughtfulness and attention to detail are critical to a successful installation, from both a construction and operation-and-maintenance standpoint.
After pulling off-site for many weeks, we remobilized to start pond and bog excavation directly adjacent to the pool contractor, wall mason and pool-decking mason. We integrated fieldstone boulders into the mason’s stone walls to ensure the finished product looked like it was always there. When rain or inclement temperatures limited work on-site, we tackled the extensive pumping and filtration system in the basement of the pool house. We always make an effort to provide a level of professionalism in all aspects of our work, including the components few people see or interact with. A well thought-out and executed plumbing and filtration system can be just as aesthetically pleasing and functional as any other portion of the water feature.
Equipment & Materials Chess
As the weather improved in the spring and summer, with the completion date looming over us, all trades were fully mobilized on this residential property, resulting in extensive daily coordination of equipment, materials and manpower on-site. With each trade having up to six people present along with supporting machines, materials and deliveries, clear communication was essential in order to maximize efficiency while being respectful of others. Thanks to our staff and the fellow contractors on-site, we feel that this complex project and installation went according to plan. We provided a product for the client that feels as though it has been there for many years, evolving from the site naturally.
We all should be so lucky to work on a project like this; we are exceedingly appreciative for the opportunity to take part in this job, and we look forward to our next complexly-coordinated endeavor.