OC Register 2005

Thursday, May 12, 2005
Down the drain

Demolition firms find a booming business in removing swimming pools
The Orange County Register
(photos by Andy Templeton)

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Jennifer Pho and her family are sad but relieved to see part of their home disappear.

Their swimming pool is gone.

“It was so bad,” said Pho with a shake of her head. “With so much rain this year, the water in the ground made the pool come out of the ground.”

“It must have come out almost three feet,” echoed David Frisch, the man Pho hired to demolish her pool and return her Cypress home’s back yard to its original condition.

As many owners of unused pools discovered, empty pools will lift out of the ground when heavy rains saturate the soil. “We’re just swamped with people who have had similar problems and want their pools demolished,” said Frisch.

There is so much business that his company, Frisch and Sons Inc., a general engineering firm in Orange, now specializes in removing swimming pools and in-ground spas. And, though he’s done this work in Orange and surrounding counties for 15 years, he’s never seen anything like the number of problems this year.

“Gunite pools, fiberglass pools … there’s just so many having problems we can’t keep up with the demand,” he said.

The Phos’ pool was about 18,000 gallons, Frisch estimated. It took up most of the small back yard, with very little room between it and the concrete wall in back. Heavy rains caused the pool shell to shift and push up dramatically on one side.

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All the work Frisch did – pulling permits, testing soil, drilling for four long days to make holes in the bottom for drainage, demolishing the pool and then putting 2 feet of a good soil on top and compacting all of it – came to about $10,000.

“That’s not unusual,” Frisch said.

While the Phos had their pool demolished – broken up and compacted in the hole it occupied – Orange County cities differ on requirements.

Newport Beach specifies that you can demolish the pool and haul off the debris, or just bury it at the site.

Cypress allows demolition of fiberglass and gunite pools, with reburial of debris, but requires complete removal of vinyl pools.

Huntington Beach requires a soil engineer to specify a plan for demolition.

At a minimum, all those cities we contacted require drainage holes.

Why not just let residents fill in the pool, rather than go to all that trouble and expense?

Here’s how the city of Fullerton explains the need for demolition: “The concern is that an abandoned gunite pool will act as a bowl, and unregulated back-filling may create an area of super-saturated soil, which could prove to be a hazard to the public’s safety. The other consideration is that there may be a future building on the site and the uncompacted fill would not be adequate to sustain the loading, and the new structure would likely suffer structural damage.”

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Translation: If you don’t tear it out, you could create a quagmire or make the soil unstable , so that anything built on it could end up looking like the leaning tower of Pisa.

Frisch said he always uses a soil engineer to test the soil to be used for refilling, even if not required by the city in which he’s working.

“When you’re talking about building something on top of where the pool was removed, you don’t want to take a chance about whether the soil will support it.”

Fullerton allows for partial demolition. Instead of having to tear out all the concrete and haul it off, a contractor must remove at least 100 square feet of the deep end of a pool and also remove the sidewalls to a depth of at least 2 feet below finish grade. Even if city code doesn’t require it, sometimes a homeowner prefers the remnants be completely removed. Some homeowners are content to have their pools broken apart and buried. That’s fine if their city allows it.

While the methods of demolishing or removing a pool or spa differ somewhat, here’s an example of how Frisch works on a pool that is to be broken up but the materials left in the ground:

  • A written estimate is provided.
  • Permits are pulled from the city.
  • Utilities are capped at the house.
  • Any water in the pool is pumped out.
  • Four drain holes are created in the bottom of a pool (and spa, if it’s part of the job).
  • The city makes an inspection.
  • Gravel is poured in the pool and spa.
  • Gunite and surrounding decking are broken up.
  • Backfill with clean soil and 4 inches of topsoil are poured into the hole (if the owner so requests).
  • A final city inspection is made.

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Prices vary widely, but you can expect to pay $8,000-$20,000, depending on the situation and the contractor you hire. Complete removal usually costs more than demolition because more labor is involved, along with hauling away the debris.

Even if you don’t plan to build on the site, you need to think about future use.

Lynne Burt-Jenkins of Garden Grove found that out when she decided to replant the area after having her pool demolished and the remnants buried.

“One thing I did not anticipate in advance when I had my pool removed was that I intended to plant several large trees in the now pool-less area. Tree holes are deep. In one spot, pool debris was a couple of feet closer to the surface than I had anticipated. I called Dave (Frisch, who had demolished the pool) to see where a good (debris-less) spot would be to plant, and he offered to come over and dig out the debris where I wanted – without a charge.

“This is something your readers may want to figure into their thinking: Anticipate what you will do with the site after removal, so you and the contractor can plan for it.”

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Contractors who demolish and remove swimming pools and spas are like the cliche: few and far between. It’s hard to find one in the telephone book and on lists of contractors. In some cases, you’ll find one or two listed under “Swimming pool demolition.” In other cases you may eventually find a company or individual that lists pool demolition even though it’s listed under “Swimming Pool Construction.”

CONTACT US: Write: Nick Harder, c/o Home & Garden, The Orange County Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, CA 92711 Call: (714) 796-7769 E-mail: nharder@ocregister.com