By Frank Wall
The surge in demand for pools and the resulting shortage of materials has led many builders to re-evaluate how they build their pools to have more control of their building schedule. As a result, there is renewed interest in aluminum forming systems as builders look for alternative solutions that give them more options when it comes to building pool walls. In fact, many are investing in purchasing their own aluminum forming systems that allow them to build concretewall vinyl-liner pools in virtually any shape and on their own schedule.
Stand out from competitors
Even before the pandemic, reusable concrete forms were growing in popularity because these systems allow builders to create unique shapes and features and, in turn, help them stand out from their competitors. The ability of builders to offer their clients a custom pool design allows them to compete on more than just price alone. In fact, last year, many installers looked to using aluminum forms to build concrete walls for their unique vinyl-liner pool designs.
Vinyl-liner pools built with concrete walls can now support designs that include many features that, in the past, were typically associated only with custom gunite or shotcrete structures.
Randy Budd of Budd’s Pools in Deptford, N.J., started using reusable aluminum concrete forms when building his vinyl-liner pool projects several years ago.
“The concrete walls enable me to differentiate myself. When consumers come into my shop, they see we are offering pools very different from those offered by our competition,” he says.
Budd also notes that homeowners are drawn to the structural strength of concrete but appreciate the serviceability and affordability of liners. That said, his company now builds vinyl-liner pools with poured concrete walls and, recently, has moved into building all-concrete pools.
“ It’s still primarily about differentiation for our company, but we also highly value our ability to have more control over our building schedule, especially this past season,” says Budd.
Using re-usable aluminum forms
Vinyl-liner pools built with poured concrete walls have a long history of success in the Northeast and Southeast areas of the U.S. and are now becoming more popular. Initially, the forms were built from steel, wood, or fiberglass, but these were costly, hard to maintain, and heavy. In contrast, the aluminum forming systems that have been developed today are not only lighter and easier to maintain, but also come in a variety of shapes and sizes, which allow builders to create geometric and freeform shapes, a number of different pool step styles (e.g. in-pool, corner, full end [often called stadium steps]), benches, tanning ledges, raised walls, attached spillover spas, vanishing edges, automatic cover boxes, and beach entries. Builders can place every feature at once during one pour.
In addition to using aluminum concrete forming systems to build vinyl-lined pools, these forms can also be used to construct all-concrete pools. These forms can even be stacked to create raised walls for water features and raised deck areas around the pool. They are quite versatile as builders can even use them to pour retaining walls, as well as basement or other types of support wall. Aluminum forming systems comprise an inside and outside panel form held together by wall ties that yield a minimum pull strength of 7000 lbs. The ties are also notched for easy rebar placement. The forms fit together fast and easy using a pinand- wedge system. These features keep labor costs to a minimum during the setting and stripping stages. Once the forms, plumbing, and structural steel are in place, a special design mix of 4000-psi concrete is used with a specified chemical mixture that produces stronger, faster setting and a more workable and flowable mix.
Typically, aluminum forming systems are 48 inches in height and, when using the wall’s depth-pouring gauges, builders can pour either a 42-inch 48-inch wall. The system does not require any footings and is set up directly on the ground. Before pouring concrete into the aluminum forms, a very light coat of release agent needs to be sprayed onto the surface. After allowing the concrete to cure for 12 hours, the forms are stripped, leaving builders with 10-inch-thick reinforced pool walls. The walls are then finished just like any other pool wall system along with the vermiculite or concretegrout floor.
After the forms are stripped, they can be cleaned and readied for the next project. Once a builder buys a set of aluminum forms, they become the manufacturer of their pools and are no longer dependent on other material suppliers to determine when they can start building their projects. Additionally, builders can also eliminate any material shipment delays and paying expensive freight costs. In fact, the cost of a concrete aluminum forming system becomes less expensive after every pool a builder installs. Further, with proper care, a forming system will last well over 3,500 pours.
When comparing the price of using an aluminum forming system versus a traditional vinyl-liner pool kit system, many builders see savings because of the efficiency of the construction process as every part of the pool is made of concrete.
“If the excavation goes well, the project will go well,” says Greg Butler, the owner of Bubba’s Pools & Tubs in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, Canada, who has been using aluminum forms to construct pool projects for more than six years. “Concrete is reliable and readily available, and the savings is not only a result of the reliability, but also the simplicity.”
According to Butler, his company’s cost per pool installation is lower because he does not have to worry about lost income because of shipping delays, missing pieces, or damaged freight (e.g. dented steel panels).
“We no longer do crazy things like go to a local steel shop to get a panel repaired,” says Butler. “We are in a fairly isolated market, and any delay on a pool project really used to disrupt our building schedule, which is extremely short here in Newfoundland.”
Butler also says his company’s per-pool profit has increased since they started building concrete wall vinyl-lined pools. “The reason is twofold,” he says. “We are able to charge more for our unique designs, and our freight and labor costs are also lower per pool.”
In addition to higher-per-pool profits and greater control of the construction schedule, when using these forming systems, pool builders can present their clients with a lot of creative options for their pool.
“Using an aluminum forming system has allowed us to quickly and comfortably move from standard shapes into more creative designs,” says Budd.
In most cases, in the first year of building concrete wall pools with these forms, some builders will stay within the standard shapes and drawings they are accustomed to using. That said, by the second or third season, most builders realize how creative they can really get. This creativity has led builders to use the forms to build retaining walls and other masonry structures beyond the water’s edge and moving toward projects that encompass the surrounding landscape, too.
“If you see the liner pools we’re building now, it’s difficult to tell it’s a vinyl pool,” says Budd. “Probably three quarters of the people who look at them simply assume it’s a gunite pool.”
There is also the client’s perception that concrete walls are strong and solid.
“During the construction process, when the forms are stripped and the homeowner sees they have something substantial in their backyard that is big and robust, they realize they have something very solid and strong and are always very pleased with the way it looks,” says Budd. “This is a benefit a builder can’t always measure, but it provides a perception of quality and strength that furthers a builder’s positive reputation.”
As a result of the increased demand for pools, many builders are either incorporating or using aluminum forming systems to pour concrete walls in their projects.
Although having more control over the construction schedule might be the main reason for builders to invest in a set of aluminum forms, the lower cost per pool and the ability to create unique designs, as well as offer other landscaping structures, make this construction tool an attractive investment.
About the author: Frank Wall built vinyl-liner and gunite pools for more than 30 years at Modern Pool Systems in Mississippi.
In 2007, he closed his construction business and concentrated on developing products for the construction industry that are not normally found in building supply houses. Among these products was AquaForms — a unique aluminum concrete forming system designed for pool builders.
Wall can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.