Category Archives: Design

Starting Blocks and Water Depth: Is Your Pool Safe?

When it comes to the world of competitive swimming, there are stringent guidelines that everyone involved in the pool design process must take into consideration. This is especially true for water depths beneath starting blocks.

Starting blocks are raised platforms typically mounted on the pool deck at the end of competitive swimming lanes. In most installations, the height of the starting block platform above the water surface is less than 29 ½” above the water surface. Swimmers mount the blocks and push off from a crouched position, using the force from their lower bodies to launch into the pool. We’ve seen many technological advancements for modern day starting blocks, with the most recent changes being the addition of rear footrests and side handles, which can have an impact on a swimmer’s overall performance.

Because swimmers are diving with a lot of force, it is crucial to ensure that the water beneath the starting blocks, as well as a portion of the pool length ahead of the swimmer, is deep enough that swimmers will not injure themselves. Diving into water that is too shallow can result in devastating injuries.

Credit: Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

If a swimmer hits their head on the bottom of the pool, a massive amount of force is transferred to the spine. This force can sometimes collapse the vertebrae that encircle the spinal cord, potentially leading to paralysis or worse. For this reason, it is important for an appropriate water depth to be maintained at the ends of pools where swimmers are diving into the water. In addition to this safety concern, sufficient water depth beneath a starting block can provide a swimmer with the best opportunity to maximize the performance of their start.

USA Swimming, the national governing body of competitive swimming in the United States, has its own set of racing start standards that vary based on swimmer experience and training. In pools with water depths less than 4’-0” at the starting end, all swimmers, regardless of skill level, must begin from within the water. In these instances, backstroke starting ledges are also not permitted. For pools that have water depths between 4’-0” and 6’-0”, a swimmer can utilize a starting block if they have been certified by a USA Swimming Coach. For water depths greater than 6’-0”, starting blocks are allowed for all swimmers, regardless of skill.

FINA, which serves as the international governing body of competitive swimming, has its own standards. The minimum depth at the pool’s end has to be 1.35 meters (about 4’-5”). But when it comes to all Olympic and World Championship events, pool depth must remain a minimum of two meters (about 6’-6”) throughout the entire field of play, with three meters (about 10’-0”) preferred.

It’s important to note that various industry organizations and jurisdictional health and safety departments all have their own defined standard, as well as several varieties of the standard based on different factors. For instance, some organizations have a defined range of water depth standards that are dependent upon the pool type or user. Others take it as a case-by-case basis, and vary the depth as appropriate. Additionally, there are local, state and municipal regulations that need to be considered. What is too shallow for one group may be sufficient for another.

At Counsilman-Hunsaker, we make things simple by recommending a minimum water depth requirement of 6’-0” (with 7’-0” preferred), that is to be maintained a minimum of five meters (16’-5”) from the end wall. This is a universal standard for all pools we work on, regardless of pool type or user, that ensures your pool will be competition-ready. These recommended water depths will also allow a swimmer to utilize a starting block with minimal risk to their health and wellbeing.

Swimmer safety is a top priority for Counsilman-Hunsaker. We take time to assess our systems and specifications to ensure we are designing pools that are not only functional and aesthetically-pleasing, but also keep swimmers safe and able to pursue aquatics for life. Be sure to follow us on social media for more aquatic design and operations information!

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50-Meter Pool Race Courses

Three types of race courses are typically used with 50-meter pools:  25-yard, 25-meter and 50-meter.

25-yard courses are often used for high school and college competitive swimming. These can be set up in several different ways. For instance, you can either start or end from the bulkhead, and swim toward or away from the deep end. The recommended pool depth is six feet for NCAA or two meters for FINA when starting off a starting block. Additionally, you can have the pool set up for 25-yard cross course swimming. If you have a 50-meter pool without a bulkhead, this is the only way to get a 25-yard course. If there is a cross course setup with bulkheads, it’s possible to set up the pool to have several cross course lanes for practice or multiple meets, rather than the typical eight or 10 lanes. 

50-meter course setup options depend on the number of bulkheads the pool has. Without a bulkhead, swimmers start from the deep end and swim the length of the pool to the shallow end. In the case of an all-deep pool, the starting point does not matter. If the pool has two bulkheads, swimmers swim from one bulkhead to the other. Additionally, aligning the bulkheads next to each other creates a large walkway where swimmers can finish at the shallow end. IMG_1203 50-meter courses are typically used for long-course swim practices or for those swimmers training for the Olympics. While there are some 50-meter meets at the college level, 25-yard meets are more popular in the United States.

25-meter courses are not seen very frequently in the United States and are generally only used when hosting an international meet. 25-meter courses need at least one bulkhead placed in the middle of the pool. Swimmers either start from the deep end and swim to the bulkhead, or start from the bulkhead and swim to the shallow end. With two bulkheads, both are placed in the middle of the pool, where swimmers can either start from the bulkheads to the shallow end, or start from the deep end and swim to the bulkheads. In an all-deep pool, swimmers swim to the bulkhead from either end. Olympic courses are 50 meters long and 25 meters wide without a bulkhead. In this setup, 50 meters would be the main race course and the cross course would be the 25-meter course.

When designing a pool, it’s important to consider some of the different ways it can be configured to best accomplish its purpose. Working with an aquatic facility consultant ensures your pool will have the functionality to meet all of the goals you set out to achieve, as well as meet all industry regulations. Check out Counsilman-Hunsaker’s Portfolio of Services for more information!

 

 

 

 

What is Value Engineering?

VE or Value Engineering. Two words everyone on a project hates to hear (except for contractors and others that have found out how to work the system).

What is Value Engineering? Often times when a project is over-budget, the owner, contractor, and design team will meet to find ways to reduce the cost of the project. Value Engineering is the term given to this process of eliminating areas that are over-designed or not needed in a project.  Unfortunately, this typically means that the owner is not getting the best overall value on their project. Value engineering rarely adds value to a project.

The right approach to design should mostly eliminate this part of a project. A great design team should be looking at life cycle costs when selecting materials and equipment for a facility, which should include a detailed cost-benefit analysis where the best overall products are included in a facility.

It should be noted that some of the products with the lowest life cycle cost (total cost to own) might include products that have high capital cost (first cost) but low cost to operate (the amount you are paying each month). A prime example of this is LED lights. Installation of LED lights is often expensive, but the lights last longer and are less expensive to operate than normal light bulbs. It is common knowledge that LED lights cost less over a period of time, but they are often on the chopping block during VE.

Typical VE options for commercial swimming pools include:

  • Switching to a lower cost pool surface
  • Changing gutter styles
  • Reducing mechanical equipment
  • Accepting cheaper deck products (scoreboard systems, water slides, play features, bulkheads, starting blocks, etc.)

On projects where the VE process has failed, often times the owner is controlled by the bottom line. In this situation, the contractor typically has the upper hand and will usually make additional money on the project.

An example of this is when a contractor removes a UV system for the project in the name of value engineering. The owner will get a credit back from the contractor that amounts to less than the actual price of the equipment, putting money in the contractor’s pocket for doing less work. This is when having a skilled design team that understands current market rates for equipment is able to hold contractors accountable for actual project cost reduction.

With large projects, Value Engineering is typically done by running through a “laundry” list of cost reductions. The owner is asked to make decisions on major items without much information on what is being proposed to reduce the project’s cost. For a $20 million project, this list could be over 100 items, with prices ranging from $5,000 to $500,000. In this scenario, the owner is forced to select items based almost solely on cost.

Don’t give contractors the upper hand. When it comes to your projects, hire a skilled architectural team to help you navigate the process. An experienced architectural team will hold contractors accountable by ensuring all Value Engineering cost reductions are necessary and make sense.

Smaller Items That Deliver Tremendous Pool Design Impact

In the grand scheme of a pool design, many people stop the design process once all major decisions (pool size, shape, perimeter style, system equipment, etc.) have been made. After all, it is just a hole in the ground filled with water. However, this is when some of the smaller items can go unnoticed, be skipped or never addressed at all.

We’re highlighting some items on the aesthetic side of pool design that often go unnoticed. Tile, wing wall elements, skimmer lids, shade structures and depth markers are all small pieces of a larger puzzle. But with the necessary coordination, they can make a huge impact.

Tile is one of the most resilient pool finishes still used today and can provide a major impact to the design. Pools can incorporate tile in various ways from entire interior finishes to strategically located tile accents. The customization options associated with tile color, shape, size and patterns are almost infinite. The location of the tile Tenn, Univ Chattanooga (36)within the pool will typically drive the size. For instance, mosaics provide an easier installation on a curvilinear pool wall, but larger format tile such as metric tile (12.5cm x 25cm) lends itself to a straight rectilinear format. The actual shape of the individual tile is another consideration. Tiles can be offered in octagonal, circular, and rectangular shapes just to name a few.  Color selection and tile patterns should blend with the facility and coordinate with the overall color palette.

A common element in leisure pools, the wing wall, is often not thought of as an aesthetic element in the pool design. It’s seen as simply a functional element to separate areas in the pool that often have different water depths adjacent to each other. But, not only can tile continue up and over the horizontal surface of these walls, they can be dressed up with thickened pre-cast caps to highlight elements of the wing wall.

Another element that stands out in the pool deck is the skimmer lid. The skimmer lid is a necessity of a skimmer pool overflow system, but one that could be blended into the deck finish. The lids are offered with an option of a pan-fillable lid. This allows for a matching deck finish to be placed in the lid pan to make the lid virtually disappear.

In an outdoor pool setting, shade elements and structures add not only shade but a pop of color. They come in all shapes and sizes allowing placement in different areas around, over and sometimes in the pool. Shade elements should complement the colors of other pool features like water slides, vertical spray features, play units, etc., and pull everything together.

LaMiradaOften times, required deck depth markers and warning signs are not given any thought. The typical installation is a 6 inch x 6 inch white field tile with black numerals.  Contrary to popular belief, the colors, fonts and materials can all be changed. The only aspect that cannot be altered is the height of the numerals. Any depth markers and warning signs are required to be contrasting in color to the deck they are surrounded in. This is so patrons can quickly recognize and easily read the signage. Options other than the standard tile include etched and stained stone or concrete, as well as a contrasting spray deck stenciled into the deck finish.

While certain aspects of the pool design are seemingly less important than others, when those smaller items are utilized to their fullest potential, they can add a lot to your overall pool designs, especially aesthetically. Check out our E-Book, The Power of Aquatic Design, for more pool design advice and tips!

 

Sustainable Pool Heating Options

The human body is sensitive to water temperature. It can even discern a water temperature differential as small as .5°F. Thus, the temperature of water varies between pools to correlate with the aquatic activity that will occur in the pool.  This may be a temperature of 80°F for a 50-meter competition pool, 84°F for an activity pool, 95°F for a therapy pool, or 104°F for a spa.  Regardless of the pool function or water temperature, from an operational perspective, it is imperative to easily and efficiently heat the pool.

The work horse for pool heating over the years has been the gas-fired pool boiler. Boilers have increased in efficiency over the years as there have been advancements in burner technology. A generation ago, atmospheric pool boilers were 80%-82% efficient. Today, atmospheric boiler efficiency has incrementally increased to 84%-85%.  When additional air is provided to the combustion process (similar to a turbo charger on an automobile), the boiler efficiency increases to 88%-89%. The inefficiency of atmospheric boilers has been reduced from 18%-20%, down to 11%-12%. A 40% improvement is pretty substantial.

Additionally, the gas-fired boiler industry has worked out how to incorporate condensing boilers into the swimming pool market. With a condensing boiler, the boiler has a second stage that extracts additional heat from the exhaust, further increasing the overall efficiency of the boiler. Condensing boilers run at efficiencies of 95%-98%. With condensing boilers, the inefficiency of gas-fired pool boilers has been reduced from roughly 20% down to 2%, which represents a great leap forward for efficiency and sustainability of gas-fired pool boilers.

Heat pumps are also a reliable source for pool heating. Two common types of heat pumps are air and water source heat pumps. Air source heat pumps exchange heat with the ambient air around the pumps, while water source heat pumps exchange heat with a water source (pond, a cold pool, etc.). The beautyheat pumps of a heat pump system is that the energy consumed by the system is only that which is required to run the pump and the compressor.  The heat (or energy) transferred or moved from one body to another can be a significant multiple of the energy used to run the system. This is called the coefficient of performance (COP), which can easily be above five. Heat pumps do face geographical limitations as they need air and water temperatures to be reasonable (above freezing) to work efficiently, but where ambient temperatures are available, they are a great sustainable system for both heating and cooling if needed.

Other sustainable systems include the harnessing of solar power to heat a pool. Passive solar pool heating is accomplished when the sun is shining, which is the primary heat source for many seasonal pools. Active solar heating harnesses additional heat from the sun through an array of panels that collect and transfer the heat to a fluid system. The fluid then transfers the heat to the pool water, providing a sustainable heating solution that efficiently extends the outdoor pool season.

With indoor natatoriums, it is very common to adapt the sustainable strategy of rejecting waste heat from the HVAC units to the pool water. If a system is rejecting heat, it is always wise to determine if another system might benefit from gaining that heat. Implementing a second use for waste heat is a great strategy for minimizing operational costs. It also reflects a holistic approach to sustainability for a project.

Similar to how the sun is the silent provider of heat to many seasonal pools, wind and evaporation are the silent thieves that rob pools of heat. Water loss through evaporation continually cools a pool. If cooling is desired, as is needed in some hot climates, agitating the water to increase evaporation is a sustainable way to cool the pool. In most of the United States, however, there is no need for that. Therefore, minimizing evaporation helps keep heat in pools. The use of pool covers is the easiest way to minimize water evaporation from the pool. It takes some manual labor to install and remove pool covers, but they are fantastic at reducing heat loss.

There are additional strategies for providing sustainable practices and good stewardship when heating a pool. Technology continues to open new doors and provide new solutions to the market.  By using sustainable pool heating solutions, one can be cool while providing heat to the pool.