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Assessing Backyard Elevation

When planning your pool installation, make sure you properly evaluate the grade of your backyard.

By Sherry Hayes

Photo courtesy Forest City Pool & Patio Inc.

You've decided to take the plunge and install a new inground swimming pool in your backyard. The pool has been chosen, the contractor is booked for installation and the excitement is mounting in anticipation of a fun-filled swimming season. Before the fun can begin, however, you must properly evaluate the grade of your property.

What is a grade?

Simply put, the grade is the incline or slope of your property, which can vary from place to place in your yard. It is crucial the space for your new pool is properly planned or you might be faced with unpleasant surprises, or worse, additional expenses.

There are three important—and often overlooked—grade-related questions you need to answer before construction begins. They are not as glamorous as thoughts of poolside parties and elegant water features, but they must be asked to avoid turning your dream backyard into a nightmare.

  1. Have you taken into consideration the grade of your property?
  2. Does your backyard slope in one or more directions within the area designated for the pool and surrounding hard surfaces?
  3. What is the elevation from the rear door to the existing grade below—and what additional difference is created in relation to the location of the pool?

Evaluating your backyard

As a layperson, it is easy to misread a grade or assume your backyard has only a minor slope. To avoid making this rookie mistake, try this simple exercise. Tap four stakes into the ground, one in each corner where the pool and surrounding surfaces will eventually sit. String separate lines to each end, as well as diagonally between the corners, making sure all lines are level. Once the level lines are stretched across the area, you will get a clear picture of what you're dealing with.

What you described to the contractor as minor grade changes could be much more of a slope than you imagined, posing a variety of issues for your pool project. That slight grade could differ anywhere from 304 to 609 mm (12 to 24 in.) or more, which can become a slippery slope in the end.

The existing grade is designed to maintain water and drainage flow; therefore it should not be altered. However, when installing a pool within a sloping area, it is virtually impossible not to change the grade. Nevertheless, appropriate adjustments must be made to maintain water flow as your property was originally designed. You cannot impede the flow of water within your property—or the surrounding development for that matter. Each situation will be different and should be discussed with your pool installer before construction begins. It will be necessary to determine how to place the pool and surrounding hard surfaces in accordance with the grade and any drainage concerns. Your personal needs; budget and style preferences will also factor in the equation.

When planning your pool, you must think beyond the footprint of the pool wall and include the room needed for other aspects of the pool area, such as seating. For example, a 4.8 x 9.7-m (16 x 32-ft) swimming pool with a 1-m (3-ft) deck around the pool's edge covers a minimum space of 6.7 x 12 m (22 x 40 ft), assuming there are pool steps in place. Once lounge chairs and a dining set are factored in, additional patio space will be required within that footprint.

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