Commercial Aquatics 101

Commercial Aquatics has become a very important aspect of the Construction Process in recent years. One rarely sees Apartment Complexes, Condominiums, or high-end residential neighborhoods without an elegant commercial swimming pool and/or splash pad as part of the development’s overall amenities plan. Often, the swimming pool or aquatic venue becomes an afterthought until the start of construction approaches. This revelation can lead to many issues for developers, architects, and landscape architects if the project is not properly planned, coordinated, designed, and permitted.

Planning Phase:

In commercial projects, it is extremely important for the project developer or architect to begin consulting with an aquatics engineer in the early stages of planning. We always recommend to our clients the need to communicate with our office to establish a budget and provide sanitary fixtures in the Architect’s base design. In many cases, the occupancy requirements for the swimming pool or splash pad and their accompanying deck areas are overlooked in planning rendering the number of sanitary facilities that are required to support that occupancy inadequate. By coordinating with an aquatics engineer familiar with the local code, these features can be addressed in the planning phase and prior to the project Architect finalizing the design of the amenity buildings.

Design and Coordination Phase:

Once the geometric design of the swimming pool is completed by either the project Architect or the Landscape Architect, the engineering design is initiated as early as 6 months prior to the construction date of the pool. This consideration allows for the proper amount of time to permit, bid, and award the project to a reputable commercial swimming pool contractor.

The Engineering Design process of a Commercial Swimming Pool typically occurs in the following steps:1. Code Compliance review of the geometric design referencing LAC:51: XXIV and the Model Aquatic Health Code (Latest Edition).

2. Aquatics Engineer will coordinate with the pool designer to make any modifications required to make the geometric design compliant with the governing code.

Hydraulics Design

1. Plumbing Layout – The aquatics engineer will typically layout the required fixtures such as wall and floor returns, main drains, and skimmers and will design a preliminary plumbing layout to ensure even distribution of flowrates to all proposed fixtures.

2. Friction Loss – Based on preliminary plumbing layout, the aquatics engineer will calculate the total friction loss of each pipe run at the minimum turnover time and corresponding flowrate. Friction loss should take into account all pipe runs in the pool equipment room, as well as, friction loss due to various pool equipment components such as filters, sanitizers, heaters, or chillers.

3. Operating Point – The flow rate, turnover time, and total dynamic head (TDH) all affect one another. Therefore, the engineer is tasked with modifying these values accordingly while comparing the system curve to pump performance curves. Once the engineer has found an intersection point he feels comfortable with at a specific turnover time, the approximate operating point of the pump has been identified and the required pump for the project is selected.

NOTE: It is important to refine this procedure to avoid oversizing a pump (requiring higher electrical draws) or under sizing a pump (poor water clarity due to inadequate turnover time). By selecting a properly sized pump, an efficient system is established thereby maintaining water clarity.

4. Sanitizers – Once the operating point and system flowrate have been identified, the engineer will select the appropriate primary sanitizer and secondary sanitizer if requested by the project developer.

5. Primary Sanitizer – Primary sanitizers are disinfection systems that treat and provide a swimming pool with continuous residual chemicals. Primary sanitizers currently used in local markets are Liquid Chlorine, Tablet Chlorine, and Tablet Bromine.

6. Secondary Sanitizers – Secondary sanitizers are disinfection systems that instantaneously kill organics and microorganisms but do not provide residual treatment of the pool. The benefit to using a primary and a secondary sanitizer together is limiting the number of primary treatment chemicals utilized for the maintenance of the pool and cost savings to the owner.

7. Miscellaneous Pool Equipment – The aquatics engineer is also tasked with selecting the models for various other pool equipment such as valves, chemical controllers, chemical feeders, heaters/chillers, skimmers, main drains, and return inlets.

8. Features Design – Many project developers will incorporate water features into the design of their swimming pool. If so, the aquatics engineer will be tasked with designing a separate circulation system or incorporating the water features plumbing into the main recirculation system design. If the water features are supplied by a second pump, we recommend the water be filtered to prolong the life of the pump.

9. Geometric Sections – The aquatics engineer should produce geometric sections for the proposed swimming pool to express the design intent of the owner to the prospective bidders and regulatory agency reviewers.

10. Structural Design – Depending on the location of the swimming pool, the design may require the use of deep foundation support. The aquatics engineer or structural engineer for the project should produce the reinforced gunite or shotcrete design to ensure that all project specific loading is addressed.

11. Swimming Pool Details – The aquatics engineer shall detail the swimming pool construction to properly express design intent to the prospective bidders through pertinent details.

Permit Submittal Process

Most states require the submission of the engineered swimming pool plans to a local Health Department for review and approval prior to commencing construction. The aquatics engineer shall be responsible for the submission of this application as well as coordinating any revisions that may be required prior to issuance of a formal permit.

Bidding Phase

Once approved, the owner may take the engineered plans and solicit bids from reputable commercial pool builders. If requested, the aquatics engineer may assist the owner in this phase, from serving as liaison to reviewing bids for continuity.

Construction Phase

During this phase, the contract is awarded and the swimming pool construction may begin. Over the course of the pool construction, it is recommended the developer have the aquatics engineer perform inspections at various milestones.

The milestones are as follows:Plumbing Inspection

Reinforcement/Bonding Inspection

Final Inspection/Certification

At this time, your commercial swimming pool project is complete and operational for your guests to enjoy.

The procedure listed above may sound exhausting, an experienced aquatics engineer can manage these design aspects starting from initial geometric design and deliver a final set of construction drawings and permit approval, simplifying this process for Architects, Landscape Architects, and Developers.Southeast Engineers would be happy to assist you on any of your aquatic venue projects. Please feel free to contact us to discuss any upcoming projects or visit our featured projects section at to view some of our previous aquatics projects.