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Tried-and-true rotating laser solution keeps Arizona pool installers on the level

For swimming pool excavation specialists C&R Excavating, rotating lasers have become their go-to instrument for use in one of the technology’s most basic contexts: leveling. Using such a laser, the Gilbert, Arizona-based company ensures that every pool they excavate for in the Phoenix metro area is perfectly level in advance of the trades that will follow them. For them, the older but proven technology has proven irreplaceable.

"Accuracy in elevation is key and we get that without fail"

C&R owner, Mark Kendall

A better approach

Founded in 1986 by Connie & Rick Kendall, C&R Excavating had, for years, used a water level to determine level conditions in their installation work. That changed when they spotted one of their competitors using a rotating laser.

“Seeing how fast and accurate it was,” said son Mark Kendall, “I turned to my brother Brandon and said: ‘We’ve got to get a laser.’ Shortly afterward, we contacted Brad Conover, sales rep for Branco Machinery, the authorized Topcon dealer for this area and were quickly using a rotating laser. We’ve upgraded models through the years  — it’s made a world of difference for us in that facet of the business.”

On the level

As it is in all areas of construction, being level in pool excavation is key for success in that and subsequent areas of the process. Everything from drainage to pool deck installation to placement of utilities is dependent upon C&R’s work being level.

“Most often, we work off a plan provided for us by the pool company,” said Kendall. “We come onsite and pound small sections of rebar spaced about 1½ to 2-feet apart — and set back set back 12-inches from the layout line — around the circumference of the pool. Then, one of us will take a measuring stick to which we’ve attached the laser’s receiver and place it atop each piece of rebar for a reading. The rotating laser sends out a signal that is picked up by the receiver and a tone tells us if the bar is either high or low. We adjust it accordingly to match the pre-determined elevation and move on to the next one.”

The rotating laser gives C&R the performance they demand, providing ±10 arc-seconds of horizontal accuracy. Ensuring the laser is level, once a finicky manual process, is now done automatically by the instrument itself which offers ±5 degrees self-leveling range. Even battery life is no longer an issue. The Topcon unit provides C&R with up to 60 hours of use through its Ni-MH rechargeable battery, and can also operate on AC power if desired.

"The Topcon unit is easy to use, durable, reliable and, most importantly accurate"

Mark Kendall

Shovel-ready durability

Though the Arizona desert seems to many to be an idyllic setting, over time, exposure to the hot, dry environment can be demanding upon both people and machinery. Brandon Kendall said the Topcon lasers, in use on every project they do — in temperatures that regularly exceed 110°F — have never failed them over the years.

“We’ve had no problem with the heat at all,” he said. “We’ve even used the unit in heavy rain, and it seems to be unaffected by it.”

One of the characteristics of past Topcon rotating lasers that C&R really appreciated was their ability to withstand the rigors of daily jobsite use. Brandon Kendall said the team recently got a chance to see proof of that durability firsthand.

“Despite having warned one of Mark’s son’s friends against leaning one of our heavy trimming shovels against a wall near the laser, he did so anyway. Of course, Murphy’s Law said it was going to fall on the laser — and it did. Even though it smashed the protective glass on one of the sides, we were blown away when we started the instrument up and it still worked perfectly. We took it in to have Branco look it over, it checked out fine, they replaced the lens and we put it back to work. That’s well-built in anybody’s book.”

Going deep

With the rebar installed to the appropriate depth, C&R’s crew affixes a series of flexible form boards to them that will both offer a guide for excavation and serve as a finished grade indication for the surrounding deck material. “Accuracy in elevation is key and we get that without fail,” said Mark Kendall. “There were times with the water level when, after hanging the boards, we’d see that a couple of the stakes were off. Something like that happening is no longer a concern with the rotating laser.”

With the bars and boards in, C&R runs a string from one side to the other which helps them verify depths using a tape. “For example, if we know that it is a horizontal distance of 12-feet from the 4-foot depth to the 5-foot depth, we also know that, at mid-point, the depth will be 4 ½ feet, and so on,” he said.

He added that, again, those figures are dependent on C&R having achieved good, reliable, level measurements early on and the rotating laser gives them that degree of confidence.

”The Topcon unit is easy to use, durable, reliable and, most importantly accurate,” said Mark Kendall. “We are back to doing about 200 pools a year now, and doing so with a very small workforce. Tools like this help us maintain that pace and remain competitive in the industry.”