Pool Primer

from Garden Ideas & Outdoor Living
If you’ve decided your family needs a home swimming pool, use this guide to find out where in your backyard to put it and how to construct it.

Question Your Intentions
Its a simple beginning, but why do you want a swimming pool? Pools come in all shapes and sizes. Ask yourself how you will use the pool: for swimming, lounging, exercising? Will you need space for grilling and entertaining? Will young children use the pool? How important is the visual appearance of the pool versus its functionality? How much time do you want to devote to maintenance?

Whether you decide to contact a contractor yourself or work with a landscape professional to develop a custom pool to fit your landscape, if you're armed with answers to these questions as well as examples from books and magazines of pools that appeal to you, you ll be better prepared to articulate your desires. And that means you ll be more likely to invest in the pool that's right for you.

"People tend to focus on size, shape, and depth," says Lew Akins, owner of Ocean Quest Pools in Belton, Texas,"but these factors only become relevant after you've determined the role the pool will play in a family's lifestyle."

Picking a Location
Pools can slip into backyards, front yards, and even side yards of all shapes and sizes, so the perfect location can vary greatly by site. A good place to start when evaluating a site is the interior spaces of your house. You'll spend 50 hours looking at a pool from inside for every hour you spend in it, Akins says, so the view inside-out is important.

Other factors include zoning codes, existing utility lines, and ease of access. Zoning codes can impact the safety features surrounding your pool, moving existing utility lines can add to the expense of a project, and convenient pathways to and from your home can impact how much you use a pool and spa. The pool's visibility from the house may also be an issue with children.

Don't forget to evaluate sun and shade patterns. A pool shrouded in shade all afternoon may languish unused or, depending on your climate, it may be the perfect place to cool off.

Interior Looks
Most in-ground swimming pools are made from concrete, vinyl, or fiberglass. Concrete is most popular because it offers many design possibilities. It's either poured or sprayed over steel-reinforced rods on-site to form a seamless surface. A finish is then applied on top of the concrete.

Paint specifically designed for pools is the simplest finish option, but it requires reapplication every one to two years. Plaster is another inexpensive alternative, but its susceptible to staining from chemicals; it has an average life of five to eight years.

Exposed aggregate, which is made from crushed pebbles or a mixture of concrete and crushed quartz, is more expensive but gaining in popularity. Its prized for its durability, array of color options, and textured, nonslip surface. At the top of the line is ceramic tile. It can finish an entire pool or just be used along the water line for decorative detailing.

Color combinations are varied, and maintenance is minimal. Preformed fiberglass molds and vinyl liners offer less design flexibility, but their smooth surfaces are a plus. Vinyl liners are supported by manufactured wall systems made from steel, aluminium, polymer, concrete, or wood.

Exterior Surrounds
Highly visible and highly trafficked, the surface that surrounds a pool also deserves serious consideration. Plain concrete offers a smooth, nonslippery surround and is an inexpensive, reliable option, but it can lack pizzazz. A stamped concrete finish can add charm inexpensively, but watch out for dark colors, as they can quickly become toasty underfoot. Bricks or concrete pavers make a classic, colorful choice and are easy on bare feet and on the eye.

For earthy tones and a natural look, granite, fieldstone, slate, flagstone, and marble are beautiful, nonslippery surfaces but carry a hefty price tag. Wood and new synthetic woods can also play a role poolside.

Not sure how a surface will react under the sun in your region? Brian Van Bower, owner of Aquatic Consultants, Inc., in Miami and president of Genesis 3 Design Group, recommends placing a sample of the product in your backyard in summer and standing on it with bare feet at noon. You'll soon know whether it's too hot to handle.

Features of Fun
A decade ago, the bigger the volume of water in an in-ground pool, the better. But today's pools tend to downsize gallons of water, investing the saved money in accessories that add aesthetic and functional appeal.

Popular accessories include waterfalls and fountains that add soothing sounds of moving water; beach entries that offer space for young children to play and easy access for disabled or elderly visitors; swim-in-place jets that allow fat-burning exercise in pools too small to swim laps in; and fiber-optic lighting to illuminate steps, plants, and water features for a spectacular nighttime show. There are also underwater barstools for happy hour, umbrella supports inside the pool for instant shade, and shallow underwater sunbathing ledges to host those who want to get only a little sun.

There are so many exciting things happening in pool design, Van Bower says, that there's no reason to opt for a plain hole in the ground when you could add tremendous features without necessarily busting the budget.

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