An Inviting Oasis
The air is warm, and the sun is hot on your skin. You’re inclined to take a dip in the pool to cool off and enjoy the weather, but first you have to vacuum the bottom and skim the water’s surface, after which you’ll probably spend only an hour at most in the pool, because just floating around will get boring after a while. That’s a lot of work for only an hour’s enjoyment.
If you feel like your pool has become just a high-maintenance concrete hole, now’s the time to look into enhancements that will ensure a summer full of fun in the sun. With the number of advancements in pool and spa amenities available today, you can turn your boring old pool and hot tub into a backyard retreat fit for a “staycation” resort.
If you’re tired of chemical treatments, constant cleaning, green-tinted hair and faded swimsuits that your pool brings, look into natural swimming pools (NSPs). Also known as natural swimming ponds, NSPs have been all the rage in Europe over the past 20 years, with more than 20,000 installations throughout the continent, according to BioNova Natural Pools, a worldwide network of NSP installers/dealers. Using European technologies and techniques, NSPs installed by a BioNova partner don’t use any chemicals. In addition to their lack of chlorine, bromine and biguanide, BioNova NSPs also don’t use any devices, such as UV sterilizers, ozone, ionizers or salt systems.
“A NSP is a body of water constructed usually of two compartments—one for swimming, one for filtration,” says Greg Randolph, president and CEO of CSD Pools in Powder Springs. “The filtration side houses plant and animal life with a bed of gravel. The water is pulled through the gravel, creating circulation using plant and animal life to eat bacteria, algae and fungus. The pool is filled from rain, as it has no chemicals in it. Its appearance is that of a pond with light green water that is full of plants and aquatic life.”
To boot, NSPs offer a variety of designs, ranging from looking like natural ponds to your average rectangular swimming pool. Also, you don’t have to install an all-new pool to have a NSP—you can convert your current pool by hiring a BioNova partner (find one online at www.bionovanaturalpools.com) to construct a regeneration zone. The zone will be equal to the size of your existing pool with varying depth, and will be filled with aquatic plants. The professional then will modify your pool’s plumbing to achieve the biological filtration of your pool water.
Another option in natural pools is a moss-based system, such as Creative Water Solutions’ (CWS) PoolNaturally and SpaNaturally systems. Using a species of sphagnum moss to condition and treat water, the CWS systems are designed to easily tap into new or existing pools or spas, either above ground or in-ground. Simply install the system dispenser (a DIY installation that can be done in a few hours by carefully following CWS instructions, available online at www.cwsnaturally.com), then replace moss refills and perform standard water testing each month. ”According to scientists, using this style of filter limits the need for chlorine,” Randolph says. It also limits the amount of algaecide and chemicals that your pool needs by as much as 80 percent.
“Based on years of research and pilot projects studying biofilm—the real culprit in any water environment—we found the moss significantly reduces chemical costs and irritating side effects like burning eyes, dry scalp and wear and tear on swimwear and pool and spa equipment,” says Gina Chavez, COO of Creative Water Solutions. “Plus, the system offers less maintenance time, and it’s totally biodegradable after usage.”
With the latest advancements in technology through cell phone applications, home automation and more, there are new and exciting options to monitor, maintain and even soup up your pool and spa.
“There are many options available on the market for monitoring pools and spas,” says Elizabeth Lusk, manager of Lusk Pools in Canton. “From electronic chemical feeders, which automatically dispense chemicals to balance water on an as-needed basis, to wireless remote controls for accessing pool controls from within the house, there are products designed for every budget. The newest breakthroughs in pool controls also allow easy access to pool controls through technical instruments such as iPhones, Smartphones and iPads.”
Before looking into these options, Lou Downes, president of Downes Swimming Pool Co. Inc. and member of the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP), offers the following words of advice to help you maximize your budget: “Have a very good understanding of how you and your family will use the pool/spa, then let the functions drive the design.” Among the features available, Downes and Jamison Ori, president of Rosebrook Pools and member of the APSP, recommend considering:
• Automated monitoring equipment, which allows you to monitor and make changes to your pool system and equipment through the Internet and even cell phone applications
• Resistance units, which create a current in your pool to allow for resistance swimming
• Automatic covers operating on parallel tracks to keep your pool and spa warm and safe
• Variable-speed pumps, which lower energy costs
• LED lighting
• Interior socializing spaces in the pool, such as benches, tanning ledges, grottos and shaded areas
• Beach-entry pools, which gradually slope into the pool instead of steps or ladders
• Resort features, such as waterfalls, rock-encased concrete slides and swim-up bars
• In-floor cleaning systems that not only create a flawless clean, but also heat the pool through the bottom, which increases energy efficiency
“Our clients have really responded to interactive fountains, vanishing edges, custom slides and thoughtful designs that create multiple activity zones,” says Rip Hooker, construction manager at Sunbelt Pools of Georgia in Atlanta.
“Fountains and water features are always an added enhancement to any back yard,” adds Gray Timms, managing partner at Unique Outdoor Concepts in Atlanta. “There are new splash pad systems for residential use, like what would be found at Centennial Park or Disney World.” Timms says these pad systems are beneficial because they eliminate the worry over safety concerns.
Another popular, and relatively simple trend, is to install LED lighting. “It really gives off a wow factor when people come out in the evening,” says Vince Blasczyk, senior sales associate at Brown’s Pools and Spas. He says that some systems even have a “light show” function that will create a strobe-like effect. One particular system is for the July Fourth holiday and switches between red, white and blue lights.
Whether your pool or spa project is large or small, you should get a professional involved from the start, ensuring your project is well designed and engineered. With all of these great new options in swimming pool enhancements, there’s no reason to spend more time maintaining your pool than enjoying it.
Lessen the Workload
The more a homeowner wants to enjoy the pool with less hands-on manual work, the more automated the system he should choose. Instead of walking outside in the cold or at night, a homeowner can schedule lights in the pool and landscape to turn on and off automatically.
—Elizabeth Lusk, manager of Lusk Pools in Canton
When it comes to deciding on your pool’s surfacing material, “Any aggregate finish out there is beneficial because if you don’t use one, you’re just putting regular plaster down and that is basically just a thin set cement,” says Vince Blasczyk, senior sales associate at Brown’s Pools and Spas in Atlanta. “Chemicals, UV sunlight and more can deteriorate that finish rather quickly. If you have an aggregate finish, it helps hold the material together and protect the surface. Any time you have an aggregate in your coat, it’s going to last longer.”
Greg Randolph, president and CEO of CSD Pools in Powder Springs, says the following pros and cons on some of the top surfacing materials can help homeowners make their selections.
Pebble: There are many choices, it doesn’t stain easily and most carry a 15-year warranty. Cons? It can be pricey and rough to some people.
Quartz: The color choices are limitless, it is very strong and durable, and most quartz surfaces come with a 5- to 7-year warranty. Cons? This, too, can be pricey and very rough if not properly cared for.
White marble: This is the most common and least expensive of all the choices, and when it’s new, it’s the smoothest. Cons? It is susceptible to staining and etching if it is not properly cared for, and it usually only carries a 1- to 2-year warranty.
Tile: This is by far the most expensive material, but if properly installed, it should last the longest. Most tile choices today are glass mosaics, and the options are vast.
Watch Out for Wildlife!
While a natural swimming pool is an eco-friendly addition to your yard, it often attracts unwanted wildlife, so be aware before you take a dip. “In a natural environment like that you get water snakes,” says Curt Cooper, owner of Avalon Pools in Holly Springs. “You’re creating an environment for the possibility of snakes and frogs and building [a space] for wildlife—water moccasins in particular.”
Fence It In
Each year nationwide, more than 350 children younger than 5 years old drown in residential swimming pools, and another 2,600 are injured, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (USCPSC). These accidents usually occur in pools that don’t have proper fencing. The American Fence Association offers the following five steps to ensure that the fence around your swimming pool offers the maximum safety protection:
STEP 1: Use a self-closing and self-latching gate. The gate’s latch should be out of a child’s reach—more than 54 inches from the ground or on the side of the gate facing the pool—and at least 3 inches below the top of the gate to prevent a child from reaching over the top of the gate and releasing the latch. Also, the gate should have no opening greater than a half-inch wide within 18 inches of the latch release, to prevent a young child from reaching through the gate to release the latch.
STEP 2: Restrict access through and over the fence opening. Chain-link fences should have a mesh size that does not exceed 1.25 inches, and should not have an opening larger than 1.75 inches. Picket fences should have spacing less than 4 inches between pickets, and should have at least 45 inches between horizontal supports on the outside of the fence. If the supports have to be less than 45 inches apart, place them on the inside of the fence (facing the pool).
STEP 3: Be sure the fence is tall enough. The USCPSC recommends that pool fencing be at least 48 inches high.
STEP 4: Surround the entire pool area. Just fencing off the yard doesn’t prevent access to the pool. Four-sided fencing that isolates the pool from the house decreases the number of pool immersion injuries among children by more than 50 percent.
STEP 5: Hire a professional fence contractor. With so much at stake, only a trained professional fence contractor should be used to install fencing around a pool.
Trends in Automation
One of the latest trends we’re seeing with pool and spa automation is homeowners demanding “Smart Home” technology for their pool and spa functions. Smart Home technology relies on a computer-based, centralized network that runs all of your homes’ functions from one command center. Homeowners want this control system to extend out to their pool and spa functions so they can control lighting, waterfalls, filtration, pumps, spa jets, music and temperature settings from one controller within their home.
—Doug Bork, landscape architect/project director, Outside Landscape Group