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Dive into five of today’s top pool and spa features
Like many things in the world, pools and spas have changed—mostly thanks to technology. From droid-like automatic-cleaning machines to full-fitness swim spas, there are more benefits to water recreation than ever before. Many of the newest options also can improve comfort, health or even the value of your home. Here, Atlanta Home Improvement offers a survey of five of the top trends.
Waterfalls: Aesthetic and practical
Waterfalls are prime options for pool add-ons because they add character and achieve a luxury feel without the cost. Nearly any in-ground pool can be retrofitted with the water feature; add to that a fairly low price point and faux rock that looks more realistic than ever, and you have a pool element that seems like a no-brainer. When incorporated with a grotto—nooks usually equipped with additional lighting, landscaping and seating—waterfalls create great tropical retreats.
Perhaps the best news is waterfalls have practical benefits. The sound is soothing, but it also creates a sound barrier from street noise. The movement of the water is a plus too; it can keep a pool from becoming stagnant and helps aerate the water.
Adding a waterfall or grotto is fairly painless. The process involves simply adding a pump and recirculating the water back into the pool, says Rick Kaldrovics, owner of Outside Landscape Group (www.outsidelandscapegroup.com) in Alpharetta. What does he recommend on the aesthetic side? Unity. “… Consider the style of your existing pool and home architecture,” he says. “If your home’s style is rustic or natural, a natural waterfall works well. If your home is more traditional or formal, perhaps consider a fountain.”
The cost of a waterfall or grotto varies by material and size, but some kits can be purchased for $1,200, not including installation, while others range from $5,000 to $10,000. In a recent project in Decatur, Outside Landscape Group embarked on a complete backyard landscape and pool construction project. “The project budget was in the +/-$130,000 range,” Kaldrovics says. “The homeowners desired a backyard oasis complete with waterfalls and palm trees. We designed a unique pool with a raised spa with a waterfall and swim-under grotto. We also designed a separate outdoor living space which includes an overhead pergola and stone fire pit.”
Vanishing edges: An infinite vista
Perhaps the most dramatic pool design innovation of the past decade is the infinity pool, or vanishing-edge pool, which creates the look of water stretching to the horizon. It’s an optical illusion, of course—the water is flowing over a lowered edge, dropping into a catch basin below and filtering back up into the pool. Or, some pools are constructed with two tiers, where the vanishing edge allows water from the upper level to flow into the lower, creating both an infinity pool and a waterfall. “One of our favorite benefits to a vanishing edge is the waterfall or water-wall that is created below the edge,” says Brad Renken, senior designer at Sunbelt Pools of Georgia (www.sunbeltpoolsofgeorgia.com) in Atlanta. “We often try to create small private spaces with a view of this feature.”
If this sounds attractive, it’s important to note that infinity pools require a view. Because they are considerably more expensive—build-outs range from $10,000 to $50,000 and require experienced professionals—homeowners with fenced backyards or other non-vista elements would be wasting their money installing such a feature. “As they say in real estate: location, location, location,” says Evan Horning, director of sales at Neptune Pools (www.neptunepools.com) in Sugar Hill. “For clients where the budget is not the primary concern, a vanishing-edge design can add a dramatic element to almost any project. Where the budget is a little more sensitive, I would not recommend a vanishing edge unless the location can justify the bang for the buck. Properties with long-range views, water views and mountain views are prime candidates for a vanishing-edge design.”
Swim spas: For active homeowners
Pools aren’t just for relaxation. Swimming has been shown to be a highly beneficial, low-impact form of exercise. But since the average person can’t afford—or fit—an Olympic-sized lap pool in the backyard, can swimming really be a viable option? It can be, thanks to swim spas.
Swim spas are exactly what they sound like—hot tubs designed for a workout. With a flat bottom and no benches, the spa has jets that create a current strong enough for a person to swim in place, kind of like a treadmill. “A swim spa is a very small pool with jets that can allow for resistance swimming,” says Scott Thompson, executive vice president of Desjoyaux Pools (www.desjoyauxpools.com) in Roswell. “Our Desjoyaux System is ideal for this, as it pumps 207 gallons per minute on high speed.” Many models also feature additional fitness equipment like a rowing kit and resistance bands for a comprehensive workout. The average price is around $15,000, climbing to more than $40,000 for the Michael Phelps Signature Swim Spa by Master Spas.
One of the biggest benefits of a swim spa is that it can be installed indoors or out, in-ground or above, and in relatively small spaces; most start at just 12 feet long and 8 feet wide and are a minimum of 4 feet deep. And the best part is: a swim spa offers both the workout we need and the massage we all crave afterwards.
Luxury upgrades: For a customized experience
For those who consider luxury a spa’s most important function, there are many ways to increase the “wow” factor. Features such as swim-up bars, outdoor kitchens and fire pit upgrades are increasingly popular, creating a complete outdoor living experience. “Many clients are looking to create that resort feel they had on vacation and want some of the items they experienced incorporated into their pool and spa design,” says Gray Timms, managing partner at Unique Outdoor Concepts (www.uniqueoutdoorconcepts.com) in Cumming. “These luxury items add more reasons to entertain at home and, more importantly, keep the family together to enjoy that backyard retreat.”
Luxury upgrades provide a completely different aquatic experience and often add more than aesthetic value. “Pools and spas with these types of add-on features tend to get used more often than just a basic pool or spa,” says Horning. “Some of these upgrades can make the maintenance and operation of a pool easier and less time consuming. Others can save money by reducing the cost of chemicals and some, quite simply, just look cool.”
Neptune Pools has installed luxury features in many local projects, including swim-up bars, fire pits and urns with remote igniters, custom-tiled waterslides, fog systems, geothermal heating systems, sonar safety alarm systems, underwater windows, outdoor kitchens and tanning ledges. “Bringing the element of fire into the design is a trend that seems to be increasing,” says Horning. “We are doing more and more fire pits, fireplaces and fire effects every year. Some of these are functional and some are used just for the effect.”
Suped-up pools and spas are just one element of today’s popular outdoor living spaces, which seek to blur the line between home and yard for year-round enjoyment. That was the goal of a recent project by CORE Landscape Group (www.coreatlanta.com) and Jones Pierce Architects (www.jonespierce.com). “The scope of the landscape redesign included a new swimming pool and raised spa, large lounge area set into the existing slope, circular lawn, outdoor kitchen, large boulders set into the slope and extensive landscaping,” says Nicholas Harrell, registered landscape architect at CORE Landscape Group in Atlanta. “The architectural renovations include a beautiful, heavy timber porch and a brick fireplace with cast-stone accents.”
Robotic cleaners: Work smarter
Inevitably, pools and spas need to be cleaned and maintained, which used to be a homeowner’s worst nightmare. No longer. Robotic pool cleaners are the latest innovation in pool-cleaning technology. Looking like a cross between a remote-control car and a droid from Star Wars, they do the work for you.
These self-propelled, electric bots are essentially like underwater Roombas, the automatic vacuum cleaners by iRobot. They use scrubbers, brushes and suction technology to remove pool and spa debris, which is collected into an easy-to-remove cartridge that can be emptied into the garbage. Most of the systems run on electricity via a waterproof power cord and can either be set to clean the pool automatically—using sensors to navigate the floor, walls and waterline—or a remote control.
“Most robotic cleaners filter to a finer degree, measured in microns, than other cleaners,” says Jerry Crane, commercial sales manager at Sunbelt Pools. “They also don’t need to be ‘installed’ since they are just plugged in and dropped in the pool. Since there is no real installation, you can take it with you if you move to another house with a pool. Because they clean so much better and faster, you don’t have to leave them in all the time, so they aren’t an obstacle or an eyesore like most traditional cleaners.”
Of course, the luxury of automated cleaning comes at a cost (most are priced between $500 and $1,000), but they earn their keep—some can clean pools with a volume of 8,000 cubic feet. In the end, automatic cleaners aren’t just convenient; they also can help reduce the germination of algae and bacteria, decreasing the need for extra chemicals.
Waterfalls – Consider Style
“If the project is more of a natural design with rock work and boulders, a boulder waterfall is an excellent water feature to add into the project. If the design is more classical or formal, a raised wall with sconces that pour water add a very elegant feel.”
—Gray Timms, managing partner, Unique Outdoor Concepts, Cumming
Vanishing Edges – Site Unseen
“The driving factor for a vanishing-edge pool is proper elevation change across the site. Typically, vanishing-edge homes work best on sites that slope down from the house toward the back of the property. This allows the retaining wall along the back of the pool to also act as the vanishing-edge wall.”
—Nicholas Harrell, registered landscape architect, CORE Landscape Group, Atlanta
Swim Spas – Best of Both Worlds
“A swim spa is a good option for someone looking to swim for exercise or therapy without the large space requirement. People who have room for a more standard pool might consider adding a resistance jet system so they can have the best of both worlds.”
—Evan Horning, director of sales, Neptune Pools, Sugar Hill
Luxury Upgrades – Keep Goals in Mind
“If you’re considering luxury upgrades, look at your goals, how long you plan to live in the house, who will most use the space, how often you will entertain and how many people will enjoy the space… Is it more for children, recreation, exercise, adult entertainment or family gatherings? What budget are you considering? Ask yourself these questions first, and the answers and types of add-ons begin to define themselves.”
—Rick Kaldrovics, owner, Outside Landscape Group, Alpharetta
Robotic Cleaners – Buy Local
“Buy locally from a true year-round pool store that services what they sell. Don’t expect to buy one online and then have it serviced at a brick-and-mortar store. Make sure the cleaner has at least a one-year warranty, but beware of very long warranties, as they may be heavily prorated. Last but not least, read the manual first!”
—Jerry Crane, commercial sales manager, Sunbelt Pools of Georgia, Atlanta
Editorial Resources begin on page 69.