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Home Touch: Enjoying splashy design

Mary G. Pepitone
Universal Uclick

         More homeowners are taking the plunge into building and maintaining a backyard poolscape. Designed with swimmingly sublime features, today's residential pools provide cool inspiration for both homeowners and their backyards.

         Instead of traveling on a vacation this summer, many people are opting for a staycation during the coronavirus pandemic, says Sabeena Hickman, president and chief executive officer of the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance, based in Alexandria, Virginia. "What we're hearing from our 4,000 PHTA members across the country is that homeowners' interest in pool and hot tub installations have exceeded their expectations," she said. "I think that it directly relates to people wanting to get away by creating a safe and fun environment in their backyard. Having your own pool and/or hot tub ticks both those boxes."

This pool is less than 600 square feet but packs a large design punch. Designed by Pool Environments, in Plano, Texas, this geometric pool has separate recreational and sedentary areas to enjoy the water.

         Today, Americans take the plunge in 8.4 million backyard pools and soak in 5.5 million hot tubs, according to PHTA's latest data. People are swimming in style with splashy features built around their pools, with extras like fountains, waterfalls and customized swim zones, which allow swimmers to soak up the sun and waterside atmosphere.

         People are designing pools to create a resortlike atmosphere in their own backyard, Hickman says. "Today's builders aren't just dropping a one-size-fits-all pool into a backyard," she said. "Homeowners want a pool that complements their yard, their home, their lifestyle."

         While people want a backyard pool to beat the heat, they also want one to make their home a gathering place for selective summer entertaining during the pandemic. "Having a custom-made backyard pool with a hot tub is part of a larger trend to create additional living space outdoors," Hickman said. "A backyard pool should reflect a home's architecture and the homeowner's style."

         Hickman says homeowners should make a pool plan before construction begins, and that starts with hiring a pool designer with a Certified Building Professional (CBP) designation. "Building a pool is so much more than just filling a hole in the ground," she said. "You need a reputable builder that is well-versed in your area's building permits, engineering and the latest pool technology."

This pool designed by Thomas Flint Landscape Design and Development in Waldwick, New Jersey, literally lights up at night. Underwater light-emitting diodes (LEDs), cast cool light in the pool. Lights surrounding pools can also be solar-powered, which increases energy efficiency and safety.

         Hickman says a pool installation can start around $30,000, with costs dependent on site preparation, the pool size/design, and the finishing touches surrounding it. "Some people want a lap pool for exercise, a recreational pool with water slide or an adjacent hot tub," she said. "If you want to entertain around the pool, consider decking materials, places for seating and sunbathing and the placement of other amenities, such as a gazebo or outdoor fireplace."

         To avoid getting soaked when building or upgrading an existing poolscape, take design cues from your home's existing architecture and surrounding landscape. "Some people want a very clean-lined, minimalistic pool to complement a modern home," Hickman said. "Others may want a more naturalistic pool with stone and running water features. What your pool looks like with the landscaping surrounding it is an extension of your home."

         No matter the size and style of pool, Hickman says a backyard pool can become a backyard resort with popular splashy add-ons that include:

         -- Flowing water features. An infinity-, negative- or vanishing-edge design gives the illusion of water merging with the surrounding landscape. Pool water spills over the edge into a hidden catchment basin that makes the water appear to be suspended in midair or vanish when viewed from certain angles. Fountains and waterfalls are also popular water amenities that incorporate the sound of running water.

This stunning poolscape designed by Claffey Pools in South Lake, Texas, transports one to an Italian villa. This pool takes design cues from the home's architecture and its surrounding landscape.

         -- Customized swim zone. Free-form or lagoon-style pools allow homeowners to build pools that fit the landscape. Sun ledges or shelves are shallow areas (usually no deeper than 18 inches) made for lounging and playing with small children. An adjacent hot tub gives pool participants a place to sit and chill out.

         -- Light up. Underwater light-emitting diodes (LEDs) cast cool shades of blue, green, red or white colors in pools. Lights surrounding pools can also be solar-powered, which increases energy efficiency and safety.

         Balancing safety and swimming makes for an enjoyable poolside experience. Besides fencing and gates surrounding the pool, other safety strategies include automatic pool covers, float lines, life ring and/or shepherd's hook, posted emergency information with outside telephone, and anti-entrapment drain covers and fittings.

         "When others are swimming in your backyard pool, it's important to go over water safety rules and have layers of safety precautions in place," Hickman said. "We also advocate for swimming lessons, so people know how to get to shallow waters if you find yourself in over your head, literally."

         Hickman says it's important for consumers to know the cost of maintaining a pool for long-term enjoyment. "There are high-efficiency pumps that recirculate water, and technology available to heat the water that doesn't waste resources," she said. "It's essential to make investments in pool safety and maintenance."

Today, Americans take the plunge in 8.4 million backyard pools and soak in 5.5 million hot tubs, according to PHTA's latest data. People are designing pools to create a resortlike atmosphere in their own backyard.

         People don't just have a pool in the backyard, they want to create an outdoor environment, Hickman says. "Pools can have tremendous benefits, which include exercise and stress release," she said. "Now, more than ever, people are searching for safe places to gather with family and close friends, and where better to do that than poolside?"

         Take the Plunge

         -- For more information, go to: Pool and Hot Tub Alliance,

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