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A pool can make for a cool summer

Thinking about putting in a pool, now that summer-like temps are here? To be fashionable, think contemporary styling.

“Ten years ago, freeform pools were the most popular,” says Javier Astrada of Miami-based Swimming Pools of Florida. “Now people are asking for modern, symmetrical shapes with straight lines.”

A homeowner building a new pool, however, should consider a variety of factors when choosing size and shape. The first is city and county setback requirements, Astrada notes. On a full-size lot, the edge of the pool must be 10 feet from the neighbor’s side property line, 20 feet from the street side property line, seven-and-a-half feet from the rear of the property, and 75 feet from the front. “For a zero-lot-line yard, it’s five feet from the neighbor’s side, four feet from the rear, 15 feet from the street side, and 35 feet from the front,” he adds.

Will the pool be mostly a visual focal point or a place to actually swim? Someone who entertains a great deal may want a smaller pool to allow for a larger patio. On the other hand, a family with teenagers who love beingin the water may want the largest pool possible.

Shaping up

The shape of the pool is another decision. “Clean lines are the trend, but the landscape, the size of the yard, and the way the pool will be used are all things to think about,” says Louann Ellis of North Miami-based Essig Pools. “If you want a tropical lagoon look, freeform might be the best choice.

“But some people want a freeform lagoon when a traditional pool would serve them better,” Ellis continues. “If you’ll be swimming laps, you’ll probably want straight lines. When you start to put in curves, you limit the size of the pool unless the yard is very large. You don’t want to swim into walls.”

Other pool variations: a beach entry or a wet edge.

A beach entry, as its name implies, is designed to produce the ambience of a beach rather than a pool. “There are different ways to accomplish it,” Ellis says. “One is to eliminate stairs. You step from the deck into water that gets deeper on a gentle slope. Another way is to have a sun ledge—a six- to 10-foot platform in shallow water where you can put lounge chairs and umbrella holes. It’s a great place to hang out with children. Beyond the ledge, you have additional stairs to get into deeper water.”

A wet edge pool, sometimes called an infinity edge—is designed to look like the pool goes on beyond its actual perimeter. “You can have a wet edge pool in many types of settings,” Ellis says. “If you live on a waterfront, you can make it look like the pool is emptying into the larger body of water. Or you can make it look like it’s going into a wooded backyard. “

A third possibility: “Water can come up to the top of the pool and overflow on all sides,” Ellis says. “It’s a very pretty illusion. The water actually goes into a trough where it’s re-circulated.”

A deep subject

How deep should the pool be? “Many people think that deeper is better, but that’s not necessarily true,” Ellis says. “Most people don’t spend much time in water that’s over their heads. Five to five-and-a-half feet at the deep end is usually best.”

Of course, if a homeowner is an avid fan of pool volleyball, he or she may want shallower water at both ends and the deeper part in the center. And how about diving? “We think diving boards are dangerous, and we don’t put them in,” Ellis says. “But you would need at least an eight-foot depth.”

A pool that is eight feet deep will also have to be longer than the standard 15-by-30-foot model. “For every foot of depth, you need seven feet of length,” Ellis says.

Surfacing options

A couple of decades ago, the surfaces of most pool beds were made of plasters like Marcite. In the past, Marcite lasted 10 to 20 years. Today’s version, however, lasts only about five years, because it is formulated differently. So composites like Diamond Brite, a mix of quartz aggregates and cement, have become the standard surfacing materials. They typically have a much longer lifespan than modern Marcite.

There are other possibilities: “When someone wants a dark color, we advise them to go with a tumbled pebble finish,” Astrada says. “It won’t streak like Diamond Brite does.”

The reason: “Color in Diamond Brite comes from dye, which fades over time,” Ellis says. “The color in a pebble finish comes from the pebbles themselves, and the look can be stunning. A dark finish will also result in a warmer pool.”

Another option: A polished marble finish. “It’s great for kids with tender feet because it’s smooth,” Ellis says. “But it’s about twice the cost of Diamond Brite, because it has to be hand polished.”

Surfacing the pool with glass tile can provide a stylish look. “The color is beautiful, and you don’t have to refinish it, although you might have to re-grout it,” Ellis says.

Keeping it clean

The equipment that keeps the pool clean and functioning is as important than the look. Although salt chlorine generators have been around for a while, they are only recently gaining widespread use, Ellis says. “Instead of adding liquid chlorine every week, you put in salt about four times a year,” she says. “The salt cycles through the chlorine generator and absorbs the sodium, leaving the chlorine.”

The pump keeps water circulating. Ellis prefers a two-speed type. “Most pool pumps are set up to turn on for eight hours, and then turn off,” she says. “A two-speed pump runs 24 hours a day so the water stays cleaner. But three-quarters of the time, it’s running at low speed, so it’s energy efficient.”

Pipe size is also a factor in the ease of maintaining a pool. Building codes generally call for pipe with a one-and-half-inch diameter, Ellis says “But two-inch diameter is better, because the water flow is less restricted, and moving water is cleaner water.”

To heat or not to heat

Unless a homeowner doesn’t mind chilly water, a heater can extend the swimming season. Both gas heaters and electric heat pumps, however, can add $3,000 to $5,000 to the cost of a pool. “Electric heat pumps are the most economical,” Ellis says. “Running an electric heat pump for a 15-by-30-foot pool can run about $400 a month. A gas heater would be double that.”

Someone who plans to use the heater only occasionally, however, might want to opt for gas. “A gas heater is faster,” Ellis says. “An electric pump can take a couple of days to warm up the water.”

Don’t buy a heater that is too small, Ellis advises. “In the same way the size of your home’s air conditioner depends on the square footage, the proper size of a pool heater depends on the number of gallons of water. A heater that is too small will have to run full time to keep the water warm.”

One way to conserve heat is with a solar blanket, which covers the pool and traps warmth. “A solar blanket will cut heating costs is half, and some building departments in Florida require you to have one,” Ellis says.

Lighting up

An underwater light adds visual drama to a pool and also makes night swimming easier. A plain white light will do the job, but color can be more appealing.

A Spectrum Amerlite (SAM) pool light consists of twin halogen quartz bulbs behind a multi-colored rotating panel. The homeowner can choose to set the light on a single hue, or spin through the spectrum.

Light emitting diode (LED) illumination, a newer option, is currently the choice of many homeowners, Ellis says. “A SAM light has a rotating colored panel, but LED has actual colored lights. And LED is very energy efficient and very bright.”

Choosing a builder

A pool is a major investment, and whether a homeowner decides on a simple model or an elaborate one, it is important to use a reliable builder. “Deal with someone who is financially stable,” Astrada advises. “Research the company. Ask about license and insurance and how long the company has been in business. Don’t base your decision on a pretty website.”