10 Questions to Ask Before Building a Swimming Pool

Planning a Pool: 10 Questions and Tips to Get Started

The most important part of building a pool is the preparation phase, when you’ll decide the overall look of your swimming pool and hire a pool contractor. A landscape architect or luxury pool builder can walk you through the design process, but it helps to have a general idea of what you ultimately want. Before building a pool, ask yourself these 10 questions and follow tips from the pool builders who weighed in to share their expertise.

1. Why do I want a swimming pool?

As with all good design, form follows function — so the answer to this question will establish the foundation for your pool design. For example, a pool meant for fitness swimming can look remarkably different from one intended for backyard entertaining. You may simply want to enjoy the aesthetics or audible appeal of water in your garden — which will greatly influence the design. To fulfill hydrotherapy aspirations, a combination pool/spa may be in order.

Brian Van Bower, owner of Aquatic Consultants, Miami, FL., recently designed a pool for one high-profile client in Pennsylvania who requested a pool situated on the side of his yard where his kids could play. After visiting the client’s estate, Van Bower was able to show the homeowner that what he really wanted was a centrally-located, three-sided vanishing-edge pool to accentuate the spectacular hillside view. “Sometimes, people don’t know what they want until they see it,” Van Bower says.

2. Who will use the pool?

Keep in mind that a pool designed for child’s play may look quite different from one designed for romantic interludes. To accommodate swimmers of all ages and allow for multiple activities, you might want to include shallow areas for toddlers, extra grab rails for the elderly, tanning ledges for sun worshippers or even underwater speakers for music aficionados.

3. Is my yard suitable for pool construction?

Many builders recommend that soil tests be conducted to confirm the site is suitable for pool construction. Sandy, expansive or rocky soil and other ground factors present unique building concerns. In addition, a high water table can significantly increase construction costs.

Bill Drakeley, owner of Drakeley Swimming Pool Company, Bethlehem, CT, recalls one project where he uncovered a garbage dump during excavation. The trash had to be removed and the loose soil compacted, costing the homeowner an additional $30,000.

Sometimes a proposed site will not work because it is inaccessible by the heavy machinery needed to dig the hole for the pool. Ideally, the pathway should be at least 8 feet wide.

4. Where will the pool be located?

Before you can answer this question, you’ll need to know the zoning and building laws for your property. To control water runoff, there may be restrictions on how much of your yard can be covered with decking and in which direction it must slope. Many municipalities also require that pools be fenced in, which might affect where your pool can be located. Gas, electrical, telephone, cable and water lines may also influence the pool’s location, as there is often an additional expense to relocate these utilities.

Remember to consider how people will enter and exit the pool, where people will congregate and how to maximize sun exposure while minimizing wind exposure, which contributes to heat loss and evaporation.

Because homeowners typically spend more time looking at their pool than swimming in it, consider how the pool will be viewed from the rest of the yard and from within the home, says Kevin Braidic, vice president of Watershape Consulting, Inc., San Diego, CA. He recommends including landscape lighting and water features so that the pool can be enjoyed year-round. “We do a lot of design based on visibility from within the house,” Braidic says. “We strive for a work of art that is dynamic, that clients can enjoy everyday, whether they’re eating dinner, washing dishes or whatever.”

5. What shape and style will the pool be?

Luxury pool builders suggest choosing a shape and style that complements the architecture of the home and existing landscape.

One of Drakeley’s New England clients lived in a traditional colonial home but wanted a freeform kidney-shaped pool like the one his mother had in Florida. “I had to tell him, ‘You may like that because it’s a great memory, but it doesn’t fit with the house,’” Drakeley recalls. “Once you bring up the point that the architecture doesn’t fit, most clients are open to discussing other options.”

If you are set on a pool design that doesn’t match the home’s architecture, try to incorporate a transition area from the home to the pool, says Brian Van Bower. Through the use of walkways and plantings, as well as by changing materials, you can gently guide people from one aesthetic to another without causing a clash in styles. “Landscaping makes a great transition, especially where there are elevation changes,” he says.

6. What special features do I want in my pool?

To maximize enjoyment of your pool, even when you’re not swimming, you can incorporate water features and lighting. Based on how you plan to use your pool, you may also want to consider underwater benches, shallow beach-style entries, a swim-up bar and areas to play water volleyball or basketball. An automatic pool safety cover will also provide a convenient form of protection whenever the pool is unsupervised. If aquatic exercise interests you, consider installing underwater handrails and a variable-speed current system, which creates a flow of water that enables you to swim in place.

7. What other backyard amenities do I want?

When planning your ideal poolscape, list everything you’d like to include, even if your budget does not permit building it now. Some things to consider include a pool house, outdoor kitchen, firepit, outdoor shower, swim-up bar, gazebo and even children’s play equipment.

As Braidic points out, it’s much cheaper to accommodate future plans in your original design than to modify your poolscape later on. For example, if you know you’ll be adding a firepit or outdoor kitchen at a later date, it’s best to run the gas lines to those areas of the poolscape in the beginning, which eliminates the need to tear up the deck and surrounding landscape at a later date.

8. What materials do you want to use?

Although plaster had been the dominant pool surface for decades, aggregate and tile surfaces have become de rigueur. Elaborate tile mosaics and, more recently, glass tile provide the artistic flexibility many luxury pool owners seek.

You’ll want to look at the surrounding architecture and landscape for clues about what materials to use. Natural stone pavers and rock waterfalls can help a pool blend into a natural landscape, whereas glass tile and arcing jets of water might look lovely around a home in a contemporary, urban setting.

“Our design is a seasonal design,” Drakeley says, pointing out that the colors and textures of both the hardscape and softscape play an important role. “They have to have a symbiotic relationship.”

9. How can you ensure that your pool will be easy to maintain?

No pool is maintenance-free, but you can greatly reduce maintenance by making sure your pool is engineered to be energy-efficient, with sound hydraulics and substantial filtration. According to Van Bower, this means using variable-speed pumps, larger pipes, adequate skimmers and above-standard turnover rates. Automatic sanitizers, such as saltwater chlorinators, ensure that the proper amount of sanitizing chemicals are in the water at all times, making it hard for algae to grab hold of your pool.

10. Who will build the pool?

The best way to locate pool builders who are committed to quality construction and good design is to ask for referrals from friends and colleagues who own pools you like. Building inspectors and landscape architects are other sources of referrals. Thanks to referrals, Van Bower, who works on award-winning projects around the world, is able to forgo traditional advertising. If a potential client calls, it’s because he or she was given Van Bower’s name by a previous client. The same goes for Drakeley, who once built a vanishing-edge pool for a client and then signed pool contracts for six other couples in the client’s social group.

“The important thing is for clients to enjoy the relationship with their contractor,” adds Van Bower. “I’m a big believer in breaking bread and getting to know people. That’s when you can tell whether it’s right or not.”

Photo courtesy of Azul-Verde Design Group, Inc.

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