The latest trends in pool and spa construction

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4 C 1108 AqIf you're looking for a quick list of the building techniques and concepts that are currently driving the industry, look no further than the presentations and demos at this year's trade shows.

Glass tile, new decking materials, fountains and the green building movement are among the topics drawing intense interest this year, according to Bob Baron, MAR BAR Family Pools, Ramsey, N.J.

The new concepts on display offer a dazzling contrast to the conventional building methods of only a decade ago. This particular point in the industry's evolution has brought together both the means and the skilled artisans to create art in the backyard, and the result has been a fundamental change in the approach to the backyard pool project, from the production of a functional swimming pool to a comprehensive aquatic environment.

It's a natural extension of the basic swimming pool project, says Brian Van Bower, co-founder of Genesis 3 and president of Aquatic Consultants in Miami. "If I'm in the business of creating vessels that hold water with some type of movement and treatment, then does it matter very much if I'm doing ponds or fountains or swimming pools? The answer is no.

"We're artists working in water. We're using different water-related applications to paint a backyard picture - visual water, functional water, water that makes sound, water that pounds on you and gives you therapy. All of these applications are just moving, treated water in vessels, done artistically."

Hottest Techniques

Here are some of the most exciting new pool building techniques and trends:

1. Fire
"Six years ago," Bower says, "if we did a fire element on a project once in a while, it was a big thing. And now on about 30 percent of our projects we have fire, and we have three different suppliers of fire elements.

"We use it to highlight or frame vanishing edges, and we do torches on the backside of a vanishing-edge wall. We do fire pits, fire bowls, fireplaces with water cascading in front of them. We just do a lot with fire, using electronic ignition."

2. Jumping Jets
Systems of choreographed and sequenced lights, with or without music, in combination with flows from a fountain, are increasingly attractive to homeowners. This is something like the fountain display at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, only on a much smaller scale. Such systems may include tubular laminar flows, in which water has the appearance of a glass rod suspended in mid-air.

3. Splash Pad Play Surfaces
A commercial waterpark element that's gaining popularity in residential markets is the splash pad. Safe, relatively affordable and exciting to kids, these play areas delight with vertical and unpredictable sprays of water, and as the water is not contained within a vessel, the safety factor is a big plus.

4. Tile
Tile as a building material that enhances the look of a pool is reaching critical mass as more builders and customers are exposed to its possibilities. There are now more varieties available, in a wider range of prices than ever before.

The natural play of light off glass tile has caught the attention of homeowners across the country. These tiles have a completely different appeal than traditional ones, Baron notes. "This is my 47th year building pools, and when I started we had 6-inch tiles in white, blue and green. That was it.

"Now there so many different materials - tiles, glass, mosaics, Pebble Tec and Diamond Brite - the interior finishes are much different today than they were.

"There are so many different variations on decks now, too," Baron adds. "Especially in the Southwest where they don't have a frost condition to deal with. The decking is starting to become a lot more exotic, especially in the areas where climate isn't such a big factor."

5. Water In Transit
As for the vessel itself, Bower says water in transit is still strong in the pool market. "At the lower end that means infinity-edge pools (which you can even get in fiberglass pools now) at the higher end, perimeter overflow." In particular, raised perimeter overflow is popular with his clients.

6. Learn To Be Green
The conservation movement that has swept the nation is a major impetus for new products and building techniques. Perhaps the biggest example is the emphasis on hydraulics in the pool industry due to the enormous amount of energy that can be saved through efficient hydraulic design. In California alone, according to Scott Clay, PG&E, San Francisco, the output of seven coal-fired power plants is required to drive the state's pool pumps. At least three of these could be shut down or diverted to other purposes through the use of better pool plumbing techniques and variable speed pumps.

It's an enormous educational effort, and the major trade shows will feature classes stressing the importance of reducing head in a pool circulation system. "We've been doing it wrong for so long (with small pipes and big pumps) that many people still think it's right," Bower says. "It's taking a long time to turn that around."

Other products seeing a boost from the green movement are heat pumps and salt chlorine generators, according to Baron. As a product that heats pools using less energy than a traditional heater, heat pumps have gained attention from energy conscious consumers, he says, while salt generators conserve energy because they produce chlorine at the pool instead of requiring it to be transported.

Of course, he adds, these products continue to show tremendous sales strength due to their convenience. "There continues to be a lot of interest in salt chlorine generators, so we've got a number of different saltwater people coming in."

7. Safety Sells
With federal safety legislation about to be enforced, safety issues and products are of intense interest to pool and spa builders alike.

As a safety product that helps builders meet new safety codes and also conserves energy and water, automatic pool covers are enjoying a bright spotlight these days. Cover-Pools will be demonstrating installation techniques at the Vegas show, says Baron. "We have two pools set up so that we have water flowing all the time. And [presenters] would either put their cover on our pool, to demonstrate the technique, or they would bring their own mock-up of a pool cover," he says.

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