Beguiling Geysers

Soothing and comforting like a warm bath, or terrifying and violent like a tidal wave: Water is the most variable of the four elements β€” earth, air, fire and water. Humans have taken advantage of that fact through the ages and today, there seem to be no barriers when water meets pool-building technology.

"The possibilities are endless," says Steve Hanousek, vice president for construction at Master Pools & Spas in Palm Desert, Calif., a company that almost never builds a pool without a water feature. "Every job is different, but all these elements apply: color, size, texture, space and scale."

In How To Build A Fountain: A Brief Technical Overview, Crystal Fountains, a Canadian company that engineers spectacular water features around the world, lists 15 factors to consider when planning a water feature β€” everything from power supply to acceptable noise levels to pump sizing to budget. The guide then suggests designers also consider water's characteristics: plasticity, movement, sound and reflectivity. Finally, forces that act on water, including light, temperature, wind, slope, shapes and surfaces must also be part of the equation.

With so many options, we narrowed it down to just a few ideas for water features that will make your work stand apart from the rest.

More . . . Or Less?

While the inclination may be to layer on more elements to create a stunning water feature, some builders are finding success by adding less. "We are finding that our higher-end clientele are looking for subtle elements now," says Hanousek. "A standard pot or other vessel sitting in a reflection pool that sends water slowly trickling down over the lip," is one example. The less-is-more concept can work with virtually any style of pool. For a classical, geometric pool, use rosettes or medallions that spout streams of water. For a contemporary setting, Josie Chiarenza of Crystal Fountains suggests considering laminar deck jets that send sleek, minimalist arcs of water into the pool.

A single piece of art can serve as a focal point. On one project, Hanousek placed a water feature beyond an infinity-edge pool. "What the owner wanted was to incorporate a bronze sculpture of several dolphins," he says. So Master Pools outfitted the dolphins with simple jets that spray water out of their mouths. "They are just small streams of water that added an element of sight and sound and movement," he says.

Faux Fog

But what if your clients want to make a Vegas-style splash. Think about the biggest splash in North America, Niagara Falls. Beneath the falls, the Maid of the Mist ferries passengers around in β€” that's right β€” the mist produced by the crashing water. "On water elements, where you have point of impact and it creates that splash, that's an ideal location for fogger heads to create that entire environment," says Hanousek. Fogger heads can create the feeling of a bigger fall, even though the size of the water feature might be limited by a homeowners' association or by the logistics of the project itself.

Foggers can also add that extra dimension of realism in a pool that has a natural design with boulders, rocks and plantings. Judiciously placed misters can simulate the morning mist of a verdant landscape or a tropical forest. Mist in the landscape has the added benefits of helping plants thrive and creating cooler spots in hot, dry climes.

Fan The Flames

One of the basic tools of design β€” whether creating a painting, a garden or a musical score β€” is contrast. And what element contrasts more dramatically with water than fire?

"We're an upscale pool builder, and people are always looking for something different. Just like we are," says Dan Pendley, president of River Oaks Pools. "We want to do the negative edges and wet edges and all the different special features that make it not a 'metoo' sort of pool," he says. The San Antonio, Texas, builder recently made fire dance on water for a Parade of Homes project. "We wanted to do it, and we found the right customer," he says. "We talked with the builder about it and he certainly liked the 'wow' factor and the attention it brought to his home."

From a technical standpoint, combining fire and water in a pool setting is not particularly difficult. But safety is a huge concern. "There are codes that you have to abide by anytime you're doing something with natural gas," Pendley explains. "If we're just hooking up a regular conventional pool heater we have to have a licensed gas person, we have to pull a separate permit, it has to be inspected. In order to keep this safe on the technical side, we had to put sleeves in and actually run the gas pipes in 3-inch PVC sleeves.

"You have to look into what the city codes are, in your particular county or municipality, whatever jurisdiction you're under," says Pendley.

Hanousek concurs: "Cities have a difficult time accepting the liability. If it's an item that cannot be UL approved, they normally do not want to accept any liability. The interpretation of codes varies widely from city to city."

Pendley notes that you'll need to choose your clients wisely for a fire feature. "Even though it's neat, it's just not practical in every case," he says. "You have to have the right homeowner, and it's one that doesn't have kids."

Foliage Finery

Whatever architectural style is chosen for the pool, considering plants and landscaping is a must. "If it's a natural theme, with rock-water features, we'd want to design it with planter pockets so it's not just a pile of rocks," says Hanousek. "Landscape has a lot to do with the overall outcome of our designs."

That natural design that has water traveling from a height to the pool level β€” whether the water is a crashing waterfall or a calm stream β€” might have native species of plants tucked among the rocks at different heights throughout the water feature, adding to the natural appearance but also adding texture and color. Moreformal designs also can incorporate vegetation to take the water feature to the next level. Imagine formal, pruned topiary combined with laminar jets or a sheeting waterfall as part of a classical-style poolscape.

Like a well-designed water feature, gardens appeal to our senses of sight, sound and touch. Plants offer the added appeal of delighting our sense of smell. Consider fragrant plant material in conjunction with a water feature to round out the sensation. Collaborate with the landscape designer or a local garden center to determine which fragrant plants are appropriate for your area. Adding foliage to a feature need not be expensive. Several manufacturers offer pre-plumbed all-in-one water-features.


But water features are not just beautiful. When selling a project, consider the functions they serve, as well. "It's not just for aesthetic value and sound and sight, but also for cooling at different times of the season, and for aeration as well," says Hanousek. Master Pools' desert location dictates that pools often need to be cooled rather than heated. "We get in excess of 115 degrees β€” so that water starts getting warm in the shallow pools," says Hanousek. "So if we can, we aerate the water with fan-spray heads on the back side of a pool or on a raised bond beam."

A splashing spray of water can help lower the temperature and a burbling fountain can help lower your blood pressure. A louder installation can ameliorate unwanted sound. "We have silent water features for the look and the 'wow' factor. We also have features that help mask any type of noise," says Chiarenza of Crystal Fountains.

Flexible Features

All fountains can serve dual purposes, but some are more flexible than others. Some companies are making hardware that lets a water feature change its appearance and spray pattern. "We have a spray ring that you can adjust so it's shooting outwards, inwards, straight up," says Chiarenza "We also make a water feature that's interchangeable, so if you get bored with one effect, all you do is adjust the water pressure and then you change the lid out and you have a different effect."

Adding lighting is another way to get more effects from a single water feature. "People are excited about anything to do with lighting and fiber optics β€” it adds a lot, especially when you have a night-time party," says Chiarenza.

Stand Apart

It's almost cliche to talk about how much people love water, whether it's moving, splashing, spraying or re.ecting. And these days, more and more pools are built with water features than without, so just adding a standard jet or waterfall by itself won't win any awards for your company. But with a little creativity, water features can make your pool designs head and shoulders above the rest.

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