Here’s your cheat sheet for understanding the anatomy of swimming pool design.
Can you talk pool design features like a pro? Residential in-ground swimming pools come in a wide range of sizes, shapes and configurations. When it comes to choosing the right style for your home, many homeowners first consult a swimming pool contractor to discuss how the pool will relate to the home and the property. There can be many considerations that affect the pool design. Trees, boulders or other property elements may need to worked around, so will the slope and size of the property. A good pool contractor will explain why certain features or designs will or won’t work for your yard and it’s important to have a thorough conversation about what your expectations are. In addition to understanding your property, you’ll want to have a good idea of what features you’d like to have in your pool. Do you like to swim laps? Do you need a deep area for diving or jumping? Do you want a Jacuzzi, swim-up bar, slide or other features? If you have children it will be especially important to consider their ages and ability. For example, some families with young children may desire a beach entrance (a gently sloping entrance) instead of stairs. Because there is such a wide range of designs and styles, you’ll want to be familiar with the terminology or glossary of pool design. Be sure to bookmark your favorite pools so you can “talk pool” with your professional.
A baja shelf is simply a flat, shallow area in the pool. It’s often where a lounge chair is placed so that a person can be both in and out of the water at the same time. Because of its extremely shallow depth, it can be a good place for children to splash around. Just make sure that the baja shelf doesn’t immediately drop off into a deep area as this can be very dangerous for children. Some baja shelves are designed with fountains or have a unique tile pattern or design to make it stand out from the rest of the pool.
A beach entrance is a long and gently sloping entrance into the pool. Some beach entrances are actually made of sand; some are colored to look like sand. This type of entrance mimics a beach you’d find in a lake or ocean, and it’s considered an easy way for children to enter the pool as well as people who have difficulties with stairs. For homeowners looking for a natural-looking pool, or a pool that mimics the tropics, a beach entrance will do the trick.
Bubblers are really bursts of water and air that starts under the surface of the water and creates a nice bubble effect on the water. It’s not as powerful as a spray fountain, but can be integrated with colored lights, just like an outdoor fountain. The purpose is mainly decorative, and can add a nice sound of moving water.
A cocktail table is a built-in table in the pool. Most cocktail tables are designed with built-in seating and the purpose is to give a perfect spot for eating, drinking or playing games inside the pool. Visually, this table is a great spot to highlight with colored tile or patterns.
The coping is the concrete, brick or stone masonry used to cap off the edge of the swimming pool. A typical swimming pool has a coping that sits above the water level, and the coping is what most people refer to as the “edge” of the pool deck. Some pools use a cantilevered edge, which is an edge that hangs out over the pool.
Fountains in a pool are purely decorative, but it can turn a still, blue scene into something extreme. Many homeowners love fountains in their pool as it adds that spectacular water feature that their yard needs. Fountains can be placed in the pool or just to the side of the pool. Laminar fountains are specially designed deck fountain that removes the air from the water in order to produce a perfectly round jet of water. This type of design can be programed with colored lights and synchronized in a pattern.
A grotto is an imitation cave, usually constructed with rockery (either real or imitation) and designed to be a shaded and reclusive spot in the swimming pool area. Some grottos are fitted with jets, like an integrated spa, and some grottos are designed around a waterfall or outdoor shower system. A professional pool designer needs to construct a grotto carefully, as the weight of the structure needs to be sound. A grotto can add an exotic and peaceful area to the overall swimming pool design.
An infinity edge pool design is one in which the edge of the swimming pool seems to disappear. Instead of a traditional ledge or coping, the infinity edge allows the water to spill over the lip and into a reservoir that is even with the surface of the pool. The effect of an infinity edge pool design can be dramatic, especially if the pool is built up on a higher spot on the property.
Unlike a separate spa or Jacuzzi, an integrated spa is an area of the swimming pool outfitted with jets and seating. An integrated spa shares the same heat and water as the rest of the pool, but is typically set in an area off to the side of the general swimming pool. People use integrated spas not for the heat but rather for the seating and the air jets.
A lap pool is designed specifically for swimming laps. The depth may or may not accommodate diving; some lap pools are designed with lane markers for easier lap swimming. We often see lap pools designed for inside the home, as it’s main purpose is exercise, not lounging outdoors.
A lazy river isn’t something you see in a typical backyard swimming pool however, large-scale residential swimming pools sometimes incorporate this fun water feature. A lazy river is a narrow area of water in which the water moves quickly, like a river. This pool feature is a fun way to incorporate movement and activity in the water.
When it comes to swimming pools, there are many material types and colors to choose from. Concrete (or gunite), mosaic tile, plastic or fiberglass are among the most common materials used. Many homeowners like the look of a cool, blue pool, but even with blue there are a multitude of shades to choose from. Other colors like black, tan or sand-like colors are also popular. Darker color pools attract heat, and can add a few extra degrees of warmth to the water, they are also more reflective. Patterns and designs are typical swimming pool features, and you can find intricate patterns on the flooring of a pool or, more commonly, on the edge surround of the pool. Some pools change their underwater hues with the addition of colored lights.
A mosaic is a pattern or design using small tiles. Historically, ancient swimming pools and bathhouses used mosaic tile design to depict stories or spell out words.
A natural-looking pool is one in which the design aims to mimic the look of a natural swimming hole, pond or other natural water source. Very often these pools incorporate other pumps and filtering systems that remove harmful bacteria without relying on heavy doses of chemicals. These types of swimming pools not only look natural, they can be good for people who are sensitive to chemicals. To read more about the benefits of a natural pool, click here.
Pool canopies are often seen in the tropics, where the sun’s rays are particularly strong. If your yard has no natural shading from either trees or the house, you may want to consider a canopy. Some are designed to go over just certain sections of the pool and others can go over the entire pool.
Pool covers perform important tasks: they can keep children from accidentally falling into the pool, it can prevent leaves and animals from falling into the pool, and it can keep your pool water from evaporating. During the pool design process you’ll want to discuss the pool cover, as some covers are integrated into the pool design. Automatic pool covers make covering your pool easy, which means you might do it more often. Be sure you discuss all of the design options of a pool cover with your designer or contractor.
Although there are standard depths for residential swimming pool design, you and your pool designer should sit down and discuss how your pool will work for your lifestyle. Most of it is common sense: any diving or jumping will require a deeper depth, and entrances should be shallower. In general, the higher the jump, the deeper the pool should be. You should also discuss the transition from shallow to deep waters, as some prefer a gentle slope and others are okay with a drop-off design. Safety should be your number one concern when it comes to pool depths so make sure you understand what your pool will look like before digging begins.
Like the name implies, saltwater pools use salt instead of chlorine tablets to create a healthy swimming environment. Saltwater pools utilize a special pumping and mechanical system in order to maintain the proper water chemistry. People sometimes prefer saltwater pools to traditional chlorine pools because they don’t feel the irritation to their skin and eyes. However, saltwater pools still contain chlorine, and many people are choosing to install an ultraviolet light treatment system to their swimming pools. Research has shown that chemicals in our pools can directly affect the health of our bodies, particularly of children. Not sure if a saltwater or chlorine pool is right for you? Check out this article that compares the two. And be sure you research ultraviolet light (UV) to treat your swimming pool water. Your pool contractor should be well-versed in all types of swimming pool systems and should be able to talk through the pros and cons of all methods.
Lighting can be incorporated into the swimming pool design in a number of ways. Lights can be added to fountains and waterfalls, it can be added beneath the surface, and it should be added to the pool deck itself. Remember that lighting affects safety around the pool, and if using the swimming pool at night you’ll want to make sure there is enough lighting. All lighting needs to be added according to building and electrical codes so be sure you thoroughly assess your pool contractor and make sure they are licensed (if your jurisdiction requires it).
A swim up bar is when an edge of the pool is actually connected to a bar or ledge that can serve as a bar. You’ll usually find built-in seating (like bar stools) and the bar you swim up to may be part of the outdoor kitchen, outfitted with blenders, outdoor grill, television and possibly other features. This type of pool feature is traditionally seen in hotel or resort pools but is now being incorporated into backyard living spaces as well.
A waterfall can be a wonderful design feature in any pool. Waterfalls add the sound of moving water, which is great for blocking surrounding noises. Some waterfall designs are elaborate but they can also be small. Sheet waterfalls are when a steady stream of water falls so that it creates a “sheet” of water. Check out this home where movies project onto a sheet waterfall.
Want to see some amazing pool designs? Check out this video of a $2 million dollar swimming pool oasis that has nearly every feature you can imagine!
It goes without saying that owning a pool comes with an enormous amount of responsibility. Be sure to read our swimming pool safety tips.
Top image credit: Bilt-Well Roofing