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Backyard pool shopping guide

What you need to know before you buy

By Jason Cramp

Now that you have made the decision to install a swimming pool in your backyard, you can forget about the bumper-to-bumper traffic when driving to the cottage every Friday night. Now you will have the perfect ‘staycation’ destination located immediately outside your patio door where family and friends can gather to make lasting memories.

Photo ©McNeill Photography – Photo courtesy Pool Craft

Although your mind is made up, one big question remains: What type of pool and/or features and accessories should you get? Aside from size and shape, design and budget are two other considerations that need to be carefully considered. Depending on your preferences, the size of your backyard, and intended use, there is a pool to suit every need. With the following information on hand, you can start your journey to pool ownership.

  1. Inground pools

Inground pools are more expensive than above-ground or onground models as the installation process is much more involved. However, they can provide a better return on investment (ROI) if you decide to sell your home down the road. A well-landscaped yard, complete with an inground pool, will not go unnoticed by potential homebuyers. While installing one requires a great deal of planning, effort, and cost, taking a refreshing dip in your own pool can be more luxurious than a five-star resort. If an inground pool is what you want, the next step is deciding whether it will be constructed from concrete, vinyl, fibreglass, or stainless steel.

Photo by Frank Natale – Photo courtesy Mancuso Pools Limited

Concrete

If your budget allows, a concrete pool can be designed/built to any custom configuration with the added advantages of durability and strength. Underwater shelves, vanishing edges, elaborate steps, and graduated and beach-style entries are just some of the options that can be incorporated. But why stop there? The interior surface can be finished in a variety of materials to create an exotic look. Picture the walls covered with colourful tile fragments forming a mosaic design, or ceramic-coated quartz crystals that create an underwater sparkling effect.

Constructing a concrete pool is labour intensive and requires six weeks or more to build, depending on site and weather conditions. However, the end result can be a unique, custom-built aquatic feature.

Photo by Michael Willis – Photo courtesy Roger Willis Pools & Spas

To install a concrete pool, a crew will need to excavate the earth where it will be located. Once done, concrete is installed using one of two methods. The first is the poured-in-place technique, which entails pouring concrete over a grid of steel-reinforcing rods (rebar) between prepared forms. The wet-mix shotcrete method is the other option, which involves spraying pressurized, pre-mixed concrete through a hose at high speed to fill in and cover the rebar.

After the rebar is filled in and covered, the concrete is finished in plaster or another coating, then painted or accented with finishing materials. Once done, coping and border tiles are installed around the pool perimeter, followed by underwater lights and other components you may wish to have.

Vinyl-lined

Photo by Paul Kennedy – Photo courtesy Leisure Pools GTA Ltd.

Also known as prefabricated pools, vinyl-lined models can be installed in approximately one week and provide a durable, quality product that can last for many years. Although vinyl-lined pools cannot be customized to the same extent as their concrete counterparts, new manufacturing techniques and innovative accessories allow them to be made to resemble many concrete-based styles, including tile, mosaic, and rock design. Available accessories include:

  • elevated acrylic spillover spas;
  • sheer-descent waterfalls;
  • swim-up benches;
  • full-width steps;
  • in-wall steps with built-in hydro massage jets; and
  • in-wall tanning ledges.

In addition, features like islands, swim-up bars, and river designs, which have exclusively been associated with concrete pools, can now be incorporated into a vinyl-lined pool.

Photo by Brooke Warner – Photo courtesy YR Pools and Construction

Similar to a concrete pool, a crew excavates the earth where the vinyl-lined pool will sit. Constructing one requires using engineered pool wall systems comprising galvanized steel or polymer panels. Walls are placed evenly in the excavated portion of the backyard and are supported by steel braces; a poured concrete base holds them in place. Next, a combination of sand and cement is used to form the pool floor, creating a hard, smooth surface. Before backfilling soil around pool walls, crews install plumbing lines and set up decking and support equipment. Finally, the vinyl liner is snapped into place along the pool’s liner track and air is vacuumed out to remove wrinkles. The pool is then filled with water, which stretches the liner to conform to the pool’s shape.

Fibreglass

Photo by Paul Kennedy – Photo courtesy Leisure Pools GTA Ltd.

A fibreglass pool is the third inground option. Comprising a smooth, non-porous, one-piece polyester shell, fibreglass pools are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, including round, oval, square, and freeform models. In addition, they are well-suited to Canada’s freeze/thaw cycles and tend to be quite durable since their gel-coated surface does not require painting or resurfacing. Given the rounded corners in a fibreglass pool, algae and bacteria growth is also restricted. Further, unlike its concrete counterpart, the composition of a fibreglass pool does not affect water balance or pH levels, which helps make maintenance easier. Additional features include ceramic or mosaic tiles, built-in underwater lights, moulded-in steps, hydrotherapy and swim jets, fountains, waterfalls, and beach entries.

Fibreglass pools leave the factory in one piece and are transported to your home on a flatbed truck. A crane hoists the pool into your backyard and into the excavated hole. The pool is then plumbed and backfilled for support. A small crew can usually complete the installation in under a week, as less construction work is required.

2. Above-ground pools

Of all pool types, above-ground pools are the most affordable and are a great alternative to an inground pool when you are working with a more conservative budget.

Ranging in height from 1.2 to 1.3 m (4 to 4.5 ft), these pools are made of fibreglass, durable aluminum, or coated steel walls and a vinyl liner. Above-grounds do not require excavation or labour-intensive construction work.

Available in a wide range of round and oval sizes, above-ground pools can be installed in virtually any backyard. As a non-permanent structure, you also have the option of disassembling an above-ground pool at the end of the swimming season or taking it with you if you move.

In addition to complementing the backyard landscape and your home’s exterior, sophisticated wall patterns and subtle colours can be incorporated to co-ordinate with the pool frame.

3. Onground pools

Onground pools are a happy medium between ingrounds and above-grounds. Although they share some similarities, onground pools are generally easier to maintain and more economical. Depending on your backyard’s landscape, they can be installed fully out of the ground or partially in the ground. For instance, excavating due to sloping or rocky terrain or high water tables may be considerations. In addition, they are typically surrounded by a wooden or vinyl deck, rather than concrete or interlocking stone, and can offer more strength and versatility compared to above-ground pools.

4. Natural pools

Photo by Michael Willis – Photo courtesy Roger Willis Pools & Spas

If you are one of the countless homeowners looking to create a more environmentally friendly backyard, the thought of installing a traditional pool, which requires chemicals to stay safe and clean, might sound unappealing. Thankfully, there is another option.

Natural (or non-chlorinated pools) are freshwater structures that aim to recreate a small lake or pond in your backyard. With no chemical requirements, these pools can host more than just swimmers—fish, frogs, dragonflies, and other water-loving animals can thrive in this environment, while aquatic plants can help naturally aerate and filter pool water. To keep the water even cleaner, rock filters and beneficial bacteria can be added to decompose and remove organic matter.

These pools are typically designed to mimic a natural body of water as much as possible, crafted using free-flowing lines and surrounded by an abundance of plant life. However, if you want a more traditional look without sacrificing the benefits of a natural pool, they can also be designed to resemble a typical inground model. (A fish-friendly rubber liner is used to keep the pool as natural as possible.)

Making an informed decision

Photo by Jeff McNeill – Photo courtesy BonaVista Pools

Now that you know the basics with respect to the different pool types available and the means to their installation, you can visit your local pool builder to discuss your options further. They will work with you to ensure your needs are met to create the ultimate backyard escape of your dreams.

Tricked-out retreats

Why settle for a run-of-the mill pool experience? There is a plethora of options available to truly make your backyard a one-of-a-kind oasis and set it apart from the rest. If your budget allows, then consider adding a bit more flair to create the ultimate outdoor entertainment area that can give a cottage or vacation resort a run for their money. (Note that not all these features are available for all material types—consult your pool builder for more information.)

Vanishing edges

Have you ever wished you could see for miles without an interrupted view? These days, vanishing edges (also known as infinity pools) give you just that, a never-ending sheet of water that creates the illusion it is reaching the horizon. The breathtaking view is enough to interrupt your morning laps. To achieve the effect, water extends to the pool’s edge, where it is caught by a trough or basin, creating a clean, seamless expanse that fuses with the landscape behind it.

Rock accents

Adding natural or artificial rocks or boulders of various sizes can elevate the look of your backyard oasis. Spreading these accent pieces throughout the space can create a cohesive landscape while also giving it a natural appearance.

Water features

Imagine settling into a lounge chair, an afternoon nap calling your name while the trickling sound of a waterfall lulls you to sleep. Water features not only add a visual element to the landscape, they also help create a tranquil space all can enjoy. If a waterfall does not tickle your fancy, consider installing nozzles in the pool or pool deck to produce impressive water displays.

Lighting

Photo courtesy Pool Pros Ltd.

Strategic pool and landscape lighting can transition your backyard seamlessly from day to night. In addition to fibre-optic or standard halogen lighting systems, light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures are another option, allowing you to illuminate your pool and yard while reducing energy costs.

Beach entries

There is more than one way to get in and out of the pool. One of the most intriguing is a beach entry as it mimics the natural slope of a shoreline, eliminating the need for ladders and stairs. A gradual slope starting at the edge of the pool’s shallow end makes entry far easier, particularly for young children or seniors.

Resin in-wall steps

Not only are these built-in steps functional, they can also be used as areas for lounging or resting after a few laps. These steps can be enhanced by installing hydrotherapy massage jets to take the lounging experience to a whole new level.

Plunge pools

If you do not have enough space to accommodate a full-size inground pool, consider adding a plunge pool. Also known as a lap pool or splash pool, these installations are available in all three materials and average approximately 2.4 x 4 m (8 x 13 ft) in size. This design allows you to enjoy the benefits of a pool without sacrificing your entire backyard.

Pull up a pool seat

Swim-up bar seats are another popular addition for the middle or middle-shallow section of a pool, depending on its size and configuration. Generally positioned in the shallow end in 1 to 1.2 m (3.5 to 4 ft) of water, swim-up bar seats are economical add-ons that can be easily incorporated into a concrete and/or vinyl-liner pool design. This area can comprise a couple of seats next to the pool edge for lounging or several seats adjacent to a sunken kitchen, which can give a pool an upscale resort feel.

Bar seats offer a place for you to socialize with family and friends or simply sit while watching your kids. These seating options are also available in a variety of colours to ensure your pool retains its esthetic appeal.

Removable bar seats are an affordable alternative to permanent seats as they use anchors, which are removable. This allows you to easily pull them out to clean the pool when the festivities are over. It can also make your pool easier to winterize. Today, several vinyl pool designs embrace the swim-up bar phenomenon.

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