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Good, better, or best

How to match your backyard dreams with your pocketbook

Photos courtesy Betz Pools Ltd.

By Marc Luff and Dave Clark

The lifestyle changes of late, with reduced travel, more people working from home, and soaring recreational property costs have drawn many Canadian families to home improvement. This, coupled with an emphasis on fitness and health, is fuelling an unprecedented demand for swimming pools. Add the popularity of fully featured lifestyle backyards and many people are asking, “Can we afford everything we want?” Thankfully, some practical planning techniques can help you determine this answer.

If you are in the market for a pool and are wondering how much it will cost, one of the best analogies to use is to approach it like planning a house. You go to an architect and say, “We want four bedrooms, a large kitchen with an island, a den, a theatre room, etc.” You will need the features suiting your family, number of kids, the entertaining you do, and the lifestyle you enjoy. When the architect comes back with a design for a 372-m2 (4000-sf) house, it will not come with a set cost, but with a range depending on the materials used. It will vary subject to the choice of countertops, moulding, appliances, light fixtures, and more.

The same is true when designing your backyard. You know you want a pool, hot tub, lounge area, cabana, etc., so the choice of materials will drive the budget. This starts with the type of pool and extends to the deck, structures, landscaping, fencing, etc. It will also include special add-on features like a hot tub, water feature, fire feature, cleaning system, and garden lighting. The breadth can be daunting, so we have listed the basic categories with a few options for each.

An entertaining highlight of this backyard is the custom vinyl hot tub with a 60-mil liner to withstand spa temperatures. Six strong spa jets make this a favourite spot to sooth aching muscles or just relax after a busy day.

Pools

For decades, there have been three primary types of inground pools: vinyl liner, fibreglass, and concrete. The ‘good, better, best’ ranking was pretty much in that order, until recently when vinyl began to close the gap with fibreglass due to increased customization. For years, both vinyl and fibreglass buyers were limited to catalogues of standard shapes and sizes. This is still largely the case with fibreglass, but vinyl buyers can now have a pool designer create (within certain limits) a custom shape and size. This is made possible due to advances in steel-wall fabrication and custom liner fitting techniques.

Note: To minimize operating costs and maximize longevity, all types of pools will require regular monitoring, cleaning, and water balancing. Poor water balancing is the most common cause of pool deterioration.

While it is difficult to fully explain all the differences between pool types in this space, this article will help you plan your backyard pool by providing you with a brief overview of each type.

Vinyl liner

A standard vinyl-over-steel (VOS) pool is still the most affordable type but, with full customization, it can easily approach or exceed the cost of fibreglass. While quality vinyl liners are durable and comfortable under foot, they can be punctured, so it is important to keep sharp objects out of the pool. Assuming proper maintenance, the liner will need to be replaced about every 10 years.

Fibreglass

These are finished pre-formed shells lifted into your backyard by crane. They come in specific shapes and sizes with features such as steps, hot tubs, benches, etc., formed into the mould.

To ensure pool wall integrity, the backfill must be packed in around the shell at the same time it is being filled with water. Assuming a good-quality shell and proper maintenance, the gelcoat interior finish should not need resurfacing for 15 to 20 years.

This backyard had a drainage problem, which was solved with a gently sloping, raised upper patio in architectural stamped concrete. It re-directs runoff from the house. The outdoor kitchen has a striking post and beam roof structure. Photo courtesy Betz Pools Ltd./© McNeill Photography

Concrete

This is clearly in the ‘best’ category offering the ultimate in customization and durability. Every concrete pool is essentially custom built, so it can be uniquely designed to integrate perfectly with your surroundings. Interior finishes can range from marbelite plaster to premium exposed aggregate, enhanced with seashell fragments and sparkling quartz crystals. A quality interior finish can last for 25 to 30 years, and the pool shell itself will last a lifetime.

Stainless steel

The ‘best of the best,’ these are generally custom designed and individually fabricated. They will last forever.

Patios

This feature has one of the widest ranges of options for materials and costs. The category assignments here are somewhat arbitrary and should be used as an initial guide.

Good

Interlocking stone, pavers, or bricks are affordable, as is poured concrete. Basic stamped concrete with minimal enhancement is another option to consider.

Better

This category includes large-format synthetic stone as well as premium interlocking stone. Architectural stamped concrete with textures and subtle colours is another option. It may also feature banding and stone or grass inlays to enhance the look.

Best

This level is the domain of natural stone because it requires less maintenance. With natural flagstone you will not need to seal it, re-colour it, or re-level it (if it is laid on concrete). Natural stone will provide the ultimate look of quality and last for several decades.

Hot tubs

Good

Free-standing acrylic hot tubs that sit on the patio offer the benefit of being portable, but the disadvantage of the water being kept up to temperature, if used often, and the need to balance a second body of water.

Better

This category is for vinyl or concrete hot tubs integrated into the plumbing of the pool. You will save on the cost of filtration and chemical use with only one pump running and save time, needing to balance only one body of water.

Best

This custom gas fire feature with brushed stainless steel is located across from a sitting area beside the pool’s walk-in steps. It is the focal point from the home’s elevated deck, the ultra-modern cabana, and perimeter overflow spa. Photo courtesy Betz Pools Ltd./© McNeill Photography

This would be something like a custom-designed, elevated concrete hot tub with a tiled interior and spillover water feature or sheer descent waterfall off the front. The ultimate could be a perimeter-overflow, zero-edge design that looks like a glistening block of water. It will become a functional, high-quality work of art in your backyard.

Sanitizing equipment

The following items are in addition to the standard pump and filter installed with all pools.

Good

Adding a chlorinator (or brominator) to automatically dispense sanitizer, plus using a chemical ‘optimizer’ to help keep your water in balance by having sanitizers work more efficiently.

Better

Adding a salt system, ozone, or ultraviolet (UV) light system, which will electronically sanitize your pool water and reduce chemical use.

Best

The ultimate option is an advanced oxidation processing system, which combines the sanitizing and clarifying power of UV light with the oxidation of an ozone system. It removes odours, creates silky water, and reduces chemical use.

Pool cleaners

A cleaner will greatly enhance your pool enjoyment by reducing or eliminating brushing, skimming, and vacuuming chores.

Good

The small, curved stone wall provides the platform for this elegant sheer-descent water feature. The soothing sounds of falling water create a tranquil atmosphere enjoyed by the owners who are avid gardeners. Photo courtesy Betz Pools Ltd./© McNeill Photography

This category includes suction and robotic models that are put into your pool for each cleaning. Suction models suck debris through the skimmer to the filter, which you will need to backwash. Robotic models collect debris in a self-contained filter, which you need to empty and rinse. These types can be a bit heavy to remove from the pool.

Better

This type of cleaner connects to your pool wall and uses vacuum pressure from a separate pump to suck debris into a bag, which needs to be emptied periodically. It can be programmed to run at the same time each night. When your pool is not in use, it can be left in the water to run each day.

Best

Custom in-floor cleaning systems are installed when your pool is built. They operate continuously with pop-up heads directing debris to a basket in the deck. They offer many advantages including a clean pool, reduced chemical use, and lower heating costs with warm water entering your pool at the bottom instead of the top.

Water features

Good

Includes deck jets that shoot small arcs of water into your pool, or small elevated walls with a single sheer-descent waterfall as an accent. Also includes water accents such as bubblers, scuppers, sconces, simple fountains, etc.

Better

Examples are a small, custom-designed rock waterfall on an organic pool, or long, stone-clad feature wall running the full length of your pool with three sheer descent waterfalls that light up at night.

Best

This elevated Ipe hardwood deck has protective tempered glass railings, which preserve the view of the backyard from the home. The tall, horizontal Ipe plank screen along one side enhances privacy from the neighbouring home. Photo courtesy Betz Pools Ltd.

Can include laminar deck jets shooting large cohesive streams of water lit by light-emitting diodes (LEDs), a large water-fed curved water slide or, on large pools, a custom rock grotto behind a massive waterfall. Also includes custom-designed concrete fountains or architectural reflecting pools.

Decks

Good

Includes basic pressure-treated or cedar decks with wood or iron railings.

Better

These include mid-range composite wood decks, possibly including glass railings.

Best

Custom-designed decks of high-grade composite or engineered wood with rich wood grains or premium natural wood such as Ipe or Kebony. The ultimate is poured concrete with natural flagstone.

Fire features

Good

Includes stock items such as a coffee table with built-in gas burner, small circular stone or brick fire pit, or a small match-lit wagon wheel gas burner in a bed of rocks.

Better

Would include a variety of larger fire features built into a location with custom stonework and match-lit or spark-ignited burners.

Best

Includes fully automated fire bowls set on stone plinths, full-size, custom-designed feature walls with linear-flame gas burners, or a massive stone wood-burning fireplace with chimney.

Cabanas

Good

A structure to house your pool equipment, maybe with a small change area or storage. This could be prefabricated or custom built, typically unfinished on the inside.

Better

Custom designed to complement the architecture of your home, maybe with stone veneer on the bottom. Roof, eavestrough, windows, and doors match your house. Typically finished on the inside with added features like a small bar or change room.

Best

Ultimate lifestyle pool house with an integrated living room, bi-folding glass walls, a retractable bug screen, custom fireplace, built-in kitchen, bar, full entertainment system, washroom, and sauna.

Outdoor kitchens

Good

A good-quality barbecue with side shelves in a designated location hooked up to gas.

Better

This might include a small island with built-in stainless-steel grill and mid-range appliances such as a fridge, drawers, and a trash bin.

Best

This would be a full kitchen, maybe under a roof structure, with a polished granite countertop, sink, premium built-in appliances, including a charcoal and gas barbecue with a side burner and sear station, a pizza oven, and an ice chest—everything you need to cook a full gourmet dinner on the spot.

Plants

Good

Includes decorative grasses, some annuals for colour, and a few smaller shrubs and trees will fill in over time.

Better

Rows of boxwood hedging offset by a mix of colours and textures in annuals and perennials. Will include denser plantings in groups, plus more medium-size specimen shrubs and trees that will fill in within three to five years.

Best

Plantings of mature trees trucked or craned in, large mature hedging, rows of beech, European hornbeam, or Japanese maples. High-end gardens of colourful annuals planted each year in urns and bowls by your gardener to reflect the latest style.

Retaining walls

Good

Could include pressure-treated timbers, boulders, or inexpensive interlocking stone. Primarily used when people do not see the wall and the purpose is solely structural, such as on the far side of a garden.

Better

This could include natural rock artistically arranged to achieve a look, or esthetically pleasing synthetic stone which has been engineered to structural standards.

Best

This includes fully engineered poured concrete walls with natural stone facings and copings. These will be permanent structures made to last long.

Fences and gates

Good

Includes black chain link safety fence or simple wood fences with minimal detail.

Better

Galvanized aluminum fencing and railings, pressure-treated wood or cedar, or quality composite fencing, all with moderate detailing.

Best

Tempered glass railings, glass panel fencing, or Ipe horizontal plank hardwood, which doubles as a decorative architectural screen. Also, custom-wrought iron with decorative elements and finishes, or high-end architectural fencing with stainless steel airline cable, posts, and hardware. Could even include custom masonry and stone structures.

Outdoor lighting

Good

Using ambient light from your house, cabana, and pool to light the yard, or DIY garden lighting package with basic transformer and fixtures.

Better

Good quality LED lighting package with about 10 fixtures, enough to light the main elements for intimate entertaining and to provide safety around your yard.

Best

A full-blown architect-designed layout with numerous premium-quality fixtures to highlight special features, steps, and walkways. Maybe programmed into different zones with different lighting levels for everything from intimate gatherings to full-on party mode.

Happy backyard planning

This shopping list of options is offered to help you decide what backyard features and constituent elements can realistically get added to your wish list. It is probably best to just go for the moon, then let a practical cost and benefit analysis bring you safely back to Earth. As the saying goes, half the fun of the trip is in the planning.

Authors

Marc Luff is a senior sales manager with Betz Pools in Stouffville, Ont. For the past 32 years, he has used his extensive experience and knowledge to help create a wide range of lifestyle backyards for hundreds of customers. Luff specializes in turnkey projects including pools, hot tubs, full landscaping, and myriad special features that make lifestyle backyards unique. He can be reached via email at mluff@betzpools.com.

Dave Clark is an independent communications consultant and writer with Soulutions Inc. and has handled the marketing communications for Betz Pools for 39 years. He can be reached at dc@soulutions.ca.

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