Prospective pool and spa owners should think S-L-A-M before jumping in

If warming weather has you fantasizing about the ultimate in backyard pools and spas, before you jump into the deep end, we have compiled a list of considerations to both help you make a splash and prevent you from getting soaked. Though any licensed pool contractor or landscape architect can help prospective pool owners wade through the design and installation process, we encourage you to inform yourself about some of the basics, both practical and aesthetic. As you wade in, just think “S-L-A-M,” as in your beautiful backyard retreat will be a slam dunk.

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Site: A pool can be built on virtually any site, but the cost may be prohibitive if the property isn’t naturally suitable for construction. Issues to consider include soil composition, water table, elevation changes and accessibility. Generally, the heavy equipment needed for pool construction requires at least 8-foot- wide access.

SHAPE: If you are determined to have a pool, there is probably a shape that will work for your application, even if it isn’t exactly what you had imagined. For example, a long narrow rectangle is ideal when space is limited.

STYLE: Though it probably goes without saying that your pool and surrounding area should complement the style of your home and landscaping, be it classic, rustic, sleek, modern or whatever, there is another possibility. What happens if you are dead set on a hip South Beach-style escape that seems completely at odds with your Tidewater Colonial? All may not lost be lost, as a top-notch designer will likely be able to create a transition from one world to the other through expert selection and placement of landscaping and hardscaping materials, not to mention the design of the pool itself from tropical lagoon to urban plunge pool.

LIFESTYLE: Before you take the plunge, get crystal clear about your lifestyle and how your new pool will fit into it now and over time. Do you want the pool for exercise, leisure sports, cooling off, entertaining, or ambiance? Your pool design should work hard to afford you the lifestyle you have worked hard to achieve. Most people spend more time looking at their pool or dwelling around its edges than actually swimming in it, so consider the likes of wading areas for young children or for adults in lounge chairs, a tanning ledge and, for the ultimate in resort style living, an in-ground spa. Consisting largely of some type of seating and jets, spas are as varied as pools but should visually harmonize. The newer “spools” combine a larger spa with a smaller pool.

LOCATION: Virtually every city government website hosts an exhaustive list of zoning and building laws related to pools, decking, fencing and insurance, including in relation to their location on your property. Work with your contractor and designer to ensure that you are in compliance to avoid a costly misstep.

LINER: There are essentially three types of pool liners: concrete (gunite), vinyl and fiberglass. Each has advantages and disadvantages related to initial cost, installation, durability, maintenance, appearance and more. Carefully study the pros and cons to make a selection that is the best fit.

LIGHTING: Since pools are valued as much or more for ambiance as they are for swimming, you will want to enjoy your pool even as the sun sets. Consider lighting both in and around the pool. Most experts will agree that LED lighting is the brightest idea for creating the desired mood. For the pool itself, LED lights can be installed in the coping or in pipes within the walls, casting a soft glow across the water, even one that can be programmed to change colors. Around the pool – for both aesthetic and safety enhancement – low-voltage lighting is generally the preferred type. Because of the presence of water, however, special considerations come into play. Let an expert guide you.

AMENITIES: Think of your project as a poolscape rather than simply as a pool. Design the entire space holistically, even if you build it in phases. Amenities to consider include a pool house, outdoor kitchen, loggia, pergola, gazebo, cabana, firepit, fireplace, outdoor shower, play area, and other sun and shade options. People typically want to both sit and lie beside a pool, so consider a variety of seating options, including lounge chairs for a resort feel, but also hammocks and daybeds. Features and focal points that make your space even more deluxe include rock waterfalls in a more naturalized setting, water spouts or deck jet water features for a sleeker and more contemporary context, a swim-up bar, underwater benches, shallow beach-style pool entries, or even a dry recessed lounge area within the pool.

MATERIALS: Concrete used to be the material of choice for pool decking, but it is prone to cracking and is complex to repair. Also, growing eco-consciousness related to run-off makes a more permeable decking more desirable. “Unit paving” as opposed to poured slabs, addresses both concerns and options now abound. Three main considerations should drive your decision besides appearance and budget: heat absorption, feel on bare feet and anti-slipping properties. Some options include unglazed tile, cast concrete pavers, stone, wood (including exotics like ipe), brick and rubber.

MAINTENANCE: Though all pools have different maintenance needs, the key is regular and routine care in these areas: skimming, vacuuming/brushing, cleaning the filter, professionally servicing the heater if applicable, maintaining water level and pH level, chlorinating the water, locating and repairing leaks, and winterizing.

Now, go on, get your feet wet and enjoy a year-round staycation.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, go to www.vbhomesliving.com.

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Picture: North End Custom Home in Virginia Beach, VA