In what might be called the Bronze Age of residential pool building in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, the design phase was quick and easy. Homeowners asked for a kidney-shaped pool with a deep end and a one-meter diving board. The contractor was in and out of there in a few weeks.
Today, definitely the Golden Age of pool design, Valley homeowners want water resorts with outdoor kitchens and dining areas, shade structures and putting greens. Swim-up bar? No problem.
For Valley homeowners who can afford it, a pool is as essential as a functioning air conditioner in the summer. And when triple-digit temperatures become the norm, the desire to plan new backyard swimming pools or renovate outdated ones really heats up too, according to contractors.
The jobs can take several months to complete. “Everybody wants the complete deal,” says Tim Murphy of Presidential Pools in Gilbert.
“There are so many options out there for homeowners,” says Tom Burba of Poolcorp, a Valley wholesale distributor. “For someone who last built a pool 20 years ago, it’s going to be a real eye-opener.”
Brian Smith of Caribbean Pools agreed that Valley homeowners are thinking big, but he says they’re also thinking very creatively, making this an exciting time to build pools.
Smith and Murphy says the big trend in pool design is that clients want contemporary, geometric pool shapes, and they’re gravitating to crisp gray color schemes. But a few homeowners still enjoy the primal feel of the rustic freeform pool with water cascading over natural boulders. And once in a great while, someone will insist on a deep end—but pass on the diving board.
Why diving boards went extinct
A perfect storm of two forces combined to send diving boards to a watery death.
After a diving accident left their teenage son paralyzed in the 1990s, a Washington family took the diving board manufacturer, the pool builder and the National Spa and Pool Institute to court and won a multimillion dollar judgment. The family used its unwanted fame to go on TV numerous times to warn people about the dangers of backyard diving, and the public got the message.
So did the insurance companies, which hiked up premiums enough to discourage the practice, or dropped homeowners with diving boards altogether. For safety reasons, residential diving boards sold today are very stiff, unlike the bouncy springboards of old.
The second force was that diving pools require a lot of space, more space than the shrinking subdivision backyard could handle. A diving pool needs a broad deep end, of course, but also requires a long slope away from the board that gradually transitions to a shallow area. Add it all up and the diving pool is going to need to be at least 35 feet long and 16 feet wide, according to Smith of Caribbean Pools.
It began to dawn on diving pool homeowners that they were using one-third of their pool—the shallow part—about 80 percent of the time, and the play pool swept the land.
But as far as Smith is concerned, you can sum up the extinction of diving boards in two words: “They’re ugly.”
Newer trends, and cooler feet
Smith says that now, homeowners want beautiful spaces, with patios and pool decks that look like an extension of their interior living spaces. So, not surprisingly, plank travertine pavers have nearly universally replaced poured-concrete decks.
On hot days, travertine is cool and soothing to bare feet. Plus, the material installs easily on a sand base: Individual planks that become cracked or stained are easily replaced. It also helps that the price of travertine has drifted down to $8-$10 per square foot, from $13-$15 per square foot a few years ago.
Another popular trend, which reverberates to kitchen and bathroom backsplashes, is to accent the pool’s waterline with glass tiles, which sparkle like gemstones in Arizona sunlight. Similar to the bull-nose edging put around tile countertops, precast concrete coping tiles are another dramatic way to draw attention to a pool’s shape.
For several years now, the pinnacle of pool design has been the vanishing, or infinity, edge. Fortunately, pool designers have figured out a way to imitate this showy effect for homeowners who lack the budget and mountainside lot for a vanishing edge.
With a “zero-edge pool,” as Smith described it, water spills and disappears into a thin trough around the pool’s perimeter, making it seem as if the pool is an integral part of the deck. “You could do a zero-edge spa in a small backyard for just a couple thousand dollars,” he says.
Instead of waterfalls, homeowners today want to see and hear water tumble from scuppers built into raised walls, or shoot up and out in ropy streams like small-scale versions of water shows at Las Vegas hotels. Water can also be engineered to run over the sides of elevated spas.
Families with toddlers, in a nod to recent trends in public pool design, are asking for broad, very shallow pool entries, similar to a beachfront, or they just buy inexpensive splash pads to keep their toddlers safe and happy in summertime.
And, finally, thanks to multicolor LED lighting and fire bowls fueled by unseen natural gas lines, Valley pool owners can party long into these hot summer nights. “At night, with the fire bowls and lighting going, our pool is just beautiful,” says Laura Graff of Gilbert.
An investment for the fun of it
Don’t build a pool because you think it’ll send your home value soaring, says Realtor Annette Holmes of the Rachael Richards group. The most she’s ever seen a pool add is $12,000; $8,000-$10,000 is more typical, she says. “Do it for the enjoyment, not the value.”
When Graff and her husband approached Caribbean Pools a few years ago, they fretted over the size of the investment.
But seeing the smiles on her four sons’ faces as they fly like Tarzan on the rope swing and make big splashes, the Graffs have no doubts now that it was worth it.
“”My husband and I try to buy memories,” she says. “We don’t have a lot of other toys. The pool definitely brings our family closer.”
– Mike Butler, East Valley Tribune / Edited for Phoenix.org