Mid-American Gunite pools Local homeowners opt for distinctive features for their pools and patios.
Television shows — from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition to those that populate HGTV — are a boon to the pool and patio industry in Cincinnati. They give rapt viewers a glimpse of the possibilities in creating a high-end outdoor oasis, a back yard that looks as much like a resort as a home. Even homeowners who might have never actually seen, up close, an elaborately shaped in-ground residential pool with custom rock features, decorative patio treatments and mood lighting are ready jump in and transform their own yard.

“That’s exactly what’s going on,” says Jim Burkhart, manager of Aquarian Pools & Spas in Loveland. “People see things on television and in magazines and they want to do it here.” Pool experts such as Burkhart are happy that Cincinnatians are exposed to what’s going on in warmer climates. It has helped transform the backyard landscape from simple rectangular pools with concrete surroundings to a place that’s perfect for much more than simply taking a dip.

“All pools are good if they hold water, including the plastic pool you get at Wal-Mart,” says Pat Brennan, president of Mid-American Gunite Pools in Northern Kentucky. “But if someone has a Mercedes in the driveway, they don’t want a Yugo in the back yard. If their house is beautiful, the pool area has got to be an extension of all that.” He’s seeing that across the region, from large yards in Northern Kentucky to intimate hideaways in Hyde Park and Mount Adams.

But pools are not just for the elite. According to the National Pool & Spa Institute, about 8 million people worldwide own one. To satisfy today’s aesthetically minded customers, several trends have emerged in outdoor settings here in Cincinnati.

Pool Shapes

The white-bottomed, sharp-edged pools of yesterday are slowly being replaced. “People are going more to the free-form shaped pools than the rectangle. They’re doing pools with lot of curves,” says Mike Stewart, sales manager for Anchor Pools & Spas in Fairfield. “They want something that looks different than the neighbor’s.” The shape of the pool not only changes the look, but it dictates how other features will sit around it.

Still, the old shapes will always have a place in the pool business. Budgets might require them, and sometimes people bypass the upgraded shape so they can afford some of the other amenities, such as fountains and lighting, that might be more critical for them to create the look they want.

Water Features

The pool is just the beginning these days. Water features are more popular than ever, with a majority of customers here getting some type of fountain or waterfall. It can be anything from a large custom-designed feature to a simple deck jet, which is a circle in the concrete that shoots water like a geyser. “Everybody loves the sound. People will forego something else to get the water feature,” observes Burkhart.

Rock waterfalls are like snowflakes: no two are exactly alike. They can be a prefabricated, one-piece unit that sits at the pool’s edge, or custom built to maintain an existing grade or create a secluded environment.

“When you’re building a custom waterfall like that, you have an idea what it will look like, but you really don’t know what you’re going to get into as you build it,” explains Stewart. “You just start stacking the stones. Every one is different.”

The waterfalls are created with a reservoir and pumps that can be turned on and off remotely. They set the mood and create a soothing sound that serves as a perfect place to relax or have a party. Last year at a home in Cincinnati, Anchor constructed a rock feature with a waterfall that is 22 feet wide and 6 feet high. The pool is surrounded by 2,000 square feet of stamped, colored concrete. “The waterfall was just really impressive. It looks like a hotel, a small resort,” adds Stewart.

Jets double as play places for children who like to sit on one to make another shoot higher. “We put in series of pipes and you can shoot geysers that look like streaming water,” notes Brennan. “They’re decorative, and they’re functional for kids to play in. We did those back in the 1990s for the City of Blue Ash, and we’ve adapted it for residential pools.

Decorative Decking and Pool Finishes

“Everyone is using more decorative concrete, like stamped or colored, and different pavers for a range of looks on the pool deck,” says Burkhart. There’s limestone coping and quartzite, and pebble interior finishes in the pool, including gray, black or blue, adds Brennan.

Burkhart says that pavers made from a manufactured cement stay cooler in the hot sun than traditional concrete or stone, so people are increasingly opting for them.

Moving to Salt

One big change in pools in the last few years is the use of saltwater pool systems rather than traditional chlorine. Local pool experts say about 75 percent of new pool buyers here are now using this. Hotels and indoor water resorts often opt for this, as well. Despite higher upfront costs, the long terms costs are lower, and salt pools are better for the environment. They’re also easier on the eyes, hair and skin than water that’s treated with chlorine tablets. Saltwater pools do have slightly salty taste, but the water contains a much lower concentration of salt than an ocean (3,000 parts of salt per million versus 20,000 parts per million).

“Salt pools are big, probably 80 to 90 percent of my buyers,” says Burkhart. “Salt has been around for 20 years, but you finally have more builders catching on. I’ve had it in my own pool for years.”

Beach Entries, Infinity Edge and Sun Shelves

You’ve seen them at community pools: An entry that gradually slopes, like a ramp, from less than an inch deep and becoming deeper with each step. They’re great for kids, but they do have drawbacks. “We’ve done some beach-type entrances here,” says Brennan. But he warns customers that such entrances, where the water is very low on the end, tends to attracts debris and gets a dirt ring. It needs frequent cleaning.

A tanning shelf is sometimes preferred. That’s a ledge that can be used for sitting in the water, with your head above it.

With an infinity edge, pool water flows over the sides into a catch basin and is re-circulated into the pool. The edge seems to just disappear, as if there is none. It’s a very hip and modern look, and a few are done here; experts say that infinity edges are still pretty rare in the Midwest.

Lighting and Computer Controls

Lighting is an important part of design, too. Years ago, pools had only white lights. These days, there are color-changing fiber optic lighting, mood lighting in and out of the water, and fountain lighting. The lighting, with the help of a water heater, means Cincinnatians can use their pool dayand night six months of the year. Yes, they’re swimming when its 55 degrees out (often with the help of a large stone fireplace in their backyard resort), the experts say.

But spas, fountains, and lighting need to be controlled. These days, a computer does the trick, whether it’s getting the spa heated, turning on the lights, or getting the waterfall moving.

“You get home from work and push a button,” says Brennan, “and it’ll be ready for you by the time you get out there with a swimsuit, a towel, and a beverage.”

Andrew Glasgow Estimator H. Glasgow Construction Co.

Which experts should homeowners talk to before installing a pool or patio?

Homeowners should first speak to a general contractor, who can verify that their ideas are plausible and that the project is code compliant. Contacting an insurance agent is also a good idea. An agent can make sure you can extend coverage to include your new project once plans are developed is also a good idea.

What factors should homeowners consider before beginning patio Construction?

First, consider which side of the house you want to place it on. If you put a new patio on the west side of a house, there’s a good chance that the afternoon and evening heat will become unbearable.

A few other factors to consider include lighting and electric placement, outdoor cooking locations and fuel types, storage and privacy.

The materials used for the patio or deck are critical as well. Dark colored materials are many times too hot to stand on barefoot, while wood may splinter and concrete may crack. There are many materials to choose from, some more maintenance-free or aesthetic than others. Consider your budget and the size of your project when making these decisions. We can help clients choose the best option for their family.

What factors should homeowners consider before beginning pool construction?

Keep in mind that you need to keep a new pool fenced in to be code compliant. Consider the location and design of your fence before committing to the pool installation, because the fence can be a costly part of the whole project. Choose something appealing that will not make the area an eyesore to you or your neighbors.

While you may want the pool to be in heavy sun and not under the trees, the deck or patio will not be as usable if it is in the hot afternoon sun.

How does soil type and slope factor in to pool and/or patio projects?

Slope and soil type factor into every construction project. If the soil is rocky, then it will involve more effort to dig out a pool or patio. You want to make sure that you don’t place the pool or patio somewhere that is filled with runoff every time it rains. Every homeowner’s dream varies when it comes to a pool or patio; typically we are able work with the topography of the property to make projects work.