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Backyard luxury : think swimming pool

A swimming pool provides the backdrop for lazy summer afternoons, backyard barbecues and lantern-lit dinners. But before you run out to by a floating lounge chair, take these questions into consideration:

How do you want to use your pool?

The type of pool you install will be influenced by how you intend to use it. Do you want a pool for the kids, for entertaining, or to make an architectural statement? An above-ground pool may be ideal for kids and offers the convenience of quick installation at tenth of the price of an in-ground pool. Yet, a free-form in-ground pool offers limitless shape and landscaping possibilities and makes a perfect accompaniment to a beautifully manicured yard.

What shape do you want your pool?

The design of your pool is critical to your backyard’s overall aesthetic, but choosing the wrong shape will result in a pool that doesn’t suit your lifestyle. Rectangular pools are a classic, timeless look and perfect for swimming laps and playing water polo, while kidney-shaped and free-form pools lend themselves to water features and can blend with the surrounding vegetation, appearing more natural.

What material will you use?

The three materials used for in-ground pools are vinyl, concrete and fibreglass – each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Vinyl-lined pools are the most common and least expensive of the in-ground pools. While vinyl-lined pools used to only be available in simple shapes, Steve Hinkley of Hinkley/associates, a Toronto landscape and design company, says advances in technology have now made it possible for pool installers to form nearly any shape of vinyl pool. Although the up-front costs of vinyl lined pools can be inexpensive compared with concrete pools and take much less time to install, maintenance costs can be high as the liner can become cut, especially if there are a lot of toys in the pool.

Vinyl pools were formerly distinguished by a set of white fibreglass steps that appeared stuck on the side of the pool as an afterthought, but new vinyl-over-steel steps provide the look of a built-in concrete staircase covered in the same vinyl as the rest of the pool, creating a continuous look to the interior of the pool and a more modern finish.

Concrete pools can be designed in any shape, but take longer to build than vinyl-lined pools and can require expensive maintenance, since concrete is known to crack under extreme weather conditions. “It’s not uncommon to spend $20,000 to refinish the inside of a concrete pool, whereas a new liner in a vinyl pool can cost only $4,000,” says Hinkley. Those who like the textured feel of concrete beneath their feet, however, may still opt for a concrete pool.

Fibreglass pools are made of pre-formed fibreglass that is lifted by a crane over the home and into the backyard. While these pools tend to be more expensive, they can be installed quickly. “You can get a pool excavated and installed in your backyard in a couple of days with minimal mess,” says Hinkley. Fibreglass pools also require less maintenance. They won’t rip, crack or tear and are durable in cold weather climates as the material expands and contracts with the weather.

What are the bylaws of your area?

While your pool builder can help you understand area bylaws, Hinkley recommends homeowners become familiar with these as bylaws are different in every region. While some areas, including Toronto, require the pool to be isolated from the rest of the yard by a fence, others require self-closing gates and have minimum fence height requirements.

What about the finishing touches?

A beautiful deck can make a swimming pool stand out. Two popular surfaces are stamped concrete and non-slip rubber, each offering a very different look.

Stamped concrete gives the luxurious look of natural stone at a third of the price. Raffy Hanimyan of Elite Designed Concrete Inc. says a popular pattern is York Stone, a geometric pattern of rectangles and squares that give the texture of natural, fractured stone. While York Stone delivers texture and depth and gives the deck a natural, outdoorsy feel, Hanimyan recommends a limestone finish for those seeking a more contemporary look with a smooth, modern finish.

Stamped concrete is lower maintenance than interlocking stone, which often has the problem of weeds and grass growing between joints. While concrete has a reputation for cracking, Hanimyan says cracking is controlled through control cuts which are made in the concrete to encourage it to crack within the cut and not on the decorative area. Concrete decks have to be resealed every five to 10 years, which Hanimyan says is an easy do-it-yourself project. Sealers with non-slip additives can be purchased from most hardware stores and applied after washing the concrete.

For those seeking a more economical deck choice, non-slip rubber is maintenance-free, cool on feet and can be installed in a single day. But when selecting rubber, ensure your supplier is credible. “A lot of companies get rubber from sub-par manufacturers,” says Mike MacLean of Resilient Rubber Surfaces. MacLean’s company uses 100 per cent virgin rubber that is UV stable, meaning it doesn’t deteriorate in the sunlight. “Lower quality rubber will break down like an eraser,” he says. Recycled rubber is also available, however it has a shorter life expectancy of 10 years (compared to 25 to 30 years for virgin rubber), and MacLean warns, it fades over time. “The inside of the granule is black and it’s coated with colour so the colour will eventually wear off the rubber,” he says. Virgin rubber, by contrast, has colour running through the granules, meaning it will maintain its colour throughout its entire lifespan.

Are you considering a water feature?

The soothing sight and sound of falling water can add sophistication and increase the enjoyment of the pool. Chris Marchese, President of Marquis Gardens, says while the natural look of waterfalls over rocks dominated pool features a few years ago, modern structures such as sheer water descents (in which flat water falls from a wall, typically two feet above the pool) are now prominent in the marketplace.

If you can answer all of the above questions, you’re ready to dive in and start planning your first pool party. Get the margaritas ready!