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Special Water Features

Unlike pools of old, there are dozens of beautiful "water features" that can be added to any pool, making a dramatic difference in the beauty and enjoyment of the pool and the yard.

 

Special Tip: When you think about adding a water feature, take a look at your backyard from inside your house. Would you like to see a waterfall when you look out your windows? A grotto or rain curtain? Take a look from several different places in your house – including from the front door – and you will get some ideas of what may be best for you.

 

  • Feature
  • Description
  • Aerator

  • Provides a spray of water into the pool, typically in a “fan” pattern, as opposed to a straight line of water. In hot climates, aerators will help to cool the water a little. Children love to play in and around aerators.

  • Aggregate Interior

  • A new, longer-lasting interior finish that is comprised of pebbles (or other carefully selected aggregates) that are partially exposed in the process of installation, produc- ing a super-hard and beautiful finish. The manufacturers of aggregate interiors are able to provide a stunning array of colors, due to the many different variables they can work with, such as the:

    • Pebble color(s) (almost always a blend of multiple colors)
    • Pebble size
    • Mortar color/pigment
    • Degree of “polishing” of the exposed surface

     

    Note that it’s almost impossible to determine the color of your pool water by looking at a dry aggregate sample. Be sure to look at “underwater samples” before making your final decision.

  • All-Tile

  • Refers to the interior of a swimming pool that is 100% glass or ceramic tile, as opposed to the more popular plaster finishes or aggregate finishes.

  • Arbors

  • See Pergola

  • Bathhouse

  • Typically a fully enclosed, standalone structure located somewhere near a swimming pool, to offer a restroom and a changing area as a minimum. A bathhouse can also have its own kitchen, living area, game room, and more. (See also Cabana.)

  • Baja Bench

  • See Tanning Ledge.

  • Beach Entry

  • A gently sloping transition from your deck into the water, very similar to a real beach. Materials vary, but it is usually either the same as the decking/coping material, or the same as the interior finish of the pool. A beach entry is great for toddlers, and also makes a great tanning ledge.

  • Bubble Jet

  • This is essentially a fountain (normally a few inches below the surface of the wa- ter) that provides a soft, “bubbly” stream of water, typically 6 to 24 inches tall. An excellent feature for very young children to play with.

  • Built-In Spa

  • A spa (sometimes also referred to as a “hot tub”) can be added to any style of in-ground pool, adding yet another level of beauty and excitement to the backyard. On a fiberglass or vinyl-liner pool, a “spillover” spa is the most likely option. (The spa is placed at the edge of the pool, with essentially a “waterfall” that allows any excess water to “spillover” directly into the swimming pool.)

     

    With concrete pools, on the other hand, you’re not limited to a “spillover” configuration. Your spot can be above the pool, below the pool, inside the pool, completely separate and outside of the pool, etc. It can be simple and basic, or built with a vanishing edge or perimeter overflow. With concrete, the options and styles for a spa are as limitless as the styles and options for the pool.

  • Bull-Nosed Coping

  • This somewhat unflattering name refers to the “quarter-rounding” or “half-rounding” of the edge of the coping, so that it provides a smooth, soft, and safe edge for swimmers. The “bull nose” concept is also sometimes applied to steps, ledges, and other “Hardscapes” surfaces.

     

    Most precast coping (such as brick or cement) is manufactured with the “bull-nose” feature built-in. With natural stone, the installer has to hand carve the bull-nose on site; thus the phrase “hand-carved bull nose.”

  • Cabana

  • This word is a Spanish translation of “cabin” or “hut.” It originally referred to a small, lightweight living structure that was frequently set up on the beach, typically with one side open to the ocean. Nowadays, when you build a cabana near your pool, it’s typically more of a “relaxing/party area” than a “living structure.” Ideally, your cabana would include a bar that looks out to the pool area, perhaps a table with chairs or a couch, plus a sink, a refrigerator, etc. More or less, a cabana could be considered a small cozy combination of an outdoor kitchen and outdoor living area, designed with a little bit more of a “bar theme” overall.

  • Coping

  • The material that surrounds the perimeter of your swimming pool and/or spa. On a “Gunite” or cement pool, the coping is typically about 12 inches wide, and usually made out of brick, paving stones, natural stone, or a precast cement material. On a vinyl-liner pool, the coping may be only one or two inches wide, and made of plastic, vinyl, or aluminum. Coping can be made completely obsolete with the construction technique known as “cantilevered deck,” in which the decking material extends over the edge of the pool and becomes a substitute for actual coping material.

  • Deck

  • Refers to the hard surface around the swimming pool. Decks can be built from a variety of materials, including:

     

    • Wood (and wood alternatives such as Trex)
    • Broom-finished concrete
    • Stained and/or stamped/patterned concrete
    • Acrylic-finish spray deck (sometimes referred to by their brand names such as Kool-Deck or Sundek)
    • Exposed aggregate
    • Bricks or pavers
    • Tiles (stone, ceramic, etc.)
    • Flagstone or other natural stone

     

    Your choice of deck material will probably have the single greatest impact on the overall look of your swimming area, because it covers so much surface area.

  • Deck Jet/Laminar/Water Arch

  • An attractive feature that can be hidden almost anywhere, such as in the pool Arch deck or in the landscaping. Arranged in a row, they will give you a formal, elegant look. If you’re thinking about this feature, then be sure to take a look at the LED/fiber optics lighting options to go with your laminar jet/deck jet.

  • Faux Rock

  • Several manufacturers have found ways to create realistic-looking rock out of man-made materials. Typically made from a special formulation of cement, faux rocks may be molded after actual rock formations found in nature, or they may be hand-sculpted by a faux rock expert onsite.

     

    While faux rock may not fool everyone, it has advantages, including (usually) lower cost. It also tends to be more chemical-resistant (especially when compared to sandstone or limestone), and can produce more predictable results, as compared to the use of natural stone.

  • Fire Bowl/Fire Wok

  • Offers a stunning flame effect, which is nice in the daytime, but even more impressive at night. Fire bowls are typically 2 feet or larger in diameter, and can be made from any number of materials, including stone, metal, concrete, ceramic, and more. The fire bowl is normally filled with crushed glass, lava rock, or some other fireproof material, to hide the gas fixture inside the bowl. The ideal fire bowl is automated, and can be lit instantly with a touch of a remote control. A fire wok is essentially a fire bowl built on top of a water wok. (See Water Wok.

  • Fire Pit

  • A great option to consider adding to the area near your swimming pool. Not only will a fire pit take the chill out of the evening air, but it will also create a wonderful place to congregate and chat after a busy day of work or fun. A fire pit may be wood-fired or plumbed with natural gas or propane. (And much like a fire wok, you may have the option of adding a remote-control starter to your fire pit.)

  • Formal Pool

  • Sometimes referred to as “classic” or “traditional” pool, this refers to a design style that usually includes one or more of the following elements:

    • Clean, straight lines (usually a rectangle) and/or geometric shapes
    • Brick coping or “paving tiles” around the perimeter
    • Brick or tiled decking, or stamped concrete with a brick or paver pattern

     

    The more of the above features you use, the more formal your swimming pool will look.

  • Fountain Jet

  • A simple yet pleasing feature that can be placed almost anywhere, including in the pool, in the spa, on steps, ledges or a beach entry, or in a pond or catch basin next to the pool. Fountains can also be hidden in the deck or other areas. Fountains can be small or large, playful or elegant.

  • Free-Form Pool

  • Sometimes referred to as a “lagoon-style” or “natural” pool, this refers to a design style that avoids straight lines, using sweeping curves and nontraditional shapes instead. If you want a natural-looking swimming pool, then you will want to combine a free-form shape with any or all of the following elements:

    • Natural rock or stone built-in at various places around the pool
    • A natural rock or flagstone perimeter/coping
    • A rock or flagstone deck, or stamped concrete with a “natural rock” pattern.
    • Extensive use of plants around the pool.

    Grottos and jump-rocks are natural additions to a natural/free-form pool.

  • Gazebo

  • Typically a standalone structure made of wood, designed to provide a shady sitting area. Similar to pergolas and arbors, a gazebo is uniquely recognizable because of its domed or turreted roof. (See also Pergola.)

  • Grecian/Roman Pool

  • This type of pool could be considered the “original classic/formal/traditional pool.” It’s a rectangle-shaped pool with a semicircle at each end. (A rectangular pool with the corners cut is also sometimes referred to as a Grecian pool.)

  • Grotto

  • This is essentially a cave (or something similar to a cave) built into or con- nected to the pool, typically with a sitting area. It is common to build waterfalls or weeping walls on the outside of the grotto, and/or a rain wall at the entrance. Youngsters love it when a slide is built in to (on top of or to the side of) the grotto. If you build it large enough, you can actually put your spa inside the grotto, to offer extra privacy, and a more romantic mood.

     

    Grottos can be quite striking and beautiful, but frankly speaking, they can also be rather ugly if done by an amateur. A trained professional will design and build the grotto to fit in with the style of the rest of the pool and the yard. Like most any complicated feature, it’s smart to take a look at a builder’s previous work before making a final purchase decision.

  • In-Water Tables and Chairs

  • These features provide a wonderful resting spot for reading, snacking, enjoying beverages, or even playing “land” games. The table may be removable, and/or have a fitting that allows the homeowner to add or remove a desirable umbrella over the table.

     

    It’s also popular to build the table into the perimeter of the pool, with a “sunken bar” on the other side. Perfect if you really want to show off to your guests with “poolside service.”

  • Jump Rock

  • Considered safer than a diving board, this is a large, natural-looking rock placed at the edge of the pool, allowing many hours of entertainment for the kids.

  • Lap Pool

  • Typically a long, narrow pool designed primarily for swimming laps. A standalone lap pool tends to have a somewhat formal, elegant look. However, a “lap pool” feature can be incorporated into other pool designs as well. You can also add a built-in spa to a lap pool, so that you always have a choice between “exercising” and “relaxing.”

  • LED Lighting/Fiber-Optic Lighting

  • This feature has replaced most of the old halogen and incandescent light fixtures, both in the water and around your swimming pool, for two reasons: First, they are much more energy-efficient, using only a tiny fraction of the electricity of the old-style lights. Second, they last significantly longer than simple incandescent bulbs.

     

    An especially popular use of LED lights (sometimes using fiber optics also) is to incorporate the lights with your deck jets or water arches, thus creating the illusion of a stream of colored water. With most advanced lighting systems, the colors can be changed automatically, in an ongoing sequence, giving you an entertaining light show at night.

  • Love Seat/Swim Out

  • Also referred to as a “swim out,” this feature serves multiple purposes. It can be a great place to relax while watching others in the pool. It might also be considered something of a safety feature, as it’s an extremely convenient exit point or resting point, especially for anyone swimming in the deep end.

  • Mosaics

  • A Tile Mosaic will put a true “signature” design on your pool or spa. From artistic designs to playful creatures to company logos to names or clever sayings the possibilities are endless.

  • Natural Pool

  • While “natural” sometimes refers to a “free-form” or lagoon-shape pool, the term “natural pool” now more commonly refers to a swimming vessel that uses no chemicals, but instead is filtered and sanitized naturally through a natural pond or bog. Natural filter media such as sphagnum moss has recently become popular as another way to create a “natural pool” with no chemicals.

  • Outdoor Kitchen

  • Nothing completes your outdoor area like the ability to cook without having to run in and out of the house all the time. To determine how much space you should devote to outdoor culinary endeavors, consider what is the maximum number of people you might want to entertain on any particular occasion.

  • Outdoor Living

  • This can be something as simple as a small deck or patio with a couple of chairs in just the right spot. On the other hand, it can be a large “living room” with comfortable all-weather couches, a roof, ceiling fans, a large stone fireplace, and a large-screen television to watch your favorite events. Of course, if you’re going to have that many people sitting around in an outdoor living area, you probably also want to consider the addition of an outdoor kitchen.

  • Palapa

  • This feature is instantly recognizable as the classic “thatched hut.” Originating in Malaysia and now wildly popular throughout Central America, a Palapa will undoubtedly add a Caribbean feel to any backyard pool design.

  • Pavers

  • See Deck.

  • Pebble Finish

  • See Aggregate Interior.

  • Pergola

  • A shady area, built with vertical support posts and rafters running across the top. The roof of a pergola is usually semi-open and flat, allowing partial sunshine and daylight to shine through.

     

    Pergolas are often confused with arbors and gazebos, as they all usually offer some combination of open sides and/or a semi-open roof and/or plants growing on it. The unique differences are these:

    • A Pergola normally has a flat but semi-open roof, designed to offer partial shade. It may or may not have plants growing on it.
    • An Arbor is designed specifically to allow plants (typically vines and climbing flowers) to grow on it. It may or may not have a flat roof.
    • A Gazebo is almost always characterized by a domed or turreted roof. It may or may not have plants growing on it.
  • Perimeter Overflow

  • When all sides of a pool or spa are “vanishing edge,” you have what is known as a “perimeter overflow,” (also sometimes referred to as a “wet edge” or “wet deck.”) In this case, there are no visible edges to the pool or spa. Water flows over the edges on all sides, into a hidden catch basin. The edge may be elevated to spill into a catch basin below, or it might be flush with the edge of the deck, which means the overflow will spill into a narrow, hidden catch basin underneath the deck.

     

    A stunning visual effect, this is the most difficult of all vanishing-edge designs, and should not be entrusted to anyone but experienced professionals who specialize in vanishing edge and/or perimeter overflow design and construction.

  • Pizza Oven

  • If you want your outdoor kitchen to be unique and different from your neighbors, then you should consider the addition of a wood-fired pizza oven. Those who have them swear by the flavor and fun from cooking your own homemade pizza in a wood-fired pizza oven.

     

    Pizza ovens may be built from brick, cement, or natural stone, and can be finished in a variety of materials so that it blends in subtly with the rest of your outdoor area.

  • Rain Wall/Rain Curtain

  • Provides a wall of rain drops (as opposed to the full sheet of water that you would see with a scupper or “sheer descent” water curtain.) Makes a great visual separation between your pool and an arbor, a cabana, or a grotto.

  • Raised Spa/Spillover Spa

  • This is a great way to add beauty and function to any existing swimming pool. “Raised” simply means that the level of the spa water is higher than the level of the swimming pool. Thus, it’s a natural feature to allow the water from the spa to “spillover” into the swimming pool. Most swimming pool spas are custom built from concrete (shotcrete), but pre-manufactured fiberglass spillover spas are also available in many parts of the country.

  • Rock Waterline

  • While most typical swimming pools have a ceramic tile (or other tile) around the perimeter at the water line, you may want to consider the use of natural or “faux” rock at the water line instead.

     

    If your goal is to perpetuate a “natural” or “lagoon style” look, then a rock waterline may be a perfect choice for you.

  • Sconce

  • This is a light fixture that is normally attached to a wall, to provide subdued, upward lighting. (The concept originated with torches many hundreds of years ago.)

     

    Around the swimming pool, sconces can be especially attractive and effective around a cabana or pergola. A series of small, low-profile sconces can also do an excellent job of lighting stair steps or other walkways at night.

     

    Note: Some people refer to decorative scuppers (such as a lion’s head scupper) as a “sconce.” This is technically incorrect.

  • Scuppers

  • Originally (before swimming pools), this referred to a slot opening that would allow water to drain off a roof or a ship’s deck. Around the swimming pool, a scupper looks much the same, except the water is draining into the swimming pool itself. A scupper can be a simple opening, or it can be highly decorative, such as with a lion’s face or other ornate styling.

     

    Also see Water Wok for an especially popular, stylized form of scupper.

  • Shamu Shelf

  • See Tanning Ledge.

  • Sheer Descent©

  • This is technically the brand name of a smooth, linear-flowing waterfall manufactured by the Jandy/Zodiac Corporation. However, much like the term “Kleenex,” a “sheer descent” now often simply refers to any straight, linear waterfall, regardless of the manufacturer.

     

    Most popular as a simple arching waterfall that comes out of a raised sidewall of the swimming pool, a sheer descent might also be mounted overhead, to produce a “water wall” effect. (See also Rain Wall.)

  • Spa

  • Sometimes referred to as a “hot tub,” a spa is normally a permanent structure, either built into the swimming pool, or sometimes raised above the swimming pool, with a water spillover into the pool. (See also Raised Spa/Spillover Spa.)

  • Swim Spa

  • This is to swimmers what a treadmill is to joggers. Using a high-flow waterjet and/or a tethering system, a swim spa creates a sort of “endless swimming pool,” allowing you to swim in place for as long as you want. A swim spa can be a standalone unit (on ground or inground), or in many cases, it can be built directly into your swimming pool.

  • Swim-Up Bars

  • A swim-up bar is quite treat for people both in and out of the pool. It can connect to a real bar on the outside, or it can be a bar-type table that allows wet and dry people (in the water and out of the water) to sit together at the same table. (See also In-Water Tables.)

  • Tanning Ledge

  • Also known as a “Baja Bench” or “Shamu Shelf,” this feature provides a flat, shallow area for adults to relax and tan, and/or for children to play. Typically only about six inches deep, it’s somewhat similar to a beach entry, except that it’s not sloped, and it usually has a defined edge, such as the coping of the pool.

     

    While most people are happy with just one tanning ledge, don’t be afraid to consider the possibility of multiple tanning ledges for your project. Not only can they look quite artistic, but the can also offer alternating sun and shade at different times of the day, depending on the placement in your yard.

  • Travertine Tile/Tumbled Travertine

  • Travertine is a unique form of limestone that is increasingly popular as a coping and decking material around swimming pools. It resembles marble, but is a little softer, and has more unusual variations, including many small voids (holes) throughout the material.

     

    As a decking material, travertine is normally cut into rectangular pavers. For a less formal look, you may want to consider “tumbled travertine.” These rectangular pavers have been literally tumbled in a bin to round off most of the sharp corners, and provide a somewhat “antiqued” look.

  • Umbrella

  • A removable umbrella (or set of umbrellas) can be a lifesaver on extra hot days, when you want to stay in the water, but you don’t want to spend all day in the hot sun. An umbrella will look especially classy on tanning ledge.

  • Vanishing Edge

  • Also known as “negative edge” or “infinity edge,” this feature offers the illusion that the pool (or spa) water is pouring over the edge of the pool into another body of water, or perhaps down a hillside.

     

    To achieve a uniform flow of water over the vanishing edge, it must be perfectly level. (Otherwise, an oversized pump and excessive electricity will be required produce the desired effect.) A vanishing- edge feature also requires careful design of the catch basin and surge tank (for excess water when people are jumping into the pool).

     

    Therefore, this elegant water-feature design and construction should not be entrusted to anyone but an experienced professional. (See also Perimeter Overflow.)

  • Water Arches

  • See Deck Jets.

  • Water Bowls/Water Wok

  • A water bowl or water wok is a special type of “scupper” that is built from a fairly large bowl, and designed to constantly pour out into another feature, or the pool itself. The bowl can be made from any number of materials, including cement, metal or ceramic. A series of cascading water woks can make for an especially elegant water feature.

     

    (See also Scupper and Fire Wok.)

  • Weir Wall

  • The “Weir Wall” is the technical name for the visible part of a “vanishing edge” feature. The Weir is what holds back the water, allowing just the desired amount of water to trickle over the edge.

     

    A Weir wall is frequently finished in glass or ceramic tile, but may also be formed from concrete, natural rock, metal, or even Plexiglas.

  • Waterfall

  • With waterfalls, the sky’s the limit. They can be small or large, fancy or natural-looking, gentle trickles or “Niagara Falls.” They can also be quite gaudy, unattractive and leaky if not done properly by a trained professional. Be sure to take a look at a builder’s handiwork of waterfalls before you make any final decisions.

  • Weeping Wall

  • This feature could be described as a “low-flow waterfall.” Rather than a large gushing flow of water, a weeping wall offers a more gentle “drip” of water over natural rocks, similar to something you might see around a natural grotto. Ideally, this feature would be built with an adjustable flow control, so that you can adjust from a slow silent flow up to a heavy “spring thaw” flow.

  • Wet Edge/Wet Deck

  • See Perimeter Overflow.

 

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