Changing Direction: Fiberglass projects get more elaborate as pools get smaller
Traditionally, when talking about fiberglass pools, we’ve all heard words like “plain” and “tub.” But this is far from the case. There are trends in the market designed for some of today’s smaller lot sizes that serve the secondary function of adding beauty and utility to many fiberglass projects.
For those who want a swim-in, swim-out tanning ledge, a hybrid design might be the best way to go. With this concept, a notch is cut in the fiberglass shell where it can be connected to a gunite tanning ledge.
“I tell customers, if you can dream it, don’t be scared to tell me,” says Brandon Miller, owner of Cajun Pools in Breaux Bridge, La. Miller grew up in the pool business working with his uncle. When he went out on his own, his first job came when a client showed him a picture of an elaborate pool in Cancun, Mexico. She wanted her fiberglass installation to look like the gunite one in the photo, and she asked for a swim-in, swim-out tanning ledge.
“I told her I could do it, but I wasn’t sure if I actually could or not,” Miller says. He then asked a manufacturer for a pool either with the ledge or a cutout so he could install one. The company opted for the cutout, and Miller then had to figure out how to marry a fiberglass pool with a traditional gunite ledge, making sure the joint was waterproofed.
Since then, he’s gone on to make a dozen or so more pools with ledges and other features. He says he enjoys giving customers the convenience of a fiberglass pool, but with a unique design. Miller’s next dream is a pool with a clear acrylic side, so those sitting outside can see what’s going on underwater in the pool.
These hybrid techniques are giving builders the look they’ve traditionally had to get from a gunite installation, but with the time and manpower savings of fiberglass.
Most fiberglass pool manufacturers have now added models with more traditional tanning shelves to their product lines. It’s a fairly easy job with a rectangular pool; it’s a matter of getting two straight lines to match up. The ledge is set just like a pool and the spillover is customizable by the manufacturer. “It’s just like setting a small hot tub,” says Todd Emerson, sales manager and lead designer of Signature Pools, a three-time Masters of Design winner based in Geneva, Ill.
Another trend in fiberglass pools is an increasing preference on the part of homeowners for pools that are more rectangular and narrower than before. One driver for this is the size of lots in many new-home developments — many of them are smaller than they’ve traditionally been. As a result, there’s less room for a pool, and where there is room, a rectangular model often fits better than a free-form shape.
In addition, more pools now are being built for empty-nesters. These consumers are buying pools for different reasons than they might have when they had young children at home. More people are using their pools for exercise and health, as opposed to being merely a place to splash around on a hot day.
“Exercise is key — people want more of an uninterrupted swim lane. It’s a little narrower, but a little longer,” says Bonnie Forsyth, North America brand manager for Leisure Pools, based near San Antonio. “What we’re finding is people want smaller bodies of water with more bells and whistles.”
These trends have made rectangular pools popular again. “Free-form shapes were probably 70 percent of our business before,” says Lynn Bush, owner of Earl’s Spas and Pools in Pelham, Ala. “Now it’s about 50-50 between free-form and [rectangular] shapes.” Rectangular pools have gotten an additional boost because of the ease of installing an automatic cover over a rectangular pool, as opposed to a free-form pool. Some dealers say up to half their customers request an automatic cover with their pool.
At least one builder has taken this trend and added a twist to it. Matthew Ray, owner of Columbus, Ohio-based Leisure Pools and Living, found that he was building a lot of pools with covers with a deck-on-deck configuration. Automatic cover companies recommend that pool builders use forced air plumbed into the deck to help pop the cover off the deck when the pool is to be used. Ray and his designer instead are plumbing fountains into the deck, which do double-duty. They pop the cover off the deck and leave a place for people to enjoy the water spurting up. The fountains are fairly inexpensive as part of a pool installation. “It’s a tremendous value and it looks cool as heck!” Ray says.
In addition, the water flowing off the deck into the pool gets heated, and so helps heat the pool. The covers can also be used as a winterizing barrier, eliminating the need for a separate cover. They keep out dirt, algae spores and UV rays.
The fact that the pools are smaller doesn’t mean homeowners are scrimping on their projects, though. Bush says many of his projects feature a smaller pool surrounded by elaborate decking, seating areas and outdoor kitchens. “These people are redoing their whole backyards,” he says. The addition of these features have helped his business make up some of the profits lost in smaller pools.
Ray has seen that among his customers as well. Some recent projects had expensive outdoor kitchens with the pool being almost an afterthought. “One of the first questions we ask is, ‘Are we building you a pool with a living space, or a living space with a pool?’ ”
The trend of smaller pools has gained so much traction that some homeowners have taken it to its ultimate level and having in-ground spas installed. Some of them include natural stone and cost $20,000 or more.