Making a Splash

New designs and features give a stunning look to the old backyard swimming pool.

Backyard pools have come a long way from the days when a company scooped out a hole in the ground, dropped in a vinyl liner, and the homeowner spent a week or so filling the pool with his garden hose.

"We haven't done a vinyl-liner pool in 25 years," says Glen Ogden, owner of Ogden Pools. Ogden is a third-generation pool designer and builder; his grandfather constructed the swimming pool at the first Holiday Inn in the country, and the company has stayed busy ever since.

The better pools today are made from gunite -- concrete that is sprayed under pressure over a network of steel reinforcing rods, which allows for any design the homeowner wants -- rectangular, oval, and natural shapes like ponds and streams -- along with considerably more unusual creations. In recent years, Ogden has built a guitar-shaped pool for a local musician, and even a pool in the shape of a molar for a dentist here.

Another trend is a move away from plastics, which can crack, discolor, or rot from age and sunlight. "Ninety-nine percent of the pools we do have a polished quartz finish, using a product called Hydrazzo," says Ogden. "It's probably double the price of other materials, but you're getting more bang for your buck in terms of longevity and the aesthetic factor."

Pools today feature wading areas, waterfalls, fountains, underwater lighting, and other elements. Really elaborate pools can cost as much as $200,000. "The majority of these can cost more than some houses," says Ogden. "The only limitation is your pocketbook."

A new trend is the construction of "infinity" or "negative edge" pools, where the water cascades off a curved edge into a catch basin below. The striking design complicates the construction a great deal.

"There is a lot of water hydraulics involved in those," says Ogden. "You have to be educated in that respect -- you have to know your water displacement, what you are taking out and what you are putting back in. I recently did one that had a 53-foot vanishing edge, and it had a ten-horsepower pump just to handle all that water."

What goes under the ground can be just as important as what the owner sees above it. Ogden's company is presently building a pool in Chickasaw Gardens with a spa at one end, then a ten-foot spillway leading to the main 43-foot-long pool. That water cascades onto a lower deck area, where the family's children can safely splash around in just eight inches of water.

"The sheer water hydraulics on that project are phenomenal," says Ogden. "I'm going to have over half a mile of plumbing pipe underground."

Constructing one of these pools is a major undertaking that often involves a team -- an architect, a pool designer, sometimes even a landscape designer. Even so, the basic question must be answered: Just what is the pool for?

"You still want to make sure it meets the needs of the family," says Ogden. "An architect's rendering is one thing, but you have to ask the owner, is it strictly for aesthetics or entertaining, or is it for the practical needs of the family?"

In other words, are you going to look at it, or swim in it? And the answer to that affects one of the most important, and demanding, parts of pool ownership -- maintenance.

"Cleaning and sanitation systems have gotten better, so pool maintenance has gotten easier," says Ogden. "But you still have to contend with water chemistry, and everything affects water chemistry -- wind, weather, rain, people in and out of the pool, dogs in and out of the pool. Pools today are easier to care for, but they still require attention."

But in the sweltering heat of a Memphis summer, most pool owners would say it's all worth it.

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