10 ways to make your client's pool more usable

A Total Concept

By John Storch
Wednesday, 09 April, 2014

10 ways to make your client's pool more usable

Australians love entertaining outdoors and the garden and swimming pool areas are an important focus of our lifestyle. The more often an owner can use their pool, the more that owner will tell friends how great owning a pool is.

It is in the interests of everyone in the pool industry to ensure that the use of the pool is maximised for each and every owner and client. This will reinforce to the general public that the backyard swimming pool is a necessary component of every residential property.

The following runs through some ways you can make your client’s pool more usable.

1. Shade

Think seriously about including shade in the pool area. Anything from a cabana to an umbrella will ensure older children can entertain their friends at home and also creates a shady poolside spot for parents to supervise younger swimmers.

Some shade will maximise the use of the pool on those hot summer days. Local councils do not require approval for temporary structures - small market umbrellas, small shade sails and retractable awnings have become popular and are a great low-cost option. As a response to people wanting to entertain out of their pool areas, larger umbrellas and retractable awnings have recently been developed - some up to 5000 x 5000 mm - and shade sails can be designed as big as needed.

The fabric of all these products can be customised so that variable degrees of UV rays can be cut out and some materials can also be waterproofed to provide a safe haven from summer showers. The shade can be positioned partially over the pool to ensure sun exposure is kept to a minimum for swimmers both in and out of the pool.

Strategically positioned plants or trees can also provide shade; however, this must be carefully considered. The roots of large trees may interfere with the structure or plumbing of the pool and some trees may drop leaves, bark and flowers etc into the pool, creating mess and therefore work for the pool owner. If trees are going to be planted for the purpose of providing shade, a pool cover should be installed to minimise debris in the pool.

When selecting trees for a pool area, avoid plants that are spiky or attract bees around pools. Spiky plants and children’s bare skin and unprotected eyes don’t mix well, and many children have allergic reactions to bees that may be attracted to flowers. Toxic plants such as Dieffenbachia, Oleander and Frangipani may look beautiful but their sap in the pool water can become quite toxic and even bare skin brushing against some plants like Grevilleas can be affected by allergic reactions.

Mulch is needed over garden areas to hold water and create more constant soil temperatures for plants. Light mulch such as leaf litter and bark chip will float in pools and can be collected in skimmers. Stone and pebble mulches can become dangerous with children using them as missiles and they can also block plumbing within swimming pools.

At the more extravagant end of the spectrum, a pool cabana can be constructed to provide shade and will increase the usability of the pool area. The cabana can be great for winter and night-time pool parties and can double as a snooker room, granny flat, home office, gym, change room or studio.

2. Privacy

Even good neighbours don’t enjoy feeling the need to wave ‘hello’ every time they step outside to go for a swim or to relax around their pool area. Visual privacy can be created by placing the pool in a location not overlooked by neighbouring properties and also with the use of structures and plants to create screens.

Plants can provide beauty and interest around a swimming pool - they soften the harsh lines of fencing, disguise swimming pool equipment and integrate the pool into the surrounding space. If you select plants that are suitable, dense and tall enough, they will create a privacy screen around the pool area.

Choosing shrubs for privacy screens, however, doesn’t necessarily entail growing a hedge. An eclectic mix of plants is an alternative to hedges. While hedges usually comprise one homogeneous species, a loose border can be composed of different kinds of evergreen shrubs, or of tropical plants incorporating palms of varying heights which will provide a softer appearance and a different feel or theme to the rigid formality of hedges. Another green alternative is growing climbers - either self-supporting or planted on a wall, trellis or wire frame.

Structures can be incorporated around the perimeter or to a portion of a swimming pool area to create privacy. Structures can be designed to any required height and be constructed in any material. Incorporating a structure, such as a blade or privacy wall as part of the swimming pool, may provide a larger contract for the pool builder if designed as an extension of the vertical swimming pool wall.

Often, man-made screens constructed from brushwood, reeds or bamboo may create privacy, even as a temporary measure until planting has been given time to grow.

3. Pool heating

Pool heating can make the difference between a pool used only on hot summer days and a pool used well into the shoulder seasons. A heated pool also means that pool owners are more likely to use their pool at night when the temperature drops. Heating can also be included in the surrounding landscape through space heaters, fire pits or braziers. Providing the right amount of warmth will make sitting out beneath the stars a more enjoyable experience for the pool owner.

4. Lighting

Functional lighting ensures that everything is seen once the sun starts to set - again, making the area more usable for the pool owners. Lighting must be placed both around the pool and within the pool to provide maximum illumination. Ensure placement of outdoor lights is high enough so that pool owners do not view into the light source.

Mood lighting is achieved with LED or low-voltage lighting. It is subtle lighting used to draw attention to a plant or garden feature or to achieve alternating areas of low light and washes of light to create a mood, often to simulate moonlight or starlight.

Gone are the days of halogen lights and their counterparts the 300 mm protruding lights that in time break due to being used as footholds for children getting out of pools. LED pool lights that are able to change colour, move and vibrate a beat can be used both in and out of water and have an extended life when compared to halogens.

Remember that swimming pools are really just big water features and should be treated as such, especially at night with lighting from both within the pool itself and in the gardens used as mood lighting.

5. Interior and exterior pool surfaces

The interior and exterior pool surfaces are the most basic element of a pool owner’s poolside entertaining area. The correct surfaces must be suggested/chosen by the pool builder to make people feel comfortable within the space. This must be right as it can be very difficult and costly to change once in place. 

There are many options available for poolside flooring - such as lawn, a timber deck or paving using natural stone, concrete, bricks or tiles. The trend in paving has been towards larger paving units and comes in both natural and applied finishes that can affect the appearance, staining ability, hardiness and slip resistance of the product and ultimately, how the product can be used.

Timber decking can look great on contemporary projects - it lasts well, is relatively cost-effective and is also suitable for elevated pools on steep sites. Aesthetically, timber decks give a ‘soft’ appearance. Ensure that a reliable hardwood is used for longevity or go pinewood for a cheaper alternative. Larger section timber decking 35 x 150 mm looks great on the ground but all timber requires ongoing maintenance. Ensure your clients understand the maintenance involved with timber decking before installation.

Lawn is the most cost-effective soft alternative and is aesthetically a great option. However, it does have a major drawback in that it requires constant maintenance. Artificial turf is also becoming popular as a no-maintenance finish that allows clients to spend less time maintaining and more time enjoying their pool and its surrounds.

Interior pool surfaces have a huge effect on the entire outdoor space. If the current finish requires a lot of maintenance or is looking worse for wear, changing the product or colour can make a pool look like new and minimise the time required to maintain it. Options include glass and ceramic tiles, quartzon, glass and pebble finishes, pebblecrete, paint and vinyl liners.

If your client would like to rejuvenate and uplift their external space cost-effectively, changing the pool from a dull colour to a bright, lively blue or aqua can instantly invigorate the area.

6. Safety

Making a pool safe for the children of clients is the paramount obligation of every swimming pool project. To maximise safety and the client’s use of a pool, the benches, swimouts and seating areas need to be well planned. For children under five, the benches should be nice and broad to maximise the space that can be used within the pool. Around 500 mm deep and 600 mm wide works well, being wide enough to act as a seat for supervising parents and deep enough for toddlers who are not proficient in swimming to have fun and splash around.

When designing a pool for the 5-14 age group, safety is paramount to minimise self-injury from horseplay and adolescent clumsiness. Children of this age love racing and diving, so deeper, longer and wider pools can be much safer. Often at this age, a deeper middle and shallower ends will allow kids to dive to a deep point from all around the pool and double as a more usable pool for ball games where players need to be at opposite ends of the pool.

Stopping children from chasing their friends around a pool can also be designed into the project at an early stage. Limiting one side of the pool to the width of the pool wall only (200 mm) and not providing paving all the way around limits running and horseplay.

The type and location of the pool fence should always be considered at the design stage to ensure that the fence works functionally and is also aesthetically pleasing. Australian standards provide us with the rules for design and placement for pool fencing and the chosen location of the pool fence can quite often have great impact on the placement of the pool.

Pool covers can add further safety to a pool, as can pool surface alarms, so that if a child sneaks into a pool or spa, the alarm will go off once the surface of the water is broken. However, the most important thing is to supervise children at all times if they are in a pool or spa.

7. Toys and accessories

Every family pool needs fun toys to maximise the use of the pool. For young children, suggest floatation devices, kickboards and noodle tubes. For adolescents, floating lounges, blow-up chairs and colourful li-los together with games such as water polo, blow-up balls and diving seahorses are great to challenge kids and keep them occupied, and get more use out of the pool. Additionally, they all provide an informal safety device if needed and therefore increase the safety aspect of the swimming pool.

8. Outdoor furniture

Outdoor furniture selection is becoming one of the more important and personal selections of a project. Furniture style can range from built-in daybeds to elaborate and expensive conversation pieces. The most useful item for an outdoor area is furniture, which also helps organise the space; for example, is there room for an outdoor dining table and an outdoor lounge area? Consider furniture style and how it matches the surrounding area as well as how comfortable and durable it is. Encourage your client to invest in furniture that will survive the elements over time with minimal care and maintenance. Furniture will ensure a client’s guests are comfortable by the pool and don’t need to move indoors too soon.

Outdoor soft furnishings including outdoor bean bags, cushions and throw rugs, together with feature homewares such as scented candles, sculpture, furniture and art, individualise an outdoor space and can range from mass-produced items to one-off items tailored to the project. Have a list of a few quality designers or shops you can recommend to your client to assist them with their selections.

9. Automation

The shift towards an automated pool system will also help your client maximise the use of their pool. Pools are becoming fully automated with cleaning, heating, lighting and waterfalls all being controlled remotely. Anywhere your client can access the internet, they can control the settings of their pool. From their smartphone, a client can log on to the internet and turn on the spa heater as they leave work, have mood lighting switch on as they walk through the door and dive into the pool with their favourite song playing in the background.

10. Refer a landscape architect

The design for the swimming pool or spa and surrounding areas needs to be considered in detail up front and prior to construction for the area to be a success.

The combination of pool builder with a landscape architect and other contractors such as lighting and irrigation installers will ensure that the overall project provides the best outcome for the owner and that their use of the pool and surrounding areas is maximised.

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