You don't have to imagine. If you have a swimming pool or intend to invest in a pool, you can create your own backyard grotto or jazz up any pool area with unlimited themes.
Keith Lemkey, president of Lemkey Landscape Design, agrees the hypothetical grotto example is a little extreme, but only a little. "I have done pools landscaped with stones," he says.
More common is using lights to create drama in a pool area given today's wide array of low-wattage accent lights for landscaping purposes. For an in-the-pool-installation, owners can now buy showy fibre optic lights that light up the water with revolving colours, all controlled by a switch installed at the side of the pool or by remote control. Owners also have the option of setting the light to one colour only.
Meantime, companies like Advance can wire speakers into decorative faux rocks manufactured specifically for that purpose or in other outdoor surfaces, and homeowners can purchase different coloured faux rocks strictly for their appearance and their light weight.
Any heavy rockery around a pool's edge would have to be supported by extra concrete piles, said Lemkey, in order to avoid any damage to the pool. He also urged anyone who wants to construct a waterfall to think big lest their waterfall at the side of the pool look too small for the proportions of the pool.
Closer to home, many local homeowners are choosing more modest features to dress up and create pools that best serve their needs. Mark Vandermeulen and his family, who live in south St. Vital just outside the Perimeter Highway, chose to install walk-out steps in their Aqua Tech-purchased pool in place of the more traditional steel rails and wall steps.
"It's a brand new thing," said Glen MacGillivray, Aqua Tech's owner, who said the option will cost buyers $1,800.
MacGillivray said his company sells both in-ground and above-ground pools, both made with the steel walls and vinyl liners. He said buyers will pay less for an above ground pool, spending $2,000 to $15,000 before installation costs are added.
An in-ground pool, meantime, will cost $25,000 to $100,000, with an average buyer at Aqua Tech paying $35,000 to $40,000 for an above-ground pool, he said.
Meantime, Lemkey, who did the pool landscape work for the family, installed paving stones around the pool's edge in place of the white concrete border that is often used. "It doesn't look like a parking lot around a swimming pool," said Lemkey.
The family also installed a fibre-optic light system, wired to a control at the pool's edge. "It's great at night for swimming and puts a nice glow on the pool," Vandermeulen said.
Jason Lawrence, a sales associate at Krevco, said the fibre optic lights are designed to replace the white light owners commonly used in the past, and noted the lighting can be installed in both new and existing pools. "It can actually take an old pool and revitalize it," he said. It's an option that more and more buyers are choosing, he said.
Franco and Serafina Cianflone, a Fort Richmond couple, purchased an in-ground pool from Krevco about a year ago and appreciate the cartridge filter they put in rather than the traditional sand filter.
John Kreviazuk, owner of Krevco, explained that the cartridge filter works like a sand filter to clean the water of impurities, but he said the sand filter wastes more heated and chemically treated water at the end of the year than the cartridge filter. Thus, homeowners will pay less in energy and chemical costs with a cartridge filter.
Lawrence, meantime, said he's never seen a poorly-installed pool that a company has had to repair, but he does offer some pointers on what constitutes a poor installation.
For one thing, "The pool kit should have no welds but be either press locked or riveted," said Lawrence, referring to a steel-walled pool with vinyl liner. Although the steel walls are galvanized making them rust proof, should the walls be welded, the process would remove some of the galvanized surface, opening up the area surrounding the weld to rusting.
A poor installation would also be one where the pool walls were not fastened tightly to the concrete edge leaving an open crack, as opposed to a secure and tight-fitting edge. Lawrence agreed that such a crack could prove dangerous for homeowners, especially children who have small feet.
"We integrate the rebar with the kit so it prevents separation from the wall," he said. He cautioned buyers to beware of the lower-priced installation, saying "We're not all on a level playing field."
He suggests buyers ask a company how long their crew has been doing the installations, check and compare warranties and ask for references. They may also want to check with the Better Business Bureau to find out whether there have been complaints about poor work and ask to see photos of current installations.
Stan Eckford, owner of Mobile Vinyl, a company that specializes in the repair of pools' vinyl linings, cautions against excessive use of chemicals and prolonged exposure to the hot southern sun.
A pool can typically last 10 to 15 years before any repair work has to be done, but Eckford said "excessive chemical use" will not only cost homeowners more than they need to pay for necessary cleaning sanitizing products, but tends to deteriorate vinyl liners over a period of time.
Very hot southern sun that beats down constantly on the pool can likewise damage the liner over time, said Eckford. "It tends to dry it out," he said.
Local sellers say it's the steel-walled, vinyl-liner pools that homeowners buy most often over the more pricey concrete pools.
Lawrence said a concrete pool is about three times more expensive than a vinyl-liner pool with a steel wall and sand bottom.
Homeowners should be aware that a pool can also change the assessed values of their properties. Brian Moore, city assessor, said new in-ground pools can add to the value of a property, but "the assessment doesn't equate to the cost of the pool."
He said it will vary in different parts of the city, but owners can generally expect from 50 to 60 per cent of the cost of the pool to show up in a new assessment. An above-ground pool, however, will not change the property's assessment, he said.
Do in-ground pools make any difference to buyers of resale properties?
Gary Bachman, realtor and president of Century 21 Bachman & Associates, said in today's tight market, the pools are a "non-factor" for most people. "In this market, people are paying over market value anyway," he said. Therefore, buyers who don't want a pool will in most cases just "eat the cost" of having to fill in the pool rather than bidding a lower price for the property, he said.
A small percentage of buyers, meanwhile, will ask to see homes with swimming pools.
Accessories run the gamut from pool-side cabanas to pool covers. Relatively new to Manitoba are the hard-cover electrically operated vinyl pool covers that are strong enough for a person to walk on.
MacGillivray said some owners are now using salt water chlorination in place of chlorine. Lawrence said the salt system saves on chemical use, thus reducing maintenance costs over the long term.