Extreme pools

Posted on 17 Apr 2008 at 5:00pm
By David Taffet
Hanging out by the cement pond has never been more glamorous — or more achievable
Homeowner Miguel Flores bought his Oak Cliff home in part because of the pool, which was cleverly integrated into the steep landscape of the lot. – Photo by DAVID TAFFET

Conventional wisdom has it that swimming pools don’t add much value to a home and can even detract from resale prices. That may be true of the drab old rectangular pool in the middle of a barren backyard, but landscaping to make the pool an integral part of the entire property — let’s call them "extreme pools" — can add value and enjoyment to your home.

Jason Hardy, sales manager of Hobert Pools, says home appraisers agree, "If you’ve got two houses side by side, exactly the same, the one with the pool is worth $10,000 more."

But it is true there are limits to the upside. "If you spend 50 grand on a pool, you’re not going to get 50 grand more for your house."

Oak Cliff homeowner Miguel Flores echoes Hardy’s view. When he moved from Miami to Dallas recently, "I knew nothing about the neighborhood. But I saw this house and it looked like a resort to me — all the vegetation, the manicured landscaping, the trees and the beautiful blue water in the middle. It was a garden oasis." It sold him on purchasing the house.

Building the pool that wooed Flores took more than clearing an area of the yard and digging. The house sits on a hill just south of Kiest Park, and the street level driveway is more than a flight of stairs above the front door. From an oversized back deck, 20 steps lead down to the pool area. The street behind the yard is another level lower.

On one side, the pool is dug into the limestone cliff. There, the deck sits three feet above the water level. On the lower street side of the pool, a five-foot high slate retaining wall holds in the water.

Logistically challenging for the builder? Absolutely. But also dramatic. Flores says he eats, reads and does most of his entertaining out at the pool, whenever weather permits. With tall trees throughout the property, he says he’s comfortable poolside even throughout Dallas’ sweltering summers.

Hardy says a pool with well done landscaping becomes an extension of the house. While building a pool into a hillside presents certain problems, putting a pool in a Downtown high-rise presents others. Still, several conversions of older buildings have included dramatic swimming pool designs.

The Mosaic, a 32-story, 400-unit apartment conversion that opened in December, occupies a building that had been vacant for more than15 years. On top of the attached parking structure sits a 130-foot long infinity pool and "dive-in theater."

An infinity (or vanishing edge) pool gives the illusion of extending to the horizon and dropping off without a wall. Actually, water fills to the top ledge and spills over into a catch basin where it runs through a filter and is returned to the pool. But from the correct angle, it appears to have no outer boundary.

The Mosaic’s "zero edge" pool might not be for the acrophobic, but it does provide wonderful city views. Adding to the fun of a pool that appears to spill over onto Akard Street is the dive-in theater. Football games and movies are projected onto two giant screens that rise above the pool’s street-side edges. The entertainment can be enjoyed either from the deck or in the water.

You don’t need to live in a high-rise to enjoy the effect of an infinity pool — or other equally eye-catching designs. Hardy says his company has created a number of interesting residential pools. For a competitive swimmer, he built a pool with a 40 to 50 foot lane to swim laps. To recreate a Mexican vacation, he built a tiki bar complete with thatched canopy in the middle of a pool for one North Dallas couple.

Among his favorites is one currently under construction. From the 800-square-foot main pool, a lazy river meanders around the yard, akin to the Roaring Rapids ride at Six Flags Over Texas. A river runs out of the pool and flows about 125 feet around the perimeter before emptying back into the pool. The owners will enjoy their stream on inner tubes or floats.

You don’t need to go to such extremes to make it look like you have. A plain pool becomes more interesting with a stone berm added on one side. For charm, Hardy likes to include a stone or iron bridge across a narrow section of an oddly shaped pool. Fountains and waterfalls not only add an interesting architectural option but also are functional in drowning out unwanted city noise.

"We have people who call and say, ‘I have a backyard that is tiny.’ In most cases we surprise them. They can’t believe it’s possible," Hardy says.

What about the cost of maintaining a pool, especially with today’s soaring energy costs? And how much upkeep does it require?

While energy rates are soaring, Flores says the enjoyment and health benefits from swimming daily outweigh the costs. He runs the filter just six hours daily, which includes the skimmer and vacuum. Flores says that probably adds less than $50 a month to his electric bill, but he’s looking forward to a time when solar options become available.

Although trees surround his pool, Flores spends just five to 10 minutes a day skimming the surface with a net and cleaning out the filter basket and vacuum bag. A pool service cleans and balances the chemicals weekly in summer, twice a month in winter for $50 a visit.


Infinity pools, like this dramatic one at the Mosaic high rise Downtown, create the illusion of a waterline that fades into the horizon. – Photo by ARNOLD WANYE JONES

As for the cost to build, Hardy says all building estimates should be done in-home, not over the phone. Visiting the property allows a salesperson to assess available access to the yard, elevations and drainage issues. These may affect what equipment can be brought in to excavate and any necessary plumbing or grading that must be included.

He also looks at the existing landscape. The root systems of some trees can get into the plumbing and crack the walls. Hardy says landscaping is important and recommends the homeowner consult a landscaper to add to the enjoyment and ambiance.

Hardy says spring is a great time to buy a pool, locking in before the busy summer season when a nice dip in cool water sounds so seductive. You also want to plan ahead for the summer: The goal is to complete the pool in 32 days from the day the building permit is issued but he promises four to six weeks, weather permitting. Last year’s record rain played havoc with his construction schedule.

Texans being Texans, you might think the world’s largest extreme swimming pool is in the state, but no. According to Business Week, that honor goes to a pool at the San Alfonso del Mar resort in Chile at 3,324 feet long, covering over 19 acres and containing 66 million gallons of water. Now that’s extreme.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice – Great Spaces print edition April 18, 2008.

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