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The Modern Estate
Cents & Sensibility: How to Site Your Pool

By Alan Edwards

Shape, scale, materials, ground condition, elevation, setback, fencing codes, easements—it takes an expert to install a swimming pool

Landscape_MainImage.jpgAs you ponder the steps involved in enhancing your property by adding a swimming pool, remember this: Form follows function... and zoning regulations... and site conditions... and the decree of a designer with an experienced, artful eye.

An important first step in the pool-installing process is to develop a proper site plan. That starts with a base or surveyor’s map that contains accurate measurements and describes the boundary lines of the property’s perimeter in relation to the main house. But to technical details like these must be added that vital component, creativity—the matter of the owner’s vision, the outcome of the human mind asking itself, “What makes sense?”

Paying attention to what makes sense will spare you the missteps inherent in what I call designing within a vacuum. Certainly you’ll need to focus on these questions: “How will the pool relate to the property? Does it have a sense of place? Will its scale and size be proportionate to its surroundings? Will the shape, architecture, materials, and coloring be complementary to its environment? Will the location take advantage of available views? Will its production cost be justified? Will it reflect how the homeowner wishes to use it?”

Naturally, since your pool will be an extension of your home and lifestyle, you may want to site it close to the house. Dens and kitchens make the best entry points. (Trekking through these rooms in bathing suits is likely to create the least disruption.) Of course, if you enjoy taking a romantic midnight dip in your spa, you’ll want access from your bedroom.

If you expect to have a lot of parties ’round the pool, make sure you’ve commissioned a spacious pool deck. And remember, setting the pool close to the house will make transporting refreshments—and cleanup—easier than if the pool’s far away.

The condition of the site will have a major impact on your pool budget. Sandy soil is usually unstable, making excavation difficult because the soil won’t hold its shape. Soil with too much clay content tends to expand and exert pressure when it gets wet or comes into contact with groundwater. Ledge often requires chipping or blasting. If you’re not sure what type of conditions exist, have a soils lab take core samples.

Make sure that your pool’s decking and its surrounding area can accommodate surface runoffs, so untreated water doesn’t drain into the pool. Other factors that need careful consideration are site elevation, sloping, and uneven terrain, because the pool shell must be erected on a level base, so that its top edge is plumb all around. (Tip: Be sure you give your contractor sufficient access to the pool site during and after construction.)

How will lounging around your pool feel? Siting the pool at a place that captures the most sunlight and natural warmth will not only supplement the temperature of the pool but provide for great lounging. If the location is elevated and exposed, it may be prone to prevailing wind patterns, making it unpleasant for swimmers in mild weather. Natural barriers like hedges or fences can not only moderate the wind’s effect but offer privacy. (Views from and to the pool area have a profound impact on the look and feel of the property, but cutting down trees and clearing brush in order to create striking views can compromise privacy and noise control.)

To secure permits, developers and homeowners will confront a variety of regulations and codes—for pools as well as houses. Dealing with setbacks, easements, zoning issues, health regulations that focus on well and septic reserves, lot-coverage calculations, and fencing and pool-barrier codes can be overwhelming to nonprofessional pool-builders. Since these ordinances can affect the pool placement and size, it’s best to tackle this subject early in the process with the help of experienced professionals.

Remember, the pool-and-spa will be the focal point of your property’s outdoor living area. Its very placement needs to balance many competing issues. An experienced, professional pool builder with good design sense is the person best able to identify problems early on and ensure that your pool becomes exactly what you want it to be. If you have complex site conditions, or are unable to address these issues, is it usually best to retain a landscape architect. Respected pool builders often work with these professionals, and can recommend several qualified people.

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