Soak up the sun: Need-to-know info to pick your perfect pool

April 27, 2017

Photo courtesy Valley Pool & Spa Inc

By Jason Cramp
Heading to the cottage after a long work week may seem like an escape until you realize everyone else had the same idea and you’re stuck for hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Thoughts quickly turn to relaxing next to your own swimming pool, and before you know it, you’ve made up your mind to give your backyard the ‘cottage treatment,’ a place where family and friends can gather to make lasting memories. Now that you’ve decided to install a pool, you’re faced with another big decision: What kind should you get?

Size, shape, design, and budget are all factors to consider. However, depending on your preferences and the size of your backyard, there is a swimming pool to suit every need. Here’s what you need to know to determine the perfect pool for your family.

Option #1: Inground

Inground pools require excavating your yard to accommodate them, making them more expensive than above-ground or onground models. However, if you ever decide to sell your home, they can provide a better return on investment (ROI). Although installing an inground pool requires a great deal of planning, effort, and cost, the payoff is the luxurious option of taking a refreshing dip in your own pool. So you’ve made up your mind to go with an inground pool. The next step is deciding whether it will be constructed from concrete, vinyl, or fibreglass.


Inground pools are more expensive than above-ground or onground models, since they require excavating your yard to accommodate them. However, they can provide a better return on investment (ROI) if you decide to sell your home down the road.
Photo courtesy Solda Pools Ltd.

ADVANTAGES: Concrete pools are pretty pricey, but if you’ve got the budget for it, they offer infinite design configurations with the added advantages of durability and strength. Design options include underwater shelves, vanishing edges, elaborate steps, and graduated and beach-style entries. If you’re up for something a bit more exotic, the pool’s interior surface can be finished in a variety of materials, such as colourful tile fragments forming a mosaic design, or ceramic-coated quartz crystals that create an underwater sparkling effect. Given the prep work and actual build, constructing a concrete pool is labour intensive, typically requiring the use of several qualified subcontractors and six weeks or more to complete, depending on site and weather conditions. The end result, however, can be a unique, custom-built aquatic feature.

INSTALLATION: Adding a concrete pool to your backyard requires excavating space where it will be located. Once done, concrete is installed using either the cast-in-place technique, the wet-mix shotcrete method, or the dry-mix gunite practice. Cast-in-place entails pouring concrete over a grid of steel-reinforcing rods (i.e. rebar) between prepared forms. Wet-mix shotcrete and dry-mix gunite have similar methods of application. Both involve spraying pressurized, pre-mixed concrete through a hose at high speed to fill in and cover the rebar. However, gunite comprises a higher percentage of cement and a lower amount of water than the two previous methods. Unlike cast-in-place or shotcrete, with gunite all the dry ingredients are mixed at a concrete plant or at the jobsite before it is applied. There is no water added until it is delivered via the gunite nozzle.

After the rebar is filled in and covered, the concrete is finished in plaster or another coating, then painted or accented with finishing materials. Next, coping and border tiles are installed around the pool’s perimeter. Features such as underwater lights are installed last.


Also known as prefabricated swimming pools, vinyl-lined models can be installed in one week and provide a durable, quality product that can last many years.
Photo courtesy Blue Diamond Pools & Landscaping

ADVANTAGES: Vinyl-lined pools (also known as prefabricated swimming pools) can be installed in one week and provide a durable, quality product that can last for many years. Unlike concrete pools, vinyl-lined models are less customizable. However, new manufacturing techniques and innovative accessories allow them to be made to resemble many concrete-based styles, including tile, mosaic, and rock design. Available accessories include:

INSTALLATION: For a vinyl-lined pool, a crew excavates the earth where it will sit and install engineered pool wall systems comprising galvanized steel or polymer panels. Walls are placed evenly in the excavated portion of the backyard and are supported by steel braces; a poured concrete base holds them in place. Next, a combination of sand and cement is used to form the pool floor, creating a hard, smooth surface. Plumbing lines are installed and decking and support equipment is set up before backfilling soil around the pool’s walls. The last step is to snap the vinyl liner into place along the pool’s liner track and vacuum out air to remove wrinkles. The pool is then filled with water, stretching the liner to conform to the pool’s shape.


ADVANTAGES: If neither a concrete nor vinyl-lined pool is your preference, fibreglass is the third inground option. Fibreglass pools comprise a smooth, non-porous, one-piece polyester shell, and are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, including round, oval, square, and freeform models. Since their gel-coated surface does not require painting or resurfacing, they are well-suited to Canada’s freeze/thaw cycles and tend to be quite durable. And given the rounded corners in a fibreglass pool, algae and bacteria growth are also restricted. Maintaining this type of pool is also easier, since fibreglass does not affect water balance or pH levels, unlike a concrete pool. Features such as ceramic or mosaic tiles, built-in underwater lights, moulded-in steps, hydrotherapy and swim jets, fountains, waterfalls, and beach entries are possible with fibreglass pools.

INSTALLATION: Since fibreglass pools leave the factory in one piece, they are transported to your home on a flatbed truck. A crane hoists the pool into your backyard and into the excavated hole. The pool is then plumbed and backfilled for support. Since less construction work is required, a small crew can usually complete the installation in less than a week.

Option #2: Above-ground

Above-ground pools can accommodate almost any backyard and are available in a wide range of round and oval sizes.
Photo courtesy McKie Pools & Spas

Above-ground pools are a great alternative to an inground pool when you’re working with a more conservative budget. Ranging in height from 1.2 to 1.3 m (4 to 4.5 ft), these pools are made of fibreglass, durable aluminum, or coated steel walls and a vinyl liner. Unlike inground pools, above-grounds do not require excavation or labour-intensive construction work.

Above-ground pools can accommodate almost any backyard and are available in a wide range of round and oval sizes. A non-permanent structure, above-ground pools can be disassembled at the end of the swimming season or taken with you if you move. In addition to complementing the backyard landscape and your home’s exterior, sophisticated wall patterns and subtle colours can be incorporated to co-ordinate with the pool frame.

Option #3: Onground

Onground pools are your third choice and are considered a happy medium between ingrounds and above-grounds. While they share some similarities, onground pools are generally easier to maintain and more economical compared to their inground counterparts. Depending
on your backyard’s landscape, ongrounds can be installed fully out of the ground or partially in the ground, say for instance, when the backyard slopes. In addition, they are typically surrounded by a wooden or vinyl deck, rather than concrete or interlocking stone, and can offer more strength and versatility compared to above-ground pools.

Now that you have a bit more information about your options, are you ready to take the plunge?

Photo courtesy Floral Design and Landscaping Inc.

A backyard pool will help you and your family make countless memories, but what if you added a feature or two that would really give you the oasis of your dreams. If your budget allows, you may want to consider kicking things up a notch. Here are a few ideas to get you started. (Note that not all these features are available for all material types—consult your pool builder for more information.)

Vanishing edges
Also known as infinity pools, vanishing edges create the illusion of a never-ending sheet of water reaching the horizon. To achieve the effect, water extends to the pool’s edge where it is caught by
a trough or basin. This creates a clean, seamless expanse that melds with the landscape behind it.

Rock accents
Natural or artificial rocks or boulders of various sizes can turn a beautiful landscape into an outstanding one. Spread these accents throughout the space to create a cohesive landscape.

Water features
Water features not only add a visual element to the backyard landscape, but they help create a tranquil space for all to enjoy. The sound of trickling water lulls you into a well-deserved nap, easing away the stresses of a hard work week. If you like the sound and look of moving water, but don’t have the budget or room for a waterfall, consider installing nozzles in the pool or pool deck to produce impressive water displays.

Who says you can’t enjoy your pool at night? Adding strategic pool and landscape lighting can help extend the fun into the late-night hours. Choices range from fibre-optic or standard halogen lighting systems to LED fixtures, allowing you to illuminate your pool and yard, while reducing energy costs.

Beach entries
Beach entries mimic the natural sloping of a shoreline, which eliminates the need for ladders and stairs. A gradual slope at the edge of the pool’s shallow end makes entry far easier, particularly for young children or seniors.

Resin in-wall steps
In-wall steps not only help you get in and out of the pool, they can also be used as lounge areas or for resting after a few laps. Consider adding hydrotherapy massage jets to take the lounging experience to a whole other level.

Plunge pools
For backyards that cannot accommodate a full-size inground pool, a plunge pool may be an option. Also known as a lap pool or splash pool, these installations are available in concrete, vinyl, or fibreglass and average approximately 2.4 x 4 m (8 x 13 ft) in size. Enjoy the benefits of a pool without sacrificing your entire backyard.

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