Planning a Poolside Retreat

Use these tips to figure out what you want and what you need in a backyard pool.
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By: Peter Walsh

Ready to take the plunge and add a pool to your backyard? Be sure to consider why you want one and how you plan to use it before you go shopping.

Entertain, Exercise or Lounge

If you want to entertain your friends and family or simply lounge around, then you’ll want a pool that is large enough to accommodate a crowd with an attached deck or patio so your guests can comfortably play or relax nearby. For exercising, you’ll need one that is long enough so you can swim laps. The newer in-ground pools combine areas for entertaining, lounging and exercising by incorporating sitting ledges, tanning platforms and lap lanes all in one.

You also need to consider the expense and your budget, the maintenance it will require, if a pool will fit into your backyard, and how to make the pool an integral part of your overall landscape.

If you want an in-ground pool, don't just call a pool company for advice. "It’s a good idea to involve a landscape architect or designer from the beginning," says Bill Bocken, owner of Bill Bocken Architecture and Interior Design. A design professional will help you integrate the design of the pool into your property by making it work with the architecture of your house and the geography of your landscape. "It’s just like adding a room to your house," says Bocken.

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A new pool is not an inexpensive addition to your home regardless of whether you choose an in-ground pool or above-ground pool. It can add value to your home if it’s done right, or detract from the value if it’s poorly done.

A landscape architect or designer can help make sure you get exactly what you want, including placing the pool in the right location in your yard and helping you decide on the shape as well. "The client calls the landscape architect or designer and discusses their wants and needs," explains Joanne Kostecky, APLD and president of Garden Design, Inc. "We help them develop the whole space." That includes how you want to use the pool and how it relates to your outdoor living areas, including the hardscape materials like the decking or patios, and the landscaping so that there is a seamless transition from the house to pool. You want it to be a place you can enjoy and use for years to come.


"You want your pool to co-exist in peace with your whole yard," says Chris Polito, co-owner, Pool Environments. "We take in the landscape, hardscape and waterscape so that they all work in harmony." For example, in a big yard, he might place the pool further back in the yard but not so far back that it's disconnected from the rest of the outdoor living space. "You want it to be pleasant to look at because you look at it more than you swim in it," says Polito. "You don’t want a pool that’s an eyesore."

Depending on where you live, you might want to locate your pool where it gets either full sun all day or where it will get some shade so it's not so hot you avoid using it. A landscape professional can help with this.

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The size of your pool depends on many factors. If you entertain crowds, you'll want a large pool that works with the size of your house. If you like to play pool games like volleyball or water basketball, you’ll want a shallow pool that is about 15 feet wide and 32 feet long, according to Polito. If you want to swim laps, then a narrow pool of about 10 to 15 feet wide and again, 32 feet or longer should work. For simply cooling off, a freeform kidney-shaped pool that has both a shallow and deep end is generally enough. Above-ground pools typically range in size from eight feet across to 30 feet across or more depending on the shape.

Most above-ground pools measure 48 inches to 52 inches deep, which is suitable for kids and adults alike. For in-ground pools, the trend is moving toward shallower pools of between 3 1/2 feet deep to 6 feet deep instead of a shallow end and a deep end. "Most new pools do not have a typical deep end as they eat up usable space," says Tom Mortland, pool division manager, Liquidscapes.

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Next Up

In-Ground vs. Above-Ground Pools

Consider your budget and surroundings when deciding what type of pool suits you.

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