Creating Dramatic Indoor Pools

Most Americans would enjoy the versatility and flexibility an indoor pool would offer them on a daily basis. However, only a small percentage of the population actually has an indoor pool because it’s so expensive to build, maintain and operate, leaving indoor pools to wealthy owners’ high-end homes.

There are many issues to consider when homeowners ask to include an indoor pool in their house. One is to make sure they are prepared for the costs. “Before we do an indoor pool, we interview the client so he understands the construction and operation costs,” says Tim O’Neil, operations manager and design engineer for Downes Swimming Pool in Arlington Heights, Ill. “Dehumidification is very expensive and we want the client to be prepped for [high] utility bills.”

Because the space will hold a large amount of water, dehumidification is the biggest factor to making sure this space holds up for a long period of time. “You have to manage the temperature in the room so there isn’t condensation on the windows. And then there are issues of corrosion and how the inside of the structure holds up,” says Paolo Benedetti, principal, Aquatic Technology Pool and Spa in Morgan Hill, Calif.

Consulting HVAC professionals in the early stages of design can ensure good design and reduce future problems. “Moisture is the largest problem that indoor pool builders encounter. It must be controlled by a dehumidification system installed by an HVAC specialist. This may control the entire environment from air conditioning to heating, along with dehumidification,” says Robert Blanda, CBP, owner, Mill Bergen Pools in Brooklyn, N.Y., an affiliate of the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals.

Beyond a dehumidification system, a cover is used when pools are not being used. A cover will decrease moisture in the air as well as create a safety feature when small children or elderly people are near an indoor pool.

Good Pool Design

Owners of indoor pools decide to include this luxury in their homes for different reasons. Some are driven by the weather where others are driven by privacy. “Some clients want to swim year-round regardless of the weather, such as in places with harsh winters. It might be a client with issues of being exposed to sun such as people who’ve had skin cancer. Other clients do it for environmental issues such as blowing sand, and keeping debris out of the pool. And then there are people who want privacy,” Benedetti says.

The placement of the pool depends on the client’s desire. Most people picture an indoor pool as a large rectangle. This may be the case with a high percentage of indoor pools, but Skip Phillips, owner of Questar Pools and Spa in Escondido, Calif., emphasizes good design of his pools. “Generally people take as big a room as they can afford and put as big a pool as they can squeeze into it. This defies proportion and scale and that’s what makes YMCA pools duds. If you take the same pool, put it in the corner of the room and have it overflow its rim into a garden, then take the unusable space and shift it to the other side for lounge chairs, it would be much more interesting to me,” he says.

Another pool designed by Questar in Napa Valley, Calif., was placed half inside and half outside with glass doors that close over the middle. Phillips adds that the fundamentals of good pool design remain the same with this type of design.

The placement of an indoor pool depends on available real estate. Some designers choose to position the pool next to the house with a common wall in between, where others create separate buildings. When available property is an issue, indoor pools can be installed in basements. “Going down is logical because real estate is so expensive,” Benedetti says.

The location of the pool affects its style. If a common wall is shared or the pool is in the basement, the style of the house influences the pool space. If the pool is its own building, separate from the main house, this lends itself to creating its own style. “It depends if the homeowner is trying to create a theme [in this space] or match the home. We will work with the design and blend it so the pool enclosure doesn’t look like an afterthought or that it was added on to the house,” says Jeff Bova, architect, Omega Pool Structures, Towns River, N.J.

Building For Longevity

Choosing materials to be used inside an indoor pool space is simple; any material that can be used outside or in bathrooms can and should be used in indoor pools. Designers need to keep in mind that water will most likely be splashed out of the vessel. In addition, the high moisture levels in the room require that materials be waterproof to minimize mildew, mold and rot.

“There’s going to be water that’s kicked out and decks will need to be washed down. Designers need to treat it like it’s going to be flooded and include a waterproof membrane, durable tiles and drains on the decks,” Benedetti says.

Pool designers we spoke to say materials that work well in high moisture areas are stucco, Dryvit products, cedar, vinyl-clad sliding doors and stainless steel. Also consider products that will create nonslip flooring. “We use travertine, stone, nonslip tile and stamped concrete — not granite floors that are slippery, and textured materials that complement existing architecture,” says Don Gwiz, vice president of Fairfax, Va.-based Lewis Aquatech.

Natural lighting is important in indoor pools as it creates passive solar benefits and brightens up the space. “If at all possible, the ideal location for an indoor pool is the southern side for exposure; the west can be too intense. Sometimes we put trees nearby and when the leaves fall, they allow sunlight to enter the space. When leaves fill out, they create shade to keep [the space] from getting too hot,” says Joe Vassallo, president and owner of Paragon Pools in Las Vegas, also an affiliate of APSP.

Folding and sliding doors as well as retractable roof systems also bring natural light into the indoor pool spaces. “People are including moveable walls such as NanaWall Systems. [Homeowners] can close up the pool in the winter and open it up in the summer. When it’s opened up, it feels like the pool is an outdoor pool,” Benedetti adds. “Another popular item is a sliding roof system.”

The need for ancillary rooms such as changing areas or bathrooms depends on the designer. Some see the importance of including these rooms, where others feel their inclusion is redundant considering the indoor pool is already inside the house.

Always a Luxury

Indoor pools will most always be for homes with clients rather than spec homes because of the high costs associated with them. Builders who include indoor pools in their spec projects create the challenge of finding a homeowner in the small percentage of the population who’s willing and able to pay for the pool’s high costs. However, if designed and built correctly, indoor pools can add monetary value to a home.

The demand for indoor pools remains static because it is such a luxury item. “The demand is static because they are so expensive to install,” Benedetti says. “They’re reserved for commercial applications and very wealthy individuals.”

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