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Published: Saturday, 7/20/2002

Pools smaller but are loaded with amenities

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Tammy Miller, of Rossford, likes her 14-by-28-foot pool that is wide enough for these three swimmers. Tammy Miller, of Rossford, likes her 14-by-28-foot pool that is wide enough for these three swimmers.
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Homes are bigger and yards are smaller, but many homeowners still find a way to fulfill their dreams of in-ground swimming pools: They're opting for downsized yet more luxurious.

“Years ago, the pool used to be the main part of the backyard, with perhaps a ribbon of concrete around it,” said Doug Wamsher, a Sylvania-based developer of a number of subdivisions in Lucas County. “Today, people are opting for nicer decks and nicer patios and the pool is more a part of the overall landscaping theme.”

About half of the new pools being built are in the small category, 20,000 gallons of water or less, said Patty Hulbert, a spokesman for the National Spa & Pool Institute in Alexandria, Va.

In contrast, according to P.K. Data, an Atlanta-based market research firm that has tracked the pool and spa industry for a decade, 40 percent of all new pools built in the 1990s had at least 30,000 gallons of water and less than a third were 20,000 gallons or less.

“What we're finding is that people who have space-challenged backyards actually can fit pools into those backyards. People are definitely loading them up. They're turning their backyards into resorts, with ... lighting and sound on the pools, as well as attached spas, waterfalls, koi ponds, fountains, and more.”

Tammy Miller, of Rossford, chose a 14-by-28-foot pool. “Expense was a big factor. We had the space but we just didn't need a big pool,” she said.

The pool alone cost $17,500, compared with $20,000 for the next larger size, Ms. Miller said, but she added a heater and extra concrete to the package.

“The installation took longer than I expected, but this is something that I've always wanted,” said Ms. Miller, who said that daughters her daughters, 15 and 10, could hardly wait to jump in. “We came from a real small house with a small yard, so the first thing I wanted to do was put in a pool.”

Ms. Hulbert, of the spa and pool institute, said cost is often a factor in homeowners' choosing smaller pools. Other reasons often cited, she said, are that smaller pools are easier to maintain; they are safer because they are shallower and have no diving boards, and the focus of the backyard pool has shifted from play and exercise to serving as a social center.

The Miller pool is 31/2 feet deep in the shallow end and 8 feet in the deep end, but pool installers say many parents are opting to have pools that are only three to five feet deep.

Said Matt Kerr, owner of Hawaiian Pools in Waterville, “If you think about it, how long will you stay in the deep end. I mean, how long can you tread water?”

But what pools lack in depth and size is being made up in amenities, said Mr. Kerr. He estimated that 90 percent of all in-ground pools his company installs have heaters, and many also have automatic covers and fiber-optic lighting that changes the color of the water.

“People may have a little bit smaller yards today, but they're packing them in there,” Mr. Kerr said. “I've even had people ask me to put on extra decks because they don't feel like mowing.”

Fred Stroupe, a salesman at Paradise Pools in Toledo, said consumers want to use their pools in different ways today than 20 or 30 years ago and are opting for smaller pools that have a constant depth of four feet or that varies from 31/2 to 5 feet.

“They want more usable space so they can put up a volleyball net and basketball nets at either end,” Mr. Stroupe said. “If you stop and think about it, a deep end in a pool means you can only use it for one thing.”

Ms. Hulbert, of the spa & pool institute, said the industry is embracing the new trend because it means a new niche for members although “A 16-foot-by-32-foot pool continues to be pretty popular because a lot of people want a big pool like they had growing up.”

George Kuehnl, treasurer of Oasis Pools in Toledo, said customers are still willing to pay up to $25,000 for the company's Gunnite pools, which are installed in a two-week process that uses sprayed concrete and plaster.

The method is more expensive than vinyl liners, and he said he's found that people willing to spend the extra money want to do it on something big.

“We've had some people want smaller ones but most people are still opting for a 20 foot by 40 foot. They already know that with options they usually want, like a slide, they could very well spend up to $40,000.”



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