Extreme pools: They're hot and cool

Billy Curtin plays in the pool at his

Billy Curtin plays in the pool at his Ronkonkoma home on the afternoon of June 8, 2011 - for LI Home section story on swimming pools - (Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara) (Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

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Billy Curtin plays in the pool at his Extreme pools

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With gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon and Long Island still suffering from an economic slowdown, it seems the

"staycation" is here to stay. But if you've got a pool or are thinking about having one installed, the opportunities for making your own backyard into a summer wonderland are out there for the taking.

From environmental features and electronics to waterfalls and cool slides, this year's pool trends run the gamut.


THRILLING SLIDES

Though not quite over, the days of simple right- or left-turning slides are waning. "I've seen slides built through a berm, come off a hill and go through landscaping. I've seen people put in tube slides like the ones you see at a water park," says Kyle Chaikin, who runs Chaikin Ultimate Pools in Bay Shore.

Jason Merz, owner and president of Metamorphosis Landscape Design in Melville, adds that one of his clients recently ordered a 25-foot winding slide that at its tallest point is 7-feet high and goes through plantings and landscapes before ending in the pool. As Michael Dominici, owner of Long Island Pool and Patio in Coram, says of some of the slides he's installed, "These are not your father's slides, that's for sure."


BARS, BEDS AND OTHER ACCESSORIES

Infinity, or negative-edge, pools continue to grow in popularity, Merz says. Sunken bars outside the pool with stools inside the pool -- making for a swim-up bar like the ones seen at resorts -- are growing in popularity. "They used to mainly be on the North Shore and in the Hamptons, but now we are seeing them all over," Merz says. He says a new pool bar setup can cost between $5,000 and $15,000; adding one to an existing pool would cost about $15,000 to $18,000.

Also gaining popularity are "sheer descent" waterfalls, says Merz. Unlike bubbling rushes of water over rocks, the water gracefully falls from near the edge of the pool in a thin, 18-inch sheet. "Many people use fiber optic lighting in different colors to illuminate them," he says.

For pure poolside relaxation, some people are adding islands, Merz says. And on those islands: "Some people put in lounge areas, daybeds or benches for sitting and socializing." Merz and Dominici agree that sun ledges, which are set off the side of the pool and create a shallow area, have become quite popular.


GREEN FEATURES

'Going green is a big trend," says Frank Collora, president of the Long Island Spa and Pool Association, a chapter of the Northeast Spa and Pool Association, and president of Power Pool Care in St. James. "Everyone wants to save electricity, money and natural resources." Collora says some have either installed or are interested in installing variable-speed pumps, which not only use less electricity but also gets pool owners a Long Island Power Authority rebate: $200 for a variable speed pump and $75 for a two-speed pump.

The pumps can cost around $2,500, says Collora. He notes that to get the rebate, the pump installer must be trained by the manufacturer and registered with LIPA.

LIPA has given rebates for about 600 pumps since the program's inception in 2009, with the variable-speed pumps being far more popular than the two-speed, says Michael Deering, LIPA's vice president for environmental affairs.

Along with pumps, solar heating is a trend that, though not new, pool experts say is growing. Also, salt chlorine generators "are on everyone's minds now," says Collora.

Any pool -- whether it is above or in ground -- can be fitted with such a generator, which converts salt into chlorine. Depending on the size and type of pool, the costs run between $1,000 and $3,000. Chaikin and Collora say the benefits of these generators are diverse, ranging from environmental to cost-savings to pleasure. "It's healthier, more comfortable and there's no eye irritation," says Chaikin.

The reduction in the need for pool chemicals, as well as the reduction of chemicals used to make chlorine, puts the green in salt chlorine generation, says Collora.


NEW FINISHES AND COMBOS

Prefabricated fiberglass in-ground pools have become trendy, says Chaikin. They are more expensive than vinyl and slightly less than gunite, and come in many colors and textures. "They feel smooth, like a hot tub, and they tend not to leak," says Chaikin.

Chaikin also says that a trend in gunite pool finishes is the use of a crushed quartz aggregate mixed with porcelain, as opposed to the traditional crushed marble and porcelain finish. "It's more durable and comes in all designer colors," he says.

Pool and spa combinations continue to grow in popularity, says George Kazdin, president of Kazdin Pools and Spas in Southampton. Joseph Rastello, sales and project manager at South Shore Pools in West Islip, agrees, adding that his company recently started offering custom-built spas. "We are not just doing prefabricated fiberglass spas anymore, but making them in vinyl so they can be built in any shape and size. We recently started offering this option, and people like it," he says. A popular feature on pool spas is the spillover, where water from the spa overflows into the pool.


REMOTE CONTROLS AND FLAMES

Wireless remotes that control a pool's heater, filter, lights and more are sought-after accessories, says Collora. Rastello says LED lighting is also popular this year.

And a burgeoning trend, says Merz, is the firewater bowl. At one Massapequa house, he installed two 31-inch terra-cotta bowls atop columns similar to masonry lightposts. The bowls spill water into the pool, and fire comes out the top. The flame is made by gas, and glass rock is often set inside to give off a bluish fire.


POOL RULES

Before you break ground on a pool, be sure to take some important precautions:

1. "Have a good, new survey that shows the proper property line boundaries," says Joseph Rastello of South Shore Pools in West Islip. Why invest the $500 to $700 in a new survey when you probably already have one? Older surveys can be hard to read and survey methods have been refined over the years.

2. Check your pool company's references. Rastello says your installer should be able to provide you with customer referrals, which you should call. Good questions to ask: Was the work done on time? Were you able to easily reach your project manager? What was the quality of the work?

3. Find out if the pool company uses subcontractors or if its own employees do most of the installation themselves. "You want to see that the company you've chosen is accountable for the work," Rastello says.

4. Are the personnel at your pool company easy to reach, or are you constantly leaving messages? Rastello says communication is critical. "Every single one of my customers has my cellphone number," he says.

5. Take note of the sunlight in your yard. "Most people want to be able to look at the pool and not have to look away from it" because of glare, Rastello says.

6. Before any digging begins, be sure all the safety and code regulations required by your town are included in your plans. Most towns require at least 4-foot fencing, a pool alarm, inside door chimes, and self-latching and self-closing gates with gate locks, but be sure to check with your town for all the particular requirements you'll need to meet in order to get your pool permit. -- RENE BABICH

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