Glenn Rosenthal wanted to do more than bring home souvenirs from Jamaica and Cancun — he wanted to create an oasis in his Patchogue backyard for a vacation vibe, but without increasing his property taxes.
The result is a backyard that looks less like Long Island and more like a Caribbean island, including a winding path, waterfall, tiki bar, bridges, and plantings that include hibiscus, day lilies, hostas and grasses. But there is no inground pool. Instead, an above-ground pool is nestled in a deck, providing a place to have fun in a scenic setting.
“It was designed to get away from everyday life, go into a paradise, to be in your backyard and feel like you’re on vacation," Rosenthal said. "Every time people walk in my backyard, they say, ‘I feel like we just went to a resort.’ ”
While inground pools can enhance a property, many Long Islanders are choosing to install above-ground and semi-inground pools, adding design features such as decks, landscaping and lighting that make them particularly attractive.
The typical cost of an above-ground pool, according to Long Island pool professionals, ranges from $2,000 to more than $10,000 installed. (Big box stores sell them for as low as $200, without installation.) That compares to $8,000 to $16,000 for a semi-inground pool and $20,000 to the sky's the limit for inground pools.
One feature these above-ground pools don’t have, to the joy of homeowners, is a property tax increase. On Long Island, above-ground pools are typically not taxed, while their inground or semi-inground cousins are, though it can vary by town, according to Town of Babylon spokesman Kevin Bonner.
Lisa Leonick, town assessor for Huntington, said that semi-inground pools can potentially be assessed if permanent features are incorporated, adding that each property is evaluated individually.
Some homeowners have been decking out their pools and the areas around them for maximum summertime fun.
“With semi-ingrounds, a ton of our customers are putting paver walls, stacked stone or pavers,” said Steven Tourdo, president of Pool & Spa Guys in Farmingdale. “They make a big paver deck out of that. That seems to be the craze.”
Nick Farone, a salesman for Dunrite Pools in Bohemia who grew up with an above-ground pool in North Babylon, said there are many options. “You can have saltwater, a light in the wall of the pool," he said. "You can use a filtering system and add a heater.”
Homeowners are getting creative with shapes as well. “We do free-form semi-ingrounds and can make curves to make a mountain-lake shape,” Tourdo said. “The folks who want the lagoon look go for that.”
Telisha Houpe’s above-ground pool in Riverhead has turned her backyard from just a space behind the house into a busy, oft-used area, and not just for Fourth of July barbecues. Her 9-year-old son, Harlem Brown, likes to swim and splash in the pool that is now a pivotal part of their life.
“He loves the water. He swims in it every day he can,” she said. ”He does morning swims for about a half-hour.”
The tan-colored pool with a wave pattern on the inside is surrounded by a fence and has steps with access that can be cut off. “I can slide down a cover on the ladder when I’m not home and don’t want anybody to get into the pool,” said Houpe, a certified nursing assistant.
At 20 feet around and 4 feet deep, the pool is surrounded by an octagon made from white railroad ties, solar lights and plants. Houpe said she spent about $12,000 on materials, installation and an electrician.
There’s a trampoline, treehouse and a patio, all of which the family especially appreciated in the last few years. "Having a pool was a blessing during the pandemic for summer fun and staying safe," Houpe said.
A beachy feel
An above-ground pool adds a touch of the beach to a backyard in Hempstead.
“It gives you an ocean feel, because there are shells and rocks around the pool,” said Albert “Rosco” Daniels, owner of Riverhead-based Magically Blu Pool & Spa Service, who services the pool.
The pool, which is 18 feet around and 4 feet deep, is a saltwater pool, fairly common for above-ground pools. “Salt is a little more natural, easier on the skin,” Daniels said. “And it’s easier to maintain.”
The lawn is landscaped with flowers, and the pool is about 8 feet from the house with a table and chairs nearby. Stairs lift, so children can’t climb in. Lighting fixtures around the pool turn it into a place to relax even when the air cools and the stars are out.
Safety, a primary concern with pools, is regulated by Long Island municipalities. For example, in the Town of Huntington, all pools must be completely enclosed by a permanent fence, wall, or barrier at least 4 feet above grade level, and all openings have to be equipped with self-closing and self-latching gates with childproof locks that must be locked whenever the pool is unattended, said Huntington spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.
Hybrids are here
While most above-ground pools sit on the ground, homeowners are installing pools that are being sunk into the ground with the walls protruding only a few feet, said Dario Valencia, vice president of Long Island Swim-Pool Service, based in Island Park.
“It looks like an inground pool,” he said of a saltwater pool with walls of extruded aluminum that his company recently installed in a yard in Merrick that includes a gazebo with a fireplace and TV and a one-hoop basketball court.
The pool has a step to make it appear like an inground or semi-inground pool, Valencia said. Pools like this typically start at $25,000, which includes materials, labor and installation, he said.
They are often nestled in a deck so they fit into the design, rather than rising high above the lawn, and mimic the look of an inground pool.
Another option that is quicker to install is a pool made from a shipping container, such as one Daniels services in Greenport that has a square window of clear acrylic.
“It’s an actual shipping container,” Daniels said. “They cut out a square so you can see in and out of it. You can sit in the firepit area and see people swimming.”
Shipping container pools like the 20-foot pool in Greenport from Modpools cost about $36,500. There are smaller versions and they are available as large as 40 feet long and have a depth of 4 feet. Windows, which come as add-ons, are made of 1-inch-thick acrylic.
“It’s not big enough to swim a lap, but it’s big enough for you to swim,” Daniels said of the one in Greenport. A deck surrounds three sides of the pool, which also can be transformed into a hot tub. “They have a sheet with a handle” made of acrylic, Daniels said. “You slide it in and separate it from the pool section.”
There is a firepit surrounded by stone with wood benches that jut out of a concrete wall near the pool. “I’m amazed by that whole design and concept,” Daniels said.
While the Rosenthals’ pool and deck are the focus of the backyard, they are just one part of an elaborate design aimed to maximize a sense of permanent staycation.
Glenn Rosenthal, 49, a technical representative for the automotive industry, said that he and his wife, Christine, also 49 and a middle-school science aide, "had a vision of what we wanted the yard to look like. How do we bring an island look to Long Island?”
Rosenthal said they spent about $5,000 on the pool 15 years ago and that today their tropical backyard would likely cost about $30,000.
Rosenthal did much of the work himself. He said materials cost $1,500 for the tiki bar; $165 for the two Japanese-style bridges with nautical-inspired rope railings; $400 for a three-tier waterfall with sprinkler piping connected to a pump; and $300 for lighting.
“As you walk over the bridge, you can enjoy the waterfall,” Rosenthal said. Greenery gives the yard a lush, tropical feel. “A lot of those plants were bought when they were small,” he said. “I split a lot of them to save costs.”
A deck with multiple levels goes around the house and connects to the pool with three steps leading to a middle deck and three more to the upper deck and pool.
“If it’s a beautiful day, I’ll spend the whole day or almost the whole weekend out there,” Rosenthal said.