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   IN GROUND POOL  Design and Planning
2011 - Volume 1 Issue 1
Casas Bonitas
Article: Bob Skolnick
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In the Introduction to Remodeling article, I emphasized taking the time and set down suggested procedures to finding the right professional remodeler. This process holds very true when selecting a pool design and build company, which often centers on the local owner. Building a pool and spa is a big investment. It will significantly increase the value of your home and pools and spas never depreciate in value. On the other hand, you will need to be prepared for an increase in property insurance, tax valuation and energy costs.

    Photo Captions

1.) Years ago, most swimming pools were rectangular. Today’s pool designers offer custom shapes and an elevated
spa-to-pool spillway.

2.) This pool area incorporates relaxing water jets, under surface stool seats and a central fire pit with counter.

3.) This pool and spa, along with decking and fire pit, are built into a hillside. The overflow from the spa spillway helps to warm the pool.

4.) An infinity edge, whether incorporated in a spa or pool, adds a resort look, especially when combined with colored in-pool or spa lights.

5.) Some pools are designed specifically for swimming laps. This pool is designed with a swim jet at one end, allowing you to swim in place.

6.) Retractable pool covers reduce pool-cleaning frequency, help the pool maintain temperature and reduce energy costs. They also act to satisfy safety requirements for children.

7.) When budget is a factor, an above ground pool is a consideration. They are easy to install and, as you can see, can be dressed with an attractive exterior. Above ground pools have the same cleaning, filtration and chemical requirements as an in-ground pool.

8.) Popular in the Southwest is stamped concrete pool decking.It adds a feel of stone and compliments desert landscaping. Stamped concrete can be applied in various patterns and colors.
  Information for the article on building an in-ground swimming pool was provided by Frank Wells of Pools by Design, Joe Beechler of Paradise Pools, Saul Saldivar of Cost Plus Pools and Juan Carlos Rodriguez of Silver Springs Pool & Spa.

Artistic Concrete


Chavez Landscaping

Cost Plus Pools

Dolphin Pools

Oasis Landscape & Pool

Paradise Pools

Pools by Design

Silver Springs Pool & Spa
When planning to add a pool and spa there are many considerations and decisions to be made. The first is how to integrate the pool and spa into your overall outdoor living plan. Many homes in the area have great views of either the Franklin or Organ Mountains. There is no doubt you want to enjoy the views from your pool. Also, the view from inside your house looking outward toward your backyard is important and your pool and spa is a scenic centerpiece to your outdoor living area. Envision how the pool will affect your views from all directions. If you want to come out a door from the master suite and immediately access the spa, then that has to be considered in placement.

You also should consider placement in relation to hours of sunlight. Placing the pool close to your house may cut down the hours of direct sunlight. Drainage is another factor in pool placement. In this region when we do get rain, typically it is intense and there is a lot of roof and surface run off in a very short period. The pool needs to be positioned and placed so that it does not become a catch basin. Your pool professional will help you with that important issue.

Once you have mentally integrated your pool into the outdoor living area plan with respect to views, then you need to determine the size and type of pool to design and build. The size and shape of the pool is determined when you ask yourself how the pool will be used – relaxation, fitness and lap swimming or as a fun zone for children and grand children or both. Obviously, the size of your yard will determine the best size for the pool. Your pool builder will need to pull a building permit and each municipality and county have specific codes about pool property line set backs and safety barriers around a pool to ensure children do not have open access to your pool.

Standard pool depth is five to six feet, deeper if you have a diving board. Decisions have to be made about a spa and its placement. You may want a rock waterfall as part of the visual features and a part of the pool filtration system. You may want your spa to have a spillway and be slightly elevated, creating a controllable waterfall into your pool. If you are going to use the pool for fitness, you will want to install a swim jet system which we will address separately later in the article. You need to decide on the pool interior surface. The most common is plaster or exposed aggregate. Tile and pebble surfaces can be incorporated into the surface design. You may desire an infinity edge on your pool, but that is a different type of decision that dramatically affects the pool design and cost.

You also have to decide on the filtration system before the pool and spa are built. You have a standard chemical / filter system and a saltwater version to choose from. We will address the pros and cons of a salt water system in a separate article. In the standard chemical system there are several types of filtration options – sand or silica, diatomaceous earth and a cartridge filter. Each has its specific benefits. The water in this region has a very high pH factor and this has to be a part of the filtration system decision. All types must have a backwash system. Your pool designer can go over each type of filtration in detail. Cleaning skimmer baskets and the cleaning apparatus require some decision making. If you have a pool without a spa, a gas pool heater will need to be considered for heating your swimming pool to an optimum temperature.

Once you have decided on placement, shape and size, you need to consider the building process and issues that evolve. You will need to bring a significant electrical circuit and natural gas line to the pool area to operate the filtration system. Drainage must be planned either to the community sewer system or rain collection runoff system. There are also a few choices in pool building types. The most common is a Shotcrete (Gunite) or a fiberglass shell. The fiberglass shell is quicker to build but it limits your ability to custom design the shape and access to the pool as there are limits to sizes and shapes. A Shotcrete pool offers maximum design flexibility. The site is excavated and then the frame of the pool is created with bent and shaped iron rebar. Pool light receptacles are planned, wiring is run and pool filtration piping is positioned. Then the Shotcrete is pumped and spayed over the rebar frame and spread smooth by the pool company staff.

Site preparation is critical and the pool builder will identify a basic excavation time line into the cost estimate, but will leave a little latitude as the type of soil found may require extra work. Often your pool designer will do a soil test or mini excavation. This region has varying elevations and different soil depths associated with each. Close to the mountains on the upslope may have a lot of rock included in the soil which takes longer to excavate. In the valley areas that are proximate to the river basin, clay is prevalent, which presents unique problems. Wet clay expands and can crack your pool. The water table may also be a factor. If you have clay, it all must be excavated – often deeper than the depth of the pool, and the site lined with engineered soil. Once the site is prepped, then the pool building process can start.


• Salt Water Pools by Joe Beechler  << click to open or close this bonus article

I am often asked for my opinion on saltwater pools. Saltwater chlorine generators (SWCG) transform ordinary pellet salt, which is sodium-chloride, into its more elementary components – chlorine and sodium, as the pellets are dissolved in the pool water. They are simple devices that are plumbed into the pool’s equipment, which use the process of electrolysis within a chamber or cell to accomplish the transformation. SWCG works continuously while the pool’s re-circulating equipment is in operation.

    Joe Beechler, owner of Paradise Pools in El Paso and co-owner of Dolphin Pools in Las Cruces, is a premier swimming pool designer and builder in this region.
  I have had one on my own pools for over 20 years. Bear in mind that I am in the pool industry and therefore have more ready access to the skilled labor and expertise to counter any of the negative issues that arise from the use of salt in a pool. I own a saltwater swimming pool for these following reasons and undeniable benefits alone:

1.) A “softer” feel to the water while swimming.

2.) Less need for “shocking” (or increasing the chlorine level to an abnormally high level to re-establish chlorine residual).

3.) Less chlorine odor from water provided the system is monitored properly and not allowed to over-produce.

4.) Less skin irritation. Since the chlorine produced is not a “pre-packaged chemical”, it does not have the additives and by-products that store-bought chemicals have. These are often what cause the irritation, not the chlorine.

5.) A properly maintained saltwater pool has nearly the same salinity as the human eye and provides for more comfort to the eyes, nose and mouth. The salt is perceivable to the taste but approximately 10 times less salty than the ocean.

I installed the first SWEG in El Paso on a customer’s pool over 25 years ago. Recently, however, the popularity has grown exponentially and, as a result, more manufacturers of saltwater chlorine generators have entered the market, making them even more affordable. This increase in popularity and affordability means there are more consumer-tested and proven units, as well as more anecdotal and researched evidence to support the arguments (pros and cons) of ownership of such units. One of the by-products of chlorine production from salt is the compound, Sodium Hydroxide, the active ingredient of most drain cleaners. High salt concentrations can be very corrosive to the materials and equipment that belong to your pool and its decking. Water splashed excessively from a saltwater pool can damage patios, furniture, stone and tiled/grouted decking, lawns and plants. Some communities, just recently, are considering banning the use of salt in pools altogether where there is concern for ground water contamination or sewer damage from backwashing pools.

If you are considering such a saltwater chlorinator for your pool, there are a few things you will want to be aware of before you buy. You should know what common problems can arise and the reason for them so you can avoid unnecessary disappointment with this new investment.

There are legitimate reasons for swimming pools to remain chlorine free in some rare cases. People with allergies to chlorine know all too well those reasons and they, more than anyone, should steer clear of saltwater pools. So let me state, saltwater pools are producing their own chlorine! So this would be the exact opposite of a chlorine-free pool. All of the other chemicals required to maintain your pool, e.g. pH additives, algae controls, stabilizers, etc., remain necessary for you to add as needed. There is no such thing as a completely chemical free swimming pool.

The initial cost of these units will vary by manufacturer and installer and range between $1200 and $2475 for most residential applications. Even $1200 will buy several seasons worth of chlorine for the typical backyard swimming pool, not to mention $2475. Then there is the cell component of these systems where all of that wonderful chlorine production takes place. The anodes and cathodes within those cells have an operational life span somewhere in the two-year range and a replacement cost that is nearly half of the total system’s initial investment cost. It would be next to impossible for any of the current systems on the market to provide any owner with the savings necessary to recoup the cost of ownership.

Keeping the required amount of salt necessary for the unit’s operation is extremely important for the health of the unit and for the well being of the pool’s equipment and structure. Too little salt and the unit will produce oxygen, which will damage the cell and cause you to have to replace it prematurely. Too much salt and the unit will overproduce chlorine for a given setting and the salt itself becomes corrosive to the pool, as well as the decking. The cell, during its life, will need to be cleaned frequently, or again, you risk damage to it and other parts of the pool’s plumbing.

As long as you are basing your decision whether or not to purchase a saltwater generator for any or all of the potential benefits mentioned earlier, you are a better and more informed consumer than most. If you are still not sure, let me conclude with a statement that I tell all of my clients prior to building their pool. These devices are very easily installed and can be retrofitted at any time during the ownership of your pool, so maybe it would be helpful to experience your pool without the system first, so that you may better ascertain its value to you later.


If you elected to have a spa as well as a pool you will need to make several design decisions with respect to depth, seat positions and surfaces. There are several options of surfaces. Colored plaster is common but tile can be added to seat surfaces for comfort. The are now choices on types of water jets, light positioning and the light system, which can be one or several colors in rotation, adding a comforting affect. A spa has its own recirculation pump, connected into the main pool filtration system and can be remote controlled to turn on the pool heater, lights and jets. Optimum spa temperature is 102 to 104 degrees, while pool temperatures can range from 78 to 84 degrees.

If you elect to include a swim jet option in your pool to allow for swimming or walking against a current, it must be installed where there is at least 4.5 feet of water. Swim jets vary in size and strength and are not advisable for use by children. They can be turned off and on at the pool’s edge with special controls.

Retractable pool covers are an added investment but bring back their cost over time by eliminating evaporation and heat loss. One of the other major benefits of a retractable pool cover is the safety it provides for families with children and grandchildren. It also satisfies certain city’s ordinances on pool safety. Retractable covers are rectangular in design and have to be typically larger than the pool area if the pool design is any shape other than rectangular. Power and space for the electric motor and roller system need to be planned.

If your budget does not allow for the investment of an in-ground pool and spa, there are options of above-ground pools and spas. Today’s above ground spas are quite sophisticated and relaxing, offering many sizes, jet configurations and also a swim jet system for exercising against a current. Above ground pools also come in various sizes. They do not require a building permit but require much more vigilance by parents as the pool sides inhibit direct sight of children that are in the above-ground pool. All of the filtration, cleaning options are also to be considered just like an in-ground pool.

Pool decking is also a key decision and should be made early in your overall outdoor living space planning. Typically, pools have a coping edge and you can have decking or grass up to the coping edge. The most popular surface in the region is stamped and colored concrete. Normal decking width around the pool is a minimum of four feet. This can be expanded in different areas to allow for chase lounges and a sun deck. The concrete has many options of designs and colors and are sealed and finished. Sometimes, paving bricks are used and filled with sand. Flagstone can also be used but requires maintenance over time where the stamped concrete is durable with a long life. ///
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