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Old pool? No pool? Limited space? You can still swim in luxury.

Posted: May 3, 2008 2:38 a.m.
Updated: July 4, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Swimming pools are pretty much a staple of southern California life. Many of us have fond memories of frolicking in the water in our backyards as kids, whiling away many a hot summer afternoon in the refreshing coolness with friends and family.

The appeal of a pool still holds sway, but many homeowners in the SCV have older, decaying pools that were built in the 1960s, or no pool at all. One reason is that many new home builders have focused on increased home square footage at the expense of usable yard space, especially over the last 20 years.

So, if you long for a backyard oasis, but instead are faced with an ugly, dated relic of a pool or nothing but a dust bowl behind your house, you do have options. Whether you want to give your existing pool a facelift, or build a whole new one in an otherwise empty yard, you will reap numerous rewards in terms of your family's quality of life - not to mention the resale value of your property.

Tropical dreams
Not long ago, a new client walked into Jesse Garnee's office and said he wanted a pool. The man had just returned from a vacation in Mexico and was dazzled by the resort's tropical swimming haven, which was festooned with waterfalls, elegant flagstone, in-water bar stools and a private sheltered grotto.
"I can recreate that in your backyard," Garnee said.

"Really?" the man said.


These days people want more than the standard white-plaster pool surrounded by a flat concrete deck and the odd deck chair. Garnee, project coordinator at SCV Pools in Canyon Country, specializes in turning his clients' swimming pool fantasies into reality.

"With regular pools, people are like, ‘Oh that's nice,'" Garnee said. "But when they see what the other options are, they are like ‘Wow!' They want something that, when they are in it, they are transported."

"When you show a picture of a totally decked-out pool and yard to someone who has a flat pool, they want everything," Garnee said. "Most people want all the options, but it depends on the budget you have, of course."

On the moderate end, those options include the addition of a spa, or a "baja" step to an existing pool. For those with more extravagant tastes and the dollars to match, the list of frills is endless. Swim-up bars, bridges, waterfalls, grottoes, slides, sunken firepits, built-in barbecues, tasteful lighting and sumptuous landscaping are all possibilities.

Pricing depends on the size and type of feature. Power falls, which cascade over the side of a pool, can run off the energy of an existing pool circulation pump, and are the least expensive. Freestanding waterfalls, which require construction plus a dedicated pump, start at $6,000 for the fall, plus $1,000 for the pump. A ceramic-tile-covered slide, which also needs a pump, runs about $8,000. Grottoes run from $10,000 to $12,000 plus $1,000 for the pump. A grotto over a spa, which is more involved construction-wise, costs about $14,000 plus the pump. Add a bridge and you add $2,000.

Barbecues start at $3,600 for a 3 x 8 with a raised counter, if the homeowner supplies his own barbecue unit, and $6,000 if not. For every foot more of counter, it's $450. A stamped, colored concrete deck costs about $850 per foot.

Upgrade versus build
For the pool-less, taking on the expense of building can be worth it in terms of family satisfaction. At around $40,000 for something basic, it's likely cheaper than buying a property that already has a pool, and will allow you to design one to your own specifications.

And, although a vast expanse of backyard space is helpful, even those with small yards can still do it.
"I did a little tiny pool in Castaic recently," Garnee said. "The family really wanted one because they just had a kid."

Even though there was only about 10 feet of backyard to the rear of the house, a slightly larger piece of yard to the side, and a pie-shaped area in the corner, Garnee managed to fit not only a pool, but a waterfall and spa in the space.

Consultants such as Garnee will work with you to determine the ideal pool size and shape for your yard and budget, taking into account existing landscape features such as hillsides and views. They also make sure the pool meets building codes in terms of setbacks, plumbing, wiring, and materials.

If you have a hillside view property and a lot of money to spend, an infinity pool can be an enticing indulgence to consider.

"It's a matter of not being afraid," said Garnee. "Since it's a pool hanging over a cliff, some people don't understand how it works. But it's basically an above-ground pool where water flows right up to the edge, then over it into a basin."

Infinity pools are generally more expensive than traditional pools, because more elaborate engineering is involved.

On the flip side, if you're simply looking to update a tired, outdated pool, a few thousand dollars can literally transform it into something unrecognizable.

Two of the most popular options include re-shaping a pool and adding a baja step or a beach entry. A baja step is a single wide, flat step that replaces the three narrow steps most older pools typically have. It can make a pool feel more resort-like and offers a mini-wading area for those who don't want to totally immerse themselves.

A beach entry is a gradually inclined pool entrance that mimics the downward slope of the ocean floor. Though it is more stylish than the baja step, it is more expensive because it requires more engineering to build.

"We do 90 percent more baja steps than beach entries," Garnee said.

To spice up flat, level deck areas, many homeowners transform them into multi-level patios connected with flagstone-covered bridges and spas, complete with built-in cooking and dining areas.

Garnee said that a single-feature upgrade can be relatively cheap, whereas an extensive whole-yard renovation, including lights and landscaping, can cost upward of $100,000.

"Small changes like adding a step or resurfacing can be done fairly easily by hand," he said. "However, if you are doing something major like changing the shape of your pool or the height of your deck, a remodel engineer has to come in to plan and heavy equipment has to be used to cut and drill, so it can get more expensive."

For information visit or call (661) 250-4900.


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