Green is the new color when it comes to pools and water features. “Energy efficiency saves the environment and saves the homeowner money, too,” says Jennifer Naeger, owner of Amazing Walls & Waterfalls. “Even our most elaborate, 25-foot waterfalls use mostly recycled water and energy-efficient pumps.”

    Naeger specializes in landscape installation, including custom-designed water features ranging from simple garden ponds to dramatic waterfalls. “Green doesn’t have to be boring,” she notes. “One of our clients surprised her husband, who’s a firefighter, with a refurbished fire hydrant in the middle of the garden. It runs constantly, gushing into an underground basin covered with decorative stone, where it’s recycled. It looks so real that the neighbors called the water department and a work crew showed up, trying to ‘fix’ it!”

    As spring approaches, “we’re getting lots of calls for outdoor kitchens and living areas combined with water features,” she says. “Recently, we did a patio with a tiered waterfall that flows into a fish pond. It’s so relaxing to enjoy an outdoor meal with your family on a beautiful evening, listening to the sound of a waterfall.”

    Business was sluggish over the winter, “but it’s picking up,” she says. “Home becomes even more important in a rough economy. At first, clients were playing it safe by sticking to necessities such as flower beds and retaining walls; now they’re going for the fancy stuff. They’re opting to invest in their homes and make the most of them.”

    People aren’t spending as freely as they used to, “but they’re more focused on quality,” agrees Dave White, vice president of development at Westport Pools. “Our clients want the most energy-conscious pool heaters and pumps they can get. It’s all about maximizing efficiency and minimizing energy.”

    Westport constructs residential and commercial pools, including aquatic centers and municipal and high-level university pools throughout the country. “We built the Rec-Plex in St. Peters for the 1994 U.S. Olympic Festival,” White notes. Today, even the most sophisticated commercial equipment has been downsized for the homeowner. “In the past, if you weren’t using one of your water features, you’d close a valve to shut it off, but the pump would still be working at full pressure, using even more energy to pump less water,” he explains. “Now we have variable-flow pumps, which work just like your home thermostat, automatically adjusting the level of energy output as conditions change.”  

    When it comes to design, “the days of the traditional eight-lane rectangle are pretty much over,” says Neal Gray, Westport Pool’s design department manager. “Design ideas, like technical ideas, are constantly bouncing back and forth between commercial and backyard pools.” Vanishing edge or infinity pools are still popular, he adds; other in-demand design features include sheer descent, a mock waterfall that’s dramatic yet affordable; deck jets, streams of water that pour into the pool; and spa features such as swim-outs, slightly submerged platforms or ledges. “You can put lounge chairs on them and sunbathe in the water,” Gray says.

    Currently, Westport Pools is working on a new recreational center in Carondelet Park. “The pool’s filter system uses one-tenth the water, space and electricity of other systems,” White says. “It’s not yet adaptable to a residential pool, but research and development teams are working on it. It’s just a matter of time until that level of technology and energy efficiency reaches the backyard.”

Green pool technology is also the focus at Baker Pool & Spa.  “The past five years have shown a trend toward green awareness, and it’s growing stronger as we head into spring and summer,” says Westport project manager Rob Warren. He agrees with White that variable speed pumps have been a great boon to energy-conscious consumers. “They’re more expensive at first, but they add up to a substantial savings over time, as does the use of electric heat pumps instead of pumps operated by natural gas.”

    Environmental awareness spurs engineers and designers to be more creative, the pros agree. “We used to pour a 6-foot swath of concrete around the entire pool; now we’re more likely to create green spaces at poolside for tables and chairs, limiting concrete to where it’s most effective, around diving boards and slides,” Warren explains. “Concrete can’t absorb water, so the more you pour, the more surface runoff you get, which leads to problems with unwanted water in neighboring yards.”

    Backyard design features such as barbecue islands and outdoor kitchen spaces are becoming more popular, he notes. “And water features are a mainstay, everything from relatively inexpensive jets to boulder features, which create a ‘waterfall’ in your pool via an elevated section in the pool wall. It’s the best option if you want a waterfall but have a flat yard.”

    The economic downturn has affected business, Warren acknowledges. “Everyone is much more cautious now, although the high-end market has remained consistent,” he says. “We’re doing a lot of rehab work on older pools. Everyone values the practice of building or maintaining something that keeps families and friends together.” He urges homeowners not to sacrifice quality for the sake of thrift. “Do your homework and get multiple bids, but don’t just shop price,” he says. “Price is important, but you’ll end up spending way too much money down the road if you don’t go with the highest-quality, most reputable firm you can find.”