When it comes to backyard pools, St. Louisans are interested in saving money, time and the environment. “The green movement has made a strong impact on the pool industry, and consumers right now are asking for more energy-efficient items,” says Rob Warren, project manager and designer at Baker Pool & Spa. “They don’t mind if these things cost a little more on the front end, as long as they cost less to operate and save them money in the long run.”

    A variety of options, all of them increasingly popular, are available to eco- and cost-conscious consumers. “LED pool lights last a lot longer, which adds up to considerable savings over the life of the pool,” Warren says. “Heat pumps cost much less to use than traditional gas heaters. Speed pumps have gone green, too. Standard pool pumps can consume as much energy as all home appliances combined, but variable speed pumps—which allow you to program speeds for your pool, spa or water features—can cut your energy costs from 30 to 90 percent, saving from $300 to more than a $1,000 a year.”

    High-tech automatic systems are also in demand, Warren adds. “Consumers want features that let them control pool and spa functions via their cell phone or BlackBerry,” he says. “These days, if you want to heat up the hot tub so it’s waiting for you when you get home from a hard day at work, all you have to do is hit a few buttons on your cell or PDA.”

    There’s also a trend toward pools that look like part of the natural environment, says John Jacobsen, president of Liquid Asset Pools. “Instead of the classic rectangular pools that most of us are used to, clients are asking for free-form shapes that look like ponds, in terms of both design and materials,” he notes. “Tumbled limestone steps, limestone pavers around the pool’s perimeter, darker pool bottoms and waterfalls also contribute to a nice, natural feeling.”

    Using permeable cut stone instead of smooth concrete for decking and paving contributes to the natural look and is better for the environment, Jacobsen says. “Unlike other paving materials, in which water hits the surface then flows to public drainage systems, pervious materials allow water to seep down into the ground below,” he explains. “Water is absorbed into the soil, which helps prevent erosion, flash floods and water table depletion.”

    Green pool equipment is also in demand. “Eco-conscious consumers are installing salt chlorinators, mechanisms that make chlorine from salt by giving it an electrical charge,” Jacobsen says. “You just throw salt into the water—you don’t need those smelly chemical chlorine tablets anymore.” Geothermal heating systems, which extract heat from the ground to warm the pool, offer another green option. “They last twice as long as traditional pool heaters and are more energy efficient—in fact, they can be more than 20 percent more cost effective than a natural gas system over the lifetime of a pool.”

    Dave White and Bill Shea of Westport Pools say their high-end customers want a ‘master plan’ for their backyards. “It’s not just about the pool these days; it’s about a variety of elements contributing to a harmonious, aesthetically pleasing whole,” explains White, Westport’s vice president of business development.

    Shea, head of residential sales, says that since the economy has shown signs of bouncing back, consumers have expressed more interest in upgrading their entire yard. “Instead of a concrete deck, they want natural flagstone or imported marble from Turkey,” he says. “They want to add a spa, a new fence, and redo the landscaping. The pool isn’t just for swimming—it’s the centerpiece of an outdoor living area where they can host a cocktail party or barbecue for family and friends.”

    Homeowners also want to save time, White adds. “Instead of dealing with a half-dozen contractors, they’re looking for someone who can coordinate all the elements and provide ‘one-stop shopping’ for their yard,” he says. “We enjoy doing that for them, and pride ourselves on taking their vision, adding the right design and materials, and creating an environment they can look out their window and marvel at.” 

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