New techniques and products make luxurious-looking water features available to homeowners
You used to see fancy water features like laminar jets or rock grottos only in commercial pools or public settings. But now more and more, homeowners are requesting these features in residential pools.
“In the last five to nine years, a lot of that technology or that style of design has been brought down to the consumer level,” says Vic Walker, product design and marketing manager at Custom Molded Products. CMP offers a full line of water features for the residential market, which are sold through distributors.
Walker says that, previously, only a few companies offered these products for residential pools, and at a premium price. Now as more companies like his have started making these products builder friendly and relatively inexpensive, more builders have started specking them out to their customers.
There are even new options for people who want traditional, natural-looking rock features, as opposed to some of the ultramodern water features. “Before people were like, ‘Oh god, I’ve got to bring real rock into my backyard to build this,’ so it was really expensive,” Walker says. “Now there are manufacturing techniques with gunites, shotcretes and paint that make building those kind of devices a lot more approachable and affordable for the end consumer.”
What’s out there Water features are now available from the inexpensive and simple — like bubblers and deck jets — to the more expensive and complex, like sheer-descent waterfalls and laminar jets.
The sales of CMP’s LED bubbler were up 150 percent in 2015 over 2014, and Walker says he thinks their popularity will continue to climb due to an increase in pools designed with sun shelves and beach entries.
“What do you do with that [shallow] area?” Walker asks. “Those are perfect areas for bubblers because they only require four inches of water to work. Now they have a dancing stream of water and a great audio effect. It’s very natural sounding.”
CMP’s deck jets are also popular. “We sell a gazillion deck jets,” Walker says. “They are a small jet that mounts in the deck of a pool that shoots different types of streams out. They’re inexpensive to put in, and they’re easy to plumb.”
This year CMP launched 8.5- and 12-inch laminar cannons. Laminar cannons, which take all of the air out of the water so it looks like a smooth glass rod, are much more complicated to install and balance properly.
“Laminars are one of those things that have come down in price,” Walker says. “People see laminars places and they never thought about having one on their pool. I think they’ll become more popular.”
But the modern look of laminar jets isn’t for everyone. Customers who want a more natural-looking aesthetic in their backyard now can get it without hauling in tons of boulders.
“In the past, the only way to create a grotto or cave was to use heavy, expensive real rocks or free-hand carved artificial rock,” says Bruce Riley of RicoRock. “But these options are labor-intensive, expensive and often stressful for builders who cannot guarantee the look of the final product.” Riley’s company, RicoRock, has developed cast concrete kits for waterfalls and grottos or coping that look like natural rock.
“Unlike previous options of artificial rock that were cast from rubber molds, the beauty of these new component systems is that they look like real rock because they are cast from real rock — with the same shape, character and texture,” Riley says. “These new component systems are a type of kit that allows builders to show consumers a brochure of what the final product will look like at the time they sell the job. Each system is built by assembling and fitting the parts together. The grotto and cave water features have been designed to ensure proper water flow, proper weight distribution and are structurally stronger than natural rock systems.”
Mark Hegedus’ Jacksonville, Fla.–based company Coastal Coating & Resurfacing specializes in pool decks and waterfalls. He almost never builds a waterfall or grotto using real rock now, almost exclusively using RicoRock instead.
“[RicoRock] is easier to work with than the regular rocks and a lot lighter,” Hegedus says. “You can get so much more done during the day.”
Installation pitfalls Water features, caves and grottos can look a lot more challenging to install than they truly are. Walker says a pool builder can avoid most problems by doing a few simple things.
“Pool builders often don’t put a filter before the water feature, and that’s how they get clogged,” Walker says. “We recommend pool builders put a filter on the line that’s powering the water features in addition to the pool filter. It only takes a little bit of debris in the mouth of a sheer descent waterfall to disrupt the flow.”
He also recommends putting valves on each deck jet, instead of grouping multiple jets to one valve.
“It’s going to make their job a lot easier for fine-tuning those jets,” Walker says. Inevitably, the jets farthest from the pump will end up with a lower arch, and if each jet doesn’t have a valve, there’s not much a builder can do to balance the water flow.
Hegedus says if an installer has made water features out of real rock, switching to the cast concrete kits will be no problem. “It’s so much easier than real rock,” Hegedus says. “There’s not a whole lot of difficulty.” He says to keep it level, structurally safe and mud everything in “nice and tight” with a rich mortar.
Riley reminds that, because the systems have a steel structure, most building codes require a bond wire. “The concrete pad should have a bond break at the pool shell and should slope toward the pool,” Riley says, adding that it is recommended to have four inches of concrete on the pad.
Approaching Your Customer While your customer may show up with 30 images of elaborate water features they found on Pinterest, it most likely will be up to you to educate them on their options.
“Even if the consumer doesn’t ask specially for a cave, grotto, waterfall or slide in their pool, it is a feature that should be offered because it makes pools more aesthetically pleasing and more fun,” Riley says, “not to mention more profit on the pool build or renovation.”
Walker says the cost to add some of these features may not deter people, as some builders fear. “I think a lot of consumers are like, ‘Well, I’m building a pool, how much extra?’ ” Walker says. “If you’re already putting in a $30,000 pool, it might only be a couple thousand dollars more to put in some water features.” “I think every backyard and every pool should have a water feature,” he adds. “We love the sound of running water.”