How to Approach a Swimming Pond Buildout

By Cash French

Published on February 4, 2021

swimming pond liner
Opening and examining the swimming pond liner in preparation for the installation.

Kati Bartlett also contributed to this article

Often overlooked, swimming ponds are impressive projects to showcase and reveal what your capabilities are to potential customers. A swimming pond buildout provides a large canvass to display expansive design ideas and, of course, bigger profits for contractors. These builds result in centerpieces for homes where families can view from their back window and interact with it for social gatherings and special family moments.

With over 20 years as a water feature professional and a Master Certified Aquascape Contractor, my specialty is natural swim ponds and these builds are a natural expression of my many passions. I am excited to flex my muscles and show off my expertise when it comes to big projects, but it does take confidence to handle the increased demands with a swimming pond installation. In my experience, not all water feature professionals want these projects but I do and know what makes swimming ponds so special.

Grottos, dipping areas, urns, and boulders with bubbling water are also design elements which can help you create your own genius loci (spirit of place).

When it comes to swimming at home, owners have three options: A traditional chlorinated swimming pool, a natural swimming pool, and a swimming pond. Traditional chlorinated swimming pools are the most common, and also require the most maintenance and have the highest costs associated. They rely on chemicals to stay clean and also have negative health and environmental effects.

A natural swimming pool uses biological filtration technology instead of chemicals to keep water clean, which is better for health and the environment. The filtration keeps the water clear and allows for the pool to be heated and covered, but the costs of maintaining a natural swimming pool are still higher than a swimming pond.

A Look at Swimming Ponds

What makes a swimming pond special is that it has a balanced ecosystem keeping it clean. The water won’t be as easy to see through as the pool options because the bottom will be dark, but it will be clear and full of life. Plus, a swim pond is the healthiest option for both people and the environment. Because it’s an actual ecosystem, the pond will attract living things like dragonflies, frogs, and birds. And you’ll get to swim amongst plants. It becomes an environment for kids (and adults) to learn about nature, and for people to experience the relaxation that comes from being surrounded by natural beauty. There are actual studies that indicate that natural surroundings lower stress levels. There’s also the opportunity to light the swim pond, which makes it a feature that can be enjoyed day or night. And can make the home owner feel as though they are on vacation in some tropical location.

swimming pond backyard
This physical therapy healing pond was created for the clients rehabilitation process after surgery.

Since the ecosystem is doing all the work to maintain the pond, it has the lowest maintenance costs associated. That’s not even taking into account the opportunity for rain water harvesting.

Now knowing how great they are, if you decide to tackle a swim pond, here are some crucial design aspects to get right:

  • Wetland filters
  • Intake bays
  • Mechanical and plumbing aspects are hidden from sight
  • False bottoms and/or jets to create circulation for oxygen and temperature distribution
  • Natural shapes, especially curves
  • Focal points that are easily viewed from the house and when approaching

In my opinion, if you don’t include these, you aren’t making a good swim pond.

In addition to design considerations, as a project gets larger it is important to adjust how you manage it. It’s crucial to ramp up your level of preparation and organization so that you can track all the details to prevent delays or loss of profit. It’s important to know that when you go from a 10 by 15 foot pond, to a 15 by 30 foot, it doesn’t just double things, it increases every aspect of the project many times over.

Converting swimming pools into swim ponds is becoming more and more popular as well.

Make sure you have a detailed plan for what equipment and the size of the workforce and when they will be needed. Plus, managing supplies is crucial, such as when they will be delivered, where your staging areas will be and the order of installation.

Keep the home owner and their neighbors aware of times when you might be making noise, taking up space or making messes with such a big project. Communication is important with such a large project and many moving parts.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are some recommendations that will take your swim pond to the next level. Plan your edge-work from all sides to ensure it looks natural and not contrived. An infinity edge allows maintenance to be very simple and can tie in with a rainwater harvesting system really well.

Client requested exotic illusion of lighting, which includes colored, 3 watt LED lights.

Think through transitions between pathways and walk areas. Consider special rocks in key places that can serve as destination stones, and boulders from which to jump into the deeper parts of the pond. Ledge stones can create a shady hiding place for fish if you have them, and a spot for dangling feet in the water on a hot day.

Streams add beauty, sound, and small dipping areas on the way to taking a swim. Water gardens also can be enhanced by beach entries on the edges, bog areas for plants on the sides, and even islands in the middle to swim up to.

Grottos, dipping areas, urns, and boulders with bubbling water are also design elements which can help you create your own genius loci (spirit of place). Creating different levels and hiding places with landscaping and boulders adds mystery and draws people into the space to try to see all of it, and find their favorite spots to day dream.

I recently worked on a project where the homeowner wanted to convert his swimming pool into a rainwater harvesting system, and I showed him how he could not only harvest rainwater but install a swimming pond on top to conceal it. He was thrilled with the idea and I got to create an infinity edge feeding into the rainwater harvesting system, with a lowered waterfall area for relaxing, and interesting outdoor spaces to explore created by various plants.

The entire pool integrated with rainwater harvesting. At one point, we took over his street in order to manage the huge piece of liner we were working with (we did put down underlayment to protect the liner), but it wasn’t a problem since we had already been in touch with the homeowners and neighbors about it. In the end the homeowners were happy and the neighbors said they had fun watching us go through our process.

Ultimately, I think the best advice I can give you is to not let yourself get intimidated by the scale of swim ponds. If you’re interested, ask for advice from those of us who do them regularly, make sure your design and plan are solid, and start paying close attention to natural spaces so that you can keep getting better at replicating them. It’s a great way to do work that is satisfying, pays well, and is good for the planet.

Author info | Cash started Bay Area Waterscapes in 1999, with a degree in landscaping from Cal Poly SLO and 9 years of previous landscaping experience working for his father. Cash’s passion is to bring people joy through designing, installing and maintaining custom natural creations that look and feel like nature. He brings a high level of artistry and expertise to this passion, and is regarded by his peers in the industry as one of the best. He’s won many awards and competitions over the years including completing over ten master water feature designs at the San Francisco Flower and garden shows 2000-2010 as well as with the DIY network shows of Turf Wars, Yard Crashers, Yard Core and Pool Masters and is a Master Certified Aquascape Contractor.

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Designer: Cash French
Installers: Cash French, Bay Area Waterscapes
Contact: info@bayareawaterscapes.com & www.bayareawaterscapes.com
Project Location: Vacaville, CA
Components:

  • colored LED 3 watt lights
  • 150 watt transformer
  • Smart plug
  • 2,000-4,000 aquasurge pump
  • check valve
  • 58 water plants
  • Napa basalt boulders
  • beach entry
  • dosing machine,
  • Ionization generator
  • Liner, Underlayment, Wetland filter, False bottom, intake bay

Size: 18′ x 26′ x 6′
Time to complete: 3 weeks (375 man hours)
Crew: 3 people
Buyer’s Cost: $75k

Jan-Feb-2021 issue

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