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It's time to get into the swim

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When Chris and Adriana Guckert bought their home in Hampstead seven years ago they knew an in-ground pool was the first thing they wanted to add to the property.

Two years later they were in the swim and have never regretted their decision.

"We really wanted a pool. Chris and I both enjoy hanging out, laying in the sun and swimming," said Adriana Guckert. "From early May until the end of September that pool is in constant use."

But the Guckerts didn't stop there. It's one thing to build a pool. It's another to turn it into a perfect getaway.

They've added a fully equipped Tiki bar, an outdoor sound system, decking, lighting and landscaping. The pool is equipped with fiber-optic lighting that can change into seven shades of color.

And tomorrow the Guckerts' "Outback Bar" will be bustling with friends and family who will be getting the jump on the July 4 holiday.

"We like to entertain. I've always liked the beach and that atmosphere," said Chris Guckert. "You can come out here and it makes you feel like you are away from home."

"It's our own little island," she added.

It's estimated that more than 7 million homeowners nationwide own pools and their popularity is growing. In 1998, the last year statistics were available, sales of in-ground pools grew to 172,184, from 12,583 in 1994, according to the National Spa and Pool Institute.

The institute estimates there are 47,000 residential in-ground pools in the Baltimore metropolitan area and another 31,000 of the above-ground variety.

While home pools may be becoming more popular, the value of them remains in the eye of the beholder.

"Homes with pools do not sell faster or more quickly or for much higher than a home without a pool," said Cindy Ariosa, regional vice president of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc.

"Many times you are narrowing your number of perspective buyers when you do have a pool because the average buyer typically does not want a pool," Ariosa added. "But one market where pools may be an asset is in rural areas. In suburban areas or areas that are more populated, families rely on swim clubs because of the social aspect."

But Jack Cergol of the National Spa and Pool Institute in Alexandria, Va., said it is difficult to pinpoint the monetary value of adding a swimming pool to a property.

"It really depends on the area of the country you're talking about. You really don't put in a pool to add value to your house, you put in a pool to add value to your life," Cergol said.

"In places like the Northeast and upper Midwest, you put a pool in because you want to enjoy it six months out of the year. In places like Florida, Nevada and California you put in a pool because you need it and it obviously adds value to your property.

"But that's not to say a pool in Baltimore would not add value to a home. It depends on where it is, how much people use it and what they use it for," Cergol added.

For Robert and Tamela Savidge of Arnold, the main motivation for installing their in-ground pool was to keep tabs on their three children, ages 8, 10 and 13.

"We prefer our kids in our line of sight instead of disappearing to other neighborhoods. We try to make our home as comfortable as possible so our children can enjoy what we have and so we can keep track of them," said Robert Savidge. "We wanted to make our house the house to go to."

And the pool has done just that. With the lure of the pool, the Savidges have had a chance to get to know their children's friends as well as their parents.

"We're really happy with our pool. It gives us another facet to our home," said Robert Savidge.

The combination of entertainment and family recreation was the motivation behind Timothy and Nora Bye's pool that was put in late last summer. The Byes built a three-level, spa-and-pool combination complete with a waterfall, boulders and a gray bottom to give the effect of a natural setting.

"We have kids and we do a lot of entertaining," said Nora Bye. "We used to have a boat, but there are only so many people that can fit on a boat. With a pool you can have the entertainment, but still have the yard space to eat or play games."

Although Nora Bye admits a pool was not in their plans when they first purchased the house four years ago, they now have a greater appreciation for it.

"It's just beautiful .... it's still functional and it's very calming," she said.

Safety is a major concern within the pool industry. Today, there are various layers of protection that can be added to enhance a pool's safety.

These include fencing, automatic pool covers, door and gate alarms, plus pool alarms activated by motion.

In Maryland, a 4-foot-high, fully enclosed fence is required around swimming pools, but local jurisdictions may have other requirements.

In addition, a potential owner should check with his insurance agent to make sure his pool is covered by a homeowner's policy. Most policies allow 10 percent of the home's value to cover detached structures on the property. If the pool's value exceeds the 10 percent coverage, it's likely that the owner needs more insurance.

Also, personal liability coverage on the homeowner policy should exceed the value of the home and other structures on the property, and experts suggest $500,000 coverage as a safe number.

While in the past, pools may have been perceived as high-maintenance, that is no longer true. With advancements in technology, the construction and maintenance of a residential pool couldn't be easier.

"The innovations in the industry have come about to make it easier to own a swimming pool," said Robert Spero, vice president and part-owner of Maryland Pools, a builder in Columbia. "These include automatic cleaning systems, systems that allow the pool owner to use less chemicals, different lighting products and remote-control features."

Among the most popular landscaping items on the wish list of pool purchasers are fiber-optic lighting systems, cascading waterfalls, misting systems and rock formations.

Other popular items are computers and automated devices that make heating, lighting and cleaning a pool as simple as pressing a button on the kitchen wall, a remote control or using a cell phone to activate the system.

And options are not the only thing to have changed in the pool industry. Today, just about any size or shape pool can be built.

The best-planned pools blend with the home and the yard and are customized to fit the personality and lifestyle of the pool owner, according to Suzanne Stearns, communications manager for the National Spa and Pool Institute.

"Today the sky is the limit in terms of design. It's really only limited by the creativity of the pool designer, space constraints and price," said Stearns.

The first step is deciding what the pool will be used for. Will it be used primarily by the kids or as a landscaping feature? Will it be made for exercising or as an entertainment element?

Once it is determined how the pool will be used, the next step is to determine whether it will be above-ground or in-ground. The choice usually rests on how much money the buyer wants to spend.

Above-ground pools require no excavation, cost far less than in-ground pools, can be installed in only a few days and, if need be, can be moved.

"Above-ground pools are primarily attractive because of their [lower] price, and they are easy to install. We have one above-ground pool model that can be up in one hour," said Gale Rapallo, director of marketing for Doughboy Recreational, a nationwide manufacturer of above-ground pools that are sold locally by Van Dorn Pools and Spas.

The biggest criticism of above-ground pools, which make up more than half of all pools, is that they were unattractive and had little snob appeal.

"In the past these pools have had a not so positive light on them as far as appearance. So the industry is now really focusing on different styles of liners and different pool wall patterns," Stearns said.

With more upscale options such as redwood decking, safety fences and outside decorated walls, the aesthetics of the above-ground pool have improved.

"So you can see a whole new look coming out in the above-ground pool category," Stearns added. "And with the new options in decking and landscaping to surround the pool, most blend in perfectly with any back yard."

"Above-ground pools have really come a long way from a plastic tub in the back yard," said Kean Corrigan, marketing director for Leslie's Swimming Pool Supplies. And, Corrigan said, "the amount of the investment plays a part as well. An in-ground pool is considerably more money than an above-ground pool."

The average price of an above-ground pool is between $2,000 and $5,000.

In-ground pools average between $15,000 and $25,000.

If you have your heart set on a kidney-shaped in-ground pool, there are three general types to choose from.

The first type has a vinyl liner, supported by a steel, aluminum, polymer, concrete or wooden frame. The second has a full fiberglass molded shell placed in the ground, but can also be combined with concrete and other materials. The third is a concrete pool, which entails spraying or pumping concrete through a hose onto a network of steel reinforcing rods to create a durable, seamless shell.

Once the type of pool is selected, countless accessories and features are available.

Use a black finish and the pool will resemble a natural lake; a pebble surface can imitate a mountain grotto; and boulders or artificial rocks can create a rugged landscape. Some pools are designed for swimming laps. Others combine a spa and a pool.

Another popular option is water landscaping. This can range from elegant rock waterfalls to splashing fountains to natural-looking rock formations. The price of a water feature can start as low as $500 and reach as high as $5,000.

But with any pool come the maintenance chores. "A lot of what customers are looking for now are self-maintained pools. Pools that have filtration cleaning systems that will be hands-off for the consumer," said James Woody, director of operations for the Annapolis Junction office of Anthony and Sylvan Pools.

"Ten years ago, the technology for the automated system existed, but it was quite expensive," said Sterns. "Now that's not the case. Builders are saying that it is now more the rule that they install automatic sanitation systems than they don't."

The cost of an average remote control maintenance system can cost from $1,500 to $4,000.

"I always say there is never a back yard you can't build a pool in. But nobody wants to design anything that is going to create any type of a problem after the pool is completed," said Spero.

"So we try to create a pool that will be fun, safe, functional and aesthetically pleasing all at the same time."

Diving in

Ready to take the plunge? Here are four options:

* Above-ground pools, supported by a vinyl liner on a round or oval frame of aluminum or steel, can be self-installed and cost between $2,000 and $5,000.

* In-ground pools with vinyl liner, supported by a steel, aluminum, polymer, concrete or wooden frame, have an average cost between $18,000 to $25,000.

* Fiberglass in-ground pools, which can combine concrete and other materials, cost between $12,000 and $15,000.

* Concrete pools, which are created by spraying or pumping concrete through a hose onto a network of steel reinforcing rods, have an average cost of between $18,000 and $25,000.

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