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The Baltimore Sun

About this time last year, Theresann and Shawn Morosko were finalizing arrangements for a big hole in the ground behind their Fallston home.

They lived through the fall looking at the big dig, through the winter looking at the big pit, and, throughout, looking at a yard that was hacked up.

"It was under construction all winter," said Theresann Morosko, who despite the chaos, kept envisioning a hot tub in the patio and a pool with a vanishing edge that would provide an unobstructed view out to a pond.

The reward for her patience and for controlling her curious dog came in May, when she first swam in her classic rectangular pool with the waterfall-like edge and relaxed in the bubbling hot tub. And she's been taking to the water most nice days since.

"I do a lot of swimming. My husband is a dipper," she said. "The pool was more for me and the kids," she added, referring to her grown-up son and daughter, who are frequent visitors.

The sticky days of summer have ended, but experts say this is the time to have them in mind if you're planning an in-ground pool for next spring. And with trends centering on complex pool designs and pool-focused outdoor settings, a head start is even more important.

Overflow edges, waterfalls, fountains, color-changing lights, add-on spas, efficient automated heating and cleaning systems and remote-control electronics are in demand, said Terry Brown, vice president of Buddy's Pool and Spas in Cockeysville and chairman-elect of the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals.

Buddy's built the Moroskos' pool, which has a vanishing edge that spills into a recycling system, colored lighting, an interior finish that gives the water a deep Caribbean tone, a separate brick hot tub and automatic, wireless controls for water flow, pool chemicals and lighting.

"The main trend that we've seen is that backyard swimming pools have become much, much more creative in their designs. They are at the highest level, treated as almost a sculptural art form," said Eric Herman, editor of WaterShapes, an industry magazine.

"A lot goes into the construction of a pool," said Bob Spero, vice president of Maryland Pools in Columbia. He ticked off planning a design, preparing the site, obtaining multiple permits, excavating, building the structure, and tying it together with electricity, plumbing, decorative elements, landscaping and so on. Most jurisdictions require that pools be enclosed by a fence for safety.

The process can take as little as a couple of months, depending on the design and weather. But work can't start without a design and a plan.

"Most people don't realize ... that the thing you do most of the time with your swimming pool is look at it. So, you want it to be attractive," Spero said.

Some families devote fall to reaching pool design and planning decisions, while others want excavation under way and work on the major systems begun. Substantial construction can be done in cool weather, but the concrete shell for a pool can't go in when the air and ground temperatures drop to freezing. Either way, autumn starters are likely to be first into the pool, oftentimes before Memorial Day.

When Stephanie and Robert Struble, parents of five children, decided to add a pool to their Fulton yard, they had Maryland Pools break ground in fall 2006. The early start enabled the Strubles to open their pool the next April, when people who were deciding on a pool in the spring were starting to plan or dealing with rain delays.

"I have known people who were trying to get their pools open and it dragged out into June or July," Stephanie Struble said.

The Strubles opted for an irregular-shaped pool with a rock waterfall in its hot tub and a lounging shelf at the pool entry. Now, instead of driving 20 minutes to a pool club, the family can jump directly into the fun much of the year, she said.

"It was really for the kids, but it has totally changed the way we live. We spend so much more time outside now," Struble said.

But not everyone wants to join in the pool party. Real estate agents say homeowners who add an in-ground pool should neither expect to recoup even half the investment when selling nor view it as a magnet for buyers.

A concrete pool usually starts in the low $30,000 range (fiberglass and vinyl can cost less). Landscaping, hardscaping, gazebos, fireplaces, tiki bars and outdoor kitchens add to the price, making pools a significant investment.

"It should be strictly for their use and enjoyment. It does not add onto the resale unless somebody enjoys it as well," said Cathy Werner, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and a broker with ReMax American Dream in Baltimore.

Half of potential buyers won't consider a house with a pool, she said.

"It can be a detriment if it is taking up a lot of space on a small lot," said Carol Schmidt, president of Chase, Fitzgerald & Co. in Cross Keys.

Local pool builders say business is slower (because of economic woes) but steady, but that doesn't mean homeowners who choose to install pools are cutting back on the extras. More elaborate pools with features that include islands and furniture in the pool, swim-up bars and diving rocks instead of diving boards continue to have appeal - as do new materials that help pools stay cleaner and function better.

There are solar heat and high-efficiency heat pumps to keep water warm, and variable speed pumps that use less energy to keep water flowing, said WaterShapes editor Herman.

Eye-friendly saline pools cut down on the use of chlorine by making the water about 10 percent as salty as the ocean. Ozone systems filter water and further reduce chlorine needs. The combination is the "perfect water treatment," said Brian Van Bower, president of Aquatic Consultants Inc. in Miami, who designs pools throughout the world.

Still, it's the appearance of a pool that often makes it most appealing.

In recent months, Jason Bellman, vice president of Brackens, a pool builder in Pasadena, has put fiber-optic starlike lights in the bottom of deep ends and rope-look lighting around the inner top perimeter of pools.

But not all water's in the pool: Bellman has added jets that spew fountains of water out of the deck.

trends making a splash

Here's what's big in luxury pools, says Brian Van Bower, president of Aquatic Consultants Inc. in Miami, who designs pools throughout the world:

Lounging ledge A top step about 8 inches deep where people lounge with or without furniture. It can include a built-in umbrella and tiki-light mounts.

Glass tile Interior pool finishes, with small tiles, especially iridescent ones. "The water dances around in the pool," he said.

Vanishing edges Edges, including spills on all sides, elevated perimeter overflows and multiple levels of overflow. This includes pools that are cantilevered.

Shallower pools The deepest part might be 5 1/2 feet in the center.

Beach entry A gentle slope into the pool in lieu of steps, and bench edge, where the side of the pool is about 18 inches above ground.

Fire pits Pits recessed in the deck, or in bowls or torches at the water's edge, reflect in the pool.

There are nearly 5 million in-ground pools and more than 5.6 million hot tubs in the United States.

Source: The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals

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