Photography Bluestone Pools

Planning Your Pool

Last Updated: 18 Nov 2013
Claire Watkins

Your step-by-step guide of the 11 things you need to know when planning your own perfect pool.

Questions to ask yourself before getting started
• Who will be using your pool, and for what reasons?
• What are you able to commit to financially for the design, build and long-term maintenance of your pool?
• How does the size of your outdoor space determine the shape of your pool?

"Often the best pools are the simplest," says Ryan Healy, managing director of Newforms and director of Phase3. "The question for the designer is, 'How can we deliver the client's requirements with the least amount of complication?' That's when design prowess – in combination with an understanding of construction method – comes to fruition."


Three simple words – get started early. You may have been thinking about your dream pool for a while, but the truth is that the planning of it is likely to be a long and convoluted process.

When building a new home, the outdoor space is sometimes an afterthought: it's imperative to get it right from the beginning. Get familiar with council and legal requirements before any design decisions are made. When it comes to plumbing, pool footings, electrics and water-treatment systems, making assumptions can be an extremely costly exercise in terms of retrofitting.

If you're working from a blank canvas, get your landscape designer working with your architect and builder. There's nothing worse than a beautifully constructed pool that misses the mark when it comes to the design, or vice versa. Providing an explanation of the reasons behind every design decision is the difference between an average designer and one worth their salt.

It's also important to not fall into the trap of treating the pool and the outdoor space as two separate design challenges. Ultimately they need to complement each other.


When it comes to determining the size and depth of your swimming pool, it helps to narrow the selection down by asking yourself a few questions. "Gone are the days when we just design a pool that is 1200mm deep at the shallow end and 1800mm deep at the deep end," says Ryan Healy, managing director of Newforms and director of Phase3. "It all starts at the initial consultation and with asking the client how they anticipate they will utilise their pool – do they want something they can lounge and entertain in? Do they want something they can do laps in? Is it for the kids to run and jump? Do they want an area in which they can introduce their young children to water? Is it all of the above? Or is it purely for aesthetic value?"

While a recreational pool may simply require a shallow and deep area in any shape, a pool for athletic purposes would best suit a long, straight section for laps. Alternatively, for those with limited space, a swim spa is a good, compact and functional option.

Next come the different options for ledges and steps. "The advantage of concrete pools is their flexibility and the ability to customise the shape and ledges, but the client must be aware that the more intricate the pool steps and ledges, the more the cost increases," says Ryan.

With higher-density living becoming the norm and accompanying smaller lot sizes, the need to maximise usable space has also opened the doors to a style traditionally seen in luxury resorts – the plunge pool. However, Ryan is also seeing a resurgence of the desire in Generation X to hark back to what they grew up with – namely, a decent, larger-size pool that kids can run, jump and play in.


Providing a finish that not only looks good but feels good too, it's no wonder tiling is often considered the premium when it comes to finishing a swimming pool. And, according to Paul Robins of Ceramic Tile Supplies, the best thing about a tiled or mosaic pool is that it will never fade, wear or crack.

"On top of this, when you see a fully tiled pool – in glass mosaics in particular – the result is always spectacular!" Paul says. "The depth of colour, energy and movement that the mosaics provide is quite outstanding. The choice of colours is also huge, so you can achieve any look that you can imagine."

Pools lined with tiles are also easier to clean compared to a cement-based surface, and require less maintenance.

While the price tag may be a little heftier and grout may require periodic cleaning, tiling makes up for this with a long lifespan. "When it comes to installing, a high-performance polymer-modified adhesive is always needed in swimming pools, as well as a good waterproofing membrane, which many people overlook," says Paul.

Paul also highly recommends the use of epoxy grout as a type of insurance policy when using glass mosaics, especially on waterline tiling, water features and overflow walls – basically any areas that can get very hot when out of the water, and cool down rapidly when exposed to water. "Epoxy grout has traditionally been very difficult to work with, however, there is a new generation that is proving to be very user-friendly."

As for curved surfaces of the pool, "it's all in the preparation!" says Paul. This is where it's important to discuss with your tiler their particular techniques for such surfaces, so that you don't end up with cracks or loose tiles.


While it's tempting to dive straight into your pool at the first sign of a hot day, it's important to make sure you know what's going on under the surface. Preventative measures need to be taken to ensure your pool doesn't become a breeding ground for infection-causing bacteria.

Depending on the size of your pool and your budget, there are a range of options.

Perhaps the most talked-about form of pool sanitation at the moment is ozone. Ozone treatment has been widely used around the world in public pools, hospital hydrotherapy pools, health farms and industrial water treatment plants, and is now being used in backyard pools, too.

"Ozone is one of the most effective bactericides known," says Jutta Wilkinson of Healing Water Supplies. "Ozone kills bacteria, algae, viruses and fungi 5000 times faster than chlorine, leaving the water with sparkling clarity and a bluish tint."

The chlorine-free swimming system uses high levels of oxygen, promoting the healing of cuts and skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis. Furthermore, there is no deterioration of swimwear and no need to shower after swimming.

"As there is no use of harsh chemicals, pool equipment will last longer and there is no corrosion of pool blankets and cleaners," Jutta says. "Ozone can be safely backwashed into the gardens, which will flourish from the water that has no residual chlorine, salt or bromine."

Pool chemicals based on chlorine and bromine are the most traditionally used forms of pool sanitation. However, as these sanitisers do their work it's been shown that they gradually become less effective. This, of course, leads to the need for renewal and level top-ups.

When it comes to the different forms of chlorine – granular, liquid and tablet – it pays to shop around, because the type you choose determines whether you need to adjust levels manually or if the work can be done automatically. Another side effect is the 'public pool' smell of chlorine, along with possible eye and skin irritation.

Often thought of as a more natural option, salt water chlorination erases the need to buy, store and handle many chemicals. While you may be paying more up front, maintenance time is cut back so there is a lower cost of upkeep. In addition, it's considered a healthier choice for your skin and eyes.

Jutta also advises that water circulation is important for pool clarity. When building a pool, keep in mind the layout of plumbing, suction and return jets to provide optimum pool operation. "When using a sand filter, sand media needs changing every five years, whereas glass media will last for up to 20 years and filters down to two microns. Sand only filters down to five to seven microns," she says.


Even with our nation's beautiful climate, maintaining an ideal 25-degree water temperature requires a little outside help. If you've invested in a pool you may as well maximise the benefits and make your summer last longer.

By now we're realising the multiple benefits a bit of sunshine can have on our energy consumption, household bills and ecological footprint. These days, the most economical way to heat a pool is through solar heating, requiring no power if installed with a co-existing filter pump. That being said, the amount of heat available is dependent on the amount of sun, which should be considered.

After a simple installation process where a multi-tube solar collector is mounted on the roof for maximum sun exposure, pool water is circulated to absorb its heat before being pumped back into the pool.

"The efficiency of a solar heating system for your pool is extremely high, as it is not trying to convert the sun's heat to some other form of energy," says Malcolm Roux of Pool Solar & Spa. But be warned: do your research on the best system for you. "Over the years, the company has seen some fancy and expensive products for pool solar heating. Most of these systems work for a while before they pack up, leak, and/or require expensive surgery. A good-quality and properly installed solar heating system should give you many years of trouble-free service."

For those concerned about the visual impact of a solar system on the roof, there are options. "A colour-matched solar collector, such as the Venetian Solar system, offers you the ultimate solution to the standard, black, flexible and panel systems available on the market today," says Malcolm. "Here, the black section of the collector faces the sun to enable optimum heat absorption, while your eye sees only the co-extruded coloured strip, creating the ultimate illusion of full colour."

Another efficient and reliable option is gas pool heating. With a fast heat-up time and the ability to be closely regulated, gas heaters provide year-round heating regardless of weather conditions. In addition, gas heating has been known to experience fewer problems with wear and tear compared with other heaters. When considering which gas heater to choose, remember to think about the size of your pool, how long you're willing to wait for heat-up time, the ideal temperature you want to reach, and how far your budget will stretch for purchase and installation.

Working by drawing in air from the space around them, electric heaters are considered a very effective and consistent form of pool heating, particularly in spring and summer when the air is warmer. While they are relatively cheap to purchase and install, the high energy costs associated with heating large pools is a deterrent. However, in the case of a spa that contains much less water, electric heating can be very effective.


It's one thing to enjoy a view of the pool during the day, but it's something else entirely to be able to experience it once the sun goes down.

Whether you're enjoying a balmy summer's night entertaining alfresco, or a cold winter's evening rugged up poolside, the ambience of pool lighting is instantly relaxing and mesmerising, and well worth investing in. Finding a lighting professional with superior design skills and technical knowledge, one who is involved from the very beginning of the pool-design process, is key.

But with more lighting options than ever on the market come more decisions. From LED, halogen and fibre-optic to wall-mounted, flush-mounted and multicoloured options, it's important to know what's right for your individual pool design.

"Gone are the days of lighting pools with one big surface-mounted light from one end," says Gerry de Wind of Mondoluce. "What's trending now is multiple blades of light shining across the pool, with colour temperatures of blue and cool white providing the most defined effect."

Halogen is still one of the most widely used types of lighting, but LEDs are now gunning for the lead position thanks to raised consumer awareness of their energy efficiency. While known to be the more expensive of the two, LEDs can use up to 90 per cent less power than halogens, and offer superior long-life capability.

When it comes to landscape lighting, it's time to consider the best elements to highlight. Think wall lights, path lights, step lights and in-ground lights. However, be sure to speak with your contractor about each light's position in terms of where you will most likely be seated when they are switched on. Some in-ground lights may need small coverings to shield eyes from blinding beams.


Whether it be manual, semi-automatic or fully automatic, mesh, slat or liquid, a pool cover is one of the most important fixtures you can have. Not only is it a cost-effective way of keeping dirt and debris out of your sparkling new pool, it also reduces evaporation by up to 80 per cent in the summer months, which in turn reduces chemical usage.

Furthermore, pool heating costs can be reduced by up to 50 per cent simply by using a pool cover, and a properly installed, specially designed cover will lessen the need for filtration, saving time on maintenance. There's also the benefit of peace of mind, with increased safety for those with children.

"There are two big things people are looking for in pool covers today: safety, and underground hideaway systems," says Richard Norrish of Elite Pool Covers. "With many homeowners opting for glass balustrading in their backyards, they're coming to realise they don't want to ruin the view with an unsightly pool cover."

One favoured system is the Elite Solar Pool Blanket. Not only is it easily operable for one person, it can also be installed to new and most existing pools of almost any shape and size. "The whole box is made of marine-grade anodised aluminium, under which the blanket is stored – out of sight when not in use," Richard says.

For those concerned about the appearance of a pool cover, a liquid cover may be the answer. Silicon based liquid chemicals added to the pool work to form a thin, invisible protective layer on the surface of the pool, leaving you and your guests to enjoy the view.


Choosing the right pool-surround material can often lead back to the same questions as at the design stage: primarily, who will be using the area and to what level of maintenance are you prepared to commit?

Natural stone is a unique, durable and low-maintenance option, offering a variety of colours and textures to suit any outdoor space. Irregular shapes and patterns are often another drawcard for this material.

Homeowners with young families often like the idea of having grass surrounding the pool, firstly as a play area for their children, and secondly for its non-slip appeal. Real grass can often be high-maintenance, so some turn to artificial turf. Known for being low-maintenance, pesticide-free and aesthetically appealing, artificial turf is a great option, but it can become unpleasantly hot underfoot in summer.

Creating an instant entertaining area, decking is an attractive and durable option for the surrounding poolscape. "Timber in general has a warmth and softness that can't be felt from paving and concrete," says Austin Pearce of Austin Developments. "Other than an optional change in texture and material, timber decking is a great choice to cascade over uneven or sloping ground levels. With lots of bold lines, it can also help create a feeling of width and length in small areas, depending on board direction." While real timber offers rich colours and can be sanded to refresh the life of the product, it does require maintenance, and there can be constant movement with changing weather conditions. "Timber can be affected by chlorine and salt, so be prepared to replace timbers adjacent to the pool more often than the rest of the decking," says Janine Mendel of Cultivart Landscape Design.

For those looking for a no-maintenance, long-durability option, composite decking is proving a popular choice. The downside is that it offers limited colours and somewhat lacks the rich, warm colour and finishes that real timber offers. However, the pros outweigh the cons for many. "Composite decking equals no board twisting and warping," says Austin.

"It's also non-slip compared to real timber, depending on the product; it features secret fixing so there are no hazardous exposed nails and screws; and it is the perfect material for around pools with water exposure."


Without adequate shading and cover from Australia's harsh UV rays, little to no time will be spent in the pool on the days when it really counts.

Shade sails are a cost-effective solution, ensuring maximum use of the pool or spa when you need it most. "While providing 95 per cent UV protection, shade sails also save your water usage by reducing evaporation," says Lyn Taylor of Shade Experience. "They can also provide a level of privacy if that is an issue, and enhance the outdoor area with custom-made designs."

Blocking significant heat and glare, louvres provide not only an effective solution but also an attractive one. However, Geoff Clark of Modular Shades + Shutters warns that when it comes to louvre systems, customers shouldn't compromise on quality. "This is a major feature for your house and outdoor living area, and a better system will outlast and look better than basic budget models in the long-run," he says. "Find a showroom with a large operable display, and ask a lot of questions."

In addition, this is a feature where it pays to plan ahead. "Consult with your louvre supplier or architect early to ensure you have planned how and where rainwater will fall," Geoff advises. "Getting this right up front will ensure the opening and supporting structure has built-in fall, which will give you a better look at the end of the day."

For those within a kilometre of a water body (river or coastal), Geoff recommends an anodised finish for louvres because it will help protect and strengthen the product, and maintain a clean finish for years to come. It also looks spectacular when illuminated with good lighting.

In the months where outdoor entertaining isn't a priority, the louvre orientation can still be beneficial. "By designing the louvres to open to the north you'll capture more of the winter sun, creating a heat sink for those times of the year when you need it most," says Geoff.


Some may feel they're an inconvenience, while many others praise the fact that they are compulsory. On whichever side of the fence you sit, choosing the right pool barrier makes all the difference to the appearance of your outdoor area.

For obvious reasons, such as reducing the risk of children having access to the pool, there are regulations that must be adhered to. "Fencing and balustrading around the pool must be at a minimum of 1.2m high, with a self-closing, self-locking gate that opens out and away from the pool," says John Timms of Absolute Balustrades. In addition, regular maintenance checks are imperative, particularly at the start of summer.

In terms of selecting the best design for your needs, John advises that glass is one of the most popular choices. Available in framed, semi-framed and frameless versions, glass fencing offers a contemporary and stylish finish. "Not only does it allow a clear view of the kids in the pool, it also blocks out wind and lets you enjoy unobstructed views of the pool when entertaining."

When you think glass, you may associate it with hours of scrubbing to get rid of water and fingerprint marks. The good news is products like Nanocoat and Duracoat can provide a water-repellent barrier that prevents dirt and grime from making a mark.


Striking in appearance yet soothing in effect, a water feature can really bring a pool to life. If you've decided that you simply can't have one without the other, there are a few things to consider first.

"Good planning is important," says Matt Stafford of Watergarden Warehouse. "It becomes a lot harder and more costly to add in a water feature after the pool has been constructed. That said, you can add a stand-alone feature later."
Keep in mind the type of spout and volume of water when choosing a feature.

"Some people are looking for a noise level to block out traffic or other neighbourhood noise, so they require a tap or spout-like feature or water blades, where there is a large volume of water moving to create sound," Matt said.

"Others prefer a subtle trickling effect, perhaps when placed outside a bedroom or close to the outdoor living area. The water from these features generally clings to the sides of the feature and is more visually appealing."

Be sure to speak with your contractor and electrician at the planning stage regarding the location of the on/off switch for the water feature. Early planning in this regard could be the difference between having to walk into the pool area to turn your water feature on, or having it installed in a more convenient location.

An alternative pool feature that still packs the 'wow' factor, laser-cut screens are a great option. "The pool is a great water feature in itself, and when incorporated with a lit screen at night to reflect on the pool, the effect can be quite dramatic."

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