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By Julie Sturgeon

    The water beckons you today. Come, slip into the glistening ripples and enjoy the ultimate relief from the sun’s scorching rays. Start a friendly water fight, laughing as the squirt gun’s droplets spray your face before you duck under the surface to resist the tickling attack. Water is an excellent medium for increasing your aerobic capacity, strengthening your cardiovascular system, building stamina and balancing muscle virility. And it;s as close as your backyard.
    Most of the pool owners’ time is spent neat the rippling water, not in it, so you can’t ignore beauty altogether, contends Jim Fairbanks, president of Indianapolis Pool & Spa. “You’re looking at the pool 90 percent of the time -- eating lunch poolside, lying out, having beer with friends,” he says. “You want the pool to be very pleasing to the eye and blend with the surroundings. That’s why the planning stage is the most important aspect.” St. Clair agrees, admitting, “Quite frankly, I’ve built a lot of pools for people to look at.” Custom pool companies rely heaviest on landscaping and lighting to achieve this beautiful effect. Natural flora never goes out of style, unlike a flower-patterned tile around the edge of the pool, for instance. However, this isn’t to say designers ignore the pool itself: They’re handing residents blueprints for pools with combined spas, Jacuzzis and even special fountain areas. The latest gunite-type surface popping up, Pebble-Tec, is spawning a wave of attractive layouts as well. As its name implies, Pebble Tec resembles water-worn pebbles placed along the side and bottom of the pool. It lends itself well to boulders, sand and other natural touches and has a texture more like an orange peel than actual rocks, so you won’t cut your feet. The material first appeared in Australia in the mid-70’s and is now picking up steam in 15 states as well as Canada, Europe and Southeast Asia. France has given weight to the newest cutting edge design--or rather , a vanishing one in this case. Negative edge pools (also known as vanishing-edge, spill and waterfall) offer three sides at a\one elevation, with the final side a bit lower so the water tumbles over it. (The water actually falls into a lower catch basin and is recirculated into the pool.) “A vanishing-edge pool has to be built on a hillside, but it creates an unbelievable dramatic effect, ”describes Fairbanks. But no matter how stunning the design, most new pool owners are just as concerned about convenience. And even those who have had pools for years are incorporating new automatic features this season to trim time from every aspect of the maintenance process. For starters, owners call specialists to fill the pool with treated water in a few hours instead of hooking up a garden hose and waiting days. This route also reduces stains and upfront chemical costs of dumping impure water into the pool. Many homeowners building a new pool this year are saying yes to installing an automatic cleaning system on the bottom. This type of system features pop-up cleaning heads that propel a jet of water across the floor and sides of the pool to sweep debris toward the main drain and into the filter for recirculation. Every 60 seconds, a treated, filtered jet of water is distributed over the entire inside surface of the pool. (Again, swimmers won’t hurt their feet--the heads retract when stepped on.)
    “Today’s technology can cut the overall maintenance time to five to ten minutes a week. And with an outside ‘pool housekeeping’ service, you can literally cut that to zero, “St. Clair assures. In addition, pool owners are opting to computerize the climate controls, chemical balances and safety mechanisms. A panel box inside the house can preprogram everything from the filtration circulation to turning on the pool area lights. Adding a telephone link allows you to call from anywhere (including your car) to adjust settings. But the overwhelming favorite accessory is an automatic pool cover, according to Fairbanks, who says he installs this on 80 percent of the pools he builds. While safety tops the reasons to invest in this option, users claim a pool cover saves on water evaporation and heating bills, too. And best of all, the mechanism can be stored in an attractive redwood or cedar bench that doubles as a piece of furniture.

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