Guide to Swimming Pool Features: Glossary of Terms
By Alan E. Sanderfoot
To guide your pool planning research and help you talk the talk, we have compiled a short glossary of some words and phrases you are likely to encounter while gathering swimming pool design ideas and meeting with your pool builder and designer.
Above: This style of pool is a deck-level perimeter-overflow in which the water overflows on all sides and is recirculated back into the pool. This creates a stunning mirror-like effect. Photo courtesy of Aquatic Consultants/Brian Van Bower, Inc, Miami, FL
Aggregate: a mixture of colored plaster and decorative particles. The particles can be tumbled stones, coated quartz, glass beads or ground marble. The size and color of the stone material determines the overall texture and hue of the aggregate surface. For pools, colored aggregates are commonly available in whites, browns, greens, blues, grays and blacks. Aggregates look much darker and shinier when wet, so it is important to view them wet when comparing them. Some are polished after installation to smooth out any sharp edges.
Black-bottom pool: a pool surfaced with a dark gray or black material, which can be plaster, aggregate, tile, fiberglass or vinyl. When filled with water, the pool has a reflective surface that mirrors the surrounding vegetation and architecture, as well as the clouds passing overhead. Often used to create natural-looking, pond-like pools, a black bottom can also be striking in contemporary installations. In some warmer climates, the dark color may contribute a few degrees of heat to the water. Synonym: reflecting pool
Cantilevered deck: a pool deck that continues over the edge of the pool, eliminating the need for separate coping stones or bricks. A cantilevered deck usually is made from a single material, such as stamped concrete or wood deck boards. In addition to creating a clean, uncluttered aesthetic, a cantilevered deck makes it possible to hide the under-track system of an automatic pool cover.
Coping: masonry used to cap the top edges of the pool wall. Common materials include brick and pre-cast colored concrete. Higher-end projects may utilize pieces of tumbled natural stone, or the most costly 2- to 3-inch thick pieces of natural stone with a bullnosed or chiseled face. A pool cover track can be attached to thicker pieces of stone.
Custom mosaic design: an original picture or pattern. It can be made of handpainted ceramic tile, small pieces of glass tile or tumbled pieces of stone. A custom mosaic is designed to fit the unique size, shape and aesthetic of a particular pool. Mosaics can be installed as part of all-tile pool surfaces or as accents and focal points on plastered pool surfaces.
Fiber-optic lighting: a lighting fixture that uses an illuminator to send light through a plastic cable. Used for landscape and underwater lighting, fiber-optic lighting is desirable around pools because it offers a variety of design options while keeping the electrical power source away from the water. Also, the illuminator can be fitted with colored lenses to change the color of the light emitted from the fiber-optic cable. Side-emitting cable can be used like neon.
Grotto: an imitation cave. Grottos are exotic additions to natural-looking pools, especially when built beneath a waterfall. Some grottos have underwater benches and lighting to enhance enjoyment. Grottos can be built with real boulders, but are often crafted from artificial rock. Most require additional engineering due to the added weight at the edge of the pool.
Infinity edge: a design element whereby one side of a pool is lower than the water level so that water spills over it. Viewed from the opposite side of the pool, a negative edge creates the illusion that there is no wall to hold back the water. In reality, the water spills into a catch basin and is recirculated back to the pool. A negative edge is especially striking when the pool is adjacent to a large, natural body of water and the negative edge is positioned to create the illusion that the pool water flows directly into the lake, bay or ocean. Synonyms: infinity pool, negative edge, vanishing edge, zero edge
Integrated spa with pool: a pool and spa installation whereby the spa is attached to the pool. Some pool and spa installations treat the spa as a separate object set away from the pool. An integrated spa with pool is considered one entity, with the spa merely portioned off in one corner of the pool. With an integrated spa, the pool and spa typically share circulating and heating equipment.
Laminar fountain: a special style of deck jet with a fountain head that removes the air in the water and emits a perfectly round rod water stream. These are the fountains that can be lit with fiber optics to carry light through the stream. Exotic laminars can be made to dance or leap.
Lap pool: a long, narrow pool designed for lap swimming. The configurations of some backyards are best served by a lap lane, which can often fit where other pool sizes and shapes cannot, such as along the sides of a home. Also, some homeowners who like to swim for fitness opt to include a lap pool as part of a larger pool design.
Mister: a water feature that creates a fine, fog-like spray. Besides creating a mystical cloud-like atmosphere, misters serve the practical purpose of cooling down extremely hot pool environments. They can be installed wherever the poolscape and decking might need cooling off, although they are typically used in hot desert climates where poolside lounging and dining would otherwise be unbearably hot. Synonym: fogger
Natural waterfall: a waterfall made of real boulders and rocks to create a natural effect. Natural waterfalls often include multiple streams and spillways. Artificial rock construction can also be used to create a natural-looking waterfall, especially where the design calls for intricate rock formations and mountain motifs. They look the most realistic on sloping properties.
Perimeter overflow: a pool that is overflowing its rim on all sides and has a waveless, mirror-like effect. A collection gutter or slot collects the overflowing water. The water drains via gravity to a holding tank (surge tank). The pump drains water from the tank, filters and heats the water, and returns it to the pool. Perimeter-overflow pools can be raised or deck-level. Synonym: waveless pool, flooded deck
Raised spa: a spa that is elevated above the pool surface. A raised spa can add a dramatic focal point to a poolscape. A raised spa can double as a water feature if it is designed to permit spa water to cascade into the pool. Depending on the type of installation, the spa may or may not share the main pool's circulating equipment. Raised perimeter-overflow spas overflow on all sides, creating a unique gravity-defying effect.
Sheet waterfall: a waterfall whereby the water cascades in an unbroken sheet. Sheet waterfalls can be built to custom lengths. Typically, a manufactured weir is installed to ensure a consistent, even flow of water. Note, however, that the sheet effect diminishes as the distance between the waterfall and the pool increases. Also, high winds can break up the sheet of water before it hits the pool.
Stone pavers: factory cut and finished rectangular pieces of stone, which can be set in sand or mortared in place on a cement slab. Sand-set pavers can move and allow weed growth. Mortared stones are more expensive, due to the need for a support slab.
Field-cut stone pavers: depending on the tolerances that are maintained in the grout joints (joints between stones), these can be the most costly decks to install. Each piece of stone is handled 3 to 5 times, as it is cut and fitted to its surrounding stones.
Swim-up bar: a refreshment area that is accessed from within the pool. Swim-up bars typically include underwater stools and a place to set beverages. Although some swim-up bars are completely surrounded by water, most are at the edge of the pool adjacent to a sunken patio bar or outdoor kitchen area.
Underwater bench: a submerged seating ledge in the pool. Underwater benches offer a welcome respite for both fitness enthusiasts and casual swimmers who do not want to get entirely out of the water. Some pool owners have these plumbed with hydrotherapy jets for further enjoyment. A large ledge with just a couple inches of water on top is sometimes called a tanning shelf. A bench that juts into the deck area so it does not consume pool space it is sometimes called a swim-out.