Installed properly, serpentine slides such as this can provide your customers plenty of splashing thrills.
Dolphin Waterslides Installed properly, serpentine slides such as this can provide your customers plenty of splashing thrills.

It’s funny how a simple request for a slide can turn into a $150,000 project.

When a client inquired about adding a slide to his pool as a means of obscuring the equipment pad, Dan Lenz built him a modular flume that wraps around a waterfall which conceals a loveseat.

“What some may look at as being a $3,000 to $5,000 slide request ended up being a $150,000 to $170,000 process,” says Lenz, vice president of All Seasons Pools & Spas in Orland Park, Ill. (The project, with a cave, dramatic LED lighting and fog system, was a 2014 Masters of Design winner.)

That’s the thing about slides: They’re seldom ever just slides. Unless it’s a standalone bolt-to-the-deck structure, a custom slide generally requires tons of rockwork and landscaping to integrate into the backyard environment.

Talk about an upsell opportunity.

Another thing about slides: They’re in demand.

“During the past two years, I’ve put on more big slides than I have in the past 10,” says Brodie Schmidt, part owner of Natural Hot Springs Pool & Spa in Boise, Idaho.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in Texas, where many homeowners are springing for extravagance.

Steve Mueller installed five super slides at $25,000 apiece last year. If they’re not giant winding rides, then he’s at least selling simple, straight runways for several thousand dollars.

“I used to not offer them that much, but that’s the first thing they’re asking for,” says the owner of Home Plate Pool Service, covering the greater San Antonio area.

So what’s behind the rise of the slide? Builders report that, as the economy continues to recover, families are splurging on kid-friendly features, bringing the waterpark experience into their own backyards.

While builders may welcome the opportunity to increase profits, there is plenty to consider when designing these super-fun add-ons. Chief among those considerations: Shotcrete vs. fiberglass?

Two slides of the debate

Simple runways can complement water features nicely
Inter-Fab Simple runways can complement water features nicely

Ask Jason Schallock which he prefers, and you’ll likely get a different answer every time. Right now, he and his crews are in a concrete groove. Recent projects have included dual shotcreted chutes and slides carved through caves.

Properly stained and polished, concrete slides can blend seamlessly with a veneered hillside. And the design possibilities are limitless. “Unless you have it custom built, you’re really locked into the slope, angle and curve,” says Schallock, general manager of Anderson Poolworks in Wilsonville, Ore. “Sometimes [a pre-manufactured slide] doesn’t fit your landscape well, so it looks like it was just stuck there and you piled a bunch of rocks around it.”

Fiberglass fans counter that modular constructs take the guesswork out of field-built flumes and eliminate variables that can sink a project, such as dead spots where the rider slows to a halt before splashing into the pool.

Plus, manufacturers have addressed customizability, allowing builders to dream up designs that are made real with prefabricated pieces. While none claim they can meet a builder’s exact specifications, manufacturers generally can come within several inches of the desired dimensions. And they offer multiple styles of flume modules that can be configured any which way.

Assembly required

Contractors prop up a slide at its intended angle before fixing it in place.
Aqua FX Contractors prop up a slide at its intended angle before fixing it in place.

While modular slides are generally a cinch to install, there are some simple missteps to avoid. Here are three of the most common:

1. Misplaced piers: Installers have seen jobs go sideways when cement footings didn’t line up with the slide’s anchor supports. “You can get specs from the manufacturer, but those specs can be misinterpreted or, quite frankly, they can be off,” Lenz cautions.

Before pouring concrete, do a “dry bolt” assembly of the slide. That means you’re not bonding the joints with a sealant yet. Place the assembled slide on the intended runway. For longer slides, try doing this in sections. For instance, you could split a 75-foot run into three 25-foot segments. Lift to the side and use spray paint to mark the locations of the anchor supports under the slide. This is where the concrete pylons or block supports will go.

Some builders feel it’s more precise to temporarily prop up the slide, then build the structure underneath, rather than digging the footings beforehand and hoping for a solid fit. This can be done by elevating the slide at its intended angle with a temporary wood frame and constructing supports with concrete masonry units, which are then filled solid. “We find that it gives us a little more flexibility,” says Bill Berry, general sales manager at Claffey Pools in Southlake, Texas. “Plus, we get a better product doing it this way.”

2. Foiled by soil: When slides settle, it’s generally because the contractor didn’t place the footings deep enough, which more than likely means the pro didn’t know the code.

Local building codes take soil conditions into account and may require digs deeper than the manufacturer recommends. Each region has its own considerations. In areas where the ground freezes, concrete piers could be pushed up, putting stress on the fiberglass. Called frost heave, it’s one of the reasons some building authorities in the Midwest mandate foundations at least 42 inches deep. The rainy, erosion-prone Northwest requires its own precautions. “Like anything you’re building, you want to start with a good base, but especially when you’re building something into a hillside,” offers Schallock, the Oregon builder. He recommends hiring a geologic service to diagnose the soil compaction.

3. H2 Uh-O!: Improperly located water lines could spell serious repairs. The deck may have to be torn out, for instance, if the source isn’t placed directly under the slide. A simple solution: Make sure contractors are communicating. Deck and plumbing subs, especially, should collaborate.

Flukes with flow also can be avoided with the right pump. Generally speaking, the longer the slide, the more horsepower required. For a 15-foot slide, Jeffrey Ingrassia typically taps into the existing pump at the equipment pad to divert water from the pool to the slide. Anything longer usually requires a dedicated pump. “We’ve done several 26-foot slides with a 2-horsepower pump, and it works great,” advises the owner of Aqua FX in Mt. Sinai, N.Y.

To make sure larger adults slide and don’t skid, builders recommend a variable-speed pump so homeowners can ramp up flow. “I think having some flexibility in water flow ... can help the customer create the effect that they’re wanting,” Lenz says.

A safer slide

Unlike bolt-to-the-deck single-piece slides, which must meet or exceed safety stipulations from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are no strict rules for custom slides. That’s because there is no magic formula to factor in all the possible variations of slide and rider, such as height, length and runway type, or user’s weight and even swimsuit style.

That’s why manufacturers consult commercial codes that apply to waterparks. While these vary from state to state, they offer some general guidelines that apply to residential projects. For example, it’s generally agreed that a slide’s exit should be within 6 inches above water’s surface and that riders enter a depth of at least 3½ feet. It’s recommended that the slide spill the rider at an angle of 15 degrees or less to prevent contact with the pool floor. But this can be adjusted for longer slides where the rider gains more speed. Indiana’s commercial waterpark code — said to be the strictest — advises that the last 10 feet of a slide 100 feet or longer level off to a 10 degree angle so that it doesn’t discharge the rider with too much velocity.

Manufacturers stress that installers follow their instructions to the letter. Making the slide steeper than intended could put riders at risk.

Affordable fun

If an epic landscape slide is out of your client’s reach, consider the simple joys of a stand-alone slide. Manufacturers are rolling out some impressive, roto-molded chutes that are higher and more twisted than the rinky-dink slides of your youth.

“The market for stand-alone slides is definitely coming back,” Schallock says. “We are seeing a lot more vinyl liner pools coming in and these slides are perfect for those.”

Lenz also is seeing a trend toward this more budget-friendly option. He estimates they’re included on at least 70 percent of new builds.

“It’s a nice, big slide with a good footprint that’s good for both kids and adults alike,” Lenz says, “whereas other slides through the years, they were for kids and that’s about it.”