With more Americans opting for“stay-cations” over traditional family retreats, the heat is on pool builders to produce innovative — and economical — backyard solutions.

It’s particularly pressing in arid locales such as Phoenix and Las Vegas.

“In Arizona, having somewhere to cool off in the summer is not a luxury — it’s a necessity,” says Steve Rondeau, co-owner and president of Phoenix-based Rondo Pools.

So builders are getting creative, developing new ways to provide a lower cost backyard oasis.

In addition to the pools it has sold for 25 years, Rondeau’s company now promotes spraypads, inexpensive alternatives modeled after the interactive waterfeatures popular in waterparks and shopping malls.

“For somewhere between $7,500 to $9,500, it gives people a way to stay cool without having the full expense of a pool,” Rondeau says. “In the off-season, it just doubles as a big deck area.”

Here, Rondeau explains how his firm has adapted this commercial mainstay for residential use.

General layout

Whether they’re called spraypads, splash playgrounds, water playgrounds or wet decks, these features include a series of vertical jets that allow users to walk and splash through them.

The jets, which can be sequenced to shoot in different intervals and patterns, are installed flush with the floor.

Besides their lower cost relative to pools, spraypads also are easier on the builder.

“Because there’s no standing water, it doesn’t require fencing or other barriers,” Rondeau says. “And the only permit you need to pull is the electrical permit for running power to the recirculating pump.”

In addition, he says, spraypads take as little as four to five days to build.

Practically speaking, they can range in size from 150 square feet and up. But for the sake of economies of scale, Rondeau prefers a minimum of 240 square feet.

“If someone wants less than that, we’d certainly do it for them,” he says. “But just with the mobilization charges to get crews out to the job site, it doesn’t make sense to do a whole lot less work than that because you’re going to end up paying nearly the same price.”

Economics aside, the builder also must consider how much clearance each jet will need. Rondeau recommends at least six nozzles, each of which must have enough room to contain splash-out.

“When the jet shoots up in the air, it doesn’t land right where it started from,” Rondeau says. “We want to contain all that water, and to do that, you need a little bit of space.”

When designing spraypads, consult the manufacturer to determine how much room each jet should have. Wind and the water’s height also will affect the splash factor.

Rondeau uses a product that requires about a 4-foot radius for each jet. “Those circles can overlap, but we try not to have them extend off the pads,” he says.

Builders can shape the pads based on the client’s preference. Just make sure the configuration allows you to lay the jets so they’re properly grouped into balanced zones, similar to an in-floor cleaning system.

“Fluid dynamics dictates how many fountains we can have on each zone and how many zones we can have in the system,” Rondeau says.

When building a pool in the backyard as well, Rondeau spaces the spraypad at least 4 feet from the vessel.

“We want a safe walking distance between the two bodies of water,” he says.

In the materials

Rondeau’s team outlines many of the pads with a 12-inch band of colored concrete around the perimeter, which is poured first.

The main body of the pad is composed of a properly draining sub-base, with a 6-inch slab above it. A 1/2-inch layer of a rubberized deck material finishes off the pad, and provides slip resistance and a softer landing if a child should fall.

The pad is graded at a slope of 1/4 inch per foot toward the drain in the center.

Rubberized deck finishes often are used in playgrounds — there are several currently on the market. Composed of tiny rubber beads held together with a binding agent, they resemble a very tightly knit, exposed aggregate finish.

In his search for the right product, Rondeau wanted something that didn’t require chemicals or gasses to apply. He also considered color options. The spraypad should entertain like a playground, he says, but not look like one.

“You’ve seen some that have a lot of primary colors, and they can be really loud and boisterous,” he says. “In a backyard, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. We’ve tended to stick with more of the earth tones — tans and greens, and combinations of tan and white, green and white. It’s a very mild, soft look.”

As a cost-saver, some companies will build spraypads out of salt-finished concrete or other similarly hard products. But these products offer no cushion a fall — and they get very hot.

“If people are interested in just having a concrete or regular decking finish, we encourage them to look elsewhere,” he adds. “We’re going to be a little bit more expensive, but safety is just too much of a concern for us to sacrifice that part of what we do.”

While pouring the outer band, the crews recess a 1/2-inch notch at the inside edge, so the rubberized material can be laid flush with the colored concrete.

“We want it nice and flat, so when the kids run on and off the area, they’re not going to snag toes or trip and hurt themselves,” Rondeau says.

Besides giving the pad a clean outline, the band helps prevent the rubberized material from delaminating. It serves as a vertical barrier, preventing moisture from accumulating between the horizontal sub-deck and rubberized finish.

Down the pipeline

Designers also should consider safety when designing a spraypad’s hydraulic system. “We purposely don’t have any standing water on the surface in an effort to eliminate drowning as an issue,” Rondeau says.

After hitting the ground, water rolls toward the middle of the pad, then drops through a grate and into a drain box. Next, it flows to a buried fiberglass surge tank, which is usually placed near the equipment pad.

The path between the grate and surge tank is fueled only by gravity, removing any surface suction and, with it, the threat of entrapment.

To accomplish this, Rondeau slopes the drain line like a deck — 1/4inch down for every foot of run, until it reaches the tank.

He also addresses entrapment by limiting the water velocity that fuels the jets.

“We try not to have them shoot much higher than 6- to 8 feet,” he says. “We’ve limited the velocity at the nozzle to 20 feet per second.”

So if a curious child were to somehow become caught in the drain box, he or she wouldn’t be sucked in when one of the jets switches on.

A small pump — usually 1/2- to 3/4hp, depending on the demand — moves water from the collection tank back through the jets. To keep the water clean, Rondeau outfits the systems with a small cartridge filter, and either an in-line chlorinator or UV ozone system.

An automatic water filler inside the surge tank compensates for water lost through splashout or evaporation.

If his company also is building a pool, the spraypad will be designed to pull water from the larger vessel rather than a surge tank; the spraypad will, however, still have its own set of equipment.

Controls can be as basic or elaborate as preference and budget allow, from a simple time clock to more automated options.

Finally, to ease the heat, crews may add a temporary fabric shade, especially considering the water only jumps 6- to 8 feet.

“This is a great way to stay cool and give your kids a resort-style atmosphere in the backyard without breaking the bank,” Rondeau says.