Vinyl has outgrown its packaged pool confines. Installers now are maximizing the material’s potential for customization with vinyl-covered steps, tanning shelves and even barstools.
This might not have been possible if not for recent advancements in vinyl installation technology. Fitting vinyl over amenities such as wedding cake stairs would have been ill-advised a decade ago. After all, how would a liner hold its shape on, say, the top step, where there is little water weight to keep it in place?
Manufacturers have addressed this with fittings that incorporate essentially a rod-and-clip system, allowing for a snug fit over steel or concrete accoutrements.
Here, two pools that reflect this latest trend in vinyl are explored. Both are remodels, but each installer took a different approach to achieve resort-like beauty.
Raising the bar
For this project in Athens, Pa., the homeowner tasked Owego, N.Y.-based Johnson Pools & Spas with updating his L-shaped inground vinyl pool. That assignment escalated into a complete redo of the original vessel to accommodate a bar with built-in stools and a 16-foot-radius bench designed to invite guests to sit a spell.
“It was a very bland, very basic backyard pool,” says Eric Johnson, owner of the aforementioned company. “Since he entertains, the intent was to build a pool where he could entertain a lot of guests.”
The first order of business was to raze the old pool and raise the ground. Johnson tapped a trusted landscape contractor, York’s Meadowbrook Nursery, to elevate the whole outdoor living space, making it more level with the home’s ground-floor quarters. Doing so removed several levels of terraced steps that led down to the pool.
“He wanted to be able to walk out of the basement of the house and be on the same grade as the pool,” Johnson explains.
Instead of a familiar geometric shape, the client opted for a freeform, 13,000-gallon vessel tricked out with creature comforts — the swanky swim-up bar, for example. To get this feature exactly right, the homeowner sat at the bar as though he were a guest at his own party, to determine each stool’s optimal ergonomic position.
“We’d ask him, ‘Are you comfortable from the wall? Now here’s where the bar top is. How far do you want it to protrude into the pool?’” Johnson says.
The stools are 18 inches from the gently curving wall, and the bar top extends between 8- and 14 inches into the pool. In order to support the heavy, stamped-concrete countertop, contractors beefed up the steel pool panels with an 8-inch-thick concrete wall on the outside, which houses the pool’s plumbing. Guests on either side of the bar sit on the same plane — eye level, in other words.
Johnson and his wife, Janice, took meticulous measurements to ensure that the liner would fit hand-in-glove with the accompanying accessories. That was a painstaking process.
“My wife and I, combined, we probably have 100 hours in labor in layout on that liner,” he says.
The Johnsons first took A/B measurements of the top of the pool, then the steps, then the barstools. Finally, the bottom of the pool was A/B measured. With the pool plotted, they took straight-line measurements between the steel steps, benches and barstools. These figures were cross-referenced with the A/B measurements, resulting in a liner that arrived from the factory fitting to within a can’t-ask-for-better 1/8 inch.
“Not a wrinkle one,” Johnson boasts. “Not one.”
A solid approach
Galvanized steel is typically what fabricators use when creating custom structures such as steps in vinyl pools.
But that isn’t Scott Birkmaier’s style.
“Anytime you have a stainless steel step, and you jump on it, you hear that hollowness,” says Birkmaier, president of The Big Splash in Setauket, N.Y.
So when Birkmaier remodeled his own vinyl-liner pool, he replaced the old preformed fiberglass steps with interior extra-wide stairs and a stunning sun ledge made of concrete.
Just like in a steel construct, a bead on the back of the steps and a rod in the corners pins the liner down. However, laying vinyl over concrete comes with certain precautions. Because the surface of concrete is rougher, Birkmaier suggests a double-ply approach. Instead of the foam pad that you’d use between the liner and the wall, Birkmaier puts down two layers of vinyl on the stairs and sun ledge.
Adding the sun ledge and stairs meant reconfiguring the plumbing, because these elements were going to obstruct the existing returns.
“Normally, when you have a fiberglass center in-step, you have returns on either side and skimmers on the other end,” he says. “But when you’re doing a sun pad and steps [which span the length of the shallow end], you have to remove all of the plumbing from the long side.”
Because the new amenities were going to take up real estate inside the pool — and he had to dig out the plumbing anyway — Birkmaier chose to extend it 4 feet lengthwise for a 16-by-40-foot vessel. “I didn’t want to shorten my play area,” he said.
The sun ledge was accessorized with a combination table/umbrella, as well as LED bubblers. The umbrella slides into a 1-foot-long PVC sleeve cemented into the ledge. (A manufacturer has since come out with a fitting for the pool/spa table, which would have made the installation easier, Birkmaier notes.)
Likewise, the bubblers took a bit of tailoring. Because they were designed for a gunite pool, Birkmaier had to fashion faceplates from main drains to seal the liner around the bubblers. “It was something I really wanted, so we made it work,” he says.
The bubblers, plus floor laminar jets in each corner and a series of color-changing glow lights, make the remodeled vessel a spectacular showcase at night.
The pool also serves as a testament to the builder’s craftsmanship. The Big Splash specializes in remodels, and Birkmaier often cites his own backyard as an example of what’s possible with vinyl these days.