There was a time when practically all of Kevin Anderson’s customers requested package pools with a free-form design. But these days, his projects are taking on a different shape. Of the nearly 40 new vinyl-liner pools he builds a year, half are rectangle. 

And Anderson’s not alone.

In fact, 59 percent of the respondents for our exclusive survey say they have built more geometric than free-form pools in the last two years. The president of the Swimming Pool and Spa Division for Gappsi Inc. in Smithtown, N.Y, a Pool & Spa News Masters of Design winner, attributes this shift in style preference to an increased demand for automatic pool covers.

“Every year, we do more and more of them,” he says. “A customer will say they want a free-form pool, but then I’ll introduce the cover to them and they get a rectangle pool with a cover instead.”

He admits the “trend” is dictated by his sales force, acknowledging that some of his competitors don’t inform their clients about the option. However, in the end, money savings and safety are driving the sale. Although Anderson is in sync with his peers regarding today’s popular pool shapes, he is in the minority when it comes to in-ground spas. Unlike the 70 percent of survey respondents who indicated that they incorporate in-ground spas into their vinyl pool projects, Anderson steers his clients in a different direction. Ten years ago, nearly a third of the vinyl pools he built — which at the time also were free-form — featured a built-in spa. This year, only two of his vinyl projects will include one.

“The quality of a regular portable spa is so much better,” he says. “It’s easier to maintain and service and it’s half the price of a built-in.”

Remodel Revolution

Like 51 percent of those who responded to the survey, Brian Worley of Everclear Pool and Backyard Co., also a Pool & Spa News Masters of Design winner, spends nearly half of his time renovating existing vinyl-liner pools.

More often than not, a customer will approach the president of the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company to replace the liner on a 20-year-old pool, but will end up adding a variety of features that completely transform the original look of the poolscape.

“We could put a liner in a pool and that would be the end of it,” he says. “But we’re doing things that are making pools better and easier to maintain.”

In the last two years, Worley has witnessed an increase in these more extensive renovations, some of them topping $30,000. In addition to poured concrete steps, nearly every one of his projects includes LED lights (which happened to rank as the most popular customized option on the survey), an in-floor cleaning system, a salt generator, a control system, a waterfeature, and specialty options such as tanning ledges or an automatic cover.

But these upgrades don’t just happen by chance. Only 25 percent of his customers come to him with specific features in mind. So Worley puts effort into telling them what’s available.

“There are a lot of things different about a pool now compared to how they were built 20 years ago,” he says. “There’s a difference between being pushy and being opportunistic.”

Michael Alford, owner of Mike’s Pools & Spas in Dyersburg, Tenn., also has experienced an upswing in his renovation projects, all of which include energy-efficient equipment. Variable-speed pumps ranked as the highest eco-friendly part in demand, according to the survey, a fact that Alford can attest to, but he also has seen a tremendous increase in LED lights and automation, as well as a rise in the interest of solar heating.

“Overall, there’s really just a strong movement towards green energy,” he says. “People have started seeing the results and the word is getting out. We’re really getting away from those old dinosaurs now.”

Amenities Abound

Homeowners are becoming more energy conscious, but they are also seeking ways to add character to their pools and their backyards. In addition to pergolas, outdoor kitchens and fire pits, staples like prefabricated slides and waterfeatures continue to be in high demand, says Worley, who has sold these “extras” to at least 60 percent of his vinyl-liner pool clients since 2005. Waterfeature sales alone have increased more than 50 percent in the past two years.

By 2015, Worley believes amenities more commonly seen in public facilities will make their way to the backyard. In addition to splash pads, he anticipates climbing walls will be added to the list of features customers will request.

Although he hasn’t installed any himself, he has seen a few splash pads pop up in the backyards of several neighborhood homes. To accommodate this expected interest, Worley plans to add one to the front of his newly renovated storefront in the near future.

“A lot of parks have them and a lot of manufacturers are making them for small residential use for under $10,000, and it’s a great thing to have,” he says.

In the meantime, Worley will continue to fulfill his requests for sports pools — which include basketball hoops and volleyball nets — a category that currently dominates his vinyl-liner projects by upwards of 70 percent.