There’s something special that rain curtains bring to a project.
“I think there’s just some inherent connection that it’s a little bit more natural when we see a rain curtain.” says Tanr Ross, owner/designer for Las Vegas-based Pool-scapes. “I don’t know if it brings out the kid in us and makes us think of rainy days where we got a moment to play outside in the rain ... There’s just some inherent connection with the rain [aspect] of it.”
These features present many advantages. First of all, they add instant drama, especially when spilled from a higher location. Or they can have the opposite effect.
“One of the cool things about the architecture of these, if done correctly, is they can make a space feel very intimate and private and unique,” says Trevor Tipton, president of Phoenix-based Venetian Outdoors.
They accomplish this using less water than solid sheet waterfalls — and without the problems that occur when surface tension interferes and causes a sheet to break up during long drops.
And installing them has become easier than ever, as pre-manufactured hardware has become available for just this purpose.
“They’re not very expensive for the units themselves, but the impact is dramatic,” Ross says. Prices go up, of course, if a dedicated structure is needed to support the waterfall.
And while their installation and mechanics are very similar to sheet falls, they offer a special effect.
“Almost always, when we know there’s going to be an overhang of almost any kind over the pool, we almost always put a rain descent,” Ross says.
Here, builders who regularly employ these features offer tips for their success.
Give it a purpose.
These features aren’t as big, opaque or loud as similarly sized sheet waterfalls, but they still provide a nice way to block views.
“We [build them] a lot of times in areas where the back walls for the property aren’t really gorgeous,” Ross says. “It’s one way to get your eyes away from an unattractive backdrop.”
They also can be used as something of a divider in the pool, to help establish zones. For instance, the rain curtain can set off a swim-up bar, or even just a set of stools.
“People like the idea of the ambiance when the rainfall hits a little behind where they’re sitting and creates an audible cave effect,” Ross says.
Or they can be installed in the middle of the pool by building a dedicated architectural beam across the vessel and spilling the curtain from there. This can separate, say, a sport or play zone from the lounging area.
Of course, the purpose can be completely aesthetic. Keith Zars sometimes will place a rain curtain in front of a decorative wall — say, a mosaic or beautiful granite — to bring more attention and add some texture to it.
“It makes what you have behind there stand out a little bit more because of the rain ... ” says the manager of Keith Zars Pools in San Antonio, Texas. “It just makes it a little more mysterious.”
Allow proper clearance.
Rain curtains will produce some splashout, especially in windier conditions. For this reason, Ross tries to place these features at least 30 inches into the pool, so they’re far enough away from the coping or deck.
“[Thirty inches] can at least accommodate some movement and splashout without constantly getting the deck or coping wet,” he says.
Otherwise, spalling or other problems can occur from the constant wet-dry cycles. Once a pool owner notices the issue, they’ll stop using the feature.
Under the right conditions, such as a courtyard area that contains breezes, Ross will go as close as 18 inches away from the edge. But the client will still get a warning.
Know when to avoid this feature.
Rain curtains can be used in almost any application, these professionals say. However, they do not make a good fit in unusually windy environments. The thing that makes them so charming — the individual droplets — also are vulnerable to a breeze.
Also avoid them if the area is small enough that the rain curtain becomes too dominant, Tipton advises.
“[Some designers] force a feature in that is awkward and unbalanced and makes the project then feel uncomfortable,” he says.
Also be cognizant of water loss. The aeration that occurs with rain curtains has its pluses and minuses. Those in hotter environments may benefit from the water-cooling effect. But those in drought-prone areas may need to consider the evaporation that occurs as a result of this aeration.
Provide versatility through automation.
These features can generate a sizable sound to help liven up parties or kids’ play areas. Or they can be throttled down for a nice white noise that’s more appropriate for intimate conversations or quieter times. To facilitate flow adjustments, outfit these systems with variable-speed pumps and automation.
Carefully choose the hardware.
Tipton has examined various rain-curtain systems and decided to stick with metal- based products rather than plastics.
First of all, he feels more confident in metals to withstand the brutal Arizona summer temperatures and the weight of masonry or other materials from the structure sitting on it.
But he also prefers the way the water looks coming out of metal nozzles. “It’s a lot cleaner to look at in my opinion,”he says. “When water flows over plastic and when it flows over metal, they have two different thermal dynamics, which affects how the water proceeds out of it. I think the [metal] produces a cleaner, crisper look.”
Filter the water.
A rain curtain is produced when water flows through a series of small nozzles. These openings can become susceptible to clogging if not properly maintained.
To avoid such problems, Zars likes to install rain curtains with their own filters. “It just keeps the whole system cleaner,” he says.