From mundane to magical: Using artificial rock to turn pools into backyard resorts

December 10, 2020

By Bruce Riley

Builders should never try to limit the options available to turn a regular residential pool into a resort pool.
Builders should never try to limit the options available to turn a regular residential pool into a resort pool.

The pandemic has made consumers shift money they previously spent on vacation travel toward creating a private resort in their backyard.

There are so many options pool builders can add to turn a backyard into a ‘staycation resort,’ that it can sometimes be overwhelming when deciding what to offer. Every builder not only wants to please their client, but also wants to exceed their expectations to ensure future referrals. This is where artificial rock can make a huge impact.

One of the easiest ways to create a magical backyard escape is to use artificial rock to add water features. Luckily for builders, artificial rock suppliers now offer a wide range of component water features pre-designed into kits to create grottos, caves, and cascading waterfalls that provide a guaranteed finished look to integrate seamlessly with the client’s home and backyard. These systems even offer ways to incorporate slides, steps, and plenty of landscaping opportunities.

Start with a photo gallery

The best way to start the conversation about creating a backyard resort is to show water features on pools.

“We show customers a huge gallery of photos from past projects to get a feel for what they like,” said Virginia Stewart, a pool sales and design manager at Aqua-Tech Pools & Spas in Winnipeg, who has been installing artificial rock component water features for the past 20 years. “Because of the internet or home makeover TV shows, many clients come to us with ideas for their dream resort pool from images they have found online.

Even if a builder has not personally installed artificial rock water features, they can use photo galleries offered by manufacturers and suppliers and websites like Houzz to inspire the client.

Once the client identifies what they like, direct the conversation toward how their pool will be used. Are they looking for a slide, cave, or jump rock for younger members of the family? Or perhaps they want a water feature tall enough to block the view of the neighbour’s yard. Do they want lots of cascading water sounds to drown out barking dogs, nearby roads, or simply because they enjoy the sounds of falling water?

Ask questions and look around the home and use the water feature as a focal part of their new resort backyard.

“Because of the pandemic, consumers are spending more time in their backyard so they want to create different sitting areas in and around their pool, or different levels within the pool to place lounger seating so their backyard really starts to feel like a resort,” said Stewart.

Structural water features are designed for people to sit on or under. They are not only functional, but also enhance the backyard and the home.

“Water features are attractive to the eye and are terrific to light up and enjoy at night as well,” Stewart said.

She explains water features are not just for new pools but also renovations.

“This year, the requests have doubled for complete renovations on existing pools, so there are now more opportunities for selling resort-style water features than ever in the past 20 years I’ve been selling them,” she added.

‘Resortscaping’

Slides provide a perfect opportunity to fill in behind, under, and around the slide with artificial rock water features.
Slides provide a perfect opportunity to fill in behind, under, and around the slide with artificial rock water features.

Whether the client has experienced water features at a resort hotel or seen them in travel magazines, this element is integral to making the backyard look like an at-home resort. Because they tend to be the focal point of these resort-like pools, it is best to start the design around the water feature. The benefit of using artificial rock is because it is sold as component systems—so what the client sees is what they will get on their pool, right down to the rock colour.

“The modular waterfalls, grottos, and caves we show clients offer a consistent, finished look and because they are kits, we know the price up front so it helps with budgeting,” Stewart explained. Caves and grottos give the pool a resort feel by providing all the benefits of a waterfall such as visual beauty and the calming sound of cascading water, but also add fun and excitement, especially for children.

“Clients with children often want a long, fun slide that looks and feels like a waterpark,” said Stewart. “These slides provide a perfect opportunity to fill in behind, under, and around the slide with artificial rock water features.”

Consider incorporating misters and lighting into the design to add to the mystery and magic of the water feature, making it even more exciting for children.

As these water features are the primary, eye-catching elements on the pool, it is important to strategically place them so they can be viewed from the home.

“We find a particular 1.2 m (4 ft) double modular waterfall and grotto are among the most popular kits we install,” said Stewart. “In addition, the smaller, ledger water feature is lower in height and clients find children jump off the rocks rather than having a diving board.”

In all cases, Stewart recommends adding lighting so the client can enjoy their resort pool day and night.

Pool builders can go beyond larger water features by offering artificial rocks in small ways which offer a big impact around the pool.

For example, placing a rock platform that includes an anchor to hold an umbrella further enhances the resort look-and-feel of the pool area. Artificial rock is delivered hollow to the builder so it can be filled with cement, allowing anchors for various ancillary products to be mortared in place so customers can add elements such as an umbrella for shade. This shaded area is ideal for sitting close to the pool while being protected from the sun.

Building with confidence

Builders looking to stand out from their competitors can consider installing larger, low-profile caves called cenotes which fully integrate the water feature with landscaping, both inside and outside the cave.
Builders looking to stand out from their competitors can consider installing larger, low-profile caves called cenotes which fully integrate the water feature with landscaping, both inside and outside the cave.

The appeal of these new component systems is they look like real rock because they are cast from real rock—creating the same shape, character, and texture. They are extremely natural and it is nearly impossible to tell the difference.

Unlike natural stone, these new component systems are sold as a kit. Once the customer selects the style they want, builders simply order the kit and each system is built by fitting the parts together on-site.

“We like to place the water features while we are doing the concrete deck work and add the first layer into the deck so it doesn’t look like it is was afterthought,” explained Stewart.

The best part of the design of these component kits, from the builder’s perspective, is they have been designed to ensure proper water flow and weight distribution and, therefore, are structurally stronger than natural rock systems.

These systems are steel or fibre reinforced and structurally superior to using natural stone and are also half the cost of natural stone. Further, not only is it important the finished ‘look’ of the water feature is predicable, but also it is critical to be sure the water flowing over it actually gets back into the pool. If this does not happen, the water can get underneath the pool and cause serious issues. Before these component systems, it was difficult to ensure the water would go back into the pool after flowing over a mass of natural boulders.

Creating water features with natural stone can often be unpredictable. Builders can spend all day arranging the natural boulders only for the client to decide they would like to see the stones arranged differently, which increases labour costs.

Stewart said using a component water feature eliminates this uncertainty. Most importantly, these water features can be built in a day or two, much faster than with natural stone. The labour savings alone make the component system extremely price competitive, not to mention attractive to builders to stay on schedule and maximize their building season.

The author notes, builders often comment that component water features allow them to control the costs, unlike custom rock work which could easily go beyond the original quote.

Modular slides are also designed to easily fit into their component grotto and cave systems. Even if the consumer does not specially ask for a cave, grotto, waterfall, or slide, it is a feature that should be discussed because it makes pools more esthetically pleasing, not to mention more fun.

Landscaping

The appeal of these new component systems is they look like real rock because they are cast from real rock—creating the same shape, character, and texture.
The appeal of these new component systems is they look like real rock because they are cast from real rock—creating the same shape, character, and texture.

Water features always look better and more authentic if surrounded by plants or greenery.

“Adding landscaping around the water feature gives a more finished look,” said Stewart. “Take cues from the house—builders want to work the customer’s style into the water feature, including plantings. Incorporating natural elements such as pockets of plants will soften the edges and provide more of an oasis effect.”

Builders should consider planting pockets shaped into the deck around the waterfall, using plants that complement the home and existing backyard environment. It is a good idea for builders to consult with a local nursery when selecting the softscaping so not to choose plants that ‘drop’ leaves or debris close to the pool edge.

“Water features really tie together the hardscape of the pool to the softscape of the backyard,” said Stewart. “Combining water features with lighting and landscaping makes the pools more magical.” Builders looking to stand out from their competitors can consider installing larger, low-profile caves called cenotes which fully integrate the water feature with landscaping, both inside and outside the cave. This new design trend is often found in tropical resorts and is a great option for a client that wants it all on their pool.

Resort pool at home

Remember, resort pools have everything—beauty, fun, soothing sounds, and comfortable surroundings. Builders should never try to limit the options available to turn a regular residential pool into a resort pool.

It is important to craft a backyard design that allows the builder to continue to offer options until reaching the customer’s dream resort pool.

“Be sure to offer and add multiple water features, lighting, and products like automatic pool covers and complete automation systems,” says Stewart.

Water features are a key component of a resort-style pool so now is the time to start offering artificial rock component systems—especially at a time when consumers may plan to spend their travel dollars in their backyard. Also, do not overlook any potential features because not only can builders profit more on every job, but their customers will be thrilled to have a pool that ‘has it all.’

Bruce Riley is the managing director of RicoRock Inc., makers of cast-concrete rock, including component systems for building caves/grottos, waterfalls, cenotes, and waterslide products for use in pool applications. With the company’s headquarters in Florida and its construction division based in Texas, Riley focuses on developing new products and managing commercial installations. He has built rock-type pools in southern California for more than 25 years and now uses this experience to design standard waterfall kits for the company. He can be reached via email at bruce@ricorock.com.

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