With a master's in sustainable development, Susette helps Southern California water agencies carry out their water conservation projects.
Different books present different types of information about decorative pools, swimming pools, or spas. The value of each book will rest on how well it supplements what you already know. So the first step in choosing what kind of book to borrow or buy is to define what you know right now about pools and spas.
For example, I am a water geek, so water conservation is important to me and something I already know about. I can look at a pool and know how to adapt it to lose as little water to evaporation as possible, so I don't need that information to be in a book, but you might.
Define what you know first, then what you're looking for. Those two things will show you what you need in a book to fill in the gaps. Do you want one focused on design, construction, value, surrounding landscaping, or how to find contractors? Make your list, then go shopping.
Keep in mind that there are many different types of water features that can lend beauty and value to your home. If you live in a climate that's too cool most of the time for comfortable swimming, then building a swimming pool is likely to waste you water, money, and time maintaining it. A better choice might be to build a decorative koi pond or a corner waterfall.
Family Swimming Pool
Or let's say you have a family with kids that like to swim and splash. Splashing will waste you water, if you surround the pool with tiles or concrete, since the water will evaporate off the surface. Surrounding it with grass will take grass into the pool. Books can show you other alternatives, like pavers that let splashwater sink into the ground between, or tiles with moss planted between them that do the same.
Some books are written to give you ideas, some to show you practical ways to carry out ideas. Some focus more on maintenance than on design. (Do remember to consider maintenance during the design stage - how much time, money, and energy you're willing to spend on it, and design accordingly.) Each book has its specialty area. Here are some things you might want to consider in choosing between them:
- Physical Health - If you're wanting a swimming pool, what kind of pool would be healthiest? Chlorine or salt or something else? Also, what type of swimming you want to do will determine the shape and location of the pool (soaking? laps? therapy?) Not too many books deal with this issue. It might be worth it to buy one that does, even if the rest of the book isn't that great.
- Water Use - You'll have to pay for water on an ongoing basis every time you replace the pool's contents. How often will it need to be refilled? What kind of cover can you use to minimize evaporation? How much maintenance money are you willing to spend? Look for a book that helps you work out the costs.
- Environment - Is it more important to you to have a big pool or a smaller one with nice surroundings? Is your yard a private one in the city, or do you live on the edge of the city where it's open to the surrounding landscape? Look for a book that deals with how the pool will fit into its existing environment.
- Purpose - Somewhat related to the first issue, this is more focused on the overall benefit you hope to obtain from a pond, swimming pool, or spa: Something to exercise in? A place for kids to play? To make the yard feel cool? To increase property value? To create a pseudoclimate different from the one you live in? To use as a baptismal or spiritual meditation font? Look for a book that shows a whole variety of different uses and designs.
DIY Backyard Swimming Pool
- Do-It-Yourself - How much of the construction and/or landscaping do you want to do yourself? If you want step-by-step instructions, you'll want a book that shows diagrams and basic how-tos for different types of construction. This is a more specialized book than the general picture books that give you ideas.
- Design Expertise - If you do not intend to build it yourself, you'll want to know how to choose a good designer. Most books include this topic. Look for a chapter on selecting contractors.
- Maintenance - Always a consideration, most books will include this topic to some degree. You will want more or less detail, according to whether or not you've had a pool before and know what it takes to maintain one.
- Minimizing Cost - If you have a limited budget to work with and want to be more hands on, you might think about purchasing some of your supplies or equipment from unusual places. I once had a builder friend who found an indoor spa for his wife at an auction and installed it himself next to a giant, plate glass window overlooking the hill. It was gorgeous. To enhance your cost minimization opportunities, you'll want a book that includes potential ways to buy supplies cheaply.
Small Pool & Spa Design Books
Each of the books below has its own strengths, as evidenced by reviewer ratings and comments. Look for whichever book will balance out what you already know. If you are aware of another one, not listed, that fills a gap not mentioned, be sure to share it in the comments section below.
Pool Idea Book
This is primarily a design photo book that updates the reader on the latest innovations in pool design - rustic to contemporary.
It has over 350 photographs with large captions, sidebars, and an introduction to each chapter.This is an inexpensive, basic publication that includes:
- Shapes, sizes, and types of pools
- Ideas for what to do with sloped sites
- Decks and other surroundings
- Landscaping ideas
- Outdoor rooms and small buildings
- Screening, security, and storage
The book has limited text, but over 350 photographs with large captions, sidebars, and an introduction to each chapter.
Pools & Spas: Ideas for Planning, Designing, & Landscaping
This book focuses on helping you choose the type of pool or spa to install, how to design it and what to include, and what to do outside of it to make it attractive.
Contents of this book includes:
- A metric conversion chart
- Planning factors, including finances and hiring a contractor
- Types of pools and spas to choose from
- Additional equipment you'll need
- Decorating outside the pool
- Basic routine maintenance
- Pool safety and what to watch for
- A list of potential contractors and other resources
- Over 300 color photos
Its description of the installation process is just enough for you to understand what a contractor will be doing once hired, not enough to do it yourself. Its photos and landscape design tips apply more to the wetter areas of the U.S., rather than the southwest.
Pools and Spas: Everything You Need to Know to Design and Landscape a Pool
This is a more hands-on book than the others, more for the do-it-yourselfer, or at least someone who wants to be closely involved with the construction process.
Contents of this book include:
- Design & landscape options
- How to select & work with contractors
- Cost estimation
- Materials needed to build and maintain pools
- How to choose between buying vs building
This 240 page book covers the subject and all its many possibilities, with plenty of practical and detailed advice for every stage of the process.
Natural Swimming Pools
Swimming pools constructed to imitate nature rely on a balance of living plants and microorganisms to clean & purify the water. No chlorine needed here.
For nature lovers who want healthy swimming, this book provides:
- Designs for pools that are safe for children to play in and birds to drink from
- How to design for seasonal shifts, including forming an ice rink in winter
- Ways to blend into the environment
- Drawings, diagrams, charts that illustrate how a natural system works
- Discussions of materials, construction, and maintenance
- Descriptions of biology and good plants to use for the zone you live in
- Over 300 photos of natural pools to choose from
- U.S. zone maps for reference in choosing water plants of all kinds
This book thoroughly introduces and well illustrates the concept of natural pools and how to build them. It also describes why the pools work well without chemicals and concrete. The system is based on the more than 5,000 such pools already designed and built in Europe.
The Ultimate Guide to Pool Maintenance
This book is filled with hundreds of illustrations showing how to maintain and repair a pool or spa to keep it working at peak efficiency.
This 3rd edition contains information on:
- How pools and spas work and how much water they hold
- Basics about design and construction
- Basics about the plumbing system that makes a pool work
- Descriptions of more advanced plumbing systems
- Repairing and maintaining the pumps and motors of your system
- Different types of filters and how to clean them
- Various types of heaters, including solar
- Additional useful equipment
- Understanding and maintaining water chemistry
- How to clean and service the pool itself
- How your pool affects the environment
This book gives enough detailed, technical information to help a reader understand the ins and outs of how a pool or spa works. It includes pictures and detailed diagrams, along with numerous tips on how to do simple things you would normally have to pay a technician to do.
Swimming Pool Contractors
If you decide to hire a contractor, remember that the better you understand what you are looking for and can describe it, the better chance you will have at finding and working with a good contractor. Where books like these can really help is not just giving you ideas, but also giving you the language to describe them.
Be sure to ask friends what contractors they have worked with and liked in the past. Keep your eyes open for new decorative and functional pools being installed in your area, including local hotels, and stop to chat with the workers. They can tell you a lot about the companies they work for and their competitors. They can also tell you what to pay special attention to when constructing your own pool or spa.
Beware the Flying Critters
Whatever type of pool or spa you choose, you can expect to have fun with it, once it's built, and you can expect some moments of surprise as well.
I have a brother with a koi pond in the corner of his small backyard in the city. He hadn't cleaned it for awhile, so one day he decided to take the plunge. He worked hard all day, trimming back the lotus plants, cleaning pipes, making sure the water flowed freely and was clear, so his koi would stay healthy.
While resting that afternoon, he caught an alarming movement near the pond. Rushing outside he discovered a big blue heron sitting on his rooftop with a koi in its mouth. The now clear, sparkling water had become an open invitation to dinner for the heron.
Beware the Night Critters, Too
The Homeowner's Association where I used to live spent a lot of money building and landscaping a beautiful, double layer pond with waterfall. They stocked it with fish and planted flowers and shrubs around the edge. One day I realized that I couldn't see fish anymore. I looked and looked, patiently examining every corner of both pools, and finally asked the office manager. She told me there had been a resident raccoon having a great time fishing the pool at night.
With fish, frogs, and other stocked fauna, it's important to provide homes and hideyholes before stocking the pool. They need places to rest, shade from the sun, feed, and especially to hide. You're not the only one watching eagerly to see how it will all turn out!
Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on September 09, 2012:
I'd love to have a nature pool. Not sure what that would look like in Southern California, but it's fun to dream about. I'm glad I'm not the only dreaming.
Leah Lefler from Western New York on September 09, 2012:
I dream of having a big, in-ground pool every summer, watergeek! Some of the pool ideas in the books are absolutely beautiful. We only have an above-ground pool, but if we put in an in-ground, I'm definitely ordering one of these books!
Om Paramapoonya on September 08, 2012:
Nice selection of books! The Pool Idea Book with hundreds of photos sounds really cool. Although I'm still renting and won't be able to build my own swimming pool any time soon, I can just look at those photos and gather ideas for my dream swimming pool. Rated up!