Pool & Spa Outdoor Blog

6 Types of Barbecue Grills

By Patti Plummer

Today’s barbecues and grills are sophisticated tools that allow homeowners to prepare full course meals totally outdoors. From the urban griller who uses the compact efficiency of a hibachi to the master chef who uses the talents of high-tech equipment made of stainless steel, there are a variety of types that fit every kind of cooking style. Here are 6 main types:  

• Gas Grill: Popular with most outdoor chefs, these grills run on natural gas or propane and are excellent for all types of cooking. Many units feature side burners, woks, smoke boxes, rotisseries, and other accessories.

• Infrared Grill: Ignited by propane or natural gas, these grills utilize a superheated ceramic tile to cook. Reaching 900 degrees F, an infrared grill is perfect for searing food quickly. 

• Charcoal Grill: Purists choose charcoal because it allows them to cook low and slow.  Traditional briquettes or all-natural lump charcoal are the preferred sources of fuel.

• Pellet Grill: Fueled by compressed hardwood pellets made of hickory, oak, or mesquite to name a few, this type of grill is great for slow cooking meat. 

• Ceramic Cooker: Based on a design from 3,000 years ago but built using space-age materials, these cookers effectively retain heat and moisture and can grill, smoke, and barbecue.

• Hybrids: Combining the convenience of gas and the cooking techniques and flavor of charcoal, these grills offer the best of both worlds.

Ready to check out the latest grill models and compare brands? Visit our Outdoor Kitchens & Grills Buyers' Guide for a list of grill companies and where to buy.

Photo courtesy of RH Peterson Co.; Photograph by Steve Pollock Studios

12 Steps to Opening a Pool for Summer

How to Open a Pool

Photograph of Inground Pool

Spring is in full bloom and Memorial Day is right around the corner. For many pool owners across the country, this means it’s time to start getting the pool ready for the summer swim season. If you properly closed your pool for winter, opening your pool should be an easy process. Follow these instructions for how to open a pool for summer and ensure a great season of swimming fun.

1. Check your chemicals.

Before you open your pool, it is recommended that you take inventory of the pool chemicals you currently have on hand to see what supplies you’ll need to purchase. (This will also eliminate the hassle of taking multiple trips to the pool supply store.) Any pool chemicals that have expired or were not completely sealed should be properly disposed of and replaced. Also check the amount of product available in the remaining containers to see if you’ll need additional supplies.

2. Clean the pool cover and deck.

Before removing the pool cover, clean the deck area to prevent debris from being swept into the swimming pool; this also gives you an area for preparing the pool cover for storage without the worry of scattered twigs and stones causing punctures, advises Thomas Cal Brown, executive vice president of Aquatech, a society of pool-building professionals. If you have a solid vinyl pool cover, remove any leaves and debris from the cover with a pool rake or leaf net. This prevents any extra debris from entering the pool, which you’ll eventually have to vacuum out. Once most of the debris is gone, use a submersible cover pump to remove as much standing water as possible. When using the cover pump, don’t place the pump near or over any seams of the cover--this will cause water to drain from the inside the pool.

3. Remove and store the pool cover.

Remove the pool cover and lay it out in an open area such as a deck, patio, or driveway. Sweep or brush off any remaining debris and then use a mild detergent to clean the cover. Let the cover air-dry completely before rolling up or folding for storage to prevent mildew and deterioration. Be sure to keep the cover stored in a dry place away from insects and moisture.

4. Inspect the pool.

If you have a vinyl-lined pool, check for tears or washouts; these can occur when groundwater erodes the sand under the pool’s vinyl floor and causes the liner to rest on sharp rocks and stones. Any small tears can be repaired using a patch kit (available at your local pool supply store). Consult the pool’s manufacturer or a local swimming pool maintenance company for any damage that you’re unsure how to repair. For concrete and fiberglass pools, look for cracks in the waterline tile, chips in the plaster, or depressions in the pool decking or coping. Some minor repairs can be made yourself following the advice of a pool professional; more serious defects should be left to the experts.

5. Remove the plugs.

Remove expansion or freeze plugs from all of the water inlets. If your pool equipment was winterized with antifreeze, you’ll need to lower the water level in the pool until it’s below the inlets. Then remove the plugs and drain the antifreeze into a bucket.

6. Reinstall skimmer baskets and fittings.

Remove the winter plate (if used) from the skimmer box and reinstall the skimmer. Hook up any hoses from the skimmer and return jets that lead to the pump and filter. Make sure all fittings are clean and tight.

7. Reconnect the equipment and plumbing.

Reconnect the filter, pump (if you removed it), and heater (if you have one) and inspect them for signs of wear or rust. If anything needs to be repaired or replaced, do so at this time. Remove the top of the filter and check that your filter media (sand, diatomaceous earth, or cartridge) are in good condition and clean. Make sure all valves are open and fill the pump with water so it primes properly. Also check O-rings and gaskets for damage and make sure all have been lubricated

8. Fill the pool.

Grab your garden hose and add water until the water level reaches midpoint on the waterline tile or the middle of the skimmer opening to allow for proper circulation. While you’re waiting for the pool to fill, skim out any leaves, twigs, and debris, and remove any debris from the leaf basket. Re-attach any equipment such as ladders, rails, diving boards, etc. This is also a good time to remove any scale from the pool tile.

9. Start the filtration system and vacuum the pool.

Turn on the power to the pool system (you may need to turn on the circuit breaker if your pool was winterized). Following manufacturers' instructions, start the pump and filter system. Look for leaks, split hoses, and cracks. If some pieces of equipment are damaged or not operating properly, turn off the power and contact a service technician for any repairs. Once everything is in working order, hook up your vacuum (pool cleaner) and vacuum/ sweep the entire pool and clean the walls with a wall brush.

10. Test the water.

Allow the pool water to circulate 24 – 48 hours to mix up the old and new water. Then test the water chemistry following the instructions on your pool water test kit. To ensure proper analysis, it is recommended that you bring a water sample to a local pool professional, who will provide you with instructions for balancing your pool water. For pools with a mesh cover, it is recommended that you add two or three gallons of liquid shock to the water about two weeks before you plan to open the pool to ensure good water clarity since these covers allow debris and sunlight to get through to the water which can lead to an algae bloom. It is also best to open your pool early (late April, early May) to avoid strong sunlight and temperatures above 80 degrees which can quickly turn the water into a green “swampy” mess.

11. Run the filtration system until the water is clean.

Continue to run the filter until the water begins to clear (it may take several days). During the first few days, it may be necessary to backwash sand and D.E. filters a few times or clean your cartridge filter, depending on how dirty the water was when you started. After the filter has run for a few days, test the water again to ensure it is properly balanced. Chemical levels should be as follows: pH: 7.2 – 7.6 Alkalinity: 80 – 120 ppm ( for unstabilized chlorine); 100 – 120 ppm (for stabilized chlorine, chlorine gas, or bromine) Calcium Hardness: 200 – 400 ppm Chlorine: 1 – 3 ppm Bromine: 1 – 3 ppm Cyanuric Acid: 25 – 50 ppm Once the water is properly balanced, you’re ready for the final step…

12. Jump in!

REMEMBER: Routine maintenance is essential to retaining a beautiful pool all summer long. Check out our Pool Maintenance Guide for tips on keeping your pool clean and healthy.

Photo courtesy of APSP; Vernon Poolman

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Outdoor Patio Fountains and Ponds

Patio fountains, water gardens, and patio ponds make a great addition to your outdoor space. They add a beautiful focal point and create a lovely ambiance through the sound of falling water. Choose from a variety of unique fountains and ponds to accent your deck, patio, or backyard.

Freestanding Patio Ponds

If you love the idea of having a pond, but aren’t ready to handle the installation and maintenance, you may opt for a self-contained patio pond, which also makes a great water feature. One manufacturer offers a variety of freestanding patio ponds. Each patio pond kit is easy to assemble and functions as a completely stand-alone unit. Simply plug into a standard electrical outlet and your pond is ready to go.


square patio pond fountain planter Pond BossThis square patio pond blends perfectly into the nicely coordinated seating area of this brick open-air patio. The small fountain in the center keeps the water aerated and functions as a subtle water feature. The classic, clean lines make it an elegant addition to any outdoor setting or sunroom. Once evening strikes, set the mood by turning on the patio fountain’s LED light, available in white or blue.


two-tier rattan patio pond planter waterfall Pond BossThis two-tiered patio pond features a sheer-descent waterfall with a spillway that lights up. The (blue or white) LED light and water feature can be turned on independently of one another so you can create the perfect mood. Not only does this unique pond make a great water feature, the upper tier also doubles as a planter! The intricately woven wicker finish allows this sophisticated design to pair with a variety of outdoor furniture designs.


patio pond urn planter fountain Pond BossThis woven wicker urn would make an attractive planter on its own. But when you add a patio pond kit featuring a fountain and your choice of a blue or white LED light, this unique water feature really comes to life. Add a tall water plant and this self-contained mini pond is both beautiful and easy to maintain.




Above three photos courtesy of GeoGlobal Partners - PondBoss Manufacturers

Freestanding Patio Fountains

Stand-alone patio fountains are a simple way to liven up your backyard. Easy to install, all you need is an electrical outlet to plug in the fountain (though some solar-powered fountains are available from various manufacturers). Freestanding patio fountains come in almost every design, size, and material you can imagine. From small tabletop fountains to large multi-tiered stone fountain bowls and vases, you can find just the right water feature to adorn your outdoor space.

Campania platia stone fountain three-tier bowl table topThis three-tiered cast stone fountain offers a natural look, blending into any backyard theme. Since it can be placed on a ledge or tabletop, it won’t be hard to find a home for this fountain in your outdoor setting.




Campania recife freestanding fountain black square bowl gardenThis modern cast stone fountain bowl adds both contemporary flair and Zen-like appeal to your garden. The combination of curves and sleek lines creates dimension and generates visual interest.




Campania tall fountain bronze birdbath gardenThis classic cast stone fountain is perfect for the garden and doubles as a birdbath. Adding height and warm natural tones, the fountain becomes a real statement piece without going over the top. Shown here in bronze, this fountain (along with the other two fountains pictured above) is available in a number of patinas so you can find just the right look for your garden.







Above three photos courtesy of Campania International; Photography by Rick Urbanowski

Pool Cover Savings

Safety Pool Cover from LOOP-LOC, Ltd.By using a pool cover, you'll not only save money, but also...

– According the U.S. Department of Energy, the largest source of energy loss in a swimming pool is evaporation. Using a pool cover on indoor and outdoor pools reduces evaporation by 30 – 50 percent.

– Since a pool cover blocks dirt, leaves, and other debris from getting in the pool, you’ll spend less time skimming, sweeping, and scooping them out.

– A clean pool reduces the workload on your filter and cleaning system, reducing the need for replacement or costly repairs.

– Using a pool cover reduces the use of chemicals by 35 – 60 percent. 

– By keeping your pool covered, you’ll save 50 – 70 percent on pool heating costs.

To find quality pool cover companies recommended by Pool & Spa Outdoor please visit our Pool Covers Buyers’ Guide

Photo courtesy of LOOP-LOC, Ltd.

Hardscaping Options: Concrete, Brick or Stone?

By Patti Plummer

In addition to traditional house and pool decks, many properties are suited for the beauty that only hardscaping can provide. Pavers come in a variety of materials, such as concrete, brick, and natural stone, and in a number of colors, shapes, and patterns. Here are a few hardscape paver ideas that may be just the answer to your surfacing needs.

Envirotile Multy Home LP recycled brick deck backyard hardscape
Hardscaping concrete pavers
are crafted from cement and an aggregate and are often used for walkways, patios, and pool decks. This material is available in a variety of colors and textures and can be made to look like natural stone. These pavers can be installed with or without mortar.

Hardscaping brick pavers
impart an Old World charm. Ideal for heavy-trafficked areas like driveways, patios, and pathways, this porous material is non-slip and can withstand environmental blitzes from the sun, water, and chlorine. 

Hardscaping natural stone pavers
are cut from hard-wearing materials like sandstone, limestone, bluestone, marble, slate, and travertine. Long-lasting and weather resistant, these pavers are ideal for many types of outdoor projects. Travertine and bluestone are perfect for pool decks while granite and slate are great for building driveways and other areas that experience a lot of traffic.

For a list of hardscaping companies, visit our Hardscaping & Stonework Buyers' Guide. To find resources for deck products and materials, visit our Decks Buyers' Guide.

Photo courtesy of Multy Home LP

Plants for Ponds and Water Gardens

Photo of Pond with Aquatic Plants
Aquatic plants are incorporated into ponds and water gardens for several reasons. Not only do they add beauty to the surrounding landscape design and create a more natural-looking water feature, but they also play an important role in the ecological balance of a pond. Aquatic plants act as a pond’s filtration system, removing various substances such as ammonia, nitrates, and minerals that algae feed on. They also provide protection, shade, oxygen, and food to fish that live in the pond.

There are four types of pond plants: oxygenating, floating, deep water, and marginal. Adding the different types of pond plants to your water garden will benefit the quality, health and beauty of your pond.

Oxygenating Pond Plants

Pond with Waterfall and Lush PlantingsOxygenating pond plants benefit both the water quality and aquatic life. These types of pond plants are placed in the water and use waste provided by fish as fertilizer; in exchange they provide much needed oxygen to the water. However, the plants alone may not be able to provide all that’s necessary for sustaining aquatic life. You may also need to incorporate an aeration device such as a waterfall, bubbler, or fountain to maintain an optimal level of oxygen in the pond.

Oxygenating pond plants also help reduce the growth of algae by competing for nutrients found in the water. Optimally, oxygenating plants should be added to ponds early in the spring before other water plants have a chance to start growing.

Curly Pondweed is an oxygenating plant that has wavy edges which are usually reddish brown or green. These provide good cover for fish to fertilize their eggs. Willow Moss grows slowly but thrives in both shade and sun. Hornwort is great for controlling algae. This type of oxygenating plant sinks to the bottom of the water during winter months, and then grows new stems each spring. They do not have roots so they are very easy to keep under control.

Floating Pond Plants

Floating plants live on the surface of the pond water and usually cover a large portion of the pond. Their roots hang down into the water. Many of these types of aquatic plants are tropical, but there are some perennials that are able to handle harsh winters. Floating pond plants help inhibit the growth of algae and provide shade.
Pond with Floating Water Lilies
There are several types of preferred water lilies which float on the water’s surface. The lily blooms are seen above the water. A nice mix of water lilies can add a beautiful touch to the pond. Other popular floating plants include Water Lettuce, Water Hyacinth, and Duckweed.

Water Lettuce basically looks like a floating head of lettuce and may grow as a single plant or in a group. The leaves are very thick and light green in color. Its flowers are small and berry-like. Water Hyacinth is free-floating with dark green blade-like leaves. They have thick, fibrous root systems and produce a pleasant light blue or violet flower. Duckweed is a small pond plant with no stem and very small leaves. It produces a dainty little flower that can add a soft touch to the aquatic area of a landscape design.

Deep Water Pond Plants

Water Garden with Waterfall and Plants

This type of plant can be very beneficial to a backyard pond or water garden. Deep water plants help to maintain a well-balanced ecosystem, reduce evaporation, and keep the water at a constant temperature. They also produce oxygen and help keep algae growth to a minimum.

Brazilian Waterweed is a popular deep water plant. It has small leaves that grow along cylindrical stems and is very good at providing oxygen in the water. The Japanese Pond Lily is another deep water plant and has dainty yellow flowers that protrude just above the surface of the water during the summer months. This plant has leaves that grow in two very distinct shapes: one leaf is narrow and oval shaped; the others are heart shaped and wavy.

Marginal Pond Plants/ Bog Plants

Natural Koi Pond with AzaleasMarginal plants, or bog plants, thrive along the edges, or margins, of a pond or body of water where the water is shallow and the soil is moist. They are grown in containers that are placed inside the pond on shallow shelves, with most of the plant visible above the surface. Like other aquatic plants, bog plants provide filtration and enhance the natural look of a pond or waterfall.

There are many types of marginal pond plants. The Aquatic Iris comes in a wide variety of colors and sizes. These beautiful, blossoming flowers bloom in spring and early summer. The colorful blossoms are located at the end of tall stocks, which help hold the flower up high.

Another favorite is the Cattail. Cattails help provide interesting texture and remain green in winter months. Pickerel Weed is a hardy bog plant that has large heart-shaped leaves and long stems with clusters of violet-blue flowers at the top. Its leaves provide good cover for fish.

Water plants will add beauty to your waterscape, as well as complement your overall landscape design. A landscape specialist can help you choose which pond plants will be able to survive in your climate. Many water plants can provide greenery to your pond or water garden all year long.

About the Author: This guest post was written by Doug Byl. Doug Byl is the president of Stout Creek Landscapes, a company that specializes in landscape design in Grand Rapids MI. Doug has many years of experience in doing landscape design and believes that proper backyard landscape design can bring many years of joy to the entire family.

Photos courtesy of
East Coast Landscape Design

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