Weather or Not
By Marlene A. Prost
Craig Schloer loves autumn. When the weather turns chilly at his suburban Philadelphia home, he likes to float on his back and watch the autumn-hued leaves drift by…everywhere but into his pool water.
That's one of the joys of owning an enclosed swimming pool, says Schloer, a 55-year-old owner of a storage company. Since adding a 24- by 40-foot custom-built enclosure to the rear of his home in 1986, his family has enjoyed nearly year-round swimming. There's even room for a hot tub. And he never has to fish branches and bugs from the water.
"The beauty is, people are out there vacuuming their pools. I clean mine maybe twice a year," Schloer says. "I don't have to winterize. Technically, I can use it 12 months with enough propane to keep it heated."
If you're going to invest in an outdoor inground pool, why not use it whenever you want, rain or shine, night or day? A pool enclosure provides that convenience, with warmth, privacy and year-round sunshine, thanks to its light-transmitting, polycarbonate roof panels.
An enclosure also saves you time, money and hassles. These structures, which can be attached to your home or as standalones, retain water heat and eliminate wind-accelerated evaporation to reduce your maintenance and chemical costs. While it brings Mother Nature indoors, ceiling panels are treated to fend off the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. And many enclosures serve double-duty—in addition to covering a pool, they are used as a sunroom, four-season patio or a place for outdoor dining.
Schloer paid $35,000 for his enclosure, which resembles a greenhouse. It has a peaked roof with sliding roof panels and walls of sliding doors -- and covers a 16,000-gallon, kidney-shaped pool. But there's a style to suit nearly anyone's budget and lifestyle.
You've seen these balloon-like tents suspended over tennis courts or playing fields. Inflatable enclosures – also called air domes or bubbles – are also popular enclosures for home pools.
The pneumatic structure is made of coated vinyl over a fabric base that is resistant to tearing. The material comes in a variety of colors and can be treated with ultraviolet inhibitors, fire-retardants and fungicides. The dome is anchored with steel cables and inflated by a blower fan. It stays up because of the difference in atmospheric pressure outside and inside, which is maintained by an inflation system of motorized blowers.
An inflatable dome is ideal in warmer regions. In colder areas, snow melts off these structures on contact, but they can get expensive to heat, and you may need a heating and cooling system to reduce condensation and humidity.
Inflatable domes can – and should – be deflated in high winds. Relatively inexpensive, a 144-foot perimeter inflatable dome costs around $6,500. It's very roomy and can be customized to fit non-rectangular pools. Best of all, it is easy to take down: Just switch off the fan to deflate the dome, and fold it up.
Now you see it, now you don't. Telescopic enclosures are retractable, looking like a giant segmented caterpillar: Arches of safety glass or polycarbonate glazed panels slide so each fabric or vinyl section, when closed, fits neatly inside a slightly larger section – like a telescope. This allows you to open the total enclosure, or just certain portions of the pool area. Panels are usually treated for anti-fogging to prevent condensation build-up and are designed to capture solar energy and minimize heat loss.
Telescopic enclosures typically start at around $10,000 and can be installed over any shaped pool; a customized enclosure for a 16- by 32-foot pool can cost $35,000.
The most popular types of telescopic enclosure sections slide (as smoothly as a closet door) on tracks attached to a flat deck surface. Trackless models work on a recessed roller mechanism of ball-bearing wheels; they have the advantage of easier installation and can be mounted on surfaces that aren't perfectly flat, but are not recommended for large spans.
Telescopic enclosures are ideal for temperate climates. When the sun shines, you just roll it back and enjoy the open air and summer breezes. Because these panels are stackable and installed in sections, you also have the option of opening only portions of the enclosure if you decide you want only one side of the pool subjected to the sun. When it's closed, you have all the benefits of a permanent pool enclosure: protection from ultraviolet light, captured solar energy and low maintenance.
The sky's the limit when you're building a permanent pool enclosure. Well, kind of. Many are specifically designed to bring the outdoors inside -- constructed with wall panels and roofs made with clear or tinted glass or polycarbonate. But permanent enclosures can also be built with bricks, stone, vinyl or other materials to match your home.
Prices range from around $22 per square foot for prefabricated models to custom-built structures costing $60 per square foot or more. But the money is well spent: a permanent structure will not only enhance your home but will increase its resale value, when it is added to the total square footage of the house.
Permanent enclosures are an ideal choice anywhere, but are especially well-suited in regions with high winds and heavy snowfall. If you're building the pool and enclosure at the same time, a southern or southwestern exposure will maximize natural sunlight; in warmer climates, you might even eliminate the need for a pool heater.
Most are built with a high strength, tempered aluminum framework and stainless steel fastening hardware. The paint finish is usually a long-lasting, electrostatically applied powder coating that requires no maintenance. The roof and wall panels are glazed with glass or light-transmitting polycarbonate, a thermoplastic, shatterproof glass substitute coated to block out ultraviolet rays. In a customized structure, you can choose from a variety of roof styles and structural details like molding, ridge cresting and finials, as well as gutters and an overhang. Permanent enclosures are usually attached to a home, but can be built as "standalone" structures. In that case, you may have to extend utility lines for water, heating and cooling, and electrical wiring.
A pool enclosure can increase the value of your home -- possibility as much as construction costs. For maximum payback come selling time, real estate appraiser Stephen Sweeney says an enclosure should meet three criteria:
• It should be a permanent fixture
• It should be attached to the home so you can walk into it (from another room)
• It should be heated.
Meeting those three factors, the enclosure is considered "living space" and added to the total square footage of the home…"especially if it is used as a "huge recreation room," he adds.
Photo courtesy of Garden Prairie Pool & Spa Enclosures, Mfg. by CCSI International, Inc.