Feature Article - July/August 2004
Find a printable version here

Top It Off

Enclosing a pool can increase program offerings and help draw new crowds

By Margaret Ahrweiler

A giant erector set

These systems generally get built much more quickly than a traditional structure. Glass enclosure systems, which are manufactured by a handful of firms in the United States and Canada, typically feature powder-coated aluminum framing systems manufactured in a factory to a facility's precise measurements. They are then shipped on site and assembled "like a giant erector set," says David Hoy, general manager of the Pointe Royale Country Club in Branson, Mo., where Sun Builders is enclosing a pool.

Hoy has been impressed with how quickly the structure rises.

"It only takes eight to 10 days," he says. "They come on the site and work seven days a week. It's very fast."

Pointe Royale, an upscale residential (Andy Williams lives there) and country-club community, chose an enclosure system for a high level of aesthetic quality along with structural integrity.

"We decided to spend the extra dollars up-front and save on maintenance," Hoy explains. "Everyone I spoke to with a wood structure had nothing but difficulties fighting the chlorine and humidity. This is basically indestructible."

And once erected, maintaining glass enclosure systems requires little effort, another selling point, Hoy says.

"It's basically maintenance-free," he says. "At worst, if we were to develop a little mold or fungus, it's just a matter of going in and power washing it."

As a testament to the aluminum systems' toughness, Dodson notes that pool facilities he has installed have survived tornados in Oklahoma virtually unscathed.

Leave your architect behind?

And here's an added benefit of working with enclosure systems: You probably don't need an architect—even according to an architect.

"You will want a good mechanical engineer, especially one who knows a good HVAC firm, but you don't really need an architect," Meus says. Sometimes, a structural engineer can help plot the foundations—a foundation of concrete footings supports glass enclosure systems.

Dodson agrees: "Usually, with commercial or public facilities, our client is represented by an architect, but sometimes they just draw a rectangle around the pool area and say, 'specifications by pool enclosure contractor,'" he says. Architects can be important to protect an owner's interests, and he is always happy to work with them, he's quick to add.

Up with domes

For those without the up-front capital to invest in a greenhouse-type system or who want to retain a truly outdoor pool, inflatable dome structures present an affordable and removable alternative.

Most systems go up (and come down) in just a day, using a powerful gas furnace-type blower system, similar to those used in hot-air balloons. The domes attach to concrete beams laid with metal channels around the perimeter, with the "bubbles" made of high tensile, coated polyester or vinyl fabrics that can be either opaque or translucent. A continual level of air pressure keeps the domes inflated; revolving doors serve as airlocks to keep pressure constant despite foot traffic. Most dome blower and ventilation systems incorporate air conditioning or heating units to dehumidify and cool or heat the air, depending on the climate.

Underground ducts can be used to ventilate domes, especially the permanent variety, while lighting—either suspended indirect systems or the more basic pole-mounted variety—is usually included in a dome package as well.

And while domes go up for a fraction of the cost of a glass enclosure system, facilities must factor in the higher maintenance and support costs: You can spend up to $15,000 each season to take down a dome, Dodson says.