Category Archives: Design

Design vs. Programming

Know what you want to do, before you build (Design vs Programming)

When working with clients on new aquatic projects, the first question we like to ask is “how are you going to use it?”  While this seems like something most people would know, we find that many aquatic facilities are planned based on the available budget, and not how they want to use it in the future.  This can create challenges for sustaining your facility’s operations and keeping your clients happy.  While the initial construction budget is important, the cost of operations will be three to four times the initial investment over the life of the facility.  Therefore, decision should be made based on how they impact operational expenses and revenue potential, more than how they impact the construction budget.  Here are a few things to consider.

Planning the Pool

While pools come in different shapes and sizes, there are three main criteria that impact how you can use it:  Temperature, Access, and Depth.  Different aquatic user groups prefer different temperatures.

Temperature – While competitive swimmers like water temperatures between 78-82 degrees, this is considered cold water and not very useful for other pool users.  Recreational users like to have water in the 83-87 degrees range.  If you plan to do infant swim lessons or therapy programming, you may need to have water over 90 degrees.

Access – Similarly to the temperature, different users need different levels of access.  Most codes only require ladders or recessed steps with grab rails.  This is not a preferred method of ingress and egress for most people.  Stairs are the most usable and flexible option for entry and exit.  They can be used by a large variety of people and can serve as a program space for lessons.  Beyond the basic entries, you also need to consider entry for users with special needs.  Codes may only require a standard lift, but ramp entries are typically preferred by people who don’t need a lift, but also can’t use the stairs or ladders.

Depth – Lastly, you have to consider depth.  Shallow water tends to be more useful for programmed activities.  However, there are certain things you can’t do in shallow water (i.e. competitive starts, scuba diving, deep water fitness classes, etc).  Therefore, if you plan to offer these programs, make sure you have enough deep water.

Other Areas to Consider

Do you plan to have a large swim lesson program?  Do you want to host large events with 100’s of spectators?  Can your concession area handle a crowd during a pool closure?  It is easy when designing a pool to stop at the pumps controlling a pool and the hole you put in the ground but a truly good facility looks not only at the water but also at the other aspects of a true aquatic center. Lighting– Lighting is often an afterthought in many aquatic center designs and often times, no consideration is given to how it can effect a race. Lighting is important for both judging the distance and gauging the swimmer position, in competition. A good facility design has considered a careful balance of natural light with careful attention to limiting the glare it could cause and un-natural lights with proper angles and illumination for optimal racing, all while keeping in mind the spectator experience and officiating requirements.

Acoustics– It can be difficult to design a facility that considers and properly accommodates for all the action but when you are in the design phase, choosing the right elements can make for sound dampening like wall angles and materials, speaker placement, spectator viewing area placement and athlete accommodation areas.

HVAC Systems–Fresh air is critical not just for the swimmers but also for the comfort of the spectators and those fully clothed.  Spectators require cooler air with higher velocities as compared to the swimmers on the pool deck.  When it comes to HVAC solutions in natatoriums, there is not a one-size fits all approach.

Deck Dimensions– Optimal deck space is really dependent on the types of activities going on in your facility. Consider staging areas, traffic flow, and viewing areas.  Once your space is designed and built, it is very costly to expand you space and with the right feasibility study and market research, an appropriate size can be determined

It can be a challenge to consider all users that are affected by an aquatics facility but with proper planning and a good team, you can truly make a great space. Being considerate of your market opportunity and users can ultimately position your facility to stay on budget with a build and optimize the return by capturing an appropriate audience of users.


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Other Tile Color Options

When discussing pools or water features most people associate them with the color, blue.  Water represents a refreshing, even relaxing or cool feeling of renewal.  This association is one reason why most pools and features contain primarily blue tile finishes or accents.  Nothing is wrong with blue, but in the world of tile there are so many other options that can be explored!

In today’s design, people are wanting something different – Different color palettes, different textures, different shapes, different styles, etc.  The goal is to have their pool or feature stand out and be something unique.   The great thing is, that goal can be achieved!  Pool tile options have expanded well beyond that of the traditional glazed blues and blacks.

When a School, University, Community Center or any other facility would like to carry their “colors” throughout a building this can now include the pool.  The tile industry has increased the color offerings and materials that are applicable to pool installations.  Tile can be a single solid color, speckled, swirled, patterned, clear, iridescent, etc.   One of the other trends in tile is the natural stone-look that can be integrated into the pool.  Several manufacturers have introduced specific tile product series addressing this appearance with color ranges from the white/tans to the greys/black.  The tiles surface texture replicates actual stone and enhances the theme of naturalistic pools.


Tiles today are offered in several different sizes and shapes within one pattern as well as offering a variety of color blends.  Colors from reds, greys, whites, greens, beiges, tans and many more can be designed into a pool interior and even be utilized on pool decks.  The possibilities are endless….


From Swimming to Synchro


Are interested in building your aquatic facility to be inclusive to more programs? Have you ever considered synchronized swimming? As any other sport, synchronized swimming has its rulebook it must follow as does its facility for official competition. Oftentimes, a synchronized swimming event can be conducted in the same facility as a certified competitive swimming facility. There are design requirements to consider when building your aquatic facility to ensure it can accommodate synchronized swimming programs.

First, let’s look at some design elements in a synchronized swimming pool that closely align to what is seen in a competitive swimming pool.

Temperature: Like other competitive swimmers, synchronized swimmers want a cooler pool when competing. A pool that is too cold shocks the swimmer and tightens the muscles at a time when the synchronized swimmer needs to be limber to perform. Water temperatures that are too warm, however, create an environment where it is easy for the swimmer to overheat, become sluggish and expend excess energy. The ideal temperature for synchronized swimming routines ranges between 79 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lane Design: In synchronized swimming, there is no use of lane ropes. The standard lane width for your competition pool will suffice. Though, it is important to note the overall pool dimensions recommended for competition. 8 to 10 lanes wide is most common. If performing in a 10-lane wide pool, the outside lane on either side can separated with a lane line to delineate the field of play.

Gutter Design: There are no official rules that call out a specific gutter type for synchronized swimming. There is, however, a suggested maximum deck to water height on the deep end wall where swimmers walk out on deck to dive. The proximity of the pool deck and water surface allow a more hands on approach for synchronized swimming coaches and ease in hearing coaches during swim practice. With this and personal experience, partially recessed or deck level gutters are good options for gutter types.

Lighting: Lighting is important for the performers, judges, and spectators. Nonetheless, the same lighting for competition swimming is also recommended for a synchronized swimming event.

Spectator Seating: Elevated seating is ideal for spectating synchronized swimming. In fact, judges’ seating is elevated to give the best viewing of the whole swim routine. Providing spectator seating on the second level also provides a better atmosphere for fans to comfortably take in the events.

Natatorium: One aspect to consider that can easily be forgotten are the plethora of sounds a natatorium must endure. Sporting events tend to have high volumes from spectators, announcers, coaches, and athletes. In addition to these noise contributors, there is music to accompany routines in synchronized swimming. Just as designing for any sport natatorium, it would be advantageous to work with an engineer who will pay attention to wall material and shape to dampen acoustics, identify ideal speaker placement and other elements to help manage acoustics in the natatorium.

Depending on the rulebooks used for your pool, the addition for synchronized swimming can be very simple. Following are some design aspects that may differ from a competitive swimming pool.

Pool dimensions: Synchronized swimming is competed in a competition pool. For high level competition, Fédération internationale de natation (FINA) requires the pool have a minimum area of 12 meters by 25 meters.

Water Depths: In the sport of synchronized swimming, the swimmers are not allowed to touch the bottom of the pool; this includes blatantly using the bottom or even accidentally brushing the bottom. If the pool floor is too shallow, it becomes an obstacle for swimmers. There are many times in a routine when swimmers need to be fully submerged and vertical. There are also times in preparation for lifts when swimmers need to be fully submerged while their bodies are compacted yet stacked 2 to 3 bodies in height.  Because of this, it is important there are sufficient depths in the pool to avoid disqualification. FINA recommends a minimum deep end depth of 8 foot 2 inches and a minimum shallow end depth of 5 foot 9 inches for competition.

Deck Dimensions: Synchronized swimming does prefer a sufficient deck space of at least 6 feet surrounding entire pool with one end free from obstacles for team entry.

Facilities: Unlike any other athletes, synchronized swimmers apply gel on their heads to hold their hair in place as they perform in water. It is important to consider the amount of space needed for competitors to gel their hair and apply makeup, as well as space needed to change into swimsuits. Tip: You can’t have too many mirrors! Not only should changing rooms be considered but other multipurpose rooms serve for landdrilling (practicing routines on land) or stretching.

Ultimately, providing opportunity for synchronized swimming can be a great and easy way to add to the multipurpose programming of your aquatic facility.

GUEST BLOG: Know the Facts: Drowning Deaths and Injuries by Location

Many parents may think that the home is the safest place for a child, but 74 percent of drowning deaths involving children younger than 15 years old occur at a residence. Private homes rarely have lifeguards, and children can easily slip outside unnoticed when homes do not have door or window alarms.

Leveraging the Layers of Protection by Pool Type

Whether you have an in-ground, above-ground or portable pool at your home or in your community, it is critical that pool and spa owners install layers of protectionbetween the house and the water. Layers of protection can include a four-foot-tall, non-climbable fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate, alarms on all doors and windows leading from the house to the pool area and well-maintained pool and spa covers.

Portable and above-ground pool owners can take extra steps, as well. Empty portable pools after every use, and store them to keep kids safe and remove ladders from above-ground pools when they are not in use. All pool owners should make sure that neighbors, babysitters and visitors know that they have a pool in their yard and should always designate an adult Water Watcher when kids are in the pool.

Understanding the Law to Help Prevent Drowning Injuries

Similar to the data on drowning fatalities, the majority of nonfatal drownings occur in a residential setting. While it is important to follow the simple safety steps around all bodies of water, there is one distinction when it comes to water safety in public versus private pools: a federal law.

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGBA) is a federal law that requires public pools and spas to have safer and compliant drain covers to avoid entrapment hazards. Entrapments occur when powerful suction from the water circulation system in a pool or spa causes someone to become trapped underwater.

Why is this important? Because no public pool or spa should be open if the facility is not compliant with this federal law.

While private/residential pools are not covered under the VGBA, Pool Safelyrecommends that they also have safer drains. Children should be taught to stay away from drains, filters and suction openings in pools and spas, because it is easy for long hair, jewelry and bathing suits to get caught in these drains.

In addition to making sure your children know how to Pool Safelyit is important for parents also to  confirm that all pools or spas they visit are VGB compliant.

*Data derived from the CPSC Submersion Report provides estimates and averages for drowning injuries and deaths. The report estimates pool and spa deaths involving children younger than 15 years of age between 2012 and 2014; for injuries for the same group, annual estimates are derived from years 2014 to 2016.

Thermoplastic Pipe Expansion

Swimming pool piping is design is notorious for including long straight runs of pipe.  For pools that do include long runs of straight pipe sections, consideration may be given to the use of expansion loops or mechanical expansion joints to accommodate thermal expansion and contraction.  The ASTM Standard 2774 references “Underground Installation of Thermoplastic Pressure Piping”. This ASTM Standard 2774 contains specific information on the topic of expansion in pool piping.  Expansion and contraction of thermoplastic pipe is typically due to temperature changes to either the surrounding pipe embedment materials or changes in the pool water traveling in the pipe system. When temperature changes of the thermoplastic pipe does occur, changes to the piping network in the form of elongation or contraction will occur.  Therefore, in piping networks where there may exist sections of the pipe that are straight and without bends, expansion and contraction of the pipe can cause failures in the system.  Swimming pool piping networks that include PVC pipe used in straight runs nearing 100 LF should take special consideration to the potential expansion and contraction of the pool pipe.  In these instances the design of the pool piping system should have the coefficient of expansion calculated for determination if design accommodations for the expansion and contraction should be included.

In cases where expansion and contraction will be significant, inclusion of an expansion loop or even a mechanical expansion joint can be installed.  A pipe loop is a relatively easy item to include within the piping network.   This pipe loop, or offset, can alleviate the bending stresses that can occur when thermoplastic piping systems experience expansion and contraction.  If expansion joints are required, a detail for the expansion loop may include a specific dimension for the offset lengths.  Mechanical expansion joints work like a piston allowing the pipe to elongate or contract within the pipe run.  The installation of mechanical expansion and contraction joints is critical, particularly cleaning debris (sand, rock, dirt) out of the moving parts.  If small particles come in contact with the mechanical joint mechanism the joints seal can become compromised.

In most instances a linear pipe runs without interruption of bends, joints or pipe size changes is not common.  However, in situations where conditions do allow long pipe runs, your design should pay special attention for need of expansion and contraction loops and mechanical joints.