- - Thursday, July 5, 2012

Picture this. Dad is busy flipping burgers on the grill, Mom is laying out some fried chicken on the table, and the kids are busy plowing headfirst down the slide. Just another lazy summer’s day at the local park, right?

Wrong. In fact, you’re all wet - or they are, at least. Because despite the grilling, the chicken, and the sliding, everybody, yes, even Mom, can be in the pool.

“The biggest innovation in pool design today is outdoor living,” said Dick Covert, executive director of Master Pools Guild, a Richmond-based invitation-only network of luxury pool builders from around the world. “It’s not just a place for exercise and play any more.”

Swimming pools are not what they used to be, and they are not used the same way either. Dad can work the grill with his bottom half squarely in the water. And Mom can prepare a meal, or work the bar, without ever leaving the pool.

And the kids? After they have had enough sliding, they can hide in a grotto, relax in the spa, or just enjoy the play of the LED lights on the water as day turns into night.

So forget those pools of yesteryear. Today’s swimming pools offer cutting-edge design coupled with innovative technology that can make you and your family interact with the backyard in a whole new way.

And, according to the National Association of Realtors, an in-ground swimming pool may also increase your home’s value. Realtor.com even allows prospective buyers to narrow their home searches to properties that include a pool, which often are fixtures in the D.C. area’s upscale neighborhoods.

But pools are not for everyone.

“Some areas are more acceptable to pools,” said Jack Sheffrin, chief real estate appraiser at Old Line Appraisals in Laurel. “In other areas, having a pool may not contribute much to the value of the home, and ongoing costs can have an impact.”

But if you are like many Washington-area residents, just the sight - and the smell - of a swimming pool is all that is needed to signal summer. The softly lapping water, sparking tiles and that distinctive odor of chlorine can be enough to send you over the edge, literally, as was the case with former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, whose cannonball plunges into one of the city’s public pools marked the start of the summer season.

And, as the economy starts to come back, people who actually enjoyed their “staycations” are now willing to put a little bit extra into the idea of a swimming pool, said Drew Crowder, vice president of commercial design at NV Blu Pools, a swimming pool design and build company based in Fairfax.

“People want a complete backyard oasis,” he said. “A swimming pool is usually the second-largest monetary commitment a family can make, after the house. Some people put aside money for years.”

What can it cost? A lower-end pool might set a homeowner back $25,000 to $40,000. A customized, state of the art pool can run from $100,000 to $750,000.

For that kind of money, don’t expect the crisp, rectangular, blue-and-white pool of your youth. Today’s pool designs often are the centerpiece of an outdoor room that comes complete with kitchen, fireplace, distinctive lighting and other amenities, such as state-of-the art sound systems or outdoor theaters. They have swim-up bars and adjoining hot tubs, fountains, and in some cases, even flames.

Pool designers make a considerable effort to marry the shape of the pool to the size and shape of the lot.

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