- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2008

There’s something about water that’s relaxing and soothes the soul. Whether it’s dipping in the pool, lounging beside a waterfall or watching fish swim in a pond, homeowners have taken to backyard water features in a big way.

With rising airline and gas prices, industry professionals say more homeowners are spending summers at home and want that resort feel in their own yards.

“People want to build vacation spaces in their back yard,” says Craig Smith, owner of BR Design/Build in Annapolis. He says swimming pools have become more elaborate and waterfalls more extensive.

In pool installations, features such as swim jets and lights that change color with fiber optics are among the newer features, Mr. Smith says. He adds that some pool fountains and lights even offer remote-controlled water shows that rival some of those found in Las Vegas.

Experts say homeowners also are adding saltwater pools and negative-edge pools that blend into the landscaping, and they are installing pools with fireplaces and conversation areas nearby.

While swimming pools are refreshing on a warm summer day, homeowners also are finding ways to enjoy water without immersing themselves in it. That’s where water features such as ponds, waterfalls, stone fountains, streams and babbling creeks come in.

Mark J. Krupka, president of the National Association of Pond Professionals, says, “People like to put in waterfalls or circulation ponds. Studies show that looking and listening to moving water is very relaxing.”

He says water has been used to improve the physical environment for hundreds of years. Industry professionals also say waterfalls or fountains are ideal for reducing street noise for those who live in a busy area.

Though certain parts of the economy are down, Mr. Krupka says the water-feature industry has seen a small growth.

“The economy hasn’t had that much effect on water features,” he says.

One of the newest trends, he says, is pondless waterfalls. Instead of cascading into standing water at the base of the waterfall, the water goes into a collection sump and is recirculated. He says this has become a popular option for homeowners who don’t necessarily want or have room for a pond. For homeowners who desire a pond, however, the options are endless.

“They’re not cookie-cutter ponds anymore,” Mr. Krupka says.

Although he says homeowners can go to a nursery or water-garden center to get a pond, the trend is to have a landscape architect install a bigger, custom pond that looks nice and blends in naturally with the landscaping.

Greg Roelecke, a landscape designer with Outside Unlimited Inc. in Ijamsville, Md., says he has seen an increase in the number of homeowners investing in water features in the past 10 to 15 years. He attributes that growth to people looking for relaxation while leading busy, hectic lives and to a decline in the number of people taking vacations.

“We noticed that after 9/11, people stopped traveling as much and our business picked up,” Mr. Roelecke says.

The trend is toward more natural-looking, bolder ponds and pools with underwater lighting, Mr. Roelecke says.

“We’re not reinventing anything, just mimicking nature. More and more people are being open to water features to help out with today’s lifestyles,” he says.

Occasionally, Mr. Roelecke has installed a waterfall in a front yard, but he says nine times out of 10, customers want to enjoy the falls in the back yard.

Whether a waterfall flows into a pond or not, experts say they produce soothing sounds in even the smallest or most challenging spaces. The way the waterfall flows can depend on the yard.

“It usually depends on the lay of the land; each situation is different,” Mr. Roelecke says. “If you have a steep hill coming from a patio, it’ll be much more dramatic of a waterfall, but if you have a flat area, it will be a more quiet, tranquil setting.”

Experts say a natural look is important to many homeowners. Whether it’s a pond or a waterfall, they want it to blend in with the landscaping as if it always has been there.

“A good landscape architect really uses the environment,” Mr. Krupka says.

In addition to fewer people traveling after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Smith attributes the increase in backyard water features and swimming pools to the fact that technology has gotten better, leading to much easier maintenance.

He says the technology for swimming pools, especially, has gotten better, and they can be installed with automatic covers that close the pool with the touch of a button. He also says that over the past 10 years, ponds that are able to establish their own ecosystems have been installed, which enables them to maintain themselves and keeps the water crystal clear.

Mr. Roelecke says everything in the ponds’ water, including the plants and fish, works together to keep the ponds naturally clean.

For water features that require a little more maintenance, Mr. Krupka says he has noticed that homeowners crunched for leisure time are hiring contractors to maintain their water features just as they hire out their lawn care.

“More people have ponds and water gardens, and they just want to enjoy it and have it look nice,” he says.

The most popular way to enjoy water in the back yard varies by demographic, according to Mr. Smith, who says wealthier homeowners often start with a swimming pool and then may decide to add a waterfall or fishpond. In smaller communities, he says, he has noticed that customers just want to enjoy the sights and sounds of running water and will opt for the pondless waterfalls.

When it comes time to part with that backyard retreat and put the home on the market, Realtors say that having water in the yard can help seal the deal. Guinevere Jones-Wood of Long and Foster in Fort Washington says pools and waterfalls can help in terms of curb appeal and attracting potential buyers to the home.

Ms. Jones-Wood adds that low maintenance is key, as buyers don’t want to spend a lot of time having to take care of their pool, pond or waterfall.

She says, however, that pools don’t always add value to a home because they limit the group of possible buyers; some people don’t want the insurance liability that comes with having a swimming pool.

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