By Giorgos Eptaimeros
Oregon watershaper Giorgos Eptaimeros has developed a reputation for providing his clients with the full range of exciting aquatic experiences. Always on the lookout for new options to offer and, more specifically, for ways to bring popular commercial- and waterpark-type features to his residential projects, he recently turned to a leaping-jet/splash-pad kit to bring a dynamic backyard play feature to a distinctly mid-range project.
When I emigrated from Greece to the United States nearly 20 years ago, I already had more than a decade of commercial project management experience under my belt. As is the case with many of us who come to this country, I was pursuing greater opportunities – but I never figured I’d end up designing and building swimming pools for a living, nor would I ever have imagined that this new career would find me working on the cutting edge when it comes to providing fun and relaxation to families in my area.
As luck would have it, however, that’s exactly what has happened. My company, Poolworld of Beaverton, Ore., has now been in business more than 16 years, and we currently provide everything from elaborate decorative and interactive watershapes to custom residential and commercial pools.
In developing our approach to our own residential and commercial watershape designs, we often take cues from the waterparks that are increasingly becoming a destination of choice for American families. The results of our observations have tended to emerge most directly in our commercial projects, basically because of the costs involved in creating elaborate interactive systems. But increasingly, we’ve been encountering middle-class homeowners who are wanting us to help them bring a bit of the waterpark experience to their own suburban backyards.
A desire to meet this need made us take notice when S.R. Smith of nearby Canby, Ore., introduced WetDek, a backyard splash pad. It caught our eye not only for bridging the gap we perceived between waterparks and backyards, but also because we saw it as riding the crest of an important, nationwide recreational trend.
A GOOD FIT
For years, we’ve been aware that deck-level, leaping-jet systems are among the most popular of interactive waterfeatures on the commercial front. Not only are these systems a waterpark favorite, but they’ve also been used to great effect in settings such as outdoor shopping malls as well as various parks and public plazas.
|Our first task on site involved leveling the area in which the pad was to be installed. After clearing away the lawn, we set up a small retaining wall, raised the grade in compacted lifts and then, once we’d reached the desired grade, cut a trench for the system’s plumbing and yard drainage.|
Wherever they appear, these systems seem to serve as social hubs – places where parents can relax as they watch their kids go crazy amid sequences of jumping jets. There’s something playful and wonderfully fun about these designs: They offer a level of enjoyment that ranges far beyond what can be achieved with conventional fountains or traditional swimming pools.
The challenge in bringing these interactive systems to the residential market has always been the complexity of hydraulic design, the difficulty of such installations and the overall system costs. No matter how popular, in other words, these systems always seemed beyond the reach of the majority of our residential clients and were therefore not something we considered offering to more than a select few homeowners.
As we saw it, S.R. Smith had hit the nail on the head with its pre-engineered, pre-packaged system: If it worked out, it would enable us to provide our clients with just the sort of high-level backyard fun they were asking us to offer at a cost that fit many more budgets. Once I learned about this system, I didn’t hesitate in wanting to give it a try.
|Next, we installed the pipes and reservoir and also prepared the equipment pad, which included the pump, filter and chlorinator supplied as part of the kit.|
The clients for the project pictured here were a perfect test case. The quintessential American family with two kids and two dogs, they were looking for a way to make their grassy backyard more interesting. They were interested in enlarging their patio space as well, and as we spoke, we came to see a deck-level, leaping jet system as a perfect solution.
Before long, we settled on a 12-jet system for this project, deciding against the more compact six- and nine-jet options. The manufacturer provided us with the plumbing schematics, which are presented in a variety of layouts according to the shape of the pad, which in our case was to be a 15-foot circle.
The kit that arrived included all major system components: a pre-programmed, multi-zone controller; four solenoid valves; plumbing connections; a dozen brass nozzles; a four-inch nickel drain with an ABS hub; a three-quarter-horsepower pump; a 25 square-foot sand filter; an in-line chlorinator; and a 150-gallon reservoir.
The system requires perfectly level ground, and in this case we had to rework the site to create a suitable surface. Access to the space was limited, so we ended up using a walk-behind loader to remove the topsoil and then transport materials to the site to build a small, concrete-block retaining wall that would flank the leveled area.
In addition to the retaining wall and a bit of backfilling, we also installed a site-drainage system. In all, this preparatory work took us two days.
|After precisely positioning the nozzles, we poured a reinforced, six-inch-thick concrete pad with a 15-foot diameter. We then applied a broom finish to the pad (to provide good traction for little feet) and sealed the surface with an acrylic urethane protectant.|
We had already checked with the county’s permit office and found (as we suspected) that neither building nor mechanical permits were required with installation of this self-contained unit, so when the time came we just installed and connected the system components. (The only thing the county required was an inspection of the electrical system.)
The kit provided just about everything we needed with the exception of the PVC piping runs, some miscellaneous plumbing fixtures and a valve we decided would be useful in controlling water flow. Once the basic plumbing components had been installed and the electrical system was in place, we made the final connections, filled the reservoir and conducted pressure tests.
The next day (our fourth on site), we installed the brass nozzles at finish grade, then formed, poured and finished a six-inch-thick, reinforced-concrete pad. The 15-foot circle slopes gently from the outer edge to the central drain head.
|Whether it’s used as a graceful, arcing fountain or as a center for active children (and pets) at play, this interactive splash pad does a wonderful job in helping us bring waterpark-type features to our clients’ backyards.|
We used a broom finish on the concrete – smooth enough to be kind to children’s feet while still providing good traction. The clients chose a natural concrete stain that made the pad blend visually with the rest of the backyard environment. We later sealed the pad with an acrylic urethane protectant, and the result was a beautiful, textured surface with flush-mounted brass jets and a matching drain cover.
All that remained was a system test: I was given the honor of activating the controller, and it wasn’t long before vigorous streams of water were erupting from the surface of the deck.
With this stage complete, I met with the homeowners to teach them how to operate and maintain their new system. I showed them how to fill the tank, clean the filter and operate the controller. They listened patiently, but the little ones weren’t quite so cooperative and steadily urged their father to turn the jets on – which, finally, he did.
At the push of a button, the fun began. The first words I heard from his mouth said it all: “Look at the kids: They love it!”
This system represented a whole new project type for us, so I’ve contacted these clients periodically to see if the initial level of excitement had staying power.
Fun at Home
One of the reasons we at Poolworld are so intrigued by the WetDek system (S.R. Smith, Canby, Ore.) is that it fits with all we’ve been hearing in recent months about “stay-cations” and the desire of families to avoid the expense and hassles of traveling by creating opportunities for fun in their own backyards.
Whether this is a marketing fad or a legitimate, enduring trend is anyone’s guess, but we have some belief in stay-cations as an enduring phenomenon because they fit perfectly with our long-time observation that homeowners want to bring the best features of waterparks and resort pools into their own backyards.
Given current economic conditions that seem to be sapping the energy from most levels of the watershaping market, finding affordable ways to meet emerging consumer desires is a good thing. And the fact that these kits come in a variety of sizes and can be installed as stand-alone systems or as parts of larger aquatic environments makes them even more desirable.
The fun was something we all expected, but finding quieter pleasure in the moving water was something we hadn’t anticipated – and their story about the dogs has me thinking about approaching my local dog park to see if there’s any interest.
I won’t hold my breath on that last possibility, but given how many surprises and professional adventures the watershaping business has provided me since I came to this country nearly two decades ago, I’ve learned to be ready for almost anything.
Giorgos Eptaimeros is owner of Pool World, a pool and spa design/installation firm located in Beaverton, Ore. He was born in Athens, Greece, where his first experience with construction came at the age of 12, when he helped his father, a construction worker, build the family’s summer home. Eptaimeros continued to work in construction while serving in the military and attending college. His background helped him secure jobs with a large commercial-construction company and with a smaller company that specialized in public-school projects. Eptaimeros met his wife while she was traveling in Greece in 1990, then moved to Oregon the following year to be with her. In 2000, he purchased Pool World, an established firm whose owner wanted to retire. He then refocused the company’s efforts on pool design and construction and has seen the company grow strongly in the past eight years.