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As a vinyl-liner pool specialist with adventurous tendencies, Josh Katz has done several installations that have pushed the technology to its creative limits. In the project describe here, for example, his firm designed and installed a residential watershape in which customized steel walls and a liner were used to fashion a full-fledged lazy-river pool – perhaps the very first of its kind – surrounded by stone and wood decks, waterfalls and much more.

As a vinyl-liner pool specialist with adventurous tendencies, Josh Katz has done several installations that have pushed the technology to its creative limits.  In the project describe here, for example, his firm designed and installed a residential watershape in which customized steel walls and a liner were used to fashion a full-fledged lazy-river pool – perhaps the very first of its kind – surrounded by stone and wood decks, waterfalls and much more.By Josh Katz

When my father started Lido Pools in 1968, he built both concrete and vinyl-liner pools.  

By the early ’70s, however, the market in our area had reached a point where vinyl liners were enabling increasing numbers of middle-class consumers to enjoy our products.  We found ourselves still building a few gunite pools, but before long the company’s focus narrowed to installing quality vinyl-liner pools that possessed the opulence we were familiar with in gunite pools as well as the practicality and affordability of vinyl-liner pools.

As has been discussed in the pages of this magazine and elsewhere, developments in vinyl-liner technology in recent years have brought the market along to a point where nearly anything that can be achieved in concrete can also be achieved with a vinyl-liner system.  Indeed, those of us who specialize in these pools have truly entered the realm where design limits are imposed solely by clients’ budgets and our imaginations.

Southern Ontario in general and the Toronto area in particular have become something of an epicenter for

innovation in this technology, and I’m proud to say that Lido Pools has been a part of that phenomenon – especially when it comes to innovative work with the complexities of multiple radiuses.

Through the years, our work with various manufacturers, engineers and clients have resulted in new twists and turns – and the project profiled in these pages is certainly a case in point:  It’s an extremely complex residential design that features a lazy river that is, so far as we know and as many have told us, the first and only one of its kind.   


When I first visited with the client, he talked at length about wanting something interesting in a freeform, lagoon-style pool.

His property is in Thornhill, a well-to-do Toronto suburb, and presented us with a yard with a working space about 50 feet wide and 135 feet long.  The home is well above average, but I was nonetheless somewhat surprised that he was after anything quite so elaborate.  He explained that he wanted a pool that would wow both business associates and friends – something aesthetically sharp and suitable for big-time fun.

About halfway through our first conversation, he mentioned that he’d been on vacation in Mexico at a resort with a lazy-river pool.  He asked me if it could be done in vinyl.  Almost immediately, he added that he had asked the very same question of five other high-end pool builders in the area, none of whom would entertain the idea save one who said he could only do it in concrete.  

Excited by so open a challenge, I told him that I’d have to do some research but didn’t see any obvious reason why it couldn’t be done.

At first, of course, I was doubtful that this particular client would really want something so elaborate and expensive, but it wasn’t long before he started calling me and basically pressuring me to generate an initial concept.  I had already been working on it, but when I realized how serious he was, I put his project on the front burner.


The complex shapes of the pool and lazy river were adjusted over and over again through the layout stage of the project – to the point where we had to get green paint to erase some of the many lines drawn in the grass.  What finally emerged is the complex configuration seen in the schematic.

I conceptualized the plan, prepared a colored hand drawing and dropped it by his house.  He was away on business at the moment, but his wife was so excited by what she saw that she scanned the drawing and e-mailed it to him.  That same day, he called and told me he wanted to meet as soon as possible and get the project rolling.  I began researching the mechanics and hydraulics needed to drive a lazy river, and by the time we met, we were moving full steam ahead.

A helpful key to my research was Phil de Tournillon and the staff at Riverflow Systems of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.  They let me know what was involved in their product and told me what I’d have to do to marry its suction grates and return jets with a vinyl liner.  I was also in close contact with Jason Dawson, Jenn Cummerson and the experts at Technican Pacific Industries (Brantford, Ontario) in early discussions about what promised to be a complex system of steel walls – and a liner to match.

Everything came together quickly:  The pool is about 30 feet wide and 50 feet long with undulating perimeter contours.  On the side farthest from the house is a river channel about 85 feet long that flows out of and into a wider swimming area.  Set within the pool is an island approximately 45 feet long and 10 to 15 feet wide.  The island features a circular spillover spa, landscaping and a corkscrew-style waterslide.

Around the pool’s perimeter are five natural-stone waterfalls.  There’s also a natural-stone bridge connecting the island to a deck area finished with a complex quilt-work of patterned stone.  Nearby is a wood deck with complicated cuts that embrace large boulders and planting beds.


In a project with many challenges, perhaps the largest one here had to do with designing the steel support structure for the liner system.

In developing that configuration, we had to accommodate the client’s desire to save a mature 60-foot maple that stood at one end of what would be the island.  We designed the watershape to wind around it in a way we hoped would preserve its roots and moved ahead with that in mind.

As it turned out, once we started excavation, we discovered that one of the tree’s primary roots went in an unexpected direction.  The arborist we consulted told us that removing that root would leave the tree with insufficient structural support and that it would almost certainly topple in a high wind.  So we made the difficult decision to cut it down.

By that point, however, we were already very deep into the process and decided to proceed as though the tree was still part of the program.

That process was hard for a number of reasons having to do with clearances around the pool’s perimeter and the complexities of its undulating shape.  Technican Pacific offers designers a tremendous amount of flexibility with its 42-inch-tall, galvanized-steel wall panels.  The keys to their strength are five-inch-wide top and bottom rails that can be made to almost any contour with respect to inside and outside radiuses.


Other than working uncomfortably close to the property’s fence in excavating for the pool and lazy river, setting up the watershape was a reasonably direct process.  Making allowance for the river system’s fittings (something entirely new for us) and hanging the liner were occasionally challenging, but it all moved forward with relative ease.

For this pool, we were designing not only the usual outside system of panels for the outer perimeter, but also an inside set for the island.  We were after an organic look, so we didn’t want these inside and outside perimeters to parallel one another – although they still had to work together.  By the time we were through, there were 25 panels on the inside and 35 on the outside, no two of them exactly alike.

Laying out the pool on site was no piece of cake.  Using a CAD drawing generated by Technican Pacific based on our initial design, we established a series of reference points in the yard, measured the distances to several point on the pool’s edges and spray-painted the radii to develop a precise excavation layout.  Once that was done, we checked in with the homeowner.  He asked us for so many adjustments that by the time we were done, we’d basically laid the pool out 21 times.

The process became so involved with so many different lines painted in the grass that we actually had to use green paint to “erase” some lines so we could clearly see the most recent ones and follow the plan.


Excavation was another challenging part of the project because of the location of the pool relative to the lot lines.  Local rules require five-foot setbacks for swimming pools, but the client wanted to maximize use of the space and push the pool to within four feet of his property line.  To do so, we had to get a variance from the building department – an added step that took quite a bit of paperwork and patience and also made digging the hole a good bit tougher.

This was so because the panels are supported by systems of steel braces that call for over-excavating the pool site by a minimum of two feet.  In some spots, this meant maneuvering within two feet of the existing fence, which in a couple of places meant we had to do the digging by hand.  Fortunately, the island wasn’t much of an issue:  At 15 feet wide at many points, we were able to over-excavate here and still had enough ground in place so we wouldn’t have to backfill the entire island space.

Once the hole was dug, panel assembly was a relatively straightforward task.  We worked in some tight spaces near the fence, but all went smoothly.  And although the panels are precisely designed, they have enough flexibility that they can be bent just a bit.  This allowed us to do some on-site customizing in consultation with the client, who oversaw installation of every panel.


The most unusual features of this project were the current system and the island.  In the former case, the lazy river had us get involved with what were (for us, anyway) unusually large pipes and fittings and unusually tight plumbing tolerances to keep the flow balanced; in the latter, we had to set things up in such a way that one of the island’s narrow ends could support the weight of a large stone bridge.

With the panels fully assembled, we poured concrete around the outside of the panels to lock them in place.  (Again, some finesse was involved in getting material out to areas near the fence.)   We returned the next day and finished the concrete work by pouring the pool’s floor, including a precisely designed diving well in the main pool area.  Next, we installed the retaining-track assembly for the vinyl liner, which consists of ten-foot-long channels made of extruded, powder-coated aluminum that screw onto the tops of the wall panels.  (Later, the ledgerstone coping would be cantilevered over this retaining-track coping.)   

Then came the liner – in this case quite an impressive affair both in size and complexity.  Normally, liners weigh anywhere from 180 to 250 pounds, with 500 pounds being the usual upper limit.  This one weighed approximately 1,300 pounds and had to be moved into the pool using a Bobcat.

Shaping the liner is where the magic of CAD-based design really comes into play in the vinyl market:  Using precise measurements taken before and also after the walls were installed, the factory used its computer to design a liner to fit within a fraction of an inch.  With a shape this complex, there would have been no way to get things anywhere close to correct without applying some advanced technology.


The 30-mil liner showed up with one break in it and some overlapping material we would have to seam on site once it was finally in place.  There had to be a break at some point because of the island and the fact that our original program had us working around that big maple that was subsequently removed:  There was no practical way we could have lifted the liner over a 60-foot tree.

The liner has a gray-marble pattern selected to blend with the preformed pool steps and the stone decking.  And as it turned out, the not-quite-necessary cut in the river portion of the liner made everything easier to manage:  We just unfolded it in rough form around the island and simply marched around both the inside and outside perimeters, hooking the bead into the track on the coping assembly.

The cut in the liner was positioned at the narrowest spot on the river to keep the seam as short as possible.  A mobile vinyl-welding company came on site and formed the seam in a matter of minutes, after which we turned on the vacuums and watched a flawless fit take shape before our eyes.  Even we were amazed:  Start to finish, the liner-installation process took only 75 minutes.
One of the nicest features of the system we used was the fact that the steps closely matched our gray-marble liner pattern – another first in vinyl-liner pools, so far as we know, and an innovation credited to Technican Pacific that represents a significant step forward in the aesthetics of vinyl-liner pools.


The heart of the project is the lazy-river system, which flows along a sweeping course on the far side of the pool.  The system is driven by a 13-horsepower pump that will eventually be hidden by plants.  This pump delivers 2,500 gallons per minute at a rate of 12.5 miles per hour at the nozzle – more than enough create a well-tuned current that courses through the entire pool/river system.

Now it was time to focus on the hydraulic systems and kick the Riverflow device into action.  The unit, which is positioned next to the stone bridge on one end of the lazy river’s course, generates its flow with a 13-horsepower pump that delivers 2,500 gallons per minute at a rate of 12.5 miles per hour at the nozzle.  (This produces a far more leisurely 2.5-mile-per-hour flow through the river channel.)  The system also includes two 20-inch intake grates that distribute the flow in such a way that there’s a suction of less than three pounds per square inch at the grates – and therefore no perceivable pull.

Plumbing this unit proved to be one of the toughest parts of the project, partly because it runs on 10-inch PVC lines with 12-inch PVC connector tees, but also because the flow from the suction grates has to be perfectly balanced.  This meant that the system’s plumbing had to be perfectly symmetrical and that we had to have the entire manifold assemble fit perfectly onto the grates on the first try:  It couldn’t be off by even the smallest fraction of an inch or we’d have to start over again – an expensive, time-consuming possibility with pipes and fittings so large.

As a result, we had to hold the entire assembly in place while cementing the massive pipes, elbows and T-fittings into place.  In all, it took eight of us to get it done, and I’m happy to say it all came together perfectly the first time through.  (If I had to do it all over again, I would have given myself much more room to maneuver:  Things were just too cramped for any level of comfort.)  

The trajectory of the water blast from the river-flow unit in conjunction with the river’s shape was crucial.  Aesthetically, we wanted the river to have undulating sides to promote a somewhat natural appearance, but the first 25 feet of the river had to be fairly “straight” so as not to diminish the water velocity we needed to drive the system.  It all worked, and I have to give a good measure of credit to the custom-made trajectory grate Riverflow Systems provided for us:  It was skewed to the left at a six-degree angle to optimize and perfect the flow of water from the device.

We filled the pool, fired up the lazy-river system and were all thrilled by how smoothly it pushed bathers in inner tubes around the pool’s full perimeter.  Best of all, we saw that when those bathers reached the wider, swimming pool part of the vessel, the system gently drew them across the surface and back toward the mouth of the river:  All they had to do was sit back and float across the open water without ever having to maneuver themselves back to the river’s mouth.   

With the pool and lazy river done, we focused on making the rest of the space into a complete backyard paradise, starting on the island where we installed an inground, 92-inch-diameter acrylic spillover spa finished in a gray-granite pattern.  We then clad the exterior with Armour Stone boulders and Owen Sound Flagstone veneer.   

That stone and all of the other stone materials used in the project came from Beaver Valley Stone, the largest supplier in Canada and third largest in North America.  Their proximity to the job site made sourcing these materials both easy and more affordable.

To maintain a consistent look, all of the stone we used is some form of Armour Stone, a stratified limestone commonly used in this area.  It has a variety of gray hues, is extremely strong and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Beaver Valley Stone receives daily shipments of the material, which made it exceptionally easy to work with them in obtaining exactly what we needed in assembling the coping, bridge, decks, waterfalls and landscape details.


One of the most enjoyable features of the project is that it was about much more than an innovative pool system.  In addition, we also installed a spa on the island; an intricate deck system in which different stone profiles define transitions between the home and the pool; a wood deck with edges trimmed to flow around rocks; and a broad patio area in which we installed a fire pit as well as a full-featured cabana.   (Note the pool steps, finished by the manufacturer in a way that blends them in with the liner.)

The bridge between the deck and the island involved some heavy lifting.  We installed bell footings using Sonotubes, then poured a concrete slab before installing the stone steps.  What made things tricky is the fact that we had to move stones to the island using a backhoe with a chain rigging to prepare the island side to support an eight-foot-long spanning slab that weighs the best part of two tons.

We also took a somewhat unique approach to the deck design by employing a quilt-work of both interlocking and natural flagstone. The random flagstone coping ranges between 18 and 24 inches in width and is set up with a jagged backside for a rustic look.  The main patio area features a four-size combination of Brussels Block tumbled stone placed at odd angles to avoid obvious patterning or alignment with any of the straight lines found at the yard’s perimeters.

This deck-stone arrangement also played a functional role having to do with where patio furniture was to be placed:  Old World Cobble inlay was used as a transition between the natural flagstone coping and the more formal-shaped tumbled stone on which the furnishings were arrayed.  Inlaid through this deck quilt are seven large Owen Sound Flagstone steppingstones that form a pathway from the yard’s entrance to the stone bridge that crosses over to the island.

Immediately around the pool, we installed five rock structures using Armour Stone boulders to serve as small waterfalls.  One of these structures is located by the deep end and has several flat pieces that serve as diving platforms.  Another by the pool steps offers a small area with Armour Stone pedestals where people can sit and cool or clean debris off their feet.


Away from the pool and directly off the back of the house, we constructed a two-tiered cedar deck.  Most installers leave the wood planks straight, so we decided to do something unique and scroll-sawed the entire perimeter of the lower deck and cut around the stones adjacent to the garden.  

We also built a cedar cabana complete with a kitchen, a bar top and restroom.  Behind this structure, we hid an equipment pad that includes two 400,000 Btu heaters, multiple pumps, cartridge filters, chlorine generators and a 16-zone control system.  All of the equipment was provided by Jandy (Petaluma, Calif.) and went in without a hitch thanks largely to Gary Scott of Jandy Canada, who was generous both with his time and assistance.

There’s also a 300,000-Btu, natural-gas fire pit on the deck, surrounded by both Armour rock and tree trunk pieces taken from the 60-foot maple that had to be removed from the island despite our best efforts at saving it.  

As a final touch on the island, the client wanted a slide.  We did our best to explain that it would compromise the aesthetics of the setting; he was determined, however, so we installed a 13-foot-tall, 720-degree, double-spiral waterslide manufactured by Summit-USA (Kelso, Wash.).  Not entirely willing to sacrifice aesthetics, we masked the view of the slide from the house by planting a 20-foot maple in front of it.


For all the innovations that form the foundation for this project, our ambition here was less about doing something new and different than it was about creating an interesting play zone for kids of all ages.  From the corkscrew slide (which someday will be partially obscured from view by a tree) to diving pads and the river system, it’s all about recreation and the client’s desire for plentiful family fun.

Through the entire process, we were driven to get everything just right by the fact we were doing something we all considered to be unprecedented.  Our foreman, John Zeijdel, deserves tremendous credit for managing an installation process that required frequent on-site adjustments and smart decision-making on a near-continuous basis.

It’s testimony to just how far vinyl-liner pools have come in recent years that we could even visualize such a project, and we’re more than pleased that we at Lido Pools are among a growing cadre of vinyl-liner pool specialists who are no longer seeing any limits to what can be achieved for the right clients.

To be sure, this was no low-budget venture.  In fact, it completely violates the cost-consciousness that has given conventional vinyl-liner pools their traditional place in the sun.  But now, in locales where this technology is the best available option, all we’re doing is applying our imaginations in ways that increase the perceived (and real) value of what we do.

For this particular client, that value came from the fact that we were able to create something that absolutely no one else had.  Since the project was completed in the summer of 2007, he reports that it’s had the desired effects of impressing his business associates and friends – and serving as a venue for tremendous aquatic fun.  

Josh Katz is president of Lido Pools, a full-service vinyl-liner swimming pool company serving the Toronto metropolitan area.  He grew up in the pool industry, working at his father’s side from the age of four.  Hy Katz founded the company in 1968 after building a package pool for his family in 1967.  He passed away in 1986, at which point Josh Katz was working toward degrees in biochemistry and psychology.  He left school just short of his graduation to take over the reins of the family business and has seen it grow to focus mainly on highly customized residential design/installation work.

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