Can we afford to install a backyard pool when our space is small and set on a steep slope?
Yes. But dealing with the sloped grade can be expensive. So, the trick is to maximize usable space to minimize the cost. The owners of this Vienna, Virginia residence had long wished to make better use of their sloped and poorly drained backyard by installing a swimming pool and improving their landscaping.
With careful planning and clever solutions to address the limitations of their small backyard, their landscape architect created a multi-faceted outdoor living space that seamlessly blends functionality and beauty.
The wish list for this small backyard pool environment included:
- swimming pool and spa roughly 18 x 40 feet with motorized auto cover
- outdoor grill area and bar with seating for 3-5 people
- gathering area centered around a low-maintenance natural gas-burning fire table
- as much patio area as possible with table space for 8-10 guests
In terms of design style, the clients expressed a preference for a sleek contemporary vibe that resonated with the architecture of the house. They also requested, for maintenance purposes, that lawn be limited or eliminated entirely. In the end, they chose synthetic turf because it could double as a patio area but look like green space.
Working with Assets and Overcoming Limitations
The limitations of this yard are related directly to its size and the slope of the yard. A surprise asset of the site related to the architectural style of the home. The modern split-level style allowed for the outdoor spaces of the backyard to be more connected and to flow naturally from the indoors. Often when a home has a walkout basement, there is a distinct separation between the deck space on the upper level and the pool area at the level below. In this situation, because the structure of the home was “split”, the step-downs from the upper to lower levels are eased and flow more naturally from the indoors to the outdoors and away from the house.
Fitting the Size of the Wish List to the Size of the Yard
Considering the size of the homeowners’ wish list, the available yard space was quite small. The challenge for the landscape architect was to make the best possible use of available space and leave room enough to build a swimming pool. In addition, a sloped grade like this one can require expensive retaining walls, steps, or other structural elements to support the design. By using the mass of the pool structure to stabilize the slope, the landscape architect was able to eliminate the need for an additional retaining wall and thus minimize the cost of addressing this challenge.
Due to the steep grade, another critical issue had to be addressed: landscape drainage. The client’s house was positioned at the receiving end of rainwater that flowed down from neighboring lots above it. And because the area is small it meant that a lot of surface water had to be collected quickly so it would not empty into the pool. The drainage of the area was tricky because there was only a limited area available to catch the water coming into the yard. To deal with all that water, the landscape design employed k100 Aco drains along the uphill pool edge plus some additional French drains near the synthetic turf area. Aco drains are a brand of trench drain frequently used in the landscape industry. They are typically long, narrow channel drains covered by gratings that are recessed in the ground along the edges of the hardscape (patio, walkway, pool deck) to quickly capture runoff and carry it away.
The centerpiece of the landscape design
One might view the swimming pool as the centerpiece of the design. But the related outdoor living areas all hold their own in terms of visual impact. The deck with bar and grill and table space is a centerpiece in that area. The same goes for the covered patio structure with a fire table. All three areas are distinctive and relate well to each other. Each holds its own as an individual point of interest.
In the end, this small backyard pool idea developed into a variety of distinctive outdoor rooms that interact beautifully with each other. It is an outdoor living space full of variety and lively visual effects that the clients can use and enjoy every day.
So, in answer to the question, can you have a backyard pool even when space is limited and the grade is less than ideal? Yes, you can. And you don’t have to break the bank doing it. Hiring a landscape architect and landscape design-build firm to value engineer the project results in the most efficient, cost-effective, and aesthetically pleasing outcome.