HIGH-TECH HOME : Swimming Pools Have Evolved Into Tony Back Yard Resorts

Times Staff Writer

He says it is for his 7-year-old daughter, this $250,000 swimming pool with its innovative accessories. But does a child under the age of reason really need a swim-in grotto with a complete sound system and a swim-up sports bar studded with six television sets?

The Orange County businessman, who has forked over more for his pool area than many spend on complete houses, thinks so. "I'm a single parent," he says, "and I have a 7-year-old daughter who wanted it. It's like fairy-tale land. Disneyland doesn't have anything comparable to this. No one does. It's state-of-the-art."

It takes more than just a portable radio and a six-pack to live graciously by the Southern California pool side. Nowadays, state of the art means swim spas and remote-control outdoor audio systems, reading lights suspended from palm trees and stereo speakers shaped like rocks.

And not only is today's swimming hole tony, it's also technologically correct. For pools, spas, lighting and sound can all be linked and directed by remote control, computerized for the casual life.

Take the back-yard Disneyland, for example. Custom-built by 20th Century Pools of Buena Park, it has all the up-to-date amenities that pool-industry experts say are selling best in these days of increasing home entertainment.

In addition to the swim-up bar and barbecue--with seating for six--it has a blender, refrigerator, grill and "outdoor stereo system with speakers that will take the weather and winds," says Ray Alderete, president of 20th Century. "That is a hot item. And it has a system that will fully automate the whole pool area from inside the house--or wherever you want."

Called the CP-2000 controller, the automation system costs around $2,500, Alderete says. It can be used manually from inside the house to turn on lights, filter or spa.

Or it can be programmed for the busy working family: Turn the filter on for a few hours when everyone's away, then jack up the spa at 6 p.m. and the lights and waterfall at 7 p.m. in preparation for a relaxing evening. All without lifting a flipper.

Alderete also installs swim spas, which run from $16,000 to $17,000 and behave like tiny lap pools. The idea behind the swim spa, which the National Spa and Pool Institute says is increasing in popularity, is to obtain a maximum of exercise in a minimum of space.

Swim spas are typically 14 to 20 feet long, 8 feet wide and 4 feet deep, and are equipped with two water jets. "The force of the water coming out maintains you in one position as you exercise your arms and legs while you're swimming," Alderete explained.

Grecian Industries in Westminster manufactures seven swim-spa models, ranging from self-contained portable units all the way up to permanent in-ground models, Bill Rothenberger, Grecian's marketing director, said.

"We've been making them since 1972, but they've only been popular in the last 3 years," Rothenberger said. "The sales in the last 2 years equaled sales in all the previous years. The main advantage of them is they're very energy-efficient."

Grecian Industries spas range from $6,500 to $14,000 and cost from $15 to $40 per month to maintain, Rothenberger said.

But exercise isn't everything when planning a patio paradise. Just ask Larry and Lillian Allen of Yorba Linda. Sure, you can swim in their 60-by-20-foot, free-form pool. But you have to be kind of careful lest you backstroke into the island, which is graced with a hammock strung between two palm trees.

Then there's the waterfall and spa, which, like the pool, are ringed by handmade rocks, crafted to look like the real thing to give the back yard a "Fantasy Island" feel. But the Allens' lighting and audio systems are perhaps as impressive as the pool itself. One light is wired into a palm tree and provides illumination for readers reclining in the hammock.

Others highlight the waterfall, spa and house. A separate lighting system illuminates the front yard. The systems can be controlled separately, according to Doug McIntyre, owner of Lightscapes in Yorba Linda.

"We multizone yards, so we can design one look for the yard if you're just having a couple of friends over, another for looking out the window, another for a party," McIntyre said. "We give people lots of options and bring a theatrical-design touch to things, get people into the better-quality fixtures."

Such a system averages $5,000 to $6,000, which breaks down to about $125 to $150 per lighting fixture, including installation.

Lightscapes also specializes in outdoor audio systems, a slightly more exotic line of work. For the Allens, McIntyre designed an underground sound system with four mushroom-shaped speakers embedded in the ground and two other outdoor speakers attached to the umbrella-shaped patio cover.

Larry Allen's yard is also multizoned for sound, with two amplifiers in addition to the six speakers. Thus, bathers can listen to soothing music piped into the spa and others can enjoy a sports broadcast on the patio.

Outdoor speakers start at $100 per pair for low-end units that can be buried throughout the yard. The highest-end speakers that McIntyre sells are manufactured by a company called Rockoustics. For $650 to $1,400, nature fiends can buy a pair of speakers that look like they were chiseled out of Yosemite's famed Half-Dome.

"They're very nice looking," McIntyre said. "They're a granitey-gray color. And they look good in the plants."

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