There's no doubt that an automatic pool cover is worth the up-front investment. Because it's a cover, it enhances safety and saves energy. Because it's automatic, it's as convenient as you can get.
But the cover greatly affects the overall look of the pool. The cover box, track, and lead bar will leave unattractive evidence of the device, even when it's not being used.
Many high-end customers only want to see the cover when it's closed. So Paul Benedetti, principal of Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa in Morgan Hill, Calif., developed a variety of tricks to conceal the cover from view. Here are a few of his tips.
Use an in-wall receiver. Until recently, cover tracks could only be mounted on the coping's underside, which limited the designer's choices. Builders could only use coping that cantilevered enough to accommodate the track and was thick enough to accept a 1½-inch screw.
Now builders can install the cover's track in the pool wall itself, using an in-wall receiver. This pre-manufactured channel attaches to the top of the bond beam and holds the track in place. With this system you can choose whatever coping you like.Automatic covers don't have to compromise the beauty of a custom pool. Devices such as in-wall cover-track receivers, which merely look like a larger-than-normal grout line under the coping, make covers less obtrusive.Courtesy Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa
When using the in-wall receiver, construct the bond beam 1 to 1½ inches shorter than normal. This will leave you with the right elevation after attaching the receiver to the very top of the wall. The walls at the ends of the pool will be shorter than you need, but you can build them up with extra mortar. This will leave a gap between the tile line and the coping. Fill the gap with small slices of the tile-line material (so the tile line seems to go up a little higher) or the coping material (so the coping appears to continue a little farther down). If you do the latter, make sure the joints line up with the actual coping.
Set the track before installing the tile line. Extend the receiver about 6 inches past the pool wall, so the cover installers have enough room to slide the track and end pulley under the coping. Ultimately, the track will need to sit flush with the tile, so make sure it protrudes far enough out so everything aligns properly. Then set the coping.Traditional cover track mounts to the coping's underside. In-wall receivers, on the other hand, are screwed onto the bond beam. Now builders don't have to use a coping stone that can hold the track and a 1½-inch screw.Courtesy Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa
The in-wall receiver allows pool builders to place a raised spa or bond beam in the normal way. Before, they had to cantilever the spa over the pool so the cover track could fit underneath. Or they had to set the spa back far enough to install coping in front of it. Now, you can place the receiver on the side of the raised wall.
In these applications, installing the in-wall receiver is more challenging. You can't just bolt it to the top of the bond beam but need to embed it in the gunite. Figure out the exact elevation for the receiver ahead of time to ensure that the track lines up on both sides of the pool. Then secure it to the steel on the raised wall so it doesn't move during the gunite phase. Regular tie wires won't work because the receiver is too heavy. Benedetti uses the horizontal flange in the back of the receiver to steady it. He has his crews drill holes in the flange, put threaded stainless steel rods through the holes, then sandwich the flange with nuts and washers. Then the rods must be bent over so they can be tied and electrically bonded to the steel. This ensures the receiver won't move. Also be sure to put tape over the channel so it doesn't get clogged with gunite.
Use masonry lids. Many high-end clients want an alternative to the metal lids that have traditionally been installed over cover boxes. The lids don't match the deck material and they waste space, since you can't walk on them.Many upscale homeowners want to hide all evidence that a pool cover exists. Using masonry trays, builders can replace the standard metal cover-box lid with the coping and deck material used on the rest of the property.Courtesy Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa
Benedetti constructs a lid for the cover box using the same material as the deck. In place of the metal lid, builders can install masonry trays, on which you can mortar stone or pour concrete. The trays vary from 12 to 18 inches wide, so several of them line up to cover the entire box. This can add thousands of dollars to the bottom line, but many clients think it's worth the investment.
The trays are supported by brackets resembling the ones used for shelving. They should be mounted on the back wall of the cover box and spaced every couple of feet apart. The rolled-up cover sits underneath the brackets.
When matching a cover lid to a flagstone deck, have the masons continue placing the material over the cover box in the same pattern. They can do this by setting all the trays in place and simply laying the material over it. Then they can saw cut joints between the masonry trays underneath. Now you have a flagstone surface that can be easily removed one tray at a time. From a distance, you may not even see the joints.
If Benedetti uses a coping, he'll put it on the front edge of the trays, then cover the rest of the box with the deck material.
Whatever finish you choose, be sure to leave a joint between the box and the deck, so they can move independently.
Now, the only evidence of the cover box is the front of the trays: From inside the pool, you can see a silver line underneath the coping. You can hide this, too, by notching the coping material so it will hang over the trays. Benedetti creates notches ¾ to 1 inch deep, so the coping will fit nicely over the ½-inch-thick tray.
Hide the lead bar. The metallic lead bar, placed at the front edge of the cover to help thread it in the track, is the last unsightly detail. When the pool cover is open, the bar sits in front of the box, so you can see it peeking out from under the lid. With the cover closed, the bar sits right at the coping. It's a minor issue, but enough to irritate some clients, Benedetti says.The cover's metallic lead bar is an unneeded distraction. Cut a notch on top of the cover-box dam wall so the bar can tuck just underneath the lid.Courtesy Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa
He addresses this in a couple ways. First, he applies a powder coating to the bar—and all the hardware—so it matches the coping. Then he makes adjustments to hide the bar whether the cover is open or closed. To house the bar when the cover's open, he creates a notch on top of the dam wall separating the box from the pool. As the cover retracts, it keeps sliding until the bar hits the back of the notch. Now the bar sits underneath the lid.
The notch is 2 inches deep so it's level with the waterline. (On cover installations, Benedetti always lowers the water level 2 inches so it doesn't spill into the box. He also moves the skimmer down to match..
Benedetti also drops the lead bar so it will fit under the coping when the cover is closed. He uses the brackets that mount the bar to the track to control its elevation. Installing the brackets upside down lowers the bar slightly, so it will tuck underneath the coping rather than bump into it.