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Swimming Pool Ladders - A Thing Of The Past?

If you’ve taken a brief survey of inground swimming pool installations over the last decade, you may have noticed a key element missing from most designs. Or maybe you haven’t. Whether or not you’ve noticed, a quiet transition has been underway for decades in the world of pool design. That transformation is the abandonment of pool ladders in inground pools.

The slow move away from pool ladders as a mainstay in backyard pool design was inevitable. But like many elements of outdoor and indoor design, nobody noticed as they made their way out. Pool ladders became obsolete for a variety of reasons, and are now a sign of an outdated design. But why and how did this become the case?

A rise in infinity and perimeter overflow pools and spas, integrated stairs, and innovative design has eliminated the need.

Does my pool need a ladder?

If you’re like many, you may be thinking wait--doesn’t a pool NEED a ladder? The answer is technically yes. And also no.

For years, the standard method of entering and exiting a pool was relegated to ladders. Whether they were made of classic stainless steel or less attractive plastic, they were functional. More importantly, they were a simple way to comply with codes that mandate ladders or exits once pools reach certain depths.

All public pools still are required to maintain pool ladders or pool steps once water levels reach over two feet. This is why many standard hotel pools or gyms will have stairs in the shallow end, and multiple ladders when water gets deeper. Unless you are visiting a resort or upscale hotel, it is unlikely the property is more concerned with the aesthetic of the pool than the safety and their own liability.

You may think that all bets are off when it comes to pools built in your own backyard. This is not true. Most cities require ladders, stairs, or underwater benches or swim outs once water levels reach or exceed five feet. However, when it comes to your own outdoor living space, you’re likely to be more invested in the aesthetics of your pool.

And no matter which way you cut it, a classic metal pool ladder is unlikely to fit in most modern outdoor pool or spa designs. So, what are the alternatives?

Alternatives To Swimming Pool Ladders

As pool design has evolved, other methods for entering and exiting pools have come to the forefront. In both shallow and deep water, contractors and designers have figured out ways to create safe swimming solutions without abandoning or compromising style sensibilities. From steps to Baja or swim out shelves, design has evolved in a way where function no longer means sacrificing style.

Steps and Stairs

Steps have always existed in pool design, evolving with trends and materials. No matter what shape pool you have, inground steps can be designed to fit the space. From a classic Roman end to a Grecian style or even a free form design, a little bit of planning will go a long way.

Stairs are mainstays in the shallow ends of pools. Though it may be possible to outfit the deeper end of your pool with steps, it could also be a more difficult process. If you’re willing to compromise depth, however, you may not need a deeper water exit at all. Keeping pool depths under 5 ft will allow you to have more freedom with the design process.

Either way, modern innovation has allowed steps to become more than simply a functional feature. Done well, steps can serve as a focal point and a gathering place. Kids and family members tend to congregate. If you have pets that aren’t accustomed to swimming, a great set of stairs will allow them to get their paws wet without taking a full dip.

Swim Outs and Sun Shelves

Also referred to as Baja shelves or tanning shelves, these additions are great solutions or alternatives for those in pursuit of deep ends without the addition of a pool ladder. A baja shelf is a built in feature that creates a shallow, wading level area wherever built.

While some sets of stairs may feature extending wading areas, the mark of a tanning shelf is its finality. Generally, this shelf is self contained and offers style and practicality to the space. It is aptly named, as tanning shelves can be used in a variety of ways. Integrating chairs or lounges into your sunshelf will give you a place to relax, and allow swimmers to safely and easily exit the pool.

Sun shelves can be built in nearly any shape. Whether your style is more free form, a contractor can help plan a shelf that fulfills safety needs while adding aesthetic benefit.

Underwater Benches

Similar to a baja shelf or swim out, underwater benches provide another means of safe entry and exit from the pool. While sun shelves are all purpose structures, underwater benches are just that. They provide underwater seating that doubles as a landing area for exit and reentry. Generally located in deeper water, these allow swimmers to move between swimming and chatting with ease.

While sun shelves are often hosts to additional chairs, underwater benches become the seating themselves. The surface area of the platform is smaller, and meant to provide enough space to comfortably sit while allowing feet to hang in deeper water.

To picture the difference between underwater benches and swim outs, imagine a spa or hot tub. Spas integrate underwater benches around all or the majority of the water’s perimeter. They allow users to relax and socialize while also acting as a platform for exit and entry.

Which Option Is Best For Your Swimming Pool?

If you’re debating which form of exit is right for your pool, consider your desired functionality. While a sun shelf/swim out and an underwater bench are similar in concept, they provide different levels of function.

For a larger area, or considerable shallow space a sun shelf may be a better choice. Here, you can incorporate your own seating, give pets space to relax, and toddlers a place to splash around.For more abbreviated and immersive seating, an underwater bench provides this while allowing you more room to swim.

If you are willing to sacrifice a deep end, and are looking to maximize your square footage, simply having a shallower pool with a beautiful set of steps may be the best option. Not only do steps provide needed safety, but they allow young children to play safely without incorporating extra design elements.

You May Still Need A Ladder If..

While pool ladders are quickly becoming a thing of the past, there may still be circumstances where they are necessary. For example, nearly all above ground pools will require a ladder for entry and exit. Unfortunately, many options available for above ground pools are not the most aesthetically pleasing. Talk with your designer about ways to camouflage or minimize the impact of a ladder in your space.

Additionally, it may be very difficult to add new exit solutions to an existing inground pool. While not impossible, the process of adding a shelf, stairs, or other feature to a completed pool is disruptive and can be disproportionately expensive. In this case, the easiest solution will likely be keeping the ladder and trying to integrate it into your space.

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