seen in the Custom Home Outdoors, Fall 2002Pool Designer Doug Hackl dives into the details. 
“Water is gorgeous any time you get it to do something it’s not supposed to”, says Doug Hackl, principal of Hackl Pool Construction, Lake Worth, Fla.  His passion is to give shape, texture, and movement to water, coaxing it into graceful arcs, splashing it 20 feet into the air, or spilling it placidly over a pool’s edge.  If Hackl has a philosophy of water design, it’s to get the most visual effect for the money.  “You want to be mesmerized by water”, he says.

In a recent 6-acre project in Palm Beach, Fla., a parade of water features contain over a quarter of a million gallons of water.  There’s a 30-foot-by-100-foot pool; a three-tier, 10-foot-by-120-foot driveway fountain; and a parterre of nine ponds.  But the serene vistas belie a labyrinth of precisely sized hydraulics.  Hackl’s expertise lies in his ability to design pipes, pumps, and filters that will create special effects in the most efficient way.  The ponds, for example, share just two pumps and two filters, “When you’ve got salt air, you use the minimum amount of equipment you can,” Hackl says.

Hackl’s father launched the business in 1957, constructing square sky-blue pools out of concrete block.  Back then, swimming pools were pretty primitive, Hackl says, “Basically something to get wet in.”  The two were partners for several years before Hackl, who has a degree in ocean engineering, bought out his dad and began experimenting with emerging technology.  Before the industry brought push-button controls to market, Hackl had devised his own system for clients, using sprinkler valves, aquarium tubing, air switches, and electrical components.  “Prior to that you had to go out to the filter site and make a bunch of adjustments to isolate the spa,” he explains.  “People didn’t want to go into the bushes at 10 o’clock at night”.

When Hackl took the helm, he also tweaked the company’s client base.  “We lived on the poor side of the Intracoastal Waterway,” Hackl jokes, “and Dad was intimidated by the Palm Beach market, its money and attitudes.  I started bidding jobs in Palm Beach, which gave us the ability to do some fun things.”  The firm’s affiliation with Genesis 3, a trade group for high-end pool contractors and designers, has also helped build its referral base.  With about 35 jobs a year ranging from $30,000 to $600,000m about 70 percent of the work is for an upscale market.

Part of hackl’s formula for success is the range of services he and his 18 staff people provide, from design, engineering, construction to setting glass-mosaic and ceramic tiles.  The firm typically works from an architect’s or landscape architect’s sketch, specing technicalities such as pump size, main drain overflows, chemicals, and heaters, but it will also design aesthetic features such as lighting and finishes.  “Doug physically works out every aspect of these pools”, says Tom Eastwood, owner of Worth Builders in West Palm Beach, Fla., whose custom homes range from $5 million to $25 million.  “He has a deep knowledge base and specializes in the custom process.  There are a thousand pool companies in Florida, but only a couple that can operate at Doug’s level.  You can’t make a mistake on these things”.

A common mistake that pool builders make, Hackl says, is to undersize the plumbing and try to overpower it with big pumps.  Forcing the water through a small pipe generates cavitation, or boiling water, which slows down the flow rate.  The company also spends a great deal of time leveling a pool structure before laying the tilework and patio.  “A majority of contractors shoot the pool shell, then lay tile that sticks up a couple of inches above the pool to get the desired elevation for the patio,” he explains.  “Pouring the patio over the pool wall creates a cold joint in the middle of the tile, causing it to crack when the patio expands and contracts”.

As with any other building trade, the timing of Hackl’s involvement is critical to the success of a custom home project.  Hackl prefers to be on the team before a house or addition breaks ground.  One project initially included and interactive deck fountain with eight water jets that kids could play in.  As the scheme was refined, the fountain jets grew to 21 and incorporated both play and entertaining mode.  And it was moved from the patio to the far side of the pool, becoming the home’s focal point.  Sometimes, too, a site’s limited access means the pool shell must be installed before the house is built.  However, safety is always on Hackl’s mind.  He prefers to wait until the roof is finished, so there’s less potential for workers to fall into an unfilled pool.

So, what are the most fabulous Palm Beach pools sporting these days?  Infinity edges are as popular as ever, Hackl says, and there’s a growing demand for pools in which the water is also flush with the patio.  Currently he’s working on an Oceanside pool with a 50-foot-long vanishing edge and a blue-green pebble finish.  “It’s like the ocean is being pulled right up into the yard”, Hackl says.  Exacting prep work is everything.  The pool must be dead level, and requires a trial fill before the tiles are installed.  “If you’re a quarter-inch off and you tile over it, it’s ruined,” he says.

Spas are doubling as fountains with fancy spray heads.  And natural minerals such as slate, marble, and Mexican shell stones are must haves.  Hackl tests materials in his own back yard pool, letting them soak for six months.  Chlorine generators, rather than the liquid chemical itself, are the newest technology he’s adopting.  Disinfecting involves dumping a 50-pound bag of table salt into the water.  A low-voltage charge converts the sodium chloride into sodium hypochlorite, which Hackl says kills the bacteria and reverts back to salt.

In the best builder tradition, Hackl makes no judgements on people’s aesthetic tastes and desires.  He understands the power of water in motion to set a mood or fulfill a fantasy.  “I have customers saying ‘No one will ever use this pool, it’s purely for looks’”, he says.  “We’ll do whatever their parameters are.  It’s a service”.