Splash Pads, the latest RAGE!

Splash pads are safer, cheaper alternatives to pools

by Kara G. Morrison – Jul. 28, 2010 02:37 PM
The Arizona Republic

A daycare provider for 20 years, Shari Giglio wanted an outdoor play area where the kids could stay cool.

She didn’t want the hassle or safety concerns of a pool or the muddy mess of having kids running through lawn sprinklers. So she begged her husband to build a splash pad.

Splash pads are a system of underground water jets and above-ground sprayers on a non-slip surface.

They’re a lower-priced, easier-to-maintain and safer pool substitute, and builders around the Valley are starting to offer them.

“Shari was trying to talk me into it for two years,” said her husband, Mike, president of Western Aquatics Construction and Development. Giglio mostly does commercial projects, including the Wet ‘n’ Wild water park that opened in Glendale last year.

One day this month, half a dozen kids of all ages were laughing and screaming as they ran through the water jets, getting drenched in the Giglio’s Glendale backyard.

Shari said the splash pad gives her daycare kids a way to get exercise for an hour or two every morning, making the rest of the day go more smoothly. And because there’s less than an inch of standing water, there’s very little risk of injury – even for the toddlers.

“I really believe this is a great alternative to a pool as far as fun and safety for the little ones,” she said. “The kids are having a blast.”

Capt. Jay Arthur of the Phoenix Fire Department agrees splash pads are a safer alternative and could cut down on Phoenix drowning fatalities, which total 10 so far this year.

“Regardless, we always want kids to be supervised, but (a splash pad) doesn’t pose the same hazard at all of a backyard pool,” he said.

While splash pads are becoming a staple of outdoor malls and commercial play areas, area contractors say the idea has been slowly catching on for residential use.

“The two biggest things we hear (are) that it’s more affordable and there’s not the liability of a pool,” said Brett Ferguson, owner of Splash Zone in Queen Creek.

Ferguson left the pool-building industry five years ago to construct residential and commercial splash pads, including one at the Phoenix Zoo.

He said a basic residential splash pad ranges from $5,000 to $8,000 for a 150-square-foot play area.

“It’s at least half the cost of a low-end pool,” he said. “The other big thing is the play season is a lot longer. The (water) tank is in the ground, so the water stays real temperate. Anytime it’s warm outside, you can use it.”

Ferguson said he installed about 100 residential splash pads in 2005, but the pace has slowed now that home-equity loans are harder to obtain.

Ryan Bingham, president of Arizona Splash Pads in Surprise, said he’s seen a slow increase in the number of customers since starting his business three years ago.

He said a typical splash-pad system includes a 100-gallon underground storage tank for the water, plus a pump, filter and chlorinator. A typical backyard in-ground swimming pool can require 15,000 to 20,000 gallons of water.

“We advise everybody just to keep the chlorine in the chlorinator, and it really just takes care of itself,” Bingham said, adding that because the water recirculates, it’s more eco-friendly than having a pool in the desert.

A splash pad also consumes less energy, because the pump is on only when the splash pad is up and running.

Mike Giglio said for the splash pad at his house, he used all the bells and whistles, including a palm tree and three above-ground water features: an elevated spray bar, a “weir” waterfall and a “tumble bucket” that slowly fills with water and eventually tips over. He estimates this splash pad cost about $12,000.

“We decided to take a water-park attraction and put it in our backyard,” he said.

Area homebuilders, including Shea and Meritage, are also showing splash pads in the yards of some model homes.

Whitney Ast, marketing project manager for Shasta Pools and Spas, said her company has built splash pads in the backyards of some Shea model homes. So far, she said they haven’t had many homebuyers choosing a splash pad option because of the economy. But they have built five residential splash pads locally.

Bingham said he thinks more customers will be interested in building splash pads as they become familiar with them.

“I would be willing to bet that 90 to 95 percent of the public does not know they’re even available,” he said.


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