Stacy Downs / McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Move over, large lap pools. Smaller swimming holes are making a big splash.

Sure, the economy is playing a role in making this luxury littler: Smaller pool equals smaller budget. But it's more than that, says Brett Berry, owner of Landscape Renderings, a Missouri business that designs and builds outdoor living environments.

“You can create a fantastic sense of intimacy and atmosphere with a small pool,” says Berry, who has tucked small pools into courtyards and secluded spots. “It's easier to make an outdoor living area feel like an extension of a house when it's a small versus a large pool.”

Plus, care and maintenance are a lot less with a small pool, says Berry, who grew up with a 20-by-40-foot backyard pool that had to be vacuumed and chemically treated each day. “Most people, especially working parents, want a hassle-free pool.”

When Berry was working with Don and Lucie Black of Prairie Village on replacing their deck, he suggested a small in-ground pool instead of an above-ground hot tub. Initially, they weren't convinced.

“Before we moved into this house, we avoided looking at houses with swimming pools,” Lucie Black says. “I couldn't imagine taking care of a lap pool every day.”

But what Berry envisioned with brothers Kirk and Dennis Strobel of Land and Water LLC, a swimming pool design and construction company in Kansas City, Mo., was much different than a rectangle that soaked up a lot of real estate in the backyard. They came up with an 8-by-12-foot hybrid hot tub and pool that some in the industry refer to as a “spool.”

“Too big to be a spa, too small to be a pool,” Kirk Strobel says. The average hot tub is 7 feet in diameter, and a conventional pool is 18 by 36 feet.

The Blacks' spool looks more like a natural water feature than a swimming pool. The backdrop is a water fountain that flows down a rock ledge into a g unite basin. A U-shaped bench inside the pool surrounds spa jets. The front end is for swimming. The typical pool raft takes up the width of the pool.

“I wouldn't want it any bigger or any smaller,” Don Black says. “The pool, combined with a pergola, has given us a whole new place to entertain. We sit out here on evenings and have the family over. Our granddaughter plays here.”

The Blacks' spool takes up only a small slice of their yard that is mostly devoted to gardens. Often, smaller pools coincide with shrinking lot sizes.

“The housing boom created houses of a significant stature with not much room left for a yard,” Berry said.

Another reason for more diminutive backyard swimming pools is the rising number of swim parks, says Jim Dott, designer at Blue Haven Pools&Spas, a national company.

“They feel like they can get the slides and those kinds of features at the parks,” Dott says. “So they're trying to make their backyards more like a beautiful resort. They can do that with a smaller pool.”

And with smaller pools, the landscaping is much less, Dott points out. That's a big consideration because the surrounds are typically one-fourth the cost of pool projects.

Heating a spool is 75 percent less than the cost of a conventional swimming pool if the correct equipment is used, Strobel says. Because of their size and minimal maintenance, small pools can be used for many months of the year. For example, a spool's temperature can increase by 30 degrees in about two hours. Based on 1,000 BTUs of gas per hour, this would allow someone to maintain a temperature of about 50 degrees in cold months and within two hours be swimming in 80 degree water. Or enjoy the temperatures of a hot tub in about three hours.

With computer-managed pumps, the electricity required to maintain a spool would be equal or less than that of a refrigerator.

The Blacks use their spool year round, even Christmas. They keep the pool covered in the fall and winter. “It takes about 10 seconds to put on the pieces,” Lucie Black says.

And the spool has kept them cool and entertained during these hot summer days.

“The only downside is filtering out the June bugs,” Don Black says. “But at least we don't have as many of them as we would with a bigger pool.”