Monday, August 24, 2009

Are permanent household swimming pools worth the cost?

Is a household, in-ground swimming pool worth the cost and effort?
Ask me that question in the summer time and I'll likely say "yes." But throw me the same query in the winter and I will more likely say "no."
I've had/operated a home swimming pool for 23 years now (1987-present) and have some pretty good experience to back up my opinions.
They are fun and refreshing in the summer, but they are also expensive and they sit for about 8 months of the year and do nothing.
When I purchased my pool in April 1987, it came from my wife's inheritance money. She pondered, do we want a horse or a swimming pool? At the time, I figured the latter was cheaper and steered her that way.
We paid $12,500 (that's the equivalent of almost $24,000 in 2009 purchasing power) for the oval-shaped pool, in-ground, 18 feet wide and 36 feet long, maximum of 8 feet deep and holding 18,600 gallons of water. It features a diving board in the deep end.
Add another $500 for an inner chain-link fence we added around it, plus another $500 for a wooden deck on its end and an additional $400 for a solar cover, roll-up-reel, winter cover and water bags to secure it.
It was also some hard work and cost to redo our back yard sprinklers to accommodate the pool and for replanting, repairing lawn that construction equipment tore up.
The telephone line also had to be rerouted around the pool.
The pool hit a peak of usage in the late 1990s and now doesn't get as much usage as I would prefer. From the time public school and college start in late August, it is rarely used until it is closed for the winter the third week of September.
When opened in mid-May, it isn't warm enough for use until about Memorial Day. And, given the wet/cool spring of 2009, it wasn't warm enough for use until a record, late June then.
Over the years, we've had to replace the liner once so far; the filter once and the pump once.
The pool heater is the one part of a pool I would never, ever get again. It rusted out in the first 8 years and could easily cost an extra $100 a month to heat the pool in the spring or fall. When I did heat the pool in the early years, it was rarely used.
I've also had two significant underground leaks in the pool's piping, One involved having to dig 6 feet down to the bottom of the skimmer, to replace a leaking joint.
The other leak, by far the worst of all, required a leak detection specialist to find the leak. (The pool was easily losing 150-200 gallons of water a day.)
I had to take a section of my wooden deck out, dig under the cement to keep it intact and then I could not find the leak where the detection company swore it was. Finally, my son, Steven, fiddled around in the hole and thought he heard a water noise to the east. Another two feet of digging and we find the leak, another failed joint.
Some holes were made in the pool liner, when cleaning up, mostly in the pool's early days, when we had a thinner liner. (There's nothing like putting glue on a patch and then diving 8 feet down to try and seal such a liner hole ….)
A few years after our pool was around, someone realized such pools should not slope up from the deep end so quickly, so that divers better avoid hitting their heads on the bottom of the pool. There's no way to fix that shortfall in our pool, other than tell divers not to dive too far out from straight down….
We never got an automatic pool cover for two reasons: 1. Our pool was not built with that component in mind; and 2. I feel they are way overpriced..
A hand-crank is how we get the solar cover off, which is more than adequate to heat the pool. We hand-lay a winter cover on the pool for the cold season, secured by water bags.
We finally purchased an automatic cleaner, but now the pool system lacks the pressure to run it. (There may be another underground leak somewhere as air is getting into the pipes again….)
How much does it cost to operate the pool? About $400-$500 a year in chemicals and solar/winter cover costs. We buy all the chemicals in a pre-season sale each year and usually save on shipping that way too.
Electrical costs are hard to pin down, but $40 a month at cost is my guess.
In water costs, maybe an extra $60 a year.
To professionally close the pool, it costs about $180. (I open the pool myself each spring, as that procedure is not that difficult.)
So, the total operating cost is as low as $690 a year, but that can soar to $2,700 in years you have to buy a new liner, pump or other big stuff.
We had some disagreements over the years over how warm the pool should be. I prefer 85 degrees, but my wife's preference was warmer, even though it made me feel like I was diving into a bathtub.
The compromise was we eventually purchased a separate hot tub and if you want warmer water, you go there. This spa, at the rear of the garage, is open year-round. It uses the same chemicals as the pool does.
(My advice on spas is to NEVER put one inside a house. They can leak too easily as they age. We have to use a liquid leak sealer for our spa now as finding where a leak is in a spa is worse than finding a swimming pool leak!)
One advantage to swimming pools like mine too, is that we have long-term water storage for emergencies.
Luckily no one has been hurt or drowned in our pool either.
One story of note is that during the Oct. 17, 1989 "World Series" earthquake in California, my pool splashed and jiggled a lot. Our pool was unopened that afternoon and the seismic waves from 600 miles away were not enough to feel, but did break the surface tension on this non-windy day.
--One other note is that pool companies tend to be way overpriced in how much they charge to close a pool. A friend of mine was billed $400 for her pool closing last year! She only paid them $300.
My cost to get my pool closed in late September 2009 was $182. That's cheap compared to my friend. However, pricing the chemicals they used in my pool (at retail, not wholesale) only equaled about $34. Since it only took them 35 minutes to close my pool, I think their cost of $148 (minus chemicals) is still steep.
I already open my pool myself each year and now after watching carefully how they closed my pool this year, I'm going to try and close it myself next year.

(Note: Photo above is my pool.)

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