Considering a swimming pool?

There are definitely times when a backyard swimming pool is enticing – especially tempting while we’re suffering through the hottest, stickiest days of summer.  Whether purchasing a home with a pool, or considering adding one to your existing yard, it’s advisable to look at all the options and weigh the pros and cons carefully before committing.

The following topics cover the important issues to consider when deciding if a pool is for you.

  1. What home buyers should know when purchasing a home with a pool
  2. Does a pool add to or detract from the value of your property?
  3. Responsibilities with pool ownership
  4. What are the in ground and above ground options for pools?
  5. Chlorinated vs Salt Water Pool Systems

1  What home buyers should know when purchasing a home with a pool 

Health and Outdoor Time

A private, clean and convenient place to swim and cool off has benefits.  Swimming is a form of cardiovascular exercise that boosts physical and mental health and well-being.  Pools are also a great setting for family and social gatherings.

Pools require regular maintenance and cleaning

Pool upkeep takes time, money and effort. Besides the aesthetics, keeping your pool well-maintained has health implications.  If you choose to hire a professional for maintenance, pool companies will provide you with a quote for these services.

Your utility bills will increase

When considering buying a home with a pool or installing one, be prepared for an increase in utility bills. Plan for a higher water consumption charges as well as electricity costs associated with operating the pump/filtration system.

Safety precautions to protect swimmers, especially children

Government of Canada statistics tell us that the majority of drownings in recent years occurred in swimming pools in both residential and public settings with 49% of the cases children and infants aged 4 years or younger. To protect from this hazard, measures to prevent drownings in backyard pools are mandated which include installing appropriate safety fencing.  

Your insurance premium will be higher

Those buying a house with a pool will likely need to increase their liability coverage due to the high incidence of injuries involved with swimming pools. The greater risk will mean a higher annual premium. Diving boards and water slides may add to costs because of their association with increased injuries. 

Before purchasing a home with a pool:

If you make an offer on the house, it is advisable to either hire a home inspector who is experienced at checking out pools or have a pool inspection that’s separate from the home inspection.  Buyers can then request that the sellers repair any structural issues.

A professional pool inspector will check:  the pool surface, decking, liner, ladders, railing; diving boards; pumps, heater, electrical systems in addition to checking for cracks and leaks.

You also need to consider any cosmetic updates the pool might need.  If the tile is dated or the deck is cracking, you’ll want to get estimates from a pool company for upgrades and repairs and factor that into the cost of ownership.  Doing your homework will help you determine whether buying an existing house with a pool makes sense.

Other things to look for:

  • If it’s offseason and the pool is closed, ask for pictures of the pool to assess the condition.
  • Ask for maintenance and service records and see if any repairs have been done to the pool or will be needed in the near future.
  • Find out if the homeowners pay a company to open and close and service the pool, and contact them for a report on the pool.
  • Ask when the last time things such as the liner and the pump were replaced.
  • Look at the technology installed, such as whether the heater is gas or electric, and check the age of all equipment.
  • Speak to the home inspector and make sure the pool is included in the inspection.
  • Check if the pool is a chlorine or saltwater pool, and make sure your home inspector is knowledgeable on the type of pool.
  • Underground leaks can be an issue as they are hard to detect from a home inspection – ask the pool maintenance company about any past issues, and get the owner to put it in writing that there are no underground leaks.
  • If you buy the home when the pool is closed, include a clause in the purchase that the seller is liable for costs if there are issues once the pool is opened.

2  Does a pool add to or detract from the value of your property?

The degree to which a pool affects the value of a home varies widely by region.  In warm-weather climates they can be a definite plus, whereas in many Canadian climates where the ‘swim season’ may be only three months, homes with pools may appeal to fewer people.

An in-ground swimming pool could cost anywhere from $25,000 to $70,000 depending on size, construction type and features.  While an in-ground swimming pool can enhance the resale worth of your residence, you will never get a 100% return on your financial investment.

The general feeling in the marketplace is that when it comes time to sell your home, pools are not generally considered assets. They add limited value to the home, only 6% to 10%.  (The exception is higher-end homes which typically boast lavish pools and are situated on large lots).

If you already live in a home and want to invest in a pool, it should be clear that this investment will not be fully recouped. Remember: buy a pool for your enjoyment but not as an investment.  Buyers who want a swimming pool, financially speaking, are best to purchase a home that already has one because they are getting the pool for a minimal cost.

Of course, one compromise is to purchase an above-ground pool. They are a lot less expensive and can be easily dismantled come resale time or by subsequent buyers.

3  Responsibilities with pool ownership

When installing a swimming pool it is important that property owners are aware of all of the rules and regulations that are applicable as well as best safety practices.

Do I need a permit to put a pool in my backyard?

Although residential swimming pool construction is not regulated through the Ontario building code and does not require a building permit, most municipalities have a pool permit or swimming pool approval process.  It is the homeowner’s responsibility to refer to its municipality to know all the local rules that are enforced, in order to comply with the regulations on residential pool safety.  Some townships and cities also require an electrical permit but normally the electrician you hire takes care of obtaining that for you.

What happens if you put up a pool without a permit?

It’s possible that you many never get caught for having a pool without a permit. However, if you are caught, you can expect to pay a lot in fines and fees and may even have to get rid of the pool.

Is it law to have a fence around your pool?

Regulations on residential pool safety require mandatory fencing for above ground, in ground or semi-in ground pool that meet these specifications:

  • Be of 1.2 m to 1.5m (5 feet) in height and surround the pool on all sides. (Confirm with the requirements of your municipality.)
  • Prevent a round object of 10 cm in diameter between each post.
  • Make the climbing for the outside impossible; impossible to hold on or support feet.
  • Install a self-latching and self-closing gate.
  • Latches should be beyond a child’s reach.
  • Keep gates locked at all times.
  • Pool with struts must be surrounded by an enclosure.
  • Note that hedges or shrubs do not constitute as an enclosure.

Additional Safety Precautions:

  • Keep toys, garden furniture and tools away from the pool fence. Children can climb up on these items to get over the fence and into the pool.
  • Keep lifesaving equipment (such as a safety ring with a rope) and a first aid kit near the pool.
  • Keep emergency phone numbers by the telephone closest to the pool.
  • Put toys away after pool time. Leaving toys in or around the pool can tempt children to go get them and put themselves in danger.
  • Keep a safety cover on your pool when it is not in use.
  • Access to the pool should not be directly from the home.
  • Never leave children unsupervised around or in a pool.
  • Supervise all pool activities involving drinking and serve alcohol responsibly.
  • Pool depth needs to be marked.
  • Young children who cannot swim should wear life preservers at all times around pool, unless closely supervised with a high adult-to-child ratio.
  • At least one adult should be trained in first-aid.
  • Toddler pools should be emptied after use.

 Pool Alarms

Most surface wave detection pool alarms are either mounted to the deck of the swimming pool with a sensor that extends to the top of the water, or the unit floats on the water’s surface. The alarm is triggered by waves from a human or animal that has fallen into the swimming pool water.  Pool alarms can provide peace of mind for pool owners with young children.

4  What are the in ground and above ground options for pools?

With new materials and improvements in construction technology, there is a wide array of choice available to the homeowners in the market for a backyard swimming pool.  Below is a detailed comparison of main types including the pros and cons of each.

CONCRETE IN GROUND

The conventional building material of choice for in ground pool construction is concrete. This type of pool begins with excavation and a framework of steel. Concrete is poured and then sealed with a coat of plaster (which can be re-applied over the years as needed).  In recent years alternatives to plaster have become popular, including pebble or glass aggregates and tiles.  Using a reinforced steel and concrete base is a tried and true method for pool building and it can be extremely durable and easily customized to the owner’s specifications.  But it is also costly, labor-intensive and can take many months of disruptive activity before anyone is able to use it.  Another disadvantage is that concrete pools are susceptible to cracking as the ground settles or shifts.

PROS of a Concrete Pool

  • Extremely durable.
  • Can be any size, shape, or depth, integrating well with any landscape design.
  • Greatest flexibility with swimming pool design features (vanishing edges, beach entries, tanning ledges).

CONS of a Concrete Pool

  • High lifetime cost – Concrete pools need to be renovated every 10–15 years. This involves resurfacing and re-tiling the pool at significant expense.
  • More chemical use – Because the surface of concrete pools is very porous, more chemicals and filtration are required to prevent algae. The alkalinity of the pool shell also constantly raises the pH of the water, requiring you to frequently add acid to counteract the effect.
  • More maintenance – You also need to frequently broom or sweep a concrete pool with a pool brush to remove algae from the pores of the plaster or aggregate surface.

Longer install time – Concrete pools take longer to install, commonly 3–6 months.

FIBERGLASS IN GROUND

A popular alternative to a concrete build is to buy a standard fiberglass shell and have it lowered into the excavation.  A swimming pool made of fiberglass will be sold as a large one-piece shell that arrives at your home by truck and then is positioned in the excavated hole with the help of a crane.  Unlike concrete pools, fiberglass pools are ready-made, making it rare to request a customized design, although manufacturers offer many models and sizes to choose from.

This is a higher cost solution, but this type of treatment will last 10 to 15 years before deteriorating from sun exposure and chemicals.  With a smooth surface that is hard for algae to cling to, it’s fairly easy to maintain.  Fiberglass pools are known to crack and fade over time due to the nature of the material.  Recoating it is not easy because the new coating does not stick easily to the older one resulting in colour mismatch and visible imperfections.

PROS of a Fiberglass Pool

  • Low maintenance – The gelcoat surface of the fiberglass pool shell doesn’t have the big pores and cavities of plaster. This inhibits algae growth and reduces the amount of sanitizing chemicals required to maintain the pool.
  • Little or no lifetime cost – 99% of the time, the shell of fiberglass pools needs no upkeep.
  • There’s no vinyl liner to replace and no resurfacing.
  • Non-abrasive surface – The gelcoat surface of fiberglass pools is smooth to the touch.
  • Built-in seats and steps – Most fiberglass swimming pool designs have seating, and all have steps incorporated into the shell of the pool.
  • Manufactured in a controlled environment.
  • Quick installation – Because the shells of fiberglass pools are built off-site, the installation occurs more rapidly – 3 to 6 weeks on average.

CONS of a Fiberglass Pool

  • Limited shapes and swimming pool designs – Because fiberglass pools are built from a mold, the consumer is limited to the shapes and sizes offered by the various manufacturers.
  • No wider than 16′ – Fiberglass pools are shipped via the road. Shipping restrictions limit the width of the fiberglass pool shell to 16 feet.
  • Repairs on some colored finishes do not match – Many fiberglass pool manufacturers use colored finishes that do not match in the unlikely event that a repair is needed.
  • Higher initial cost – Fiberglass pools are more of an initial investment – considerably less than vinyl liner pools and about the same as concrete pools.

VINYL LINED IN GROUND

Homeowners working with a smaller budget often turn to vinyl-lined pools.  These utilize a metal or plastic frame and supporting panels, a sand base and vinyl liner. This type of pool has a life span of 18 years or more if treated with UV and fungus inhibitors to prevent the degradation of the vinyl. They are available in non-standard shapes and sizes which makes them easy to incorporate into smaller properties and blend with existing landscaping elements. The downside to vinyl liners are that they can be easily punctured, which can cause a pool failure with costly repairs.

Pools that are lined with vinyl are built with metal or plastic frames above ground or set into the excavated hole.  Prefab supporting walls or panels made of plastic, steel, or aluminum are joined to the frame, making a form that is then lined with heavy vinyl to form the pool shell.  The bottom of a vinyl liner sits on a bed of sand or other material, while the top is held down by the coping, which creates a finished edge and also acts as a border for the pool deck.

Like other materials, vinyl deteriorates with extended exposure to the elements along with pool chemicals. Some liners come equipped with fungus and UV inhibitors, which can extend the life of a vinyl liner from 10 to about 18 years.

PROS of a Vinyl Liner Pool

  • Low initial cost – Vinyl liner pools have the lowest initial swimming pool cost of any of the three types of in ground pools.
  • Customizable shape and size – There are no limitations of the length, width, and depth of vinyl liner pools.
  • Nonabrasive surface – The vinyl liner material is smooth to the touch.
  • Doesn’t foster algae – The vinyl material used in vinyl liner pools is also relatively non-porous, so it inhibits algae growth.

CONS of a Vinyl Liner Pool

  • Higher lifetime cost – On average, a vinyl liner will last 9 – 15 years. Each replacement can cost $2,000–$3,500 plus the cost of installation and replacing water.
  • Liner warranties are pro-rated – Many vinyl liner manufacturers have a 20-year pro-rated warranty. Read the fine print.
  • Must use pool with care – The liner is only 20–30 mils thick which is the thickness of several sheets of paper. Dogs, kids throwing toys in the pool, tree limbs, etc., are all concerns.
  • Lower resale value – When you go to sell a home with a vinyl liner pool, one of the first questions asked is “How old is the liner?” If it’s more than 3–4 years old, there’s a significant chance the potential buyer will ask you to replace the liner before the sale of the house.

ABOVE OR ON GROUND POOL OPTIONS

An above ground pool is a freestanding swimming pool that can sit on top or partially below the surface of the ground. It is a permanent structure that is designed to be left up year-round.

An above ground swimming pool has a thin corrugated wall system that is usually made of steel. The wall is bolted in one section and fit into a track on the top and base. Premium above ground pools are made of resin or aluminum instead of steel. Above ground pools that are made with resin or aluminum can be paired with a salt water system, but steel structured above ground pools cannot.

Most above ground swimming pools are round because they require equalized water pressure at all points.  All types of above ground pools must be installed on ground that is properly graded and level.

PROS of an Above Ground Pool

  • Relatively affordable – Above ground pools cost several thousands of dollars less than in ground pools.
  • Quick and easy installation – Most people can do it on their own.
  • Easy to maintain and manage – Requires less maintenance and repairs cost less
  • Designed so that they can be put up and taken down at the owner’s discretion. An above ground pool is easy to remove when priorities change.  The pool can be sold and partial costs recouped.
  • Fewer recorded drownings

CONS of an Above Ground Pool

  • Not as visually appealing.
  • The options and features are limited.
  • Above ground pools are prepackaged and, aside from your choice of pool steps and the like, not very customizable.
  • They do not have the longevity of in ground pools which can last for many decades.
  • Above ground pools damage easier than in ground pools.

5  Chlorinated vs Salt Water Pool Systems

All three types of pools – concrete, fibreglass and vinyl lined – can use any pool system.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Cost, maintenance and health concerns are the main issues to be considered. Based on your priorities, only you can decide which is appropriate for your situation.

Salt Water Pool Systems

Salt water pools are not actually chlorine-free – rather, they use a process called electrolysis by a salt chlorine generator to create chlorine, which disinfects the water.  The generator maintains chlorine levels for you, so that you don’t have to monitor, test and balance it as regularly as with a chlorine system. The salt cells used in most residential salt water pools are good for 10,000 hours of operation, or approximately three to five years.  While saltwater pools do not use any significant chemicals, chlorine is a by-product of the salt.  So chlorine is still present, however, the levels are much lower.  The pool owner has to maintain the pH levels of the water on a regular basis to maintain a consistent salt-to-water ratio level.  The amount of salt you add weekly or monthly to your pool water depends on the amount of rain, the amount of backwashing you do to the pool, as well as the amount of water lost due to splashing or draining of the water.

Once you have added salt to your pool, you will only be adding additional salt over time to maintain the levels.  Keep in mind that salt never “disappears” from water once it is there.  That is why the initial up-front cost of the salt is more than chlorine, but over time the cost goes down significantly.

PROS of Salt Water Systems

  • Lower chlorine levels make salt water pools are much gentler on the eyes, skin, hair and swim wear.
  • No need to store and handle chlorine which can be dangerous.
  • Less maintenance – You don’t have to interact with salt systems as often as chlorine systems.
  • Many find the water feels softer.
  • No chlorine smell.
  • Fewer trips to the pool store – Salt does not evaporate from a pool the way chlorine does.
  • Lower ongoing costs – Because the salt cells in a salt water system only produce chlorine as needed, the pools require far less maintenance when compared to conventional chlorinated swimming pools.
  • Pool salt is low-cost and recycles itself in the generator for prolonged periods. Over time, you may recoup your costs because daily operational expenses are low.

CONS of a Salt Water Systems

  • Higher up-front costs – Salt water pools require a larger initial investment, making them more expensive than traditional pools. Salt water chlorine generators cost an average of $500-$2,500 and installing them will be approximately $500. 
  • Salt systems are more complicated – More complex than traditional pools salt water pools often require experienced technicians even for minor problems.
  • Salt is corrosive and can cause damage to certain materials, so you may have to avoid using specific types of heaters, fixtures, underwater lighting, liners and even some types of masonry work.
  • Salt water flowing into municipal water systems impacts the environment.

Chlorine Pool Systems

Chlorine pools are the most common types of pools. The system to filter and chlorinate the pool is easy to operate and supplies are sold at many pool stores and other major retailers.  With this system, you add chlorine manually and directly into the pool water. You have to do this on a weekly basis for optimal maintenance and sanitation.  Users add chlorine tablets to either a pump unit separate from the pool water or in a floating disbursement device that dilutes the chlorine tablets over time in the water.

Owners test the pool water regularly with a kit and add chlorine tablets to maintain water quality.  The addition of chlorine kills mildew, mold buildup and bacteria living in the water, making it safe to swim.  Chlorine pools require a bit more maintenance, and end up costing more overall because of the amount of chlorine needed to add to balance the pH levels in the water. Rain water, backwashing and water loss are some factors that affect the pH levels.

Converting your existing pool to a salt system will initially cost more than a chlorine-based system but will be less expensive to operate in the long run.  Expect to pay between $500 and $2,500 plus installation to convert a traditional chlorinated pool to a salt water system, depending on the size and type of pool you have.

PROS of Chlorine Systems

  • Chlorine pools are easy to operate in the sense that the owner can simply add tablets to the system through either a floating disbursement device in the water or through a pump-like system.
  • Chlorine tablets are readily available at most pool stores.
  • Chlorinated pools are faster at clearing up bacteria in most cases. If there is bacteria present or if the pH levels are off, clearing the water in a chlorine system can take 24 to 48 hours as opposed to a saltwater system may take three to five days.
  • Lower up-front costs – Initial investment is small because you only need the tablets and testing equipment.
  • Safer on pool accessories and salt-averse decking.

CONS of a Chlorine Systems

  • Higher ongoing costs – Daily operational expenses are higher because you must use a new product every week, whether as a tablet, stick or liquid.
  • Chemicals can be dangerous if not stored and handled properly.
  • Can be harmful for your skin and eyes.
  • Fades clothing.
  • Can have a harsh chemical smell.

Copper-Silver Ionizer and Ultraviolet (UV) Systems

It is worth noting that other technologies for pool maintenance are available on the market.  These act as secondary water treatment systems that significantly lower the need for chemical use.  These may be options to explore with prospective pool companies:

A pool Copper-Silver Ionizer cleans and sanitizes water by releasing positively charged copper and silver ions to destroy algae and bacteria.  Even though ionization is a proven method for destroying unwanted bacteria and viruses, it cannot be used as a stand-alone system because it does not completely eliminate human pathogens.

Ultraviolet (UV) Systems harness the power of ultraviolet light to lower chemical levels, eliminate chlorine by-products, and make pools safe, healthy, and easier to manage.  UV systems must be used along with other pool chemicals like chlorine and salt water systems.  However, by destroying over 99.5% of pathogens in your pool water, a UV System can reduce your chemical usage by up to 90%.

Buying a home with a pool or installing one yourself should be a carefully considered decision.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK before jumping in so that your backyard pool provides years of safe, healthy enjoyment for you, your family and friends.