How to Determine if a Pool is Right for Your Family
I’ve now lived in the South for coming up on a decade, and it would be hard to pinpoint my favorite thing about it. Could it be the near-universal love and over-implementation of bacon in the local cuisine? Is it the way it almost never snows, and everyone freaks out on the rare occasion when it does? Maybe it’s the magnolia trees…? There’s plenty to love, but if pressed to name my favorite, it would have to be that the cost of living here in our little town is much less expensive than where I used to live. In fact, when my husband and I started looking at houses down here a decade ago, I was pleasantly surprised by how much we could afford—way more than either of us could even think about in our native New England.
I offer this by way of explanation as to how we ended up with a house that has a pool. Part of it was that we could afford it and it makes a lot more sense down here than in the land of “Time to open the pool! Too cold! Too cold! Oh, that’s nice—wait, it’s snowing! Close the pool!” And part of it was that I was moving my children a thousand miles and wanted to make sure their new home was inviting and exciting to them, to ease the transition. My husband was skeptical, but the kids have grown up in that pool, and I’m glad we made the choice we did. Most of the time.
So… how do you know if a backyard pool is right for your family? Knowing what I know now, I think I can help you figure it out. Simply ask yourself the following three questions, and you’ll have your answer in no time.
Does your family love to swim?
The first question is also the most obvious. If you don’t enjoy swimming, a pool is probably not for you. You don’t need me to figure that out. But did you know that children who love to swim and always want to go swimming are 500% more likely to magically develop an aversion to the water than their non-pool-owning counterparts! It’s true, because that’s how children work. Half the lure of “going swimming” used to be that mom needed to pack up half the house and drive them somewhere and then they could whine and complain and beg for expensive snacks and then it was somehow an even longer drive back home when it all got to be too much. In the world of offspring, driving your parents insane is half the fun. If all you have to do is walk out the back door, geez, water is stupid and everything is terrible. Just a friendly warning.
Do you have entirely too much money?
Sure, this house and its pool were ridiculously affordable after selling a home in a more expensive area—though you may be putting a pool in at an existing homestead, in which case you can start kissing your money good-bye right away—but it’s not the purchase of the pool that’s expensive. It’s the owning of the pool. We compared the “projected operating costs” to the cost of dues at our neighborhood pool, and decided it was six of one, half-dozen of the other, as far as finances were concerned. This is because we’re very, very stupid. Turns out, “operating costs” are… somewhat subjective. Owning a pool is the single best way I can think of to rid yourself of unwanted excess dollars.
Here’s a brief and incomplete list of just some of the things we’ve had to spend money on in association with our “super affordable” pool:
- Electricity. The filter uses a fair amount of electricity, and we knew this. We did not know that during rainy winters we would also be running a bilge pump for endless hours to empty excess water out of the pool, but hey, live and learn.
- Water! Hey, water costs money, and even though we spend half of every winter taking excess water out of the pool, we spend the entire summer adding water back in. Yay?
- Chemicals. Our original “operating estimate” included all of the expected chemicals to keep the pool happy and blue during the summer. We may have forgotten to figure in the chemicals to turn the over-wintered green pool back to blue in the spring, as well as the chemicals we put in before closing the pool in the fall in the misguided hope that the pool won’t be quite so green the following spring. And then later we converted the pool to a saline system (I’ll get to that in a minute) along with the promise that we’d be spending less on chemicals and salt is super-affordable. Salt doesn’t cost much, but we still need other chemicals, plus…
- … random stuff breaks/needs replacing. The saline system is great. I love it. But in addition to the couple thousand it cost to convert over, there are a half-dozen components of this thing that need regular replacing. There’s the ionizer, of course (it makes chlorine from the salt), but there’s also other stuff I don’t understand, like a flux capacitor or something. Who knows. My husband seems to know, or at least he pretends to, every time he comes storming in from the pool area with a vein throbbing in his forehead and drives off to the pool store, muttering under his breath. And that’s just the saltwater system. There’s also valves and gaskets and pipes and the pool cleaning snake and lord only knows what else. One winter a squirrel (we don’t know it was a squirrel, but I like to think it was a squirrel because the other alternatives are even worse) looking for water chewed up the outlet valve on the filter system and even though that’s just plastic, the replacement cost was mind-boggling. My husband spends a lot of time making those muttering pilgrimages to the store. When you have some time and some tequila to share, I’ll tell you about when we replaced the pool liner.
- Pool cover. When we bought this house, it turned out that the former owners had been wintering their pool under a large tarp held down by some bricks (I swear I am not making this up). Being responsible humans with small children and a dog (and, later, two dogs), we bought one of those custom covers that fits to anchors in the concrete, which you can park a car on if you really want to. The good news is that no one has ever drowned in our pool over the winter. The bad news is that I cannot tell you what the cover cost without weeping. And—bonus!—this year we discovered it has a tear (and it’s out of warranty), which means we need to buy another one.
- Fence maintenance. If you have a pool, you must have a fence which meets code. We replaced our fence a few years in, because we’re gluttons for punishment. It was not cheap. This year we had to clean/reseal the fence (and deck, though that’s not really a pool expense) and I had to sell a kidney to make it happen.
- Supplies for the whole neighborhood. So you think having a pool will draw other kids to your house to play with your kids, and you’re probably right. I hope you have towels and goggles and pool toys for everyone! And don’t forget the snacks!
Do you love surprises?
What’s more fun than a surprise, am I right? Oh my, owning a pool is a great way to make sure you never run out of those fun little unexpected thrills. If you’re confused, I have two words for you: skimmer basket. The pool skimmer is the little enclave that sits in a sidewall of the pool, just above the filtering pipe, collecting solid foreign matter into its basket before that water is sucked out into the filtering system. By far the most abundant item in any skimmer basket is leaves—as they fall into the pool and get swirled around, eventually the jets and the suction will wash them into the basket, and you can lift the basket and dump them out, easy-peasy. But. The fun doesn’t stop there, because you never know what you might find in the skimmer basket! It’s a fun surprise every morning, all summer long!
In no particular order, here are some of the more memorable items I’ve found in the skimmer basket when I’ve gone out to do a quick morning cleaning:
- Bugs. Oh my sweet baby deity of your choosing, I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about the local insect and arachnid populations because we own a pool. Palmetto bugs (southern for “big-ass cockroach”) figure heavily into the answer to “why am I going to have a heart attack while emptying the skimmer basket someday,” but I have also found rhinoceros beetles, cicadas, scorpions, and occasionally a lemming-like profusion of something like ants, bees, or lacewings for reasons which are unclear. Also, word to the wise—spiders just love to fall into the pool and then sit on the edge of the skimmer basket, somehow, surviving without air, so that when you pull the basket they then jump right onto your hand! Once there was a wolf spider sporting an entire back of babies right in there, and I pulled out the basket and mama spider hopped off and then I died. The end.
- Frogs and toads. I actually love frogs and toads, and not to brag, but our pool is the hottest frog orgy destination in town. Whenever I want to drive the dogs insane, I take them out to the pool after dark so that they can run around the perimeter barking at all the frogs who have materialized out of thin air to come swim and copulate in our pool. Usually in the morning they’re all gone, but occasionally one or two forget to leave and get sucked into the skimmer basket. Since converting to a saline system they’re usually still alive and can be rehomed, but before we went to saline, they were usually dead and that was awful.
- Bloated floating rodents. Unlike frogs, the voles, mice, and who-knows-what-else-with-four-legs-and-whiskers that fall into the pool can’t survive in water, so by the time you pull the basket they are both 1) dead and 2) bloated. Fun!
- Baby snakes. Once there were five or six baby snakes in there. Because I’m a mature adult I screamed, fled the scene, and made my husband deal with it.
- A baby bird. See above for my reaction. Also, that happened when we still had a tree right near the pool. After that incident, we cut the tree down.
- Batman. Okay, it was a Batman dive stick and I think my son thought he was being funny, but still. Surprise!
There you go! Answer those three simple questions and you’ll have your answer. Owning a pool isn’t right for everyone, but if it’s right for you, I’ll be right over because I love to swim. Do you have a towel I can borrow?
Photo source: Photodune.net/nito100