Deep Blue Something: A few cool pool options before taking the plunge

Published on Mon, 08/11/2014 - 9:07am

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to step into your back yard and enjoy a cool, refreshing swim anytime you wanted? Maybe even have a pool area resplendent in a Jimmy Buffet-style Margaritaville theme? Have pool parties, invite the neighbors and their kids—it would be fantastic.

Don’t give up the dream—swimming pools can be situated just about anyplace you have flat ground. Plus, your investment in at-home water fun can be whatever your budget can bear.

You can go above ground or inground. An above ground pool is temporary in the sense that if you don’t like the location, you can break it down and move it—they’re only permanent additions if you want them to be. These pools are also relatively low in cost and require less upkeep than an inground pool.

However, inground pools give you the opportunity to build a natty natatorium to your exact specifications.

We won’t get into the discussion here about the return on investment from a pool, figuring that if you’re interested, you already know what value a pool will bring. To help start you down the road to beating summer’s heat, here is an overview of what is available today.

Above ground pools
Metal frame pool kits begin as low as $600, giving you a deep four feet or more of cool water for a summer splash. These can be circular, rectangular, or oval in shape. One type of above ground pool uses a vinyl or composite material liner supported by a strong frame, usually metal. These kits are remarkably well thought-out for homeowners to construct and need only a few hours for assembly.

A relatively recent development is the inflatable above ground pool, most widely sold by Intex. These pools are essentially a large vinyl bag with reinforced sides and an inflatable ring atop to help hold the shape. Assembly—if you can call it that—involves spreading the pool out and inflating the ring before you fill it with water.

Most above ground pools are made to withstand pool chemicals, but be sure to check resistance to the type of water treatment you plan to use: Some materials do not last long with chlorine, while others don’t play well with brine-based systems.

Although you could be up and running with either of these pools in just a few hours, there are a few things to keep in mind:

On the level – The location you choose must be absolutely level and solid. Otherwise, you could find yourself with a pool that wants to roll toward lower ground and inundate that area with your pool water. 

Firm foundation – It’s a good idea to make the base for the pool as smooth as possible. To keep rocks from poking through, some pool owners spread a thick tarp and then place the pool on top. “Just in case” is a good phrase to keep in mind with above ground pools.

Fill the hours – Don’t get the family all wound-up about swimming as soon as you unload the kit. First of all, even the smallest family-size pools can hold upwards of 2000 gallons of water—and some as much as 8000. It will take some time to fill with a garden hose. (Typical flow rate is around 10 to 15 gallons per minute from a ¾-inch hose, so plan accordingly). Additionally, if your well water is cold enough to drink, it’s probably not warm enough to swim in right away.

This way to the egress– Above ground pools require a ladder to get in and out, which some people may not be comfortable with. Alternately, you could build an elevated deck—fortunately, many manufacturers also offer deck kits. 

A close scrape – Unless you live in an area blessed with warm weather year ’round, inflatable pools need to be drained, cleaned, and put away in a warm place during winter. Yes, it’s a chore, but the real problem comes from manhandling the pool liner into and out of the basement or garage, where there’s ample opportunity to scrape and create pinholes. Worse, pools stored in barns or garages sometimes attract mice and other chewing pests.

Inground pools
At one time, having an inground pool meant you’d made it. But today, they are more than a must-have status symbol. Inground pools are more attractive and more durable than ever before, and a pool contractor can have you hosting pool parties in as few as two weeks from writing the check.

Inground pools give you the greatest opportunity to express your creativity. Whether you envision a tranquil lagoon, an exotic oasis, or a no messing around lap-pool, the inground setting allows a poolscape design consistent with your lifestyle.

There are three types of inground pools, so it’s a good idea to express your ideas to a pool builder from the start since each has cost and design implications. 

Gunite or Shotcrete pools offer the most design flexibility. They can be built in any shape, from traditional to free form, and are able to fit into irregular spaces. Instead of building bulky wooden support forms into which the contractor pours concrete—a building method from days gone by—a gunite pool is made from rebar frame bent to shape where Portland cement-like gunite is then sprayed over the metal frame. Next, the gunite surface is plastered and sealed. While gunite pools allow for maximum creativity, they typically take about 12 weeks to build—but you’d be ready for next summer for sure.

Vinyl pools are pre-engineered, less labor-intensive than gunite pools, and are typically the least-expensive inground option. Durability is rarely a concern, with thick vinyl liners placed over concrete or a pre-engineered steel frame. Manufacturers produce vinyl pools in dozens of pre-designed shapes, from curvy to classic, and you can usually modify them as creatively as gunite pools—the vinyl liners can be customized with different colors and patterns. Vinyl pools’ simpler construction process means they can be ready for a dip in only three to four weeks.

Fiberglass pools arrive in one pre-formed, pre-finished piece, so installation is fast—anywhere from one to three weeks. The contractor digs a hole, drops the pool in place, installs plumbing and electrical fixtures, backfills, and pours the cement deck around the pool. Fiberglass pools come in a variety of shapes and styles, as well as designer textures and colors. While some may find the slick sides of a fiberglass pool uncomfortably slippery, this is a benefit for maintenance, making it difficult for algae to cling, which means easier cleaning for you.