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Plan before diving into new pool

Look carefully before you leap into a pool-buying decision. Consider how your family will use the pool, consider the landscaping and consider the cost.

It makes a difference whether you want exercise or entertainment. If a great pool to you means a private corner to soak in after a long day at work, then a hot tub or soaking spa is best. Most are comfortable for a lone soaker; some can hold up to four.

If you want a workout, swim spas or lap pools work best. A swim spa takes little space, but creates a lot of action: swimmers must fight against a powerful jet of water. Lap pools, which are long and narrow, provide a less strenuous way to exercise.

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A spa or lap pool may be all you need, or each can work alongside a general-use pool that caters to entertaining or splash-happy kids.

If a swimming pool seems right for you, many choices still remain. The shape can be round, square, rectangular or a design of your own, and the pool can be virtually any size.

Consider how the pool will fit into your landscaping _ and your budget _ before you decide.

A pool should refresh the eye as well as the body.

Will an above-ground pool snug nicely into a corner of the lot, or will it obstruct the view? Will a custom-designed version add design drama, or will it founder under the scrutiny of neighbors and nearby traffic? Is there room for a deck or patio, or new landscaping?

Find a sunny location, and coordinate surrounding decks, gazebos, plants and colors. If planned well, an animated playground can double as a serene and restful retreat.

Don't let a surprise price tag sink your plans. A well-thought-out pool scheme can be affordable. About half of the people who bought pools in 1990 had incomes of less than $30,000.

The least expensive option is the above-ground pool. If you really want an in-ground version, a vinyl-lined pool is easier _ and cheaper _ to install. With a larger budget, you can add a deck or pool house, use concrete, or design a free-form pool.

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In general, an above-ground pool can cost as little as $300 for a do-it-yourself kit to a more typical price of $1,400 to $3,000.

For in-ground pools expect to pay about $9,500 to $15,000 for vinyl; $12,500 to $18,000 for fiberglass; or $13,000 to $28,000 for poured concrete.

In most areas of the country, you won't recover the total cost of a pool when you sell your home _ you might get one-third of the cost. Instead, buy what you can afford, and select a style you will enjoy.

Pool and spa maintenance

A buildup of algae or floating mounds of decaying leaves are two sure-fire ways to douse a pool or spa's appeal.

Begin by clearing the problems you can see. A skimmer net can scoop leaves and other debris from the surface of the water.

Scrub liners routinely with rags, sponges or special nylon brushes. Use a built-in or independent vacuum-type cleaner to suck debris from the bottom of a pool.

You must also clear problems that can't be seen. Heated pools and spas are especially prone to bacteria and algae growth. Chlorine is the most widely used disinfectant; it comes in a powder called sodium dichlor for use in spas and hot tubs. Bromine, iodine or ozone can also purify water. Monitor chemical levels with a test kit.

Water must also be pH-balanced. Alkaline water appears cloudy, irritates eyes and interferes with the purifying chemicals. Acidic water corrodes pipes and linings, stains surfaces and irritates eyes. Chemicals that balance the pH level are available.

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It's easy to overlook maintenance on a pool's mechanical workings. Make sure pumps and motors are running properly and are lubricated periodically. Strainers and filters do their jobs only when they're kept clear of debris and backwashed as necessary.

When not in use, pools and spas should be covered or drained.

Spas, hot tubs and pools each require some specialized care, which your owner's manual will outline.

(c) Meredith Corp. Reprinted with permission of the Garden Product and Planning Guide. Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

Look carefully before you leap into a pool-buying decision. Consider how your family will use the pool, consider the landscaping and consider the cost.

It makes a difference whether you want exercise or entertainment. If a great pool to you means a private corner to soak in after a long day at work, then a hot tub or soaking spa is best. Most are comfortable for a lone soaker; some can hold up to four.

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