Friday, March 26, 2010

Backyard Swimming Pool? - Just say No!

Backyard Swimming Pool? - Just say No!

Back in the old days when I had young children, we had one of those inflatable wading pools.   They are little so they only kill a modest size spot on your back lawn, and aside from the perpetual quest for the leak that is letting the air out, maintenance mostly consisted of dumping the water out and refilling the pool each day before letting the kids cool off in the carefully supervised pool.  I still recall the miracle of totally instant toilet training of my daughter.  She wanted to go into the pool.   Mom explained a rule that she wouldn't be allowed in the pool while wearing a diaper.  Made sense to the little girl.  From that day forward, she always used the toilet when she had to go.  Of course it follows that the little girl taught herself removal of her diaper on her own too.  There was no formal "Swim suits optional" sign in the back yard, but how can you claim to be closely monitoring the kids in the pool if you're going to take the time to run upstairs to fetch a swimsuit for one of them.  You've got to keep your priorities straight.  The kids survived the wading pool and eventually earned 4 year degrees from college.   I'm leaving out some of the details, but to this day my daughter favors bikinis that are only slightly more modest than "Swim suits optional" when she's vacationing on exotic beaches, many of which are well south of Belmar.

But this little essay isn't to dissuade you from the simple pleasures of an inflatable wading pool.  My target audience today is anyone thinking of installing a more serious swimming pool in their backyard, perhaps an aboveground pool.   From experience, my advice is to just say "no!" to that.   Instead, buy the family an annual membership in some nice local community pool.   It might look expensive, but I assure you the community pool will get you more hours enjoying the cool pool instead of endless expensive trips to the pool store for parts and supplies.

I'm willing to concede that my advice is not equally applicable to everyone.  Maybe you're rich and have found a reliable pool maintenance person who will take care of the pool chores for you.   I'm not rich so hiring someone to mind the pool isn't something I'm comfortable doing.  We did try it one year and the guy we hired wasn't too reliable.   He left the pool rover plugged in and sitting on the deck.

The pump motor in the rover burned out.  In fact it got so hot it melted the rover's bag and casing.  I think as the insulation in the motor broke down, the rover's power supply died.   Debate continues to this day as to just how close did it come to sitting the deck on fire.   That would have been expensive compared to the several hundred dollars to buy a complete new pool rover.  We remember that expense each time the idea resurfaces that maybe the solution is to find someone who we can hire to do the work for us.

So what's the hassle of maintaining an 18 foot round body of water in your back yard?   You'll need a GFI outlet to power the pool filter.  Ours is a cartridge filter with a Chlorinator attached.   In theory, I need only keep the Chlorinator stocked with Chlorine tablets, and take out the cartridge once in a while to rinse the gunk off of the filter element.   And every few years a replacement cartridge is a nice treat to assure the pool that you still love it.  Current price on a small bucket of Chlorine tablets is about $25.   A replacement cartridge is about $50.   But the local pool supply store this year is no longer selling the same brand of filter as the one he sold to us.   The in-stock cartridges don't have the same model numbers as they used to.   I've got to haul the drippy wet dirty cartridge on another trip to the pool store to try to find a match to it.   Imagine my delight.

But the pool chemicals don't stop with only chlorine.   You need a little pool chemistry test kit to keep an eye on the water.   This year we got a bottle of test strips that seems a lot easier to use then the add 3 drops of this liquid to a vial of water and match the colors after you give it a shake.   Then add 3 drops of another liquid to another vial of water and match the colors to a different chart.   Then count the drops you need to add to the first vial to wipe out the color.   And at this point I'll confess that over the winter the instructions for the test kit were lost, so I'm not quite sure what to do with some of the test liquids.  The general idea is to adjust the water's Ph to a slightly alkaline reading, and to make sure there's enough buffering alkaline molecules in the water to protect against sudden swings in Ph level.   They'll sell you powder to add to raise the Ph, another powder to add to lower the Ph, and another to condition the Ph by providing additional buffering.

Wait, there's more:   There's Green-out, strong chlorine to shock the pool to clear it of algae, but then you have to close the pool until the chlorine level drops back down to a safe level.  $8 for a 1 lb bag.   Buy 2 and get 1 free.   For an 18-foot round pool, I was told to throw in 3 pounds to get the pool started this year.  But there were a lot of leaf particles in the water (because I'm past due for a replacement filter cartridge) and the organic matter in the water seemed to instantly gobble up the chlorine.   Even 3 pounds of "shock" didn't raise the chlorine level to "keep everyone out of the pool this afternoon" levels.  Oh, and you might also want to have a bottle of "Golden Glop" water clarifier and maybe a bottle of algacide.   Not exactly an organic approach to maintaining the water quality.

With each passing day of skimming leaves and bugs out of the water, the idea of getting a swim club membership is looking more and more attractive.    And with each expensive trip to Island Recreational for supplies and parts, a swim club membership is looking more and more affordable (and that's before trying to tally up the price of electricity to run the filter).

I drafted this cautionary tale late in the summer of 2009.  Cold weather arrived and I was able to ignore the pool and the draft of this essay for mercifully many months.  Now that the ice is gone from the pool, fixing the GFI on the post next to the pool filter pump is weighing on my mind and it seemed time to post this entry to my blog in case anyone maybe comes along online to read it.

Dissenting opinions are welcome.   Post comments or send me email (  Have a great summer!