I have an in ground swimming pool in the backyard. I didn’t build it. I didn’t even want it. But when the house came out on the market, the right floor plan, the right neighborhood, the right school, the right price, in the end I had to make some concessions. My first thought was that it was going to be a lot of work and expensive. It turned out to be some work and some cost but not nearly as much as I expected.
Our neighborhood has a community pool. We have been on the waiting list for 4 years and are number 624. You probably ask why we are on the list if we have a pool already, but community pools are places to socialize and join community activities. Average wait time is 7 years. But I think it will be longer than that. Cost for a 1 season lease was $900 last year just to put it in perspective. Now, the gym where I work out has a pool which I use for exercise, and our family pays about $75 per month for all of us x 12 months is $900. So use $900 as the opportunity cost for access to any pool.
Ok, about the backyard pool. It holds about 20k gallons, too small for swimming laps but good for splashing around and cooling off. The pool has a heater and also a heated spa. As far as self maintenance goes, it’s not as bad as I expected and depends a lot on the time of year and the weather. If there isn’t much grass, leaves, bugs, or other stuff blowing in the wind I need to empty the skimmers and main filter about twice per week, which takes about 5 minutes. Oh, but a bad week, leaves falling off of trees, cherry blossom petals, we’re talking several times each day. It eats away at your time but it’s not heavy yard work. Actually, much easier than mowing an equivalent amount of grass but probably about the same amount of time total. By the way, someone still has to mow the grass around the pool.
You’re probably wondering about cleaning. You see shows and movies where you can spend hours with the pool vac cleaning the bottom of the pool. Yes, you can do that. But most home pools including ours have an automatic cleaner, this little robot made by Polaris that runs along the bottom of the pool and sucks up any debris. They work very well. Unfortunately, mine isn’t working at the moment, so I’ve spent about 5 hours this week vacuuming (I’ll get to that in a moment). Usually, I don’t vacuum at all—bad week. The filter system is automatic and programmable. Again, depending on the weather, I will have to backwash the filter anywhere from twice per week to once per month. That takes about 15 minutes to roll out the hose, rest the system for backwash, flush it out, get all the water out of the hose so I can put it away and then roll it up and stow it. At the gym or community pool, I have to do none of these tasks. If I have an algae bloom that really sucks. In addition to the regular cleaning, I have to scrub the sides of the pool with a big brush every day—which takes about 30–60 minutes, add chemicals, and then flush out the system from the previous day. I had one when we first opened the pool and it lasted about a week. I also have to test the water—five minute job. And the pool shop is 1/2 mile from my house where they test your water sample for free. Your situation might be different if you lived 5 miles away from the shop (with traffic). Opening the pool, if you do it yourself takes about 1–2 hours, longer if you’ve never done it before. I wouldn’t recommend closing it yourself. Too much can go wrong.
Now comes the part about cost. It costs more, but again not as much as I thought. The filter pump has to run 8–12 hours per day (depending on who you ask) to do one water exchange every 24 hours. This adds to the electricity bill. I have a hard time putting an exact number on this, but I estimate it is around $50 per month for my area. Again, just an estimate because my A/C runs during the same time of year that the pool is open, and I have no way of breaking that out of my bill. What about heater? I NEVER use the pool heater. It is just like throwing money into the pool and flushing it out the backwash. The heat boils off and is lost within a day. I use it for the spa. How much does it cost? Hard to say. Depends on the weather and how much you use the spa. But it takes about 45 minutes to heat up—so imagine running your stove for 45 minutes with all the burners on plus the time you want to sit in it. Chemical costs? If your water is good, you can usually get by with once a week shock (about $10 worth for my size pool) and chlorine tabs—probably $5–$10. But again, when I had the algae bloom I threw in about $50 worth of shock in 3 days and spent another $100 on chemicals. How about maintenance? Hiring someone to close the pool is about $450 once per year. You need to hire a professional, because if water is left in your lines and freezes the cost to repair might be nearly as much as a new pool. As I mentioned, my cleaner isn’t working. That’s because my booster pump is burned out. Pool equipment generally lasts, but stuff is old and eventually breaks. I have a home warranty but it doesn’t cover the booster pump. That’s going to run me another $425.
And I almost forgot water. I can’t put a number on that either. When I open the pool, I have to fill it for about an entire day (from the winter level) to get it to the right level. Think about running your garden hose all day and how much water you are spending. A few years ago, we had a problem and had to empty the entire pool. Refilling it took an entire week. Good news is I can recycle rain water. That’s right, when it rains I just run it through the filter and it comes out clean. Problem is that it doesn’t rain when I want it to. After a few days of hot weather I come home and see that the water level has dropped. Just leave it until it rains, right? No. Your filter pumps are designed to pump water not air. If the water level drops so low that air starts getting into your filter you run the risk of burning out the pump which will cost another $450 to fix. Run the pump with too much water, and you risk not getting the water clean and having algae grow. So on these dry days I have to turn on the hose and fill up the pool just enough. Then a few days later it rains so much I have to pump out the extra water, and I am kicking myself for not being able to predict the future.
Insurance? Yes, I have increased liability coverage on my house because of the pool. That’s not really that much extra. But I don’t think I could ever rent the house out and would have to be careful if I ever asked anyone to house sit. I have seen too many cases of tenants who will conveniently “get injured” but will be willing to settle out of court. You can pay them direct or pay a lawyer to win the case. Either way you lose even if you win.
Now with all this cost and extra work, how much do we use the pool? We probably have about 2 parties during the summer season. My son is 17 so he has his friends come over on Friday and Saturday nights to hang out. But he leaves for college in August. On hot days, I might jump in after work just long enough to cool off—say 10 minutes or so. And when the water starts to cool I will warm up in the spa but probably only on weekends. I have to add that there is something soothing about looking out your window to a yard full of clear water.
Does all of this time and money add up to the benefit of having it? Probably not overall. But honestly, it’s not that bad. I actually expected a lot worse. It’s not necessarily bad to have a pool. It’s not bad to drive a BMW if you can afford it. I can’t afford a BMW. In the end, it depends on what you want.