During the shutdowns last year purchasing above and in-ground swimming pools became a popular home improvement project as families realized that they may be homebound for a while.

While the move to install pools last summer was an understandable response to the pandemic and a desire for a fun “staycation,” there are some very real considerations homeowners should work through before building a pool.

Build it for YOU

The first rule of residential pools is to design and build the pool specifically for your enjoyment. Pools do not increase the value of a home and are expensive to both build and maintain. When designing your backyard pool, make it what you really want for yourself and your family. Be very realistic about what you can afford for construction and budget for in your everyday expenses in the future.

Know Your Codes

The first issue to investigate are the building codes in your community. There may be requirements concerning size, easements, water quality, water availability, fencing, chemical storage, etc. All of these will need to be addressed before you begin a design for your pool, pump system and chemical storage.

Pool Use

The motivation for wanting a pool is important to guide the pool’s design. If you are a lap swimmer or want a pool for workout/exercise, you will want a pool that can accommodate reasonable length for lap lanes at least 50 feet (regulation short course lanes are 75 feet) and the depth of the pool does not need to be more than 4 feet. These pools can also be narrow. Each lap lane will require 7 feet of width. The pool needs safe entry and exit steps that are not part of a lap or exercise lane space.

If your desire for a pool is for family fun involving children, then the pool may incorporate other water features such as splash sprinklers, a zero-entry shallow area and space for water sports. The age and swim capabilities of the people using the pool may also play a role in determining the depth of the pool. Many families opt for shallow water pools (not deeper than 7 feet) in any section of the pool.

Diving boards will require a depth of at least 9 feet for a low springboard and at least 15 feet up depth before the pool slopes up to shallower water to assure that divers have room to enter the water and resurface without hitting the upslope wall.

Water Quality

Home pools can operate with two basic types of water quality systems. One requires the use of Chlorine and the other uses salt. There are pros and cons to each system.  While salt water pumps are more expensive to install, the chemical savings over time may be worth the extra up front expense. Chemical management for Chlorine pools is a challenge in the summer heat. It evaporates rapidly and the pool will require hourly testing to keep the chemicals in balance and to help minimize algae blooms.

Consider the Weather

When designing a pool, it is important to think carefully about the length of time the pool will be usable in certain climates. While Southerners are keeping pools open from April/May – October/November, homeowners in other areas might want to consider domes and other ways to enclose a pool to be able to use it for longer periods of time.

Keep it Clear and Clean

Whether you plan an above ground or in-ground pool maintenance goes well beyond chemical balance for safe swims. Keep all landscaping and even potted plants well away from the pool deck or pool area. The dirt and organic material can ruin your water quality and can create headaches for your pump system and skimmers.

Sunscreen is absolutely required for outdoor pool swimmers, but it is a mess for the skimmers and tiles. Daily maintenance to scrub tiles and clear the skimmers not just of collected debris, but also the collected sunscreen that washes off swimmers is a necessary part of having a pool.

Rain is the enemy of clean swimming water. It dilutes the chemicals, can lead to overflows on the deck which allow organic materials to enter the pool water. Elevated water levels can pose a hazard for swimmers who may not realize the pool is deeper than the markers indicate.  Consider decking that slopes away from the pool to help mitigate rain-driven flooding and remember to watch water levels after a rain event.

Safety First

Homeowners should post pool rules and enforce them with guests and family members. Safety equipment should be checked regularly for signs of rot and should never become pool toys. At a minimum, there should be a hook and a rescue ring in an accessible place. A phone should always be at the poolside when people are in the water.

All the safe swim rules apply.
  1. For people and pets there should be nobody in the pool area alone. Ever. No matter how competent they are as a swimmer.
  2. Pool areas are NO place for pets to play without supervision.
  3. Children should never be allowed in the pool area without a designated person supervising who is also a competent swimmer.
  4. For untrained rescuers, the protocol is always Reach – Throw – Go. Reach for the distressed swimmer to pull them to safety. Use a rescue poll, a beach towel of your arm or leg for a swimmer to grab as you pull them toward the edge. Only if that fails should you Throw a flotation device behind them and pull it forward slowly to them while instructing the swimmer to grab the flotation device and rope. Only if Reach and Throw fails should you “Go” into the water to pull someone out.
  5. All pool owners should take a CPR course.
  6. Keep all glass out of the pool area. It is miserable to have to drain and clean a pool for broken glass. It ruins skimmers, pool vacs and pumps. It can kill someone who swallows glass shards, and it can ruin someone’s summer when they step on broken glass.
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