Water fun: Still a huge demand for backyard pools

There was a time when Kamloops was the City of Pools - swimming pools could be seen from the air shining like glistening jewels in backyards everywhere.

But times have changed, and the era of the big blue backyard rectangle has passed. In the 1970s, 150 to 200 pools were built in the city every year. Today, the number is more like 20 to 40, says Larry Gathercole, the owner of Parklane Pool and Spa.

The reason? There's a bunch of them, said Gathercole, including the fact pools are just plain ol' more expensive to build than they once were.

Twenty-five years ago it was possible to build a basic pool for $5,000. Today, you better budget for $50,000, he said - and have a lot more ready if you want something special, or the building location is difficult or unique.

Many of today's pools are being built at costs exceeding $200,000, he said. In back of some Kamloops area houses, there are $500,000 swimming pools.

Granted, these are some kind of cool pools. Many are built in locations with amazing vistas, perched on the edge of steep drops giving spectacular views. They have waterfalls, LED lighting systems and built-in hot tubs, and are surrounded by pristine landscaping, barbecues, lounges, covered decks and bars.

They transform backyard spaces into resort-like atmospheres that rival what you can find in resorts in the most desirable parts of the world.

"People are saying, heck, let's holiday in our backyard. And why not?" he said.

That's the main difference with pools today, Gathercole said - people want more than a pool, they want a complete package that incorporates many elements.

As a result, Gathercole spends a lot of time with clients in front of a computer screen, creating 3-D mockups and simulations before work gets started.

It takes at least three to four months to complete a pool project, he said, although site constraints can affect construction schedules drastically.

Many pools these days are being built in places where it would not have been possible 25 years ago, like in steep or rocky backyards.

In some cases, pools are lifted over houses with cranes. Excavated dirt is often removed in the same way. The engineer has become a key member of the construction team, helping to ensure pools are properly built in the places people want them.

For good reason, too. The average swimming pool holds 40,000 to 120,000 litres of water, the kind of quantities you don't flooding your neighbour's basement.

People are also building pools in smaller backyards than ever before, Gathercole said. Lots are smaller and homes are bigger today than in the past and homeowners don't have as much space as they once did.

"Splasher pools" are becoming increasingly common, he said - small 12- to 20-foot pools only three to five feet deep designed as a place to cool off more than actively swim. Again, these smaller pools are being incorporated as one element in a bigger recreational picture.

"We design entire backyards now."

For those that worry, pools are not the bad investment some people think they are, Gathercole said. Many, many people want a pool in the backyard and finding a house with one increases saleability. Buyers often know how expensive pools are to build and actively seek out properties with pools already in place.

With that in mind, pool reconstruction and repair has also become big business, said Greg John, owner of Desert Pools and Spas. Many of those old pools from the 1970s are being brought back to life with new liners, rebuilt or redesigned decks, heaters and critical (and mandatory) safety features like proper fencing and covers.

He said it costs about $20,000 to completely rebuild an old pool, making it like new.

"It's a viable option," he said. "Once you rebuild everything, it's just like a new pool."

For those people with less of a budget, there is always above ground pools. Greg Jackson, the owner of Pleasure Pools Plus in Kamloops, said there is a wide range of above ground pools available. Many are high quality and built to last 15 to 20 years. Cost - $5,000 to $10,000.

Such pools are not considered as attractive as in-ground options, but they do the job and offer homeowners a worthwhile alternative. As well, they can be easily removed after the kids have left home, he added. Such pools are available in a wide range of shapes and sizes.

Above ground pools require no more maintenance than an in-ground pool, he added. In fact, their exposed pipes and pumps often make them easier to fix if something goes wrong.

Lastly, there are the "blow-up" pools that can be bought for $200 to $500. They have pumps and filters and do an adequate job, as long as buyers keep in mind the adage: you get what you pay for, said Jackson.

Such pools are hard to fix if problems develop and shouldn't be expected to last more than two or three seasons.

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