Rich People’s Problems: Swimming pools — the deep money pit
There’s a large blue money pit in my back garden — a 15 metre heated swimming pool. For those who might be considering an aquatic extravagance, if you need to ask about the costs of pool ownership, you probably can’t afford one. Your money quickly evaporates as you burn through enough gas to heat it, electricity to pump it and expensive chemicals required to clean it.
For those who can absorb £5,000 or more in annual charges, is it worth it?
A swimming pool is certainly a cost and unlikely to be an investment. That said, they are such a bother and expense to have built that if you can buy a house with a pool that someone else had the hassle of installing, you’ll probably catch a bargain.
You certainly should not confuse a swimming pool with a hot tub. They cater for entirely different audiences. A swimming pool is more Caribbean island; a hot tub more Love Island.
In my formative years, I designed my house for life. It would have excess bedrooms, two staircases, a garden big enough for a proper vegetable patch and a swimming pool. The bedrooms aren’t for guests but to store stuff. The second staircase isn’t for staff, but to confuse the dog with elaborate chase games. And the swimming pool isn’t just to swim in, but to lounge and drink around.
With the record-breaking temperatures in recent weeks, my pool has been in its element. After all who wouldn’t want to sunbathe on a massive blow-up unicorn or inflatable slice of pizza while floating in the pool? I can even play music through hidden speakers, cunningly disguised as rocks, to irritate the neighbours further.
But these are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unnecessary pool-related purchases. You can spend fortunes in the pursuit of crystal clear water.
A few weeks ago, while taking a luxurious swim in the pool, I heard some bleeping noises in the background. Entering the pool house plant room, the alarm on the electrode-based water cleaning system was going off. Further investigation revealed that the electrodes had worn away and needed to be replaced. I ordered the two sets required; £236 and a couple of days later, they arrived. We had guests in the house, and I was distracted so I thought I’d fix them at the end of the weekend.
I didn’t think any more about it until our guests had packed up and gone home. I went into the plant room armed with some pliers, screwdrivers and some other bits of man kit to make me look as if I knew what I was doing. What almighty manner of hell had happened in there? Everything was soaked. The ceiling, the floor, everything in the room. And there was an eerie silence. No pump. No heating. No nothing.
The final piece of electrode had fallen off, creating a hole in the system. Running at high pressure, water had pumped out of the usually closed loop showering the whole plant room, causing everything to get wet and fusing all the kit. One phone call and £180 later, the electrician had everything back on.
Meanwhile, I spotted that a few tiles needed to be reaffixed to the bottom of the pool (I’m saving that job for the winter). And I had run out of chemicals.
The water testing system showed me that the pool was low on chlorine and needed to be “shocked”. I never knew what this meant until I got a pool. Ironically it’s the same word I’d use to describe my reaction to how much it costs. In essence, to keep the water nice and clean you need to add excess chlorine every few weeks so the water can rebalance itself.
After a lot of people have been swimming, it’s an essential. If you don’t? Your pool will go cloudy. That said, no one has ever urinated in my pool. I call it my “ool” because there’s no “p” in it. Meanwhile, that’s another £333 bill plus £60 for the four canisters of chlorine.
Another item on repeat order is the stabilising tablets to put in the pool skimmers (the bit of the pool that helps get rid of dead insects and leaves). You’ll need two buckets of those for a season. That will be £50, please.
Have I put you off having a pool now? Because I haven’t even got on to the weekly cleaning that needs to be done. Some opt for a weekly visit from a “pool man”, but I take the view that it’s an unnecessary expense. How difficult is it to shove in a few chemicals and plop the Dolphin automatic pool cleaning robot into the water? The latter won’t give you much change from £1,000, but is enough to win gadget Top Trumps for the rest of your life.
I confess that I don’t even mind manually skimming the surface of the pool to fish out a few leaves — it’s much more fun than ironing, and I do contract that out. That and changing duvet covers. No one should ever have to change a duvet cover.
The final bits of wallet rinsing you can expect are the annual closing down and opening up, which costs about £350, plus the rising level of metered water bills every time you have to do a major fill (probably £400 last year).
So is it worth it? Undoubtedly. Swimming is fabulous exercise and pools are very sociable things to sit around. And, if you decide to find your inner child, a bombing competition is always fun. But it’s more than that. Even when the weather isn’t brilliant, a swim in a warm outdoor pool is a joy. And when it’s hot and sunny, it can help even a busy day feel like a holiday.
Anyway, the people who say having a pool is too much work are the people who don’t have a pool. They’re the same sort of people who would suggest that it’s not hot enough in the UK to justify having a pool or a convertible car. Both are the kinds of people you should avoid at a cocktail party — even more so if it happens to be poolside.
James Max is a property expert and radio presenter. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax. If you have a problem for James, contact him at email@example.com
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