Diving In?

March 20, 1994|By Joe Surkiewicz

The lazy, hazy days of summer and a backyard swimmin pool go together like, well, steamed crabs and beer. With its privacy and convenience, a pool provides a resort setting for entertaining relatives, neighbors and friends.

However, enjoying the pleasures of a getaway vacation without leaving home requires a big investment -- in time and money. The process of selecting a dealer or builder for your new pool deserves the same consideration as that of choosing an architect or builder for a custom home.

The reason is simple.

"A pool is supposed to be fun and shouldn't be a burden to its owner," says Francis Stefanski, president of Regina Pools & Spas in Timonium. "You just have to get it built right."

With that goal in mind, potential pool owners can benefit by doing their homework before beginning the search for a dealer or builder.

Good looks or great laps?

First, do some soul-searching. Will your new pool be used primarily for recreation, exercise or entertaining? Are the aesthetics as big a priority as the function of the pool?

The reason for the self-analysis is this: Pool designs serve purposes. Here's a primer:

Kidney-shaped pools are stylish, offering lots of curves and clean lines. Yet the rounded shape reduces the swim area, making the design inefficient for dedicated swimmers.

Rectangular pools offer the maximum square footage in the minimum amount of space. The drawback? Right-angle corners are a bother when your family and guests walk around the pool.

Grecian pools are a blend of kidney-shaped and rectangular designs and, as a result, are a popular choice. Featuring an elongated octagonal shape and beautifully cut corners, Grecian pools are easy to landscape.

Oval pools, with rounded ends and elongated sides, are symmetrical -- and the best bet for small yards or yards with hillsides.

Roman pools are the largest style, with a rectangular shape and ends that bulge out.

Two more styles popular with families in the Baltimore area are the "lazy L" and the "true L" shapes.

"The 'lazy L' is shaped like a dog leg and emphasizes the shallow end of the pool," Mr. Stefanski explains. "People want a deep end for diving, but also want more play and wading areas. Both these designs add more square footage to the shallow, most-used areas."

In addition to the shape, consider the location (and check local covenants and laws related to pool safety).

"Pay attention to access points in and out of the house when placing the pool -- you don't want the door located around the corner," Mr. Stefanski says. "Also, line of sight is important. Moms feel better when they can look out the kitchen window and watch the kids."

Establishing a budget

How much should you expect to pay for your new pool?

Prices for quality in-ground swimming pools in the Baltimore area average about $20,000, according to several local builders.

Here's an example of what that amount might cover: an 18-foot-by-36-foot rectangular pool with a pool light, diving board, an inexpensive winter cover and a small patio area. The price also includes the cost of building permits required to install the pool.

This price tag doesn't include the pool-area fencing required in most municipalities in Maryland; check the laws applying to your area. Fencing can add from $500 to $5,000 to the final cost.

Nor does that average price include practical -- and popular -- options such as an automatic pool cleaner (about $1,000), a heater to extend the swimming season (about $1,500), or a safety cover (permitted in some jurisdictions as an alternative to fencing; about $1,000).

The addition of a pool may also create a need for a landscaper.

"Many times, people realize the need for more landscaping after they install a pool," says Paul Horichs, owner of Pleasure Pools in Reisterstown. "Also, most contractors leave the access road rough graded, which means you must hire a lawn guy to come in, fine-grade the road, and sod and seed it to restore access."

Some homeowners also find they need more lighting in the yard after they've installed a pool, he adds.

New pool owners who live in areas without public water also factor in another $300 to $500 for a couple of tank-truck loads of water to fill the pool. Add up these extras and that backyard vacation mecca may cost $25,000 . . . or more.

That's not all:

Operating a pool during the swim season costs money. Local dealers say that a season's supply of chemicals typically costs $300; contracting a pool service to winterize in the fall and open a pool in the spring can cost about $500 (some owners can do this themselves); and the electricity to run a circulating pump can add about $25 a month to your electric bill.

And if your new pool is heated? If you use the heater only to extend the swimming season in the spring and fall, and use a solar cover (about $200), expect to pay $300 to $500 for energy.

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