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Below-ground pool is cool - until you try removing it

SHARE Below-ground pool is cool - until you try removing it

Surveying a big back yard during the summer months often produces a hankering to fill it with water. However, consumers ought to think long and hard before succumbing to the primal urge to put in a pool, because pools are permanent.

James and Trudy Beck discovered this when they moved into their house on Circle Way in Federal Heights. The house was already equipped with an oddly shaped pool that filled most of the back yard. One of the first things the Becks did after moving in was try to remove it.They decided to take it out mainly because their youngest child was a toddler, and they couldn't find a cover for the unusually shaped pool that would keep him from wandering in. What they didn't count on was how hard the pool would be to remove.

"We had some boys in the neighborhood who were just dying to rip it up, so we let them come when we were out of town," she said. "They went down there with jack-hammers and didn't even make a dent in it."

Next, the Becks hired a wrecking crew, but they couldn't get heavy equipment into the backyard due to narrow side-space. Using small wrecking-balls, the crew smashed up the concrete pool bed - but not without disturbing the neighbors. "They were complaining about cracks in their walls caused by so much vibration," said Trudy Beck.

Because many homebuyers don't want them, pools can be a real estate liability. "Even for people who want them, pools do not raise the price of the home by the cost of the pool," said Steve Fairbanks of Century 21 Coventry Real Estate. "This is primarily because summers are so short in Utah. People aren't willing to pay extra for a pool. Those that want them may pay a little extra, but definitely not the $15,000 it costs to put one in."

When they finally got rid of the un-wanted pool, the Becks put in a 9-foot-by-15-foot "swim-spa" with an automatic cover. It doesn't take up the whole back yard, the cover keeps it clean and removes the safety risk, and it's economical to heat - doubling as a hot-tub in the winter. However, the most interesting feature of the swim spa is its "treadmill" current.

In addition to the usual "jacuzzi jets," the pool shoots out a stream of water allowing one to swim in place. A relatively new idea, the Becks' treadmill pool works best for breaststroke or a moderately paced backstroke. Strong swimmers will find the current too weak to swim free-style and butterfly fast, but distance swimming is possible at a medium to slow pace.

The Becks are, for the most part, happy with their swim-spa, although Trudy Beck says distance swimming would be easier if the pool had a harness to keep the swimmer in place.

Although they don't sell spas with harnesses, Aquatech, the company that makes the counter-current swim-spa, makes some models with an adjustable flow-rate to accommodate swimmers of different speeds. Aquatech recently installed four counter-current systems in the new Oquirrh Park swimming facility in Kearns.

While the counter-current on the Becks' pool is an unusual addition, the shape and cover of the pool are like most of the new pools sold in Utah. "Ninety-nine percent of the pools we sell in Utah are rectangular with an automatic cover," said Don Ludlow, owner of Dolphin Pools and Spas.

The automatic cover saves cleaning, conserves heat and keeps children and toddlers from falling in. "We got ours 26 years ago, before automatic covers were the in thing, and we've wished we had one, especially when the grandchildren come over," Ludlow said.

Dr. J.D. Mortensen of Sandy solved the problems of heat, cleaning and toddler accessibility by putting his pool in a greenhouse. Surrounded by exotic flowers and trees, the pool area remains warm year-round. Solar energy heats both the pool and greenhouse from panels on the greenhouse roof, and some of Mortensen's neighbors who like both gardening and swimming have talked about putting in arrangements similar to his.

Part of the fear of putting in a pool has to do with the chores of cleaning and maintenance, but Ludlow says some of the newer pools are virtually maintenance- free. For about $4,000 to $5,000, consumers can get a chlorine dispenser that measures the pH of a pool and adds chlorine and CO2 as needed. For about $1,000 more, consumers can get their system hooked up to the pool company's telephone system. Any problem with the pool is electronically reported to the company's computer, and the pool's system can be re-programmed by phone.

In addition to the usual chlorine and bromine sanitizers, a new hydrogen peroxide product (called Softswim or Ba-qua-sil) is now available. It sanitizes water but is easier on hair, eyes and skin than chlorine. However, the maintenance-free option is not available for the new sanitation fluid, and pool owners add an algicide and a clarifier regularly as well as test the water and add a bactericide as needed. Leslie Lorrimer of Holladay decided on this option because of her family's fair hair, which she didn't want turned green with chlorine.

Many people consider pools a symbol of success and affluence, and some associate them with family togetherness. That extra space burning a whole in the back yard could be put to good use with a pool, but be sure to study the options and risks first; for once you've got one, you've got it for life.