The Big Pool Decision: Stay or Go?

Am I crazy? This idea is beginning to make more and more sense to me: Get rid of the backyard swimming pool. Tear it out and replace it with a nice xeriscapic garden.

You’ll recall that I drew out about 10 grand to resurface the pool, since its 16-year-old plaster was coming off in divots. I elected to have Swimming Pool Service & Repair, my favorite pool dudes, apply PebbleSheen in a dark blue color.

BIG mistake. Actually, it’s the biggest mistake I’ve made in 40 years of homeownership. The dark color absorbs so much solar heat that the water temp is about at bathtub level, which cultivates algae and bacteria in vast legions. The water is hazy with microorganisms, the walls — whose surface is now too coarse to brush effectively — grow coats of mustard algae, and the only way to control that seems to be to apply several gallons of liquid chlorine every day and to run the circulation through the main drain 24/7.

Well, running that pump 24 hours a day jacked up the power bill by $100, and that doesn’t reflect what it will cost to run it like that for 30 days — we’ve only been doing this for a little over two weeks. The Depot charges $6.87 for two gallons of liquid chlorine, and the soda ash runs…I don’t recall offhand, but I think I paid $50 for the last bucket of it from Leslie’s. None of these efforts works for more than a few hours.

I can’t afford to pay some $215 a month for chlorine ($6.87 x 31 days) plus maybe $200 extra a month on the power bill plus God only knows how much more for other chemicals and $50 per visit from the only pool guy who seems to have anything like a clue. I can’t swim in the pool — can’t go in it with the chlorine levels through the stratosphere, nor do I care to jump into water that looks like someone poured Starlac into it. And trying to deal with this stuff has me out there about once an hour from dawn to dusk, struggling with the thing. I’m pouring stupid amounts of money and annoying amounts of unavailing work into a hole in the ground that I can’t even use.

By the way: Yes, I do know how to maintain a swimming pool. I’ve been doing it for 16 years in this house and did it for 10 years in another house. NEVER did I have problems that even vaguely approach this fiasco.

So…I’m now seriously thinking that the time has come to have the pool demolished and filled in. Jackhammering out the KoolDeck, replacing it with desert landscaping, and planting a specimen Desert Museum paloverde in dirt dumped into the hole would make a nice garden out there, and it would require almost zero maintenance. I figure the project would cost about 10 grand. This, since I just spent that much to have the goddamn thing resurfaced, is in the “holy sh!t” category.

However…assuming the current expenses continue, on average, then the job would pay for itself in about two years. Videlicet: assuming an average electric bill increase of $150/month (if the issue subsides enough that it’s unnecessary to run the pump 24 hours a day in the winter), the annual cost of chlorine, power, soda ash, and service from the pool guys would come to $5556. If it “only” costs $10,000 to fill in the pool, the savings on the present out-of-control costs would be made up in one year and nine months (1.79 years).

Since the pump is unlikely to hold up very much longer under the current abuse, this figure is no doubt conservative. It doesn’t count the cost of water to keep the thing topped up, or the $150 every three or four months to have someone come and clean the filter. Or the cost of draining it and refilling with clean water every few years.

Am I crazy? Yes, no, maybe??

I realize that removing the pool will damage the property value of the house. However…

  • With any luck at all, I intend to live in this house until I die. I figure that will be another 10 to 12 years.
  • Lowering the property value will also lower the property taxes, which are pushing the limit of what I can afford to pay, especially with the mad gentrification going on in the neighborhood now.
  • Some buyers don’t want a pool, and so the proposition that no pool = lower sale price is questionable.
  • If I do manage to stay in the house until I croak over, then what do I care how much it will sell for?
  • Less property management labor will mean I can afford to stay in the house longer, which will keep living expenses down.

Is that a sane calculation?

And where will the ten thousand dollars come from? Well, I can either draw it down out of investments (which I’d prefer not to do) or I could take out a loan against the house. I already have a $3,000 line of credit at the beloved credit union. I’m sure they’d lend me ten grand without a blink. Right now the interest rate on a home equity loan is 5%; they’re too cagey to post the rates for personal loans. For that matter, the Copyeditor’s Desk has ten grand just sitting right there in its little bank account.

I don’t want to do something stupid and self-destructive out of frustration. What do you think about the advisability of this scheme?

So How’d That Pool Update Go?

Ay-MAZING, that’s how it’s gone. As you may recall, as soon as the hot weather passed, SuperPoolDudes launched into a total replastering and partial rebuilding job. This was right about the time Cassie the Corgi came down with what may yet prove to be a terminal ailment.

Whereas Cassie is only marginally improved, the pool renovation has been astonishing.

Today — for the first time since they finished the job — I tossed the hose in to add an inch or two of water. Last time was about six weeks ago. And in fact a top-up does not have to be done just this minute: the level is right at the tile line that marks its ideal level. In fact, I like to keep a little more than that in there, in case something happens to me that I can’t be here to maintain the thing  (like another fun visit to the operating room). Before this, I had to add water about every two or three days.

It seemed like winter refills were more frequent than in the summer, but in fact, during the summer I would be in the pool with the hose, power-washing algae off the walls and steps. And also in summer you have to water potted plants every day; usually during that process I would end up dropping the hose into the water while I fooled with this, that, or the other chore, which would refill even though I wasn’t doing so deliberately.

What does this mean? Well, my guess is that it means there was a leak in the shell or plumbing that got fixed when they replumbed to move Harvey the Hayward Pool Cleaner to the valve he’s supposed to work on or when they replastered and sealed the crack on the south wall.

PoolDude didn’t think that crack was leaking water out of the pool, because there was no rust around that area. But…I don’t know what other explanation there could be.

This month the water bill dropped from $250 to $100.

Think of that… If whatever they did saves $100 a month (on average: evaporation obviously is higher in the summer), that replastering job will pay for itself in 6 years and 7 months. And since the product’s lifetime is 20 years…well…

There hasn’t been so much as a flicker of mustard algae since we restarted the system.

The chlorine level is still high, a week after the last routine application. Acid demand is very high, though, which is a bit of a concern. It has to do, I understand, with the chemistry of the Pebblesheen, as opposed to the chemistry of old-fashioned white plaster. Supposedly this will settle down after the plasteroid cures. I hope so. It’s not a big nuisance…but adding acid is just another chore. As is traipsing around the city to buy it.

But really: when PoolDude remarked that the upgraded system would drop maintenance to near-nil, he wasn’t kidding. I haven’t had to do anything to that pool, other than test the chemicals and adjust — a very simple chore.

We haven’t had a lot of storm activity, that must be said. So the filter baskets are not filling up with leaves and gunk at any noticeable rate.

The idea of buying an extra pump pot basket and alternating them was brilliant. Now instead of having to scrub and scour the basket with the hose every time I have to clean it out, all I have to do is lift out one basket, set it on the pool shelf, and drop the other one in. Let the wet basket dry out, and all the leaves just shake right out! Noooo scrubbing!!!

So I’m thinking I’ll also get a second skimmer basket. This collects leaves that float on the surface. Now that Harvey is attached to a dedicated line in the side of the pool rather than hogging the skimmer inlet, the skimmer can actually do its job: skim leaves off the surface. 🙂

While I’m up at Leslie’s snabbing one of those, I’d better try to remember to ask my favorite Manager Dude if he has anything to help keep the scale off the tilework. Incredibly, the PoolDudes managed to remove 14 years’ worth of white scale from the antique tilework, which they also repaired in places. If it weren’t mid-century modern in style, the tile would look brand new! I’d sure like to keep it that way.

Lordie, but that water is soooo cold just now. I cannot BELIEVE that I managed to survive leaping into the deep end, in February when it’s even colder, to rescue a decrepit German shepherd who’d fallen in. If you had any question that I’m crazy, you can disabuse yourself of that doubt. I’m not just crazy. I’m batshit raving nuts.

Report from the Hubs of Hades

Five in the morning. It’s 90 degrees on the back porch. Windy. The sun is trying, unsuccessfully, to dawn through muddy yellow-orange haze. Off in the distance: dull thunder. Let the dogs out to do their thing. Decide against the usual a.m. doggy-walk.

Discover I’ve gained almost two pounds since the day before yesterday. Xergis is fattening?????? WTF.

The human and the dogs go back to bed. Actually, the human takes the laptop to the bed, perches there, and fiddles with social media. Dogs go back to sleep.

Cassie starts to hork.

Lift her off the bed before she succeeds in upchucking. Thank God for small mercies.

Clean up the mess. Let Cassie back out. It’s starting to sprinkle. Sort of. Hard to tell what it’s doing: it’s so hot, and the light wind is rustling the leaves, so the sound could be that rather than rain. If it is raining, it’s evaporating before it hits the ground. Cassie goes back in. Decide she’s probably done barfing. Lift her back on the bed. Climb back on behind her. Dogs conker out.

Storm continues to move in. Thunder surrounds us, rumbling in from all directions. Still have power, though. And 70% battery power remains on the Macbook — meaning the thing will run about another 30 minutes.

The pool will be a mess to clean up, with that much dust hanging in the air. The water is bathtub warm. Even though the mustard algae has almost disappeared, these conditions will invite it back.

Arranged to have the pool resurfaced in October. Earlier, if a miracle happens and the water gets too cool to swim sometime in September. I doubt this will happen: global warming is real, folks…and we’ve had it here for some time now.

Decided against the white PebbleSheen. The guy — a genuine charmer, definitely born about 30 years too late, dammit — brought some samples. We put them in the water, because the stuff changes color as it gets really wet. Chose a kind of medium-light blue with little stones engineered to show. I think it will be very pretty.

They’re going to try to save the tile. But if they can’t — it’s been through two replasterings that we know of, and there is a limit, after all — he left a brochure showing a local pool tile company’s offerings. Now I’m thinking I should just spring for the cost of installing new tile. Mine is pretty out of date…think this pool was installed shortly after the first buyers moved in, and the house was built in 19-and-ought-71. It has that 1970s look to it.

At any rate, the stuff is going to look amazingly pretty.

Looking at it in the water, I was reminded of Lebanon.

When I was a little girl, my father would occasionally take his short leave in Beirut. (Aramco gave employees two “leaves”: a two-week short leave midway through a two-year contract, and a three-month long leave between contracts. Sometimes we would go to Beirut; sometimes to Bahrain.)

Lebanon had been largely dominated by the French, following the demise of the Ottoman Empire. Before the civil war (followed, a few years later, by attacks from the Israelis)  reduced the city to rubble, Beirut hosted rows of beautiful, French-operated hotels that served up luxury accommodations and French food on the shore of the Mediterranean. It was a gorgeous place.

So we stayed in this hotel on the most amazing beach. It wasn’t sand, like the hot white sand where we lived, on the Persian Gulf. It was tiny, colorful, surf-polished pebbles. Each little stone was maybe an eighth of an inch in diameter and  they came in every color you can imagine. When I first saw them, I thought they were gemstones. A whole beach covered with jewelry!

When they were wet, they did look like highly polished gemstones. Let them dry out: not so much. But underwater, they were a spectacular thing to see.

Well, this PebbleSheen stuff is like that. Its little stones are about the size of the beach gemstones of Beirut. And underwater, they shine like they were polished.

So I’m pretty excited about doing this project. I think it’s going to make the backyard look really gorgeous.

The cat’s claw, which was suffering from the near demise of the irrigation system along the back wall, is reviving in response to being watered from the top with drip hosing. That stuff won’t last long — if you ever want soaker hose, do not buy the Miracle-Gro brand, which is true junk. But for the nonce, the scheme is working well. The idea of hooking the double hose bib on that back faucet was definitely one of those why didn’t i think of it before??? things. Now instead of having to climb under the shrubbery to hook up the soakers to the hose, all that’s needed is a flip of a switch and a turn of a faucet handle. It’s starting to blossom and will soon be covered with bright yellow trumpet flowers.

Ugh. I cannot stand to read the news these days. When is that orange-haired buffoon going to resign or be impeached?

Dollars to donuts, he won’t make it to the end of this term. But that may not be a good thing. Because then we will get Pence, who is an effective politician, and who hides his viciousness under a smoothly polished veneer of pious respectability. Frankly, a “Christian” who wouldn’t recognize Christ if the Spirit Himself came up and bit him on the tuchus may be worse than a clown whose corruption is obvious.

This country is in deep, deep trouble. As in End-Times trouble, at least for our democratic republic. Hellish hot rain, I suppose, is to be expected.

Update: Rainshowers barrel through to the south. By 8:00 a.m.: 80 degrees on the back porch, under a gentle sprinkle. Arizona is weird.

Adventures in Pool Ownership

Well, things are looking up in the swimming pool department! For a change. One adventure down, a new one comin’ up.

I haven’t bellyached much about the pool’s longstanding mustard algae problem, because there’s not a lot anyone can do about it. Not that there’s much anyone can do about anything I bellyache about here…

This, from the Web, is pretty extreme…but you get the idea.

Mustard algae is a microbial plant whose growth pattern reminds you of moss. It sets its little tentacles in the plaster of your pool and grows with great delight on the walls, across the steps, and even all over Harvey the Hayward Pool Cleaner. It doesn’t turn the water green, as some types of pool algae do. It creates wall coverings, as it were.

It is profoundly resistant to chlorine. I’ve found it growing, in gay abandon, inside a chlorine float! So you can pour as much poisonous chemical into the drink as you like, and it will do nothing for your mustard algae problem.

I found the easiest way to keep it under control, once the weather is warm enough to swim, is to put a high-pressure sprayer on a garden hose, drag it into the water, and blast the stuff off the walls. This will give you a clean(-looking) pool for about…oh…16 hours, maybe.

BUT….

Suddenly one day, along about 10 days ago, the mustard algae disappeared. GONE. Absent. An invisible algae infestation.

WTF?

Here is what I believe happened…

You’ll recall that by the end of June, I was running out of money. Chlorine is damned expensive, and since it doesn’t do any good, I delayed buying it. With the pool’s chlorine level lower than that of the drinking water that flows out of the kitchen tap, I was feeling a little desperate.

But in the shed, I had two bags, probably out of date, of a chemical that Leslie’s Pools calls “Fresh’N’Clear.” This stuff contains no chlorine. It’s an oxidizer. Leslie’s peddles it as a “non-chlorine shock treatment,” but that’s bullsh!t. It’s not a shock treatment. About all it does is clarify the water if it’s looking a little cloudy. My favorite Leslie’s store manager, who occasionally slips up and says something honest to the customers, long ago informed me that it has exactly zero effect on algae of any kind.

So he thought.

Coming across these two packages — in effect a double-dose of oxidizing chemicals — I thought, WTF! Got nothin’ else…might as well get rid of ’em both. So, blithely enough, I dumped them both in the drink.

Next morning, when I would normally expect to scrub off the prior day’s growth, no algae festooned the walls and steps.

Wha-a-a???

It was a day and a half before a little bit of algae began to reappear, and even then, it wasn’t much. At that point, I could afford to buy a couple bags of chlorine. While I’m at Leslie’s aquiring their product (yes, I do buy Cl from Leslie’s, because it is objectively true that their products are superior to those sold in big box stores), I mention to my guy that this strange thing happened.

He looked genuinely puzzled. I said there’d been plenty of daylight hours — a day and a half, which is long enough to grow a fine new mat — and so I was pretty sure the Fresh ‘N’ Clear had somehow interfered with its growth. He cogitated about this for a moment and then said, “The only thing I can think of is that maybe the stuff freed up some chlorine ions, or something, that remained in the water.” I say, “There was no measurable chlorine in the water. I tested it more than once.” He says, “There’s gotta be a reasonable explanation.”

Neither of us can figure out what it is. It just is what it is…

So that very night I fly out there and dump two full bags of chlorine into the drink. Best to hyperchlorinate at night, because sunlight breaks down chlorine in pool water.

Next morning: not a sign of an alga. Algum? Amalgum???? Not even in its favorite places. Nowhere are any visible algae attached and growing. The water is as clear as crystal. Next evening: none. Next day: none. Days later: hardly any visible anywhere.

What in hevvins name does this mean?

I don’t know. But the stuff has so far not come back in any force. Here and there a few very slight smears of it occasionally, nothing that one would get exercised about or need a high-pressure sprayer to remove. Last night I administered two more bags of Fresh ‘N’ Clear. This morning: nary a bug.

It was so nice to jump in the water after the morning dawg walk and just swim! And not spend the time scrubbing algae off the walls.

It’s been about a week, and the stuff hasn’t returned. This evening I’ll dump another two pounds of chlorine in and let the pump circulate it all night.

Only thing I can figure is that somehow something killed it off. Whether it was the oxidant… ????? …it seems unlikely. However, there doesn’t seem to be another explanation. Unless the stuff died of old age…

Meanwhile, the Decision Has Been Taken: resurface the pool this fall. Later this week I’m meeting with my favorite pool company’s guy to decide what color of Pebblesheen to apply and to set up a couple weeks next October for the job.

You don’t want to replaster in the summer, for three reasons:

1. It is a two-week job, and you sure don’t want to take away from your swim time in 115-degree heat.
2. Our kind of hot weather can dry out plaster before you can refill the pool, causing cracking, peeling, and a generally substandard job.
3. The damned City jacks up the water rates in the summer, and they also determine next year’s billing rates based on the amount of water you use in the summer. I’m already using more than enough just to keep the plants alive, without adding another 18,000 gallons to the tab.

So, October or November it will be.

Financial Advisor Dude says there’s plenty of cash money on hand to cover the ±$10,000 job. So rather than going with the low-end plaster (which would normally be my choice), I’m going to spring for the much more durable Pebblesheen product — it’s a finer, smoother grade of PebbleTec, which supposedly will not remove the skin from your feet if you’re active in the pool.

So the question is, what color to choose. In passing, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of a dark color, because (supposedly) this causes the water to look reflective, like a natural pond. (Presumably, it would also…ahem…hide the algae.) But it also increases the water temperature. Pool Dude says it can raise water temperature by around four degrees.

While that probably would extend the swimming season a week or two on each end, at this time of year four degrees would be a lot. As we scribble, that’s bathtub water out there. You get in a pool because you want to be refreshed, not cooked like a lobster. IMHO another four degrees would make that water unacceptably warm.

Additionally, Pool Dude reports that the darker colors tend to fade. Pebblesheen’s “black” turns to gray after a few years. And so, he says, do all the other colors. He says the minerals in Arizona’s deliciously flavored water cause any colored pool finish to gray out over time. And since, with decent care, this finish can last 15 or 20 years…what would be the point?

I’ve never been displeased with the plain plaster-white finish. In an eight-foot-deep pool, the water alone refracts light so as to create a blue color. In the evening, it’s reflective and pretty. So I’m inclined to stick with a white or off-white color. Pool Dude says one of the options is a white that looks marbled, which he favors because over time dirt, minerals, and pool chemicals tend to stain any finish to some degree. 🙂 If the surface is supposed to look marbled, so much the better.

Since we’ll have lots of time  — a good three months — I’ll ask him if he can show me some pools with different colors of the product before making a final decision.

The last time this company replastered the pool — which was after Tony the Romanian Landlord trashed it by throwing about five gallons of used motor oil over the back wall into it — they chipped the Cool Deck in a few places. The insurance company, after having ponied up something over $10,000 for the clean-up, repair, and replastering, refused to pay for a Cool Deck repair. But…turns out that small dings are not very hard to fix. Apparently. There’s even a DIY kit, which looks suspiciously easy to use.

I’ll ask Pool Dude if his guys can touch it up while they’re here. Failing that, though…there are only five small dings. If I can match the color — which should be easy because Cool Deck is pretty standard — I’m sure that’s something I can fix myself. Especially if Pool Dude or the Leslie’s Guy will advise.

So: therein lies the future for the pool. I’m looking forward to getting rid of the agèd, pocking plaster and maybe having something that’s a little easier to care for.