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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?

20 thoughts on “The Big Pool Decision: Stay or Go?”

  1. You are not crazy (IMO). Much as you have enjoyed the pool in the past, you are not enjoying its benefits now. Your calculations are probably correct, and, eventually, it seems to me, we all have to let go things we once fought to keep. It’s too bad you had all the expense of resurfacing it with no improvement, but throwing more $$$ into it might be a bad choice.

  2. If you keep it will it be the same the next year? It costs a lot to maintain the water clear. Do you have to resurface it again (not to have it dark blue)? I know nothing about pools, sorry. No idea what are the options if you keep it. Dump chlorine and run the pump to infinity?

    • I estimate that re-resurfacing it — that is, jackhammering off the blue Pebblesheen and replacing it with plain old white plaster — would cost about the same as demolishing it. And the chlorine-resistant algae would still be lurking…in ALL the equipment, including the pump, the filter, the Hayward cleaner, the brushes…anything that comes in contact with the water. Including me, presumably.

      Apparently what is needed is a combination of algaecide (which is already in there…) and lots of chlorine:

      And maybe for the water not to be so darned hot???? I borrowed the neighbors’ pool thermometer this afternoon. Their (white-plastered!) pool was 90 degrees; mine was 96 degrees.

      Almost 100 degrees in that water! No wonder the algae is in a frenzy of single-celled joy!

  3. My understanding has been that people should never add a pool to increase the value of a house. Half of the people in the market simply don’t want a pool or the headaches that go with it.

    That said, you have one already. But you are not enjoying it and it’s costing you tons of cash. Just because you already spent a boatload on the pool doesn’t mean you are stuck with your backyard the way it is. I vote for getting rid of it. If you want a water feature, you can always install a pond or fountain. Much much less costly and easier to maintain.

    Though you can’t jump in the water with a fountain….how much are you going to miss that? Enough to justify keeping the expensive and problematic pool?

  4. I’ve read a lot of posts over the years where you certainly seem to enjoy the time in the pool when it’s not giving you heartache. It sure seems to me that you’d miss it, but if you’re not in it much now anyways and you find you’re OK with that, then I guess keep considering it.

    A few degrees in temperature certainly seems like it could make a difference in the amount of algae and such. Is there any way at all to cool the water a few degrees?

    • There’s an aerator system, which is capable of cooling the water a few degrees. Think it was disconnected long before I moved into the house…however, I might be able to use a couple of floating aerators — some of them even run on solar power. Looking in to that now. Six degrees Fahrenheit, when you’re nigh until 100 degrees, is definitely enough to cause the little algae guys to dance the can-can around the pool! 😀 In fact, at this time of year I swim a couple of times a day — morning and evening (avoid the full blast of the sun because of the aged skin), and when I hurt my shoulder, the exercise of swimming significantly sped recovery. So…nooo… I don’t want to bet rid of it. But in retirement, there’s only so much you can afford. If I had a full-time job, I could afford $230/month for chlorine + $50 for soda ash + about 200 for power required to run the pump 24/7 plus god only knows what to replace the pump when it burns out. But those halcyon days are past.

  5. You have probably already considered all of the following. And I don’t own a pool, but love troubleshooting my own homeowner issues. So before exercising the nuclear option, I’d want to be sure that the cause of the excessive buildup in microorganisms and algae is absolutely confirmed.

    Is it definitely due to the dark blue color of the Pebble Sheen? Are you sure the 6 degree temp difference is due only to the dark blue color? Are all the dark blue Pebble Sheen pools installed by your contractor producing the same issues for their owners in the AZ sun? Are there other issues that could be causing water chemistry problems that result in the cloudiness and life form proliferation, ie. pump, filtration, etc? Have you contacted the Pebble Sheen manufacturers to get their help in troubleshooting? Is it possible that if the entire system were drained and sanitized, the pool water maintenance would be sustainable?

    I guess I’d approach it as a science project, examining all the different inputs and outputs. I sure do understand and empathize with your frustration! To plunk down 10 grand and find things worse than ever is maximum aggravation. I do hope you’re able to find a cost-effective and sustainable solution. Keeping you in my thoughts!

    • Yeah, it’s reasonable to think six degrees is the outcome of the dark surface. Remember, the thing is in full sun, and temps are around 115 degrees just now. Pool Dude, when asked before they installed this stuff, said it would raise the temp about four degrees. He may have underestimated…or understated.

      The filter is new and was running fine before we made this change. It undoubtedly needs to be cleaned. The cloudiness is definitely the result of free-floating algae — the aged pool dude I hired on WonderAccountant’s recommend — who was a health inspector for the county, riding herd on public and school pools all over the metro area — explained this, and proved it by clearing the water with enough chlorine to exterminate the little critters. The problem is, in such warm water, the survivors quickly grow back…and the survivors that make it are chlorine-resistant. As they multiply, they repopulate the pool with more chlorine resistant offspring. This is how MRSA works, too: throw a lot of antibiotics at an infectious micro-organism and do it over & over, and voilà: a resistant organism.

      Talked with the SPS&R guy his morning. They’re going to do exactly that: drain it, spray everything in sight with chlorine, take the pump and filter apart and sanitize those, and refill. And pray for the best. They’ll do it for about half their normal price…but the water bill will run about $300 at this time of year, when the city jacks up its rates.

  6. I love swimming pools so I am biased, but it almost seems like resurfacing the pool would be better for you since you seem to enjoy swimming (when it’s lovely to do so).

    Especially if the pool doesn’t have any other major issues (like cracking foundation or cracked filter pipes) which would for sure justify throwing in the towel.

    But you are right, there are people who avoid houses with pools like the plague, but also keep in mind that in your hot climate, that may not be as common as say, someone in Boston who wouldn’t want a house with an in-ground pool because they could only use it two months a year.

    • Re-resurfacing would probably cost about the same as demolishing it. White plaster is a little cheaper than the PebbleTec products…but on the other hand, the Pebblesheen that’s in there was recently applied and might be harder to jackhammer out than an older surface.

      In Arizona, surprisingly enough, a lot of people prefer not to have a pool — some because of the costs, some for ecological reasons, some because they have small kids and feel a pool poses a risk. As sybaritic as a pool is, you do have to admit it has big drawbacks in financial and environmental costs.

  7. Any chance your contractor who put the pebble sheen on would do the white plaster change at cost? Seems like that (they) caused the problem. I’d hate for you to loose your pool. I enjoy it vicariously through you! Also, what about adding a cover over part of the pool to cut down the heat? Do you think the algae problem will go away as the air/pool cools in the fall?

    • I kinda doubt it, unless they’re asked by a lawyer. I’ve hinted around that maybe they need to redo the thing, but I haven’t mentioned any dollars.

      Yes, the algae goes partially dormant once the water gets cold.

  8. I’ve been thinking and thinking about your pool problem and I have no idea what you will choose to do. However, I am close to my 85th birthday and one thing I know for sure is that life changes rapidly about the time you reach 80. Many things I took for granted in my 70’s either no longer interest me or are just no longer possible. So, my advice is to do what seems right to you right now without trying to cover future bases. I think you are fortunate to have several affordable options. Best of luck!

    • You just articulated — perfectly — the thought that lurks in the back of my mind. At 80 or 85, am I still gonna want to plunge in the drink twice a day, all through the astonishingly hot summer? Will I even still be here, or will I have had enough sense to move to Prescott? And if I have managed to hang in here, will I be able to find a young pup to take care of the thing?

  9. Yes, I agree with filling in the pool and planting a garden given the amount of trouble you are having. Do you have recourse against the people who applied this pebblesheen stuff to the pool surface? Surely they must’ve known that it is problematic? If you can’t swim in it there’s no point keeping it. How would a salt water pool work for you? Can it be converted at what cost? would it help to keep the algae at bay? I have no idea. In your shoes, I would be economizing and therefore would create a garden with an eye to future sales and a family coming in, so no cactus or anything else unfriendly! I had a cactus garden once and the needles were frequently carried on the wind even, and my kids were always pulling cactus needles out LOL I would also invest in a nice hot tub in place of the pool. You can heat it to whatever temperature you like, it doesn’t have to be HOT. It can be cool or warm, whatever you like. With glass of wine and a nice view, the hot tub wins hands down for me. You can also sell it with the house.

    • I think it’s probably not their fault. This is a reputable company that I’ve worked with for years and that has never given me any trouble. Truth is, PebbleTec products are the hot new thing — “everybody who’s anybody” is recycling with these products, and in fact some companies no longer even apply old-fashioned plaster.

      Heh heh! The “hot new thing”: literally! 😀

      A salt-water pool doesn’t contain salt water in the sense of, say, sea water. What that refers to is a system in which salt is used to generate chlorine. You add salt to the water and the system produces chlorine through an electrolytic process. These systems are no less work, and they pose problems of their own.

  10. As someone else said, I’ve enjoyed living vicariously, enjoying twice-daily dips in the pool through you. But the pool is now a bother rather than a joy, so something’s got to give. Resurfacing with white plaster might be the way to go, especially since it sounds as though the cost will be similar to removing the pool.

    On the other hand, not having to fiddle with chemical balance and recalcitrant algae might be enough of a relief to make that option worthwhile.

    Have you considered the cost of a gym or public pool membership? The cost, especially as a senior, might be similar to the cost of pool maintenance, and you skip out on having to do it yourself. OTOH, it adds more time on the road with your fellow homicidal drivers, and the problem with gyms and public pools is that, well, they’re open to the public. Just trying to cover all the bases.

    • Well, I may call around town to see if I can get estimates on plastering vs. estimates on removal. As you suggest…demolishing it out of frustration may come under the heading of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

      I don’t like to swim in public pools. You don’t wanna know about the sanitation issues. When you have your own pool, you know how it’s been kept up, you know who’s been in it, and you know what they’ve been doing in it.

  11. Have you considered a light colored shade cover over the pool? That might reflect enough sunlight to minimize the heating due to the dark PebbleSheen.

    A retractable one would be best for the cooler days.

    • The thought has entered my mind. Would have to find a way to build a structure to hold such a thing. It has occurred to me that those triangular canvas shades that were popular a few years ago might do the job.

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