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Taking the plunge .....

Backyard pool options available for the frugal or fiscally challenged

June 3, 2011
By MIKE HUGHES - The Scene , Times Leader

WHEN IT comes to swimming, you can't beat free. From oceans to lakes, there are numerous places across the country that offer aquatic recreation for the entire family at a price everyone can agree on ... $0.

And while the Ohio Valley does offer its fair share of lake swimming, the closest ocean is hundreds of miles away.

If you're simply looking to cool off or doggie paddle around the water, it's hard to justify the time and financial investment it takes to pack up the spouse and kids in the ye olde family car and trek hours on the interstate for swimming alone.

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WHEN?SPACE?or swimming experience is at a premium, an easy-set style pool can still offer hours of fun as well as provide a refreshing place to cool off during those long, sweltering summer days. Plus, if you have younger children, you can simply discard the pool at the end of the summer and purchase a new, slightly larger one each year that can grow as your kids increase in height and swimming ability.

Doing so for vacation is one thing. But for weekly recreation, it's far from practical.

Far closer, many cities and villages offer park or municipal-owned pools for kids and adults alike at a nominal fee.

Still, there is nothing quite like the ease of stepping out your back door and staring directly at those calming, crystal blue waters just waiting for you to take a dip.

The backyard pool is a fixture of summer and a favorite for young and old alike. And a few short steps to H20 bliss certainly beats hours and hours of car ride with the unending chorus of "Are We There Yet" set on repeat blaring from the back seat of your car.

There are also people who simply don't like crowds.

They despise sweating in unforgiving summer heat. They love to swim. They love water. Yet, the thought of donning a bathing suit and tromping around the local village pool with hundreds of their closest friends, neighbors and strangers is far from appealing.

For them, a backyard pool is the answer.

How about people with young children. While the patented "toss your child in the water and explain it's sink or swim time" approach is humorous in theory, it's far from a suggested practice.

So unless you want to join the other legion of parents breaking in their children in the crowded 6-inch deep baby pool, an alternative is needed.

You also have the people who simply just don't feel like driving and want to relax at home.

For all the above mentioned, a backyard pool is the answer.

Ideally, a full-sized, above or inground swimming pool is what you'd like to see when you step out that backdoor. And for many summer-fun enthusiasts, that's exactly what they are staring out.

But for some people, a giant at-home swimming hole isn't a viable option.

Some, frankly, just don't have the space.

It's hard to imagine installing a 30-some foot round above-ground pool in a tiny yard.

For others, the ground just isn't going to cooperate.

This is a problem my parents ran into a long time ago. They inquired about the prospects of an inground pool. The soil survey and subsequent solid rock less than a foot from the surface provided the answer they sought.

Sure, it was still a possibility, but the prospects of dynamite and hours of a Bobcat clamoring away in the backyard likely wouldn't have set too well with the neighbors.

OK then, you have a large enough yard and have decided an above-ground pool is right for you. Then you go pricing your dream pool and obtain sticker shock.

A decent-sized, permanent pool addition to your yard is going to set you back a few thousand dollars. And that's just for the materials. That doesn't include grading work to ensure a level spot and installation.

You could do the work yourself, but I imagine you and your children would like to swim sometime THIS summer. I spent a few months one summer installing a few swimming pools. Even as a two-man job, it's time consuming. And NOT fun.

So where are we then? You want a pool. You have a decent amount of space. But either your financial situation or a strong sense of frugality has turned you away from that permanent aquatic fixture to your yard.

Fortunately, there are options.

The cheapest and easiest is the old standby plastic pool. This is ideal for children under the age of 1 that you want to introduce to outdoor swimming and water play. Or, it's ideal if you're an adult wishing to channel his or her inner Al Bundy.

But for people who actually want to move in the water and not just sit, there are better options available.

The easiest method is the Easy Set pools. There are no posts, no poles, just an inflatable ring around the top. You simply lay out the material, blow up the ring and start filling up the pool with water. As the water rises, so will the pool. You can purchase these pools for as little as $50, usually in the 12-feet around by 2.5 feet high variety. Naturally, as the size increases, so does the price.

The next step up is a a metal frame above ground pool. There is a more permanent feel to these pools yet they are also able to be taken down.

There are also many inflatable pools designed specifically for kids with slides and water cannons and a host of other accessories. They range from the simple to the elaborate. One model has steps that lead up to a fairly tall slide that splashes down into a wading pool. Again, price and available space dictate the options here.

Still, despite not being permanent pools, homeowners won't be able slouch in the cleaning department.

Some of these pools come with filters. Some don't. Yet without proper treatment with chlorine tablets, shock and other assorted pool chemicals, your water will quickly turn green.

From tablets to powder, there are numerous options to keeping your water clear and inviting. Water testing kits can be purchased that allow you to monitor your pool's chlorine and pH levels, enabling you to adjust your chemical usage accordingly to find that optimum level.

It doesn't hurt to purchase a cheap pool thermometer either.

I've learned the hard way through the years that just because the weather outside is warm, it doesn't mean the pool water also is at optimum temperature. There's nothing quite as shocking as rocking a cannonball into your backyard pool in the early afternoon, only to be met by 70 degree temperatures. It's like a 1,000 tiny daggers of ice poking at your skin. Of course, you eventually adjust to the cold and go on about your business.

The main thing to remember is no matter if you have a lengthy inground pool or a quick Easy-set model, safety is of the utmost importance.

If you have young kids learning to swim, watch them at all times. Learning involves mistakes. Mistakes while riding a bike lead to skinned knees. Mistakes in a pool can lead to far worse if proper assistance isn't readily available.

So no matter what type of pool you purchase, keep an eye on the little ones, keep the pool clean and remember to have fun.

Hughes may be reached at



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