RIP, swimming pools

Mike Eckman’s backyard swimming pool was “a good friend” for years, but with his children now grown it was hardly being used. And it needed costly repairs.

The remains of a swimming pool and pool house are seen Monday in Woodbridge Township

The remains of a swimming pool and pool house are seen Monday in Woodbridge Township

Mike Eckman’s backyard swimming pool was “a good friend” for years, but with his children now grown it was hardly being used. And it needed costly repairs.

So he and his family decided to have it removed. “The pool served its life,” said Eckman, of Bridgewater, N.J. He hired All Pool Demolition in Midland Park, N.J., to do the job. Owner John Panariello says people often cite the same reasons as Eckman in choosing to get rid of pools.

“They have to fix them and they’re very expensive,” he said.

Having a backyard pool is one of those luxuries a lot of people dream of. But a growing business exists in removing them. Besides the cost of repairs and maintenance, people sometimes remove a pool out of concern that it might be a turnoff to homebuyers. Some parents with young children worry about safety. Other homeowners want to reclaim their backyards.

All told, there are about five million in-ground residential pools in the United States, according to Kirstin Pires, spokeswoman for the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals. As the housing market has declined, so has the installation of new residential pools, by 58 per cent last year and nearly 12 per cent in 2008, Pires said.

There are no such statistics on pool removal, she said, but anecdotally “it’s pretty unusual.”

Nevertheless, Panariello has found demand increasing for his pool removal services. He estimates that his company has removed between 900 and 1,100 pools since the 1980s.

The process takes about three working days over a three-week period. Permits have to be obtained, utilities disconnected and water pumped out. The liner must be removed and the deck broken down. “There’s nothing left except for the concrete and maybe the wire that’s in the deck, Panariello said.

And a big hole.

The concrete is broken up and either carted away or buried, depending on local laws and regulations. Most of the other materials are recycled, he said.

After an inspection, the hole is backfilled with clean dirt and the area is graded. Two weeks later, the company covers the area with top soil and seeds it.

Pool removal costs US$5,000 to US$8,000, Panariello said. That sum can be recouped within one to three years, he said, if you consider the cost of maintaining a pool.

Barbara Rowan of Emerson, N.J., paid All Pool Demolition about US$8,000 to remove her pool last year. She said a broken pipe had caused erosion damage, leading to structural concerns. It would have cost about US$30,000 to rebuild the pool, she said. Instead, she had it filled in, and put in a new patio and hot tub.

Rowan and her husband hope to retire in a couple of years. “A pool isn’t always a selling feature in our area,” she said, even though it was important in their decision to buy the house in the first place.

“It was an expensive toy,” she said. “We do miss it.”

The impact of pools on real estate values depends on where you live. “There are some areas where you pretty much have to have a pool if you want to sell your house,” Pires said. “In other places, it’s not seen as an advantage.”

California leads the nation in the number of in-ground pools, followed by Florida, Texas and Arizona, according to statistics compiled by P.K. Data, Inc.

Home buyers have fairly firm ideas about whether they want a home with a pool, said Ann Pettijohn, vice-president of the National Association of Realtors for the region that includes California and Hawaii.

Often, the type of pool can matter too. “In Southern California, you can’t just have a square pool,” she said. Buyers want a waterfall, a spa, “all the good things.”

In New England, where the outdoor swimming season is much shorter, “you want to put a pool in for your enjoyment, not investment potential,” said Ron Phipps of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I.

He recalled one case in which it became clear that an in-ground pool was restricting the number of potential buyers. “Some people don’t want the maintenance of a swimming pool. Other people are not swimmers. They’d rather have lawn grass or something else.” He said some with young children shy away, but “in the advent of invisible fencing and pool alarms, that’s still relevant but it’s not a big problem.”

The owners in the case he cited decided to remove the pool to sell the house.

Similarly, Eckman said one factor in his decision to remove his pool was that it would “broaden our market for resale. A lot of people don’t like pools.”

It also would mean less work, and lower insurance costs and property taxes.

Still, he struggled with the decision, as did his children. His daughter posted a message on her Facebook page: “Rest in peace pool.”