ARTICLE Patricia Moore, PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of Bisazza and Heritage Tiles

Kiwis love the water and more and more of us are making waves in the backyard rather than the beach. So how realistic is that dream pool?

The popularity of the backyard swimming pool dates back to the Hollywood movies of the 1950s. The trend took a while to catch on here – after all, most Kiwis live within an easy drive of the beach – but the most recent census indicates New Zealand has a total of 65,000 swimming pools and 125,000 spa pools.

 “It’s an investment that definitely enhances the value of a property,”  says Larry Ogden at Cascade Pools. But, like any major home improvement project, installing a pool or spa is not cheap and needs to involve some serious research.

Start with pool owners – not dealers. Do they enjoy their pool? How much use do they get out of it? Why that particular pool? What about maintenance, warranty and dealer support? Is it an expensive indulgence; is the much quoted  ‘dollar a day’  to run a spa pool the reality or sales hyperbole?

Focus on the total cost of ownership, not  ‘pool only’, says Ogden.  “Buying a pool is like buying a new car with additional on the road costs. There’s more to owning a home swimming pool than just buying the pool.”

Unfortunately, the lure of a bargain still sees people forgetting the importance of dealing with an experienced and reputable company. Contract a certificated member of the Master Pool Builders industry group (NZMPB), advises Ogden, current committee president. They know their pools and are well versed in the rules and regulations affecting home pool ownership. The NZMPB also offers a disputes process should things turn pear-shaped. 

Building consent is necessary and fencing is a condition of the consent. Under the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act 1987 and the Building Act 2004 all swimming and spa pools must be fenced. In addition, local council by-laws may apply. By working with a company that project manages the whole operation, from council submission to installation and compliance with regulations around fencing and retaining walls, you can save a huge amount of time and stress.

While the shape of a pool is frequently dictated by the site, the question is what type. Options include sprayed concrete with plaster interior, purpose-built concrete with a vinyl liner interior, fibreglass moulded, sprayed on-site shells, or steel wall pools with vinyl lining. Will in-ground or above-ground be the best solution? Do soil conditions and the impact of earth tremors need to be considered?  “New Zealand manufactured fibreglass pools typically are designed to have flexibility in the ground, whereas imported pools can be more rigid,”  says Richardt Prosch, sales manager at The Spa & Pool Factory.

The reason you’re making the investment will also dictate the choice of pool – is it for family fun, exercise, socialising or relaxation at the end of a busy day? Modern technology means  “easy maintenance and smooth, hassle-free operation for many years,”  adds Prosch. And ownership today is more affordable than ever. Ogden says for a complete installation you’re looking  “around the mid-thirties”.

Wayne Cuff at Paramount Pools says their DIY pools enable homeowners to  “get one in the ground at a realistic price and do the landscaping as they can afford to”. Paramount specialises in steel walled pools with vinyl lining.  “Maintenance on a vinyl pool is cheaper than concrete and, well looked after, they can last up to 20 years plus.”  An oval Lido, complete with filter, cleaning equipment, ladder and all the essentials sells at around $9,000, says Cuff.  “On top of that you’ve got the cost of getting it in the ground."

Another option that’s creating waves is the natural swimming pool. Concerns around the health impacts of many pool chemicals, along with a trend towards pools that blend with the surrounding landscape, have seen popularity rising, says Jason Vokes, general manager at Palmco. A natural pool is a sealed ecosystem that relies on natural processes and filtering to keep the pool clean. Typically it combines distinct swimming and regeneration or cleaning zones.

“The pool is lined – so there’s no mud between the toes. It’s like a chemical or salt pool but with no additives. Planted areas become part of the pool itself and also part of the water cleansing process,”  says Vokes. Prices compare with those of a conventional pool, but without the on-going cost of chemicals.

When digging up the backyard isn’t possible, a spa pool may be.  “Simply plug in and go. Nothing complicated about that,”  says Prosch. Council permission is not needed, but a spa must be within a fenced area and have a lockable cover.  “Be sure this is supplied with the spa.”  Some councils – Auckland is one – carry a register of spas and require notification that there is one on a property.

“A good quality, locally manufactured spa, can be bought for around $5,000 although you can easily spend as much as $30,000,”  says Prosch. The number of sizes and configurations on the market is vast and his advice is to buy just what you need and avoid excessive heating costs.

Insulation is key with spa pools. Compare brands and look for the best rating. And ask for a test try, says HotSpring Portable Spas dealer Tricia Paerata.  “All those amazing jets may not in fact be as great as promised. If they’re not prepared to let you try, ask why.”  And think twice before sinking a spa, she says.  “Getting in is easy; getting out can be a bit of a struggle, particularly if you’ve installed a spa to help relieve muscle or joint problems.”

Hot tubs are growing in popularity as an alternative to spa pools. Steve August who designed and builds the Kiwitub says it’s  “the tough, practical, cleaner and greener alternative to the spa pool”. The Kiwitub goes anywhere, uses no chemicals, electricity, pumps or plumbing. Set up is done in minutes. It can be filled with fresh water or seawater and the burner (also used by Mahootus Hot Tubs) runs on LPG or firewood and heats the pool in an hour or so. All-up cost is around $6,500, says August, and about a third of their sales in the past three years have been to people who no longer want the on-going expense of running a spa pool.
Mahootus Hot Tubs are craftsman-made on a  ‘to order’  basis, says Mark Walker. They have two designs currently available: a two-person oval tub retailing for around $9,700 and a larger four-person model.  “Mahootus Tubs are designed to be re-locatable. Anywhere that has a sufficiently flat stable surface and access to water can host a Mahootus – and with no electricity or plumbing requirements, we really do mean anywhere.”

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This article by Patricia Moore featured in Issue 005 of New Zealand Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.

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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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