MIKE BEARDALL finds landscapers and swimming pool constructors working together in a buoyant sector
SWIMMING pools were once the essential must-haves for the rich and famous. But today more people with modest incomes and surroundings are investing in pools – no longer the privileged few.
With an estimated 6,000 pools built each year in the UK (worth £250million) landscapers have latched on to an extra service they can offer. They often work hand-in-hand with pool construction companies to create a harmonious blend of landscaping and luxury.
“Modern pool construction methods have slashed both the time it takes to build a swimming pool and the cost,” says Richard Carrington, chairman of SPATA, the regulatory body for the UK swimming pool industry.
One piece fibreglass pool shells, wooden pool kits and panel pool self-build kits have all helped turn the dream of back garden swimming into a reality for an increasing number of UK homeowners.
In fact the choice on the market is now huge – ranging from quality, above-ground models for the budget-conscious, starting at around £3,000, through to fully tiled, reinforced concrete pools at the top end of the market, which could cost anything from £35,000-upwards.
Prospective swimming pool purchasers should research the market carefully before taking the plunge, warns Carrington. “This is a very competitive marketplace, with new swimming pool ‘specialists’ emerging all the time.
“Buyers need to beware of ‘cowboys’ with neither the skills nor experience to guarantee a quality job.
“By choosing a SPATA-registered supplier or contractor, you will have the peace of mind of knowing that you are dealing with a reputable company with the necessary experience, expertise and back-up, should you encounter any problems.”
When planning a swimming pool, set a budget and think carefully about who is going to use it, how it will be used and when. All these factors should be taken into account before making the final choice.
Think carefully about the size and location of the new pool – and the possibility of extending its use all year round with an enclosure. Although this will obviously add to the cost – the benefits in terms of usage could be huge.
The right pool
For the budget-conscious, above-ground pools are reasonably priced and are the perfect way to enter the world of home pool ownership. Specialist suppliers will be able to offer a wider choice of design. There are many different above- ground options available – and it is important not to make a decision based on price alone. Available in UPVC, metal and wood, good quality above ground pools start at around £3,000. Although these pools are called ‘above ground’, some models are sturdy enough to be partially or fully sunken into the ground. And, with the imaginative use of decking, can create a complete garden makeover. Expect to pay up to £12,000 for a luxury version of the increasingly popular wooden pool kits – they blend so well with garden decking designs.
Above-ground pools are easily and very quickly installed, and most come with all filtration and equipment required. The main advantage of this option is that when the time comes to move house, the homeowner can simply drain and dismantle the pool before transporting and re-erecting it in a new location.
At completely the other end of the scale is the fully tiled, reinforced concrete pool, which takes the title for being top of the range when it comes to home pool options. Usually finished with tiles or mosaics, concrete pools can be as glamorous and elaborative as wanted, with prices starting at around £35,000.
While this may seem a lot of money initially, many such pools will last up to 30 years – which actually makes them great value in the long term.
For those looking for a mid-priced investment, a panel and liner pool offers a realistic alternative with prices starting at around £20,000. Taking about a month to install, liners will need replacing every ten years or so and come in a variety of colours and patterns including very convincing mock tiling or mosaic.
A quick-fix alternative, and gaining in popularity all the time, is the one-piece pool that can be up and running within around a week and will cost upwards of around £15,000.
These are available as fibreglass or ceramic all-in-one moulds and are simply lowered into a pre-prepared hole. They use the same technology as that used by builders of luxury motor cruisers and can be fitted with all the necessary equipment, such as skimmers, drain, inlets, pump filter and lights, before they are even delivered.
The complete structure is craned into position and lowered onto a pre-prepared excavation with a crushed gravel base. Once all the pre-assembled pipe-work is connected, a concrete surround collar is fitted and coping or paving stones are put in place. Then it is ready for use!
Taking the decisions
Whatever type of pool is decided on, take time planning and preparing.
Modern software even allows the customer to see a computer-generated image of how the pool with look. Sound advice is always to talk to a pool builder who is registered with SPATA, the industry watchdog. They offer a warranty scheme that guarantees the work of its members and a mediation service in the unlikely event of anything going wrong.
SPATA builders tend to work regionally and a local member will have a portfolio of photographs of projects they have designed and built.
Rural properties tend to have larger gardens which make them the ideal location for a home swimming pool, but even if a garden is small it is possible to install a counter-current unit in the pool, and swimmers move against a fast flowing swim jet. A great workout, even over a short distance.
Remember that the size and depth of the pool will determine the cost of maintaining it and heating it. Professionals will be able to advise on energy-saving methods such as heat pumps and pool covers.
While most outdoor pools do not need planning permission, it is best to check with the local planning department before work starts – particularly if the pool is to be located close to a road, or in the grounds of a property with listed status.
With research and expert advice, the right pool can be found for the right client.As a landscaper you will probably already know of a reliable swimming pool company.
“Word of mouth and recommendation is by far the best way of finding the right company,” says Tom Holman, managing director of Fowler Swimming Pools based in Cowfold, West Sussex, founded in the 1950s.
“It is important that you develop an on-going relationship with the constructor – especially those who will offer service and maintenance contracts to ensure pools perform at optimum performance.
“My advice is talk to past clients of a company and find out how they managed a project and whether the finished product was up to scratch.”
What are the main issues in installing a swimming pool’ “Health and safety has become a big concern,” says Tom. “We are fitting more and more pool covers because of fears about children’ safety.
“Then you have to consider filters, pumps and boilers for heating water – and there are options which are very environment-friendly, like ground source heat pumps which take the heat out of the ground to heat the water.
“Solar heating is also an option, but usually needs back-up with our unpredictable climate. There are also air-to-water heat pumps which take heat out of the atmosphere.”
One problem many people don’t consider is removal of excavated soil. Make sure the pool contractor has this written into the work programme – or you will be landed with a large bill for taking the soil away.
As a landscaper the weather will always play a part in the time a project takes – the same goes for the swimming pool.
“Rain and frost can hamper spraying the concrete onto the mesh framework,” says Tom. “Poor weather will also affect tiling and can make the surrounding area difficult to move around on.
“You have to be prepared for disruption. No matter how careful a contractor is, there will be mess – and the homeowner has to be made aware of that.”
A reasonable size in-ground pool, for example 10 metres by five metres, with an automatic cover would take about three months to complete and cost up to £50,000.
Always have a contingency fund for extra costs that have not been considered.
“It is always advisable,” says Tom Holman, “to have an emergency fund of about 10 per cent of the estimated cost. Often things crop up which have not been considered and it is best to be prepared.”
Above ground pools
Although these pools are called ‘above ground’, they can be semi-sunken into the ground – and with the imaginative use of decking, you would never know the difference. Available in UPVC, metal and wood, good quality above-ground pools start at around £3,000 ranging up to £12,000.
Alternatively, one-piece pools can be up and running within around one week and will cost upwards of around £12,000. These are available as fibreglass or ceramic all-in-one moulds, and are simply lowered into a pre-prepared hole.
For those looking for a mid-priced investment, in-ground liner pools are a very popular choice, and start at around £16,000. Unlike concrete pools, a liner pool gets its water-retaining properties from the liner itself, which is fitted to a shell made of materials such as concrete block, steel, aluminium, fibreglass or plastic panels. On average, a liner pool will take about a month to install.
At the top end of the range of home pool options is the fully tiled, reinforced concrete pool.
This type of pool comprises a rigid concrete structure that is fully sunken in the ground and finished throughout in tiles or mosaics. This can be as glamorous and expensive as can be afforded, with prices starting at £25,000-plus.
The first steps
When you start planning the pool you will need to go through a checklist of options like who will use it and when. If you are opting for a garden pool, then think about extending its use all year round with an enclosure.
Most pools do not need planning permission, unless the property is listed or in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) but it is advisable to check with your local planning department before work commences. As a rule, outdoor pools or those housed in a detached building, which are exclusively for the use of the owner and their family, will be treated as permitted development and no planning consent will be required.
Building Regulations Consent will be required for any kind of indoor pool. You should also inform your local water authority that you are building a pool.
Think carefully about the location of the pool – for example, it is advisable not to build too near the house or directly under trees. If you are short on space, a counter-current unit that enables users to swim against a fast-flowing swim jet could be a viable option.
Try to imagine how the pool will look in the garden. It is advisable to talk to at least three SPATA-registered pool builders who will have a portfolio of images of pools they have designed or built.
The size and depth of your pool will determine the cost of maintaining and heating it. The larger the surface expanse of water, the more heat you will lose when the pool is not covered; the deeper the pool, the longer it will take to heat up. Talk to the professionals about technical choices such as heating and filtration – and energy-saving heating methods and pool covers.
Added value to property’
In some cases, yes – particularly if the property is improved by the addition. But don’t assume that a £50,000 pool will add the same amount to a property price.
A poorly designed and constructed pool will do nothing to a house price.
“It could even hamper a house sale,” says Tom Holman. “It pays to go for the best that can be afforded and to use a reliable company with an excellent reputation.
“Some people buying a certain type of house will almost expect there to be a swimming pool – to them the pool is a selling factor.”
Where are pools most popular’
Once it was the south of England which had the most swimming pools – but that has altered dramatically in the last few years as the affluent North West and North East has seen a rise in people able to buy and develop bigger properties.
The average 6,000 pools built in the UK each year covers from Scotland down to Cornwall and there is no concentration in any particular area.
The Swimming Pool & Allied Trades Association (SPATA) – Tel. 01264 356210, www.spata.co.uk
UK HOME SWIMMING POOL MARKET BUOYANT
The UK’s swimming pool construction industry is bucking the downward economic trend with interest in high end, luxury home swimming pools reaching record proportions – the more lavish the better. The Swimming Pool and Allied Trade Association (SPATA) estimates that 6,000 new pools are being supplied annually which, together with the refurbishment market, puts the UK market at an estimated annual value of £250 million.
“Demand for swimming pools as the ultimate symbol of success is higher than it has ever been as more people choose to improve rather than take on a bigger move,” says Richard Carrington, SPATA chairman.
This year’s UK Pool Of The Year, built by Portrait Pools and Enclosures, of Southport, Lancashire, is a technically outstanding project with an open and shut tiled cover turning the pool hall into a function room in just three minutes. 2008 Pool Contractors of the year, the Portrait team also took gold in the category for residential indoor pools over £150,000, for a pool that was designed as an extension to a listed stately home, and cost more than £240,000.
The winner in the class for outdoor concrete pools over £45,000 was Heritage Pools, of Guildford, Surrey, for a client who wanted a deck level design to use all year for exercise and family fun. This was achieved by having a constant 1.2 metre depth design but incorporating a bay with a paddling area of 450 mm. With safety in mind, a concealed automatic cover was combined with a stainless steel perimeter handrail.
A bargain at £32,500, the winner in the category for concrete outdoor pools up to £45k, was a vanishing edge pool built by Gillingham Pools of Guernsey that was designed to blend the patio and garden. Natural stone was used in the overflow channel to blend with the rockery.
Alternatively, £30,000 was the price tag for a compact liner pool that would complement the contemporary design of a tiny garden with minimum maintenance. The project was completed in just five weeks by Home Counties Hot Tubs and Leisure, of Horsham, Sussex.
Many families who start with a low budget splash pool opt to trade up to a permanent home swimming pool investment. Oyster Pools and Leisure, of Usk, South Wales, won a gold award for a liner pool that was built as a replacement for an existing above ground pool. The client wanted to upgrade to a pool that blended more sympathetically with the sculptured landscaped lawns and its farmland setting – all at an inclusive cost of £35,000.
This year the SPATA design competition attracted 113 entries in 13 categories from 30 companies, an increase of nearly 25per cent on last year’s entries, coming from almost a third more companies, showing these awards are more popular than ever.
In total, 21 companies received an award – ten companies taking home one or more golds. The award presentations took place at The Grand Hotel in Brighton.