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Airdrie House & Home: Affordable ways to make a splash at home this summer

As the summer sun heats things up and pandemic restrictions continue to limit community pool access, cooling off may take a bit more creativity than in past summers.
As the summer sun heats things up and pandemic restrictions continue to limit community pool access, cooling off may take a bit more creativity than in past summers. Those lucky enough to have their own big backyard swimming pool are sure to be the envy of the neighbourhood and may have a few residents thinking about taking the plunge into pool ownership.

But let’s be honest – swimming pools are expensive, require regular maintenance and take up a significant amount of space, putting them out of reach for many households.

While there may not be a grand inground backyard swimming pool in your future, here are some more affordable ways to make a splash at home this summer.

Sport Pool

First, let’s look at just what an inground pool is. According to Airdrie’s Hot Water LeisureScapes’ Buying Guide for the First Time Pool Buyer, “An inground is the most luxurious pool choice. It is installed fully in the ground, typically has a shallow and a deep end, and it is also the most attractive type of pool.”

These pools are a permanent fixture in the yard and have many more options than an above-ground pool, such as waterfalls, jets, grand entrances and even fire pits. But, as described in the description for Hot Water LeisureScapes, inground pools are a luxury – and that usually means “expensive.” The initial cost to install an inground pool varies depending on what material the pool is made of and the size and design of it, but most sources suggest it's in the range of $35,00 to $50,000, with annual maintenance coming in at about $1,200.

A less common and less expensive option – though, still in the mid-range pool budget – is the sport pool. Also known as a semi-inground or on-ground pool, it can be installed above ground, fully in the ground or partially inground, according to the Buying Guide. Sport pools are, as the name suggests, great for playing water sports, but are also wonderful options for simply taking a dip to cool off.

This type of pool usually requires less concrete to install, according to poolarama.ca, making their average price range from $16,000 to $22,000.

“A semi-inground pool comfortably fits in your budget so you have room for other improvements to your yard, such as building a deck or installing beautiful patio stones around the pool area,” states Poolarama.

Above-ground pool

Above-ground pools are not installed in the ground, usually come in a kit and most can be erected in one day. These types of pools are the least expensive of the traditional hard pools, starting at only a few thousand dollars, according to LeisureScapes. However, a level foundation is required for this type of pool.

“An above-ground pool is not permanent, is not expensive to get rid of and leaves very little to do with the property when you take it down,” according to the LeisureScapes’ Buying Guide.

While you may be picturing a smaller pool, today's above-ground pools can get up to 50-plus-feet long. Hard above-ground pools tend to be made from steel, aluminum or resin. The steel options are the most sturdy and "won't budge, according to The Home Depot, whereas aluminum is light and can easily be disassembled. Resin, state The Home Depot, “is also strong, and doesn’t corrode like metal does.”

Like the sport pool, above-ground pools have no shallow or deep end and are too shallow for diving. Maintenance is simple enough – ensure your pool water’s pH is balanced with salt or chlorine and a water testing kit.

According to The Home Depot, “With a bit of care, above-ground pools can last a couple of decades.”

Calgarian Alexis Winning said she opted for an above-ground pool in her yard because she was tired of being uncomfortable in the summer heat and wanted to create a backyard oasis.

“After a while, I decided my favourite thing was to sit in my floatie, have some beverages and listen to podcasts,” she said. “It is also amazing on a hot day.”

Winning, who opted for a steel model, said she originally had a smaller above-ground pool but upgraded to a larger one a few years ago. She said the maintenance of the pool is simple and her only complaint was that the filter for her Bestway Hydro-Force Steel Pro Max was too small, so she ended up purchasing a separate filter.

“I also wish there was a way to heat it slightly,” she said. “It is great on hot days, but it takes some getting used to on the medium [hot] days.”

While there are pool heaters available, this is an additional cost. Other extra purchases The Home Depot suggests are a pool ladder, skimmer and cover, which will "keep your unit clean and regulate water temperature.”

Winning said she would recommend an above-ground pool because it’s difficult to have a permanent outdoor pool in the Calgary area due to the unpredictable climate.

“It’s a relatively affordable option and perfect for our fickle weather,” she said.

It should be noted, Hot Water LeisureScapes states they are sold out of above-ground pools as of May 25, which indicates the popularity of this type of pool.

“Get yourself a good floatie, headphones and your favourite cocktail to go with it,” Winning advised.

Inflatable above-ground pool

Technically, an inflatable pool is an above-ground pool. While we aren’t talking inflatable kiddie pools, they are essentially their larger sibling. According to Reviewed.com, most inflatable pools are, basically, large vinyl bowls – though some come with a frame for additional structural support.

Like other above-ground pools, the inflatable option is not permanent, is too shallow for diving and needs a level foundation. The difference between inflatable pools and other above-ground options is that an inflatable pool can be punctured and needs to be placed on soft, solid soil, free of rocks or other debris.

Leaks are, not surprisingly, the most common complaint about these pools. Sealants can repair the hole, according to Reviewed; however, the pool must be emptied to allow it to cure.

The least expensive of the above-ground pools, most inflatable pools will set you back a few hundred dollars, but as the size of the pool increases, so too does the price. A filter pump is recommended if you plan on leaving it up all summer.

“While most inflatable pools over a certain size do come with their own pump, many user reviews claim the packaged-in pump doesn’t have the throughput necessary to move enough water around,” Reviewed states.

DIY Pool

If the heat gets too much and you cannot take it for a moment longer, a DIY pool might be the solution – even if it gets you some strange looks from the neighbours.

Believe it or not, there are online tutorials for making a hay bale pool. Of course, this requires access to hay or straw bales, but the gist is you lay the hay bales on the ground to form the outer structure of the pool, drape plastic sheeting or a tarp over the “pool” and bales and tie the sheeting or tarp in place with a rope. Add water, and your pool is ready. Similar pools have been made in the back of pick-up trucks.

If you have a galvanized steel tank, you can easily transform it into a pool. According to thebudgetdecorator.com, “Some people simply fill their tank with water and just drain and refill it as necessary. Others create a more traditional “pool” by adding pool pumps, filters and chlorine.”

Check out the New York Times Wirecutter blog at nyti.ms/3yENImk for a how-to on a filtered galvanized pool.

Inflatables

Not every home has the space for a pool big enough to swim in; however, there are fun small pool alternatives to keep cool on hot days.

Kiddie pools, whether plastic or inflatable, are great for soaking in or splashing around and can be found for less than $20. Others are big enough for an adult to fit in and can be found for less than $100, though they will still be on the smaller end. There are larger options with built-in seating, but these are costlier and usually start at $100 or more.

Becoming a more common sign of summer at big box stores over the last few years are inflatable play centres. These can range from kiddie-pool sized with built-in sprinklers or mini-slides to bouncy-house waterparks complete with slides, climbing walls and water cannons. The waterparks take up significantly more room than an inflatable play centre and are designed for kids, meaning they come with a weight limit for use. A smaller play centre will set you back about $60, but you can pay more than $1,000 for a bouncy-house waterpark.

Sprinklers

A time-honoured tradition, nothing says summer fun like running through the sprinkler. Unlike the oscillating sprinklers of days past, today's sprinklers are safer and more fun than ever. Specifically designed for children, they now come with wiggly tubes and spinners that spray the water in different directions. Others are in bright colours and fun shapes, such as an oversized beach ball, a dinosaur or even a unicorn that stands more than six feet tall. There are arched tunnels that spray water down on you as you run through made to look like rainbows, cacti or a shark mouth.

A sprinkler and very shallow pool in one, splash pads spray the water up and collect a few inches in the edged pad. Available in varying sizes and themes, there are simple pads, hopscotch versions or play centre options with slides and water tunnels. A word of caution about splash pads: though they are a ton of fun, they are slippery enough to cause a fall.

Can’t find a sprinkler in the store? No problem. All you'll need for a handmade sprinkler is an empty two-litre pop bottle, a pushpin, skewer and hose adapter. Clean the plastic bottle, poke holes with the pin and enlarge those holes with the skewer. Next, attached the bottle and hose to the adapter, turn on the water and have fun. See clevercraftycookingmama.com for instructions.

For a more complex DIY sprinkler, check out The Home Depot’s PVC pipe sprinkler tunnel by searching “DIY PVC sprinkler with @Jen Woodhouse” on YouTube.

Lawn slide

More commonly known as the branded Slip 'N Slide, a lawn slide is essentially a long piece of durable plastic that you can slide down when wet. These, too, have come a long way over the years and can now include attached spray tunnels, splash pads and kiddie pools. There is even a baseball diamond model, where you slide to the next base. If you don’t have a long enough space for a traditional lawn slide, there are models with an attached inflatable slide that lets you plunge into a small pool.

For the DIY enthusiast, a tarp or plastic sheeting, anchor pins to fix the material in place and a hose are all you'll need to make a homemade lawn slide. Homemade versions are great if you want to make an extra-long slide. A DIY lawn slide can also be placed at the bottom of a small children's play slide for those with flat lawns.

If all else fails, you can always grab a big bucket, fill it with water and take a seat.