The Pool Debacle

Ever want one of these?

Doesn't it look like such fun? Cheap to buy, easy to set up, and you can put it anywhere! If you just want a small pool in which to cool off, it seems like an above-ground pool might be the perfect solution.

Warning: There are lessons to be learned here.

Once upon a time, this was my back yard:

It was a great play structure, and actually a big factor in why we bought this house. Daughter loves swings. Alas, kids do grow up, and so the play structure fell in to disuse.

We found a really great home for the play structure, and off it went.

And we were left with this:

Wish summer approaching fast, what ever were we to do with that space?

Of course: An above-ground pool! So I did my measurements and some research, and pulled the trigger.

Oh, but wait. An above ground pool needs electricity. I have an outlet on the house, but how to run electricity over to where the pool was to go? And that ground under the play structure is really pretty soft. Maybe it's not so good for a heavy pool. I had to think about that.

Long, laborious, sweaty, back-breaking story made short, I decided to dig a trench and bury a heavy-duty extension cord inside a pvc pipe. One end would surface from the pipe and plug in to the electrical outlet on the side of the house. The other end would surface and the pool could plug in there. I also decided to box in the ground for the pool, raising it up a little to more closely meet the surface of the existing deck. I really had no idea how much work I was in for with this plan, but I went to it. These were the hottest days of our summer - not the best choice for outdoor work like this. Here are some pix of the progress:

Pulling up the old boards and stakes was surprisingly difficult.

The buried pipe needed to go underneath the stone walkway. Basically I had to blast a tunnel through the dirt with water. Easier said than done.

And finally, things got really close to finished. The final step of the ground preparation was to unload and spread out all those bags of gravel. Yeah, I did that too.

At last (at long long last - this was a multi-week project because life is complicated and keeps getting in the way of all the projects I want to complete), we were ready to assemble the pool.

Despite the size of the pool, it was quite easy to put together. Totally a one-person job if need be (and I know that first-hand). Intex makes the instructions very clear so it's actually difficult to mess up. Needed a little help getting the pool perfectly straight, but that's what having a big kid is for. And suddenly, there it was!

Yeah, it looked a little sad and wrinkly but I hadn't filled it yet. While filling, I climbed in anyway to cool off my feet. It felt really really good!

In case you've never seen an above-ground pool, here's a shot of the "mechanicals". In the foreground you can see the pump/filter thing. Although vastly underpowered, Intex did it right for simplicity.

And don't forget your stanchion supports!

You may notice in a couple of pictures below, there are no stanchion supports. Yeah, about that... Because I fortified the ground, I didn't think I'd need stanchion supports. Really. Thought it would be fine. Well, it wasn't. After a few days, the stanchions were settling down in to the ground so far the pool was way off balance and I was worried about a frame collapse. Wound up having to drain most of the pool, add supports, and fill it again. Luckily the water didn't cost me too much, but it was another added pain. See, I did read the instructions. And Intex does say to use supports. But the thickness of the boards Intex recommends is so thin, I didn't think it would do much good. I was right about that, but missed out on the whole "42,500 pounds of water pushing down on the ground" thing. I had some old 2x12s and 2x6s around, so I cut them up and made stanchion supports. Although a lot of trouble to deal with, they worked well.

And hey I just noticed there are no stanchion supports in the Intex photo at the top! Lame...

After a bit more than a day filling it (always fill from the hose - never a water truck), the pool was full and officially ready for swimming.

Not wanting to wait, I donned my bathing suit, and jumped in - and it was COLD!

I didn't care. I was so excited by the thought of having a pool that despite the water's frigid temperature I toughed through it and had a blast. Well, sort of.

Funny how bravado and adrenaline fade. I decided the pool just needed to warm up in the ambient air. After all, we were having really hot days.

A few days went by, and while the water in the pool did warm up some, it never reached what one might call a 'comfortable' temperature.

Internet to the rescue! More reading revealed we needed a pool heater. Oh sure, I can do that. And I know solar heaters are a thing. I'll see what's available for this pool. Oh! Hey look here! Intex makes their very own solar heater for above ground pools! For about $50 I bought it and it came with all the stuff what's needed to attach it to the existing pool pump system. Turns out I had to buy a couple of cheap 24-foot long, 1-1/4" diameter hoses so I could put the solar heater in the sun. No matter. Home Depot had those (look for sump pump or discharge hoses). Got it all hooked up, and there we are!

Right off the bat I noticed some problems. First, the water wasn't flowing well through the heating portion of the heater. There's a valve, and a bypass, but no matter what I did with the valve, nothing seemed to change. Next, because of the flexible nature of the heater, it seemed to be kinking up in a number of places, further restricting the flow. And finally, I noticed a considerable drop in the flow rate of the filter. Whatever. I had a pool! Certainly all it needed was a few more days with the heater in the sun.


A few more days came and went.


When I checked the temperature again (I'd gotten S-M-R-T and bought a thermometer from the local pool store), it read only 72F. And that was after a number of over 100F days. Wat. Off to the Internet I went in search of answers.

Oh, would you look at that! Intex recommends not one but six (SIX!) or MORE of these infernal devices for a pool such as mine. And I didn't even buy that large of a pool (10' x 20', ~5000 gallons). At $50 a piece, that would cost me an additional... Well, a bunch more money. Ugh. After the labor and costs put in on preparing the ground (cords and pipe and gravel ain't free), and after the near-summer price of the pool, this project was already over the initial budget I'd set. So, more reading.

After further investigation, I found a lot of people building their own solar pool heaters. Hey, I can do that! Those 1-1/4" hoses were pretty cheap, how many of those would I need? Hmm. A lot. Well, let's start with 8. 8 should be enough. For sure. Right? Sure. Lucky thing I had more wood and screws around. I made this thing:

That ... thing, is way more cool than it looks. Really. You have to believe me. A lot of ridiculous labor went in to that thing. You know how hard it is to align hoses in a spiral like that? It's hard! Anyway, according to my calculations, I should be generating some heat. Yeah! Let's go hot days!

I also had to buy a pump to push the water through the heaters. It wasn't expensive, just another $50 (sigh), and it actually worked really well.

Afer a few more days, I checked the temperature. Wow! The pool actually hit 79F! And it was ... ~comfortable~ ... mostly. We all jumped in for a little while and had a blast.

And along about that time, our friendly neighbor looked over the fence to say 'Hi', and oh if we ever wanted to swim in his (real) pool, we totally still could. You know, if we ever wanted to. I think he knew something.

And so the battle began. No, not a battle of neighbors. A battle of keeping the pool heated. Intex includes a pool cover, and suggests it be used. So I used it.

Eventually, I'd remove the cover during the day so the pool would catch as much as as possible, and put it back on at night to (supposedly) seal in the heat. But that never worked. Why? Oh, because the pool has a massive amount of surface area (the sides) exposed to the cooler night air.

Damn you Thermodynamics!

Alas, the whole thing just became too much. We stopped using the pool because it just wouldn't stay warm. I tried using an electrical heater. I thought about building a BBQ heater. I was close to buying a massive above-ground pool solar heater, but ultimately didn't because I could not justify the final cost of such a thing against my original budget. Besides, ou rback yard isn't that big and I would be using up a huge amount of it.

And so, one quiet day about a week ago, I dismantled the pool. It was up for about three months, during which time we actually used it maybe half a dozen times. And in the same time we'd used our neighbor's pool twice as much.

I know there are people out there who make above-ground pools work. I know they can work because a lot of people have and use them. But it wasn't meant for us.


And then came the hot tub!

Back to