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A storm in a swimming pool

Owning a private swimming pool is the ultimate in luxury for many.

Owning a private swimming pool is the ultimate in luxury for many.

From using borehole water illegally to considerable maintenance fees, installing a swimming pool at home comes with full peril potential. Helen Raine asks, is it worth the hassle?

When the thermometer hits 40˚ in the shade in the Maltese summer, who wouldn’t love to have a swimming pool installed in the garden, the courtyard or even on the roof? Don’t rush off to get the plans drawn up just yet though; while a pool might sound like the Mediterranean dream, it’s worth finding out about the cons as well as the pros of pool ownership.

Pouring money down the drain?

Having a pool built in the first place can be pricey. Saviour Dingli of Dolphin Pools estimates that a modest-sized eight by four metre option will come at between €14,000 and €20,000 depending on the type of finish chosen, site access, landscaping and fencing. And that’s just the beginning. Electricity and chemicals add up to around €50 a month, plus another €50 if you hire a company to take care of weekly cleaning. On top of that, there are ongoing maintenance costs, which can stack up.

Pools in Malta are also taxed, with the annual licence fee for an average sized pool of 63 cubic metres costing approximately €289. At that price, it might be worth considering an annual membership at a hotel or gym with swimming facilities as a cost effective alternative.

Despite the fees though, residential pool numbers in Malta are climbing dramatically. They have doubled in six years, from 2,000 in 2008 to 4,000 in 2014 according to government figures, so you won’t be alone if you do decide to take the plunge.And according to local estate agent Nick Bilocca of Frank Salt, this is one home improvement that is well worth it.

He says, “Pools are a definite asset to a property when the owner decides to resell. There is a limited supply of properties with pools, or with space for a pool, which reflects itself in the price of these properties. Pools are also a great asset for rental properties as they augment considerably the rental prices.”

He does add a word of caution however; “The decision to install a swimming pool should not be based solely on adding value to the property, but should also factor in the desire by the owner to enjoy the pool. Without frequent use, the return on investment may seem wasted, as you spend money each year cleaning and maintaining something you don’t use.”

Covering your swimming pool reduces evaporation.Covering your swimming pool reduces evaporation.

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

In a country with a serious water supply crisis, a swimming pool might also seem like an unnecessary luxury, especially when you’re never more than a few minutes drive away from the sea. Geoffrey Saliba, project manager for the ‘EU LIFE+ Investing in Water Project’ says that Malta is one of the world’s top 10 countries for water scarcity, with just 40 cubic metres of naturally occurring freshwater per capita.

Saliba adds: “Malta’s only natural exploitable source of freshwater is groundwater, yet 48% more of this resource is estimated to be extracted than is naturally recharged on an annual basis. This means that the aquifers are overstressed, resulting in seawater incursion and salinification of remaining groundwater … 87% of Malta’s groundwater bodies no longer produce drinking water quality. Farmers are even needing to use desalinification technology just to water plants. It is critical that wasteful consumption is eliminated if this unsustainable over-exploitation is to be stopped.”

There’s no doubt that some pools are a cause of this unsustainable ground water exploitation. A report in Times of Malta on May 12, 2011 said: “there is no denying that many water tankers criss-cross both Malta and Gozo transporting water – even freshwater – to commercial and private entities, some to fill swimming pools… The recent news that 200 illegal boreholes, used mainly to top up swimming pools and to water gardens, have to be plugged, cannot but be applauded.”

There are solutions to these problems. Creating a reservoir to hold rainwater during the pool-building stage will ensure that you have water to draw on in the summer months without using boreholes. The government also needs to ensure that borehole use is properly metered and charged; those using boreholes for swimming pools should pay the same rate as tap water users, since the ground water belongs to all of us.

Without frequent use, the return on investment may seem wasted, as you spend money each year cleaning and maintaining something you don’t use

Covering pools when not in use will reduce evaporation (covers are available which will carry the weight of a person, thus simultaneously reducing the likelihood of accidental drownings of children and non swimmers). Keeping the size of the pool as small as possible will also help, as will the installation of drainage barriers, which can collect any overflow water and direct it back to the pool. Pools within 100 metres of the sea may be filled up or replenished by seawater as long as certain legal guidelines are followed.

Chemical crisis

And then there are all those chemicals. Chlorine byproducts just aren’t all that friendly to our skin and eyes, sometimes resulting in rashes and irritation, as well as breathing difficulties. Chlorine also dissipates quickly, meaning that you need to be on top of maintenance to avoid growing some nasty bugs in the pool. When pools are emptied, if all that chlorinated water is not disposed of properly, it can end up in the ground water or the sea where it is harmful to fish and other aquatic life.

However, green solutions do exist. Some pools are filtered using entirely natural methods; a pond system does all the cleaning for you. That requires plenty of space and upkeep however and would not work for most domestic pools in Malta. However, there are plenty of treatments that reduce the need for chlorine.

Ozone sanitisation breaks down contaminants such as grease and oils which can clog filters; it doesn’t affect the pH level of the pool. Or you can try an ioniser such as the Floatron. It’s a solar powered, floating water purifier which reduces chlorine and oxidiser use by about 80%. It works by converting sunlight to a harmless, low power electric current. This energises a specially alloyed mineral electrode below the waterline, releasing mineral ions into the surrounding water, naturally controlling microorganism growth. Most of these alternatives do still require some chlorine however. Some pool owners are turning to the more expensive Bromine instead as its byproducts are thought to be less harmful.

Pool family fit

Despite all the challenges of pool ownership, soaring numbers in Malta are a testament to the lure of your own personal backyard swimming-hole. In a country with an obesity epidemic, that’s good news for fitness. Swimming is one of the best exercises and even non swimmers can walk or jog in the water for low impact, resistance training; kids with a pool will quickly learn how to swim and get their daily exercise without even noticing. Water is also a stress reliever, helping you to unwind, and just being in the water requires your body to expend energy as your temperature lowers, meaning that you sleep better at night too. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about what to do for family birthday parties – family and friends will be queuing up to visit. In fact, you might struggle to get rid of them….. So if your terrace is just begging for an infinity pool, now might be the time to dive in – just keep in mind the environment and ensure that you factor in green solutions.

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