Q: My wife and I are in the market for an in-ground swimming pool. With such a major expenditure, we want to hire the best person possible. Any ideas? -- Orville Overheated
A: Dear Mr. Overheated: One good piece of news is pool prices aren't as outrageously expensive nowadays, even though they're obviously not cheap. Competition, affordability and new methods enable more homeowners -- particularly in the South -- to dig that backyard hole. Whether to seasonally enjoy a pool with family and friends, to use it primarily for exercise, or simply to incorporate it into an aesthetically-pleasing environment, your caution is wise.
Just as with other types of sales and/or contractors, a potential pool owner can't be too careful from the outset all the way to its conclusion when you hold your nose, close your eyes, and leap right in! Please note, though, not only should you investigate the available sources for the pool, but also be aware of what owning one means, whether you take care of it or hire someone to do so for you. Think about what owning a pool might mean on a less-than-positive scale:
* Weekly maintenance, which is time consuming unless you hire someone to do the cleaning for you, is a must. Also, the pool needs daily maintenance that includes skimming debris and adding/regulating chemicals.
* Unless you want only a toe-dipper size, a pool takes up a lot of room. Are you certain you don't care if not enough room is left over for any other recreational activities? (Of course, if your yard is a biggie, it doesn't really matter.)
* Additionally, pools can be dangerous to both children and animals. I'll never forget the night several years ago when I was awakened by a teacher friend whose toddler had wandered away, fallen into the family pool and was under water almost 10 minutes before being rescued.
My husband and I raced to Children's Hospital (in Washington, D.C.), never dreaming the child would recover following a catastrophic accident like this.
Another mishap involved Cricket, our miniature Dachshund. She reached our pool through a small opening between the cover and the steps, and fell in. Thank heavens we heard her whimpers and saved her in the nick of time. (Cricket was one dog who never learned her so-call instinctive dog paddle.)
So make sure to use all safety precautions, including a locked fence, pool cover (covering the entire area), pool alarm, and other methods of limiting access and improving safety. And, don't think a pool is an automatic asset when selling your home; it could be a liability to prospective buyers.
OK, you've taken all these factors into consideration and you're ready to find a swimming pool company/contractor.
(To be continued next week.)
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.