Like so many Brits who move to France (I count the SF, who is Swedish, as an honorary Brit), a swimming pool was on our list of must-haves. Having lived with one for 14 years, it will be on our list of must-not-haves if we ever move house. Why? Read on.
1. The season is short
Like everyone else, we thought we would be swimming from March till October. Actually, it’s May to September, if you’re lucky. Some years, we have not swum until late June. Even if it’s heated (ours isn’t), you extend the season by only a few weeks, since the weather has to be good enough to want to swim.
2. They require a lot of work
For what you get out, you have to put a lot in. You have to open it up in the spring, evict the winter residents (frogs and toads), spring clean it, keep it clean throughout the summer and constantly test the pH and chlorine levels. Then you have to prepare it for winter and cover it with an incredibly heavy cover designed to take an adult’s weight.
At this time of year, you spend two hours cleaning it so that it’s immaculate. Then the wind gets up and blows in all the string-like flowers and leaves from the oak tree strategically positioned upwind. This is how it looked this afternoon, after the gale that has been blowing for two days.
3. They are expensive
I’m not talking about installing them, although of course you can kiss goodbye to at least 30,000€ to build one from scratch. No, just running one is costly. Ours is the old chlorine variety, which requires regular dosing not only with chlorine but also with other chemicals to keep the pH balance etc right. These ‘produits’ do not come cheap.
The pool requires various accessories, all with a short life. These include: vacuum cleaner and hose, summer cover to keep the warmth in overnight and which normally lasts only 3-4 seasons, nets for fishing out leaves and insects and all the technical stuff to keep the pump and filtration system in working order.
Keeping the pump turning over uses electricity, which is getting more costly, like everything else. If you try to economise by cutting down the number of hours it runs, you start getting problems with mould (see below).
Then there was the occasion when the SF wanted to lower the water level but forgot about it and emptied out ¾ of the water. It had to be almost entirely refilled, which was painfully apparent on our water bill that year. Not a friendly act either for the environment or the pocket.
4. You get taxed on them
If you have a swimming pool, you have to pay local taxes on it: not only the taxes foncières (property tax) but also the taxe d’habitation (living tax). The latter reflects the rental value of the property, which is, of course, enhanced if there is a swimming pool.
The swimming pool cost is not disaggregated on the tax bills themselves so I’m not sure how much it adds up to. However, no doubt we could find out from the Impôts.
5. You have to keep them secure
Several years ago, the French government passed a law requiring pool owners to secure them against people drowning in them. This meant installing at least one of the following: fencing of a regulation height with a special child-proof gate; a movement-sensitive alarm; a rigid retractable cover; or a hideous greenhouse-like structure, part of which you can slide back if you want to see the sky.
The penalty for failing to comply? 45,000€.
Naturally, all these things are expensive and the manufacturers were rubbing their hands. We chose the cheapest possible option, an alarm, and that set us back 250€.
Someone told us that the law has been repealed or modified but I have yet to find out if this is true.
6. They get mould
For the past few years, we have had terrible problems with intractable mould. No matter how much we clean the pool or dose it with algicide, it still reappears. It might be that our liner is so old that its surface is roughened and gives the mould purchase to establish itself. Someone at the pool supplies shop also told us that the mould is becoming increasingly resistant to treatment. Since a new liner costs upwards of 2,500€, we will wait until ours has definitively given up before adopting that as a solution.
7. They spring leaks
The rubber liner has a certain life – normally about 10 years. Ours is already living on borrowed time and we’re lucky that it has not yet started to crack. That is one of the commonest causes of leaks.
Another source of leaks, which can be even trickier to deal with, is the underground pipes. If one of those gets fractured because of the cold, it can involve digging up the garden to find the offending pipe. We had a persistent leak one year, but managed to find it fairly quickly, since it was under the paving beside the pool. Had it been elsewhere, it would have been more difficult to resolve.
8. Animals fall in
During our 14 years here, we have had the following in the pool: several dogs, a sheep, a calf (which drowned, alas), hedgehogs, lizards, frogs, toads, worms, spiders and various other insects.
Some friends had a pregnant cow fall in theirs one winter, which had to be hoisted out with a crane. The vet turned up and told them to prepare a bucket of coffee, which did the trick in reviving the cow and the calf was later born unharmed. Unfortunately, the distraught cow destroyed our friends’ liner in its attempts to climb out.
9. Squadrons of wasps terrorise the hapless swimmers
In the heat and drought of summer, our pool is the only watering hole for some distance around. We put out water for the animals and birds, but the wasps prefer drinking from the pool. A variety of wasp with long legs can float on the water surface while drinking. You can’t always see them while swimming, which has resulted in several stings for our guests and us.
10. Pool-less friends and neighbours get the benefit without the work
Summer is when you find out how popular you are. Children from neighbouring maisons secondaires without pools turn up regularly to swim. We normally swim naked, since we are not overlooked, but you can put money on the kids turning up when you are in the pool. People whom you barely knew in England suddenly discover a burning desire to see you, since your swimming pool is excellent entertainment for their unruly children.
We have considered filling the pool in or even turning it into a gigantic fosse septique (septic tank). However, if we sold the house, this would make it less appealing to those unsuspecting Brits for whom a swimming pool is a must-have.
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