The Little Dipper: Endless Pools for small spaces, tight budgets

Last week's heat sparked a lot of interest in home swimming pools. Pool firms saw a spike in inquiries-- sure to continue when the heat repeats.

But few homeowners have the space, deep pockets and commitment to care that a full-size pool or long lap pool demands. And a spa won't give you the space to exercise or float.

An elegant solution? The "wave pool".
A favorite in the genre is the Endless Pool, a scaled-down version of the wave pools at theme parks. Seen at home shows, and manufactured in and shipped from Aston, Pa., this small swimming pool fits in a yard, roof, deck, sunroom, or one bay of a multi-car garage.

After her car accident, Mia Arends chose an indoor Endless Pool for rehab and recreation. "I really like my swimming pool a lot, and wouldn't change a thing,'' she said. "This was a natural, and it costs less to run than a hot tub."

It can be on the floor, partly in ground, or in ground, needing only a level surface that will support 200 pounds per square foot.

At a cost of about a family sized car, with options like covers, spa jets, and lights, it costs less than half what a full pool would cost.

With a hand-cranked, insulated, safety cover, and state-of-the-art filtering, it requires minimal care -- a weekly dose of chlorine, and a bi-monthly filter-cleaning.

And it costs little to operate. Running the heater and the housed propeller, which creates a variable-speed wave, costs about the same as a second phone line. And the wave can be turned off.

The standard 39-inch deep, 8-foot by 14-foot Endless Pool is small in size (one can add width, length or depth). But it has a big impact on lifestyles.

Properly installed and lit from inside, it makes a beautiful, meditative water feature when uncovered. Turn on the wave, and it becomes a "stream'' with gentle gurgling sounds.

It can serve as a low-impact exercise pool or therapy pool, or a play pool for older children. One can swim freely, jump, kick, or hang on to the handlebar up front to let the waves undulate one's body. And it can be used as a spa, with jets soothing sore muscles as one sits on underwater benches running along each side.

Current users
Mia Arends of Kirkland became a quadriplegic in an auto accident.

In 2001, she and her family installed an Endless Pool in a remodeled storage shed. She has used the pool year-round, for exercise, ever since.

"I really like my swimming pool a lot, and wouldn't change a thing,'' she said. "I'm in a wheelchair, and use a lift to help me get in. I've always loved the water, and was a user of King County pools before the accident. This was a natural, and it costs less to run than a hot tub."

She had her pool built with a 5-foot-deep section in the center so she could do vertical exercises.

John and Kim DuBois of Renton are an active couple -- he, retired, and she, still working, and taking ballet classes.

They installed their off-the-kitchen pool five years ago, and now swim daily, year-round, keeping the water at 78 degrees F, and tending the filter in an adjoining basement.

John soaks the gallon-sized filter overnight every six weeks in a TSP solution in a five-gallon bucket, then replaces it next morning.

"That's about all there is to it, that and mopping the pool cover of tree debris occasionally, and adding chemicals once a week."

He said less chlorine is needed, so there is no odor. He added that its $20 to $40 monthly expenses cost less than it would to run a heated full-size or lap pool.

"My wife was hesitant when I suggested the pool," said DuBois, 63. "She said we wouldn't use it that much. But I wanted it to help me stay fit because I don't know how much longer I can do high-impact sports. Community pools are too far, or have inconvenient hours."

"We made it as easy to use as possible. You drop your clothes as you leave the kitchen, roll back the cover, jump in, jump out and pull on the cover and go back inside. My wife says it's one of the best things we ever did."

Permits were easy to get, he said, since the pair was remodeling their home at the same time.

Taking the plunge
A bigger pool can cost $30,000 or $40,000 and up to install. It depends on size, depth and options such as diving boards, spas, lighting and hardscaping.

Options also run up the price of a wave pool. Teak, tile or ironwood coping, paneling and decking, instead of the pool's standard aluminum or manufactured surround, add bucks.

But users say one can do some basic setup one's-self, using professional electrical and plumbing help. Professional or fancy installation can add $2,000 to $5,000 to the basic cost.

Framed by bolted, 14-gauge steel panels and stainless components, the pool is lined with a soft yet tough, wrinkle-free, 28-mil aqua vinyl skin. Coping covers the skin's top edge.

A final advantage: Wave pools, like spas, can be disassembled and moved. That in effect negates real-estate agents' claims that swimming pools decrease a home's value, as some buyers don't want them.

That way, for the pool owner, the pleasures of an Endless Pool really can be ... well, virtually endless.





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