Pool construction makes a splash

Coronavirus uncertainty prompts backyard building boom; ‘Energy outlet’ for home-bound families

This article was published in The Charlotte Ledger e-newsletter on May 8, 2020. Find out more and sign up for free here.

Companies that install pools in the Charlotte area say business is busy, as some homeowners want to make sure they have a place to swim this summer. (Photo courtesy of Aloha Pools.)

By Shawn Flynn

May is the traditional start of swim season in the Carolinas — and some are looking for a pool much closer to home.

Pool construction companies always have a busy spring. But this year is poised to be extraordinary. Many say customers are rushing to have pools installed because of Covid-19, which has created uncertainty over when neighborhood and community pools might open and if they are safe.

Melinda Bowling, co-owner of Aloha Pools, says business is up about 50% from usual.

“I’m doing 20 emails and phone calls (every day). It’s crazy,” she says. “People seem to have a lot of time on their hands, so I’m spending a lot of time talking to clients. … They’re all saying they’re stuck at home. They know they can’t use the community pool. There are no summer programs happening out there.”

But time is running short for a new summer pool: They typically take eight to 12 weeks to build, so there is a major rush to sign contracts. The average cost to build a pool is $51,000, according to the home-improvement site HomeAdvisor.

Dan Okoniewski, owner of Ozone Pools & Outdoor Living, says he’s taking about 50% more calls from people asking about building pools. Many of them want to move quickly. But people in the pool-building industry say they’re mindful of not becoming overextended.

“There’s only so many pools we want to do each year to make sure the quality is there,” Okoniewski says.

The pool boom is even spilling over to landscaping companies.

 “Just in the past two weeks, it’s been crazy,” says Christian Spires, owner of Creative Rock Formations, which builds pool waterfalls. “The pool companies keep me busy. I couldn’t take on any more work right now.”

Spires says his company turns the ordinary backyard pool into an “oasis.” He is a bit surprised by all the work as the country heads into a projected recession.

“I’ve been through the crash, 9/11. When those two things happened, spending came to a halt,” Spires said. “So far this is way different. People are not scared to spend their money.”

Even though the recession is hitting many families in their pocketbooks, others continue to spend money on features such as rock waterfalls. (Photo courtesy of Creative Rock Formations.)

In Waxhaw, the Urban family started thinking about building a pool in 2017. The first shovel finally hit the ground in January. They narrowly beat the last-minute rush to have a pool finished in time for summer, especially with a construction delay springing from their contractor’s difficulty putting a crew together because of the coronavirus.

“The water went in (last week). My oldest jumped in about five minutes later. It was a little chilly,” said Kelly Urban. “… Obviously, now with the coronavirus, actually having one is fantastic. It’s another energy outlet for everyone.”

Inflatables becoming popular: People who don’t want the expense or commitment of a permanent backyard pool are going a different direction: inflatable, above-ground pools. It’s a trend that seems to be taking off even in pricey neighborhoods such as Myers Park. The pools range in price from $25 to $400 and can be set up and ready for use in a day.

With the potential of no pool this summer, Mindy Miller thought her family needed something for their two “high-energy” kids.

“We were concerned our summer community pool would not be open or at least have a delayed opening,” she says. “We’ve had baby pools in the past we created activities around. But no, not this size. Certainly, this is a result of the Covid-19.”

It might be a cool May so far, but the weather isn’t stopping kids from getting in the water. Families in Myers Park and elsewhere are turning to above-ground inflatable pools. (Photo courtesy of the Miller family.)

Word is spreading around the neighborhood.

“I know several friends who started the trend. I can’t take credit for it,” Miller admitted. “We love it. The kids are in about every day — even when the high is 60.”

Can pools spread Covid-19?

In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided guidance on coronavirus and swimming pools:

There is no evidence that the virus that causes Covid-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas. Proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water.

When will pools open?

Neighborhood pools in the Charlotte area are in a holding pattern as they wait for word on when they can reopen. Some private pools and country clubs have hired lifeguards who are ready to start as soon as officials give the OK. But many clubs and neighborhoods have already canceled their summer swim teams.

The YMCA of Greater Charlotte reopened its summer applications and started conducting interviews with lifeguard applicants who applied before the YMCA closed in March due to Covid-19, said Heather Briganti, senior director of public relations and communications.

Mecklenburg County health officials offered this statement:

Public Health continues to conduct pool inspections utilizing social distancing and other personal protection protocols. Unfortunately, there is no guidance for opening at this time. Most association pools open around Memorial Day. As more data is collected, and in consultation with local and state officials, decisions on how or if to open pools safely will be provided.

Shawn Flynn has spent more than a quarter century as a journalist, including the past 17 years here in Charlotte. He is currently a freelance writer who teaches and consults with several nonprofits. You can contact him at ShawnKFlynn@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @FlynnShawn.

Ledger reporting intern David Griffith contributed to this article.

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Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire; Reporting intern: David Griffith