During the heatwave last week, Gloria Morris and her family cooled off in the 14m swimming pool they had installed during lockdown. Heated by an air source heat pump and run via an app, the pool has dramatically enhanced their lives: they swim twice every day between April and November. “I get up at 6am for a swim and then go in again at around 8pm in the evening,” says Morris, 55. “It was expensive and you have to accept the running costs, but the pleasure far outweighs them.”
Will she still feel like this at the end of the summer, though? While sales of inflatable pools shot up 1,400 per cent last week in response to the heatwave – and the Met Office is warning of a hotter-than-average July – the escalating costs of labour and materials (not to mention the energy price cap coming off in October) mean that the costs of running a swimming pool or hot tub are set to spike by more than 40 per cent.
To make matters worse, there is also currently a chlorine shortage, prompted by (depending on who you speak to) decreased production in China, a factory closure in the UK and a fire at a factory in the States.
As a result, public pools across Britain are closing and suppliers are warning those with private pools to stock up on chlorine. The Morrises have enough to last them the season – their pool, which was installed by Nautilus Pools in Hampshire, only requires two tablets every fortnight – but they did decide to start using it later this year to prevent their heat pump, which runs on electricity, from working more than it needs to (they cost £8,000 to replace if they burn out).
They’ve also brought the water temperature down. “When we first had the pool we kept it at 29 degrees, but we’ve now decided that it doesn’t need to be any warmer than 26 degrees – once you’re swimming you quickly warm up,” Morris says. “It costs on average £300 a month to run when it’s ‘open’ but we haven’t had a bill yet on the new tariff, so it could be double.”
One might imagine that those rich enough to put in a pool can cope with higher running costs, yet lockdown sparked a new breed of environmentally conscious pool owner who saved hard for this one-off luxury.
“They were stuck at home in that gorgeous weather during the pandemic, with more money than usual because they were working hard with no holidays,” explains Alex Clegg, director of Nautilus, which installs French-designed pools with liners in three weeks for a cost of around £45,000.
“It caused a bit of a boom.” But now life is becoming much more expensive, there’s been a deluge of unwanted hot tubs appearing on sites such as Gumtree and eBay as owners (many of whom are on lower budgets and bought them on finance) struggle to afford to run them. Meanwhile terrified pool owners are asking their suppliers how they can run their pools more efficiently.
“A lot of pool owners are still on low tariffs so they haven’t been exposed yet, but they’re already ringing us to find out how to reduce costs,” confirms Richard Kinver from Isca Pools in Devon who has already installed 30 new swimming pools this year.
So far bills haven’t jumped much higher than the £5 per day that pool supplier Compass Pools estimates it costs to heat and provide chemicals for an average domestic pool during the summer months, but there’s no doubt they’re creeping up.
Sarah Smith, who manages an estate in Oxfordshire, worked out that it cost an extra £140 to open the pool this year and routine visits are now an extra £4 every fortnight, plus the price of chemicals has increased. She also warns that you have to factor in a few larger expenses each year: this year she’s had to replace the cover (a cool £7,000) and invested in a solar powered surface cleaner (£700) to try to keep down cleaning costs. Hot tubs, while regarded as a poor man’s pool, don’t cost much less to run as they tend to be used all year.
Still, the violins can only ever be small for those who get to dive into their own private pool after a sweaty day in the office. The situation is bleak, however, for those who run their pool as a business – according to Airbnb, “swimming pool” is the most searched-for term this summer – and those for whom a pool is a necessity.
Steven and Elly James installed a pool at their home in Kent four years ago after one of their children suffered an accident which left them in a wheelchair. “Our child is able to walk with the aid of crutches when not in his chair but when it comes to swimming there is no difference to any other able-bodied person,” Steven explains. “Our pool has meant he can swim when he likes for exercise and fun and his family and friends can join him. Holidays can be a struggle for all of us now, but with the pool it feels like we’re on holiday when we’re at home.”
The pool was an enormous investment and running costs were always going to be high as it is kept open all year round. Steven thus made sure it was as efficient as possible – there’s a double air source heat pump, a fully retractable solar cover to retain heat and warm the pool when it’s in direct sunlight and the pool itself is carbon ceramic, which means it retains heat as efficiently as A grade double glazing.
Now, however, he’s being forced to rein back the way it’s run. “We have reduced the temperature from 30 to 27 degrees; we switch off the heat pump when the pool is at temperature and we keep it off when the outside temperature is very low as the heat pump has to work very hard,” he explains. “Providing the evening temperature is not too cold we power down the pool completely once the light has gone and power back up before the sun comes up.”
Alex Kemsley of Compass Pools, who is former president of the British Swimming Pool Federation, maintains that a good cover is the most important swimming pool accessory. “A good UV cover maintains an even temperature without using continual air source power and reduces water evaporation.”
Morris agrees. Next on the list, according to Kemsley, is an efficient pump to move the water through the filter and equipment; the new ones cost around £5,000 but pay for themselves in less than three years, he says. “Then you have to set the heating to the minimum comfortable temperature. Most competition pools are heated to 26 degrees, although if you’re elderly or disabled it will need to be around 30 degrees.”
If your pool is heated by gas or oil he suggests making the switch to a ground or air source heat pump, which are 83 per cent cheaper to run. Meanwhile, pre-swim showering will mean less chemicals are used, as will fewer people using the pool at a time. With a conventional pool it’s not a good idea to stop using chlorine – it prevents algae and protects swimmers from illnesses including cryptosporidium and legionella – but you can test water regularly and only add it when required.
“If you’re worried about chlorine supply, you could consider installing a salt electrolysis system to make your own chlorine,” suggests Chris Hayes of the Swimming Pool and Allied Trades Association. “They require capital outlay [upwards of £1,500] and electricity but at least you’re no longer dependent on chlorine.”
This summer’s smuggest pool owners are those who have natural pools and wood-fired hot tubs. They’re kinder to the environment and don’t over-use energy or chemicals. Sam Kitt, who runs an Airbnb in Dorset, is in the process of installing a £7,000 wood-fired hot tub that will use filtered water from his pond.
“It’s totally user friendly and doesn’t use any chemicals,” he says. “I bought it in response to requests from my guests.” Meanwhile the latest natural pools look no different to conventional pools, yet they have biological filters and can be heated with renewable energy up to 28 degrees.
“We can turn any pool in the world into a natural pool – we can even turn it into a mineral pool for around £20,000,” says George Ingledew of natural pool company Origin Aqua. “Our pools use half the amount of electricity of a chlorine pool. At current electricity and chlorine prices, we have a seven-year payback for an outdoor pool, and a five-year payback for an indoor compared to a chemical pool. When energy prices rise by 42 per cent in October that payback will be even shorter. ”
Gloria Morris has no regrets, however. Despite all the doom-mongering, she refuses to get stressed about the rising running costs of her pool in Hampshire. “We have friends with a natural pool but it’s hard to maintain as it’s nature dependent, she says. “And the cost to put it in was far greater than ours, which is zero fuss and low maintenance.”
Moreover, the expense, she says, is irrelevant as it gives her and her family a chance to do what they love every day.
“My advice is to go out and buy the biggest pool you can afford,” she says.
How public pool closures could ruin your summer holiday
By Emma Beaumont
For many families, the summer holiday is a chance for children to put new-found swimming skills to the test in the Med for the first time, or in a hotel pool. However, several factors have combined to leave children less equipped to enjoy themselves safely in the water this year.
Many British swimming pools were closed during the pandemic, which led to fewer children receiving lessons; rising energy bills are putting current services under threat; and now a lack of lifeguards and a chlorine shortage are reducing the opportunities for new swimmers to enhance their skills.
The RLSS (Royal Life Saving Society UK) has warned that we could see more drownings as people opt for less safe sea-swimming on holidays instead.
What are the threats facing Britain’s swimming pools?
The steep rise in energy prices is the key factor, with estimates suggesting that the cost of heating Britain’s pools will rise from £500 million in 2019 to £1.5 billion this year. A recent survey from UKActive found that 85 per cent of public pool operators said they would be forced to reduce their services during the next six months due to rising running costs. Meanwhile, 63 per cent said they would be likely to cut staff numbers.
UKActive chief executive Huw Edwards said: “The operators are really struggling. They have been trying to put a plaster on this over the past couple of months. But the reality is they can’t see a way through this unless there is Government intervention.”
A national chlorine shortage is compounding the problem. Several of the country’s most popular lidos have already issued warnings that they may have to close. The popular Portishead Lido told its patrons: “We are conserving the chlorine we have to make it last as long as possible, but due to the uncertainty of the situation we have reluctantly made the decision to halt the sale of season tickets for 2022.”
There are also fears that a national lifeguard shortage could force pools to reduce their hours or shut. Jo Talbot, commercial director at the RLSS, told the Telegraph: “We work with 3,000 swimming pools and almost every swimming pool is struggling to recruit lifeguards.” She blames long pool closures during lockdown for leading qualified lifeguards to move on to other sectors.
Are lifeguard shortages affecting beaches?
With pools under threat of closure, many will head for the coast instead. However, day-trippers and holidaymakers should be aware that lifeguard shortages are also affecting some of Britain’s beaches.
While the most visited stretches of sand in holiday favourites such as Cornwall are adequately staffed, local RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) representatives on the North Yorkshire Coast have said they are still looking to fill a number of roles in popular spots such as Bridlington. Lifeguards are back on key Pembrokeshire Coast beaches, but local supervisor Peter Rooney has reminded visitors to plan their trips carefully.
“RNLI lifeguards play a vital role in keeping beach visitors safe, but they can’t be everywhere. This is why we’re asking people to come prepared before you head to the beach; before the start of your day, take a few minutes to check local information such as tide times and the weather.”
How can I stay safe when visiting the beach? The RNLI has issued reminders on how to stay safe at the coast this summer. Gabbi Batchelor, water safety education manager at the organisation highlighted the importance of choosing a lifeguard-patrolled beach and paying attention to safe swimming zones.
“To help stay safe, we’d encourage people to visit a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags. It’s important to remember to swim between those flags because lifeguards put them on the safest stretch of water and patrol this area.” The RNLI also advises that if you see someone else in trouble, you should never attempt the rescue yourself but rather alert a lifeguard or call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.