The Pool Obsession part 2: Plumbing Nightmares

In the spring of 2008 I had carried out almost a years worth of research on home swimming pools and had purchased what I believedto be the perfect solution for only £800: A 24ft x 12ft Intex Ultra Frame Pool.

Although of course, it cost a lot more than that.

The Intex 24 x 12 ft monster
The Intex 24 x 12 ft monster

I needed a filter pump to keep it clean. The cheapest with a suitable flow rate was a sand filter pump for £300. The sand itself cost another £55.

I figured having lights in the pool would be great for the evening – they set me back another £200.

Then there was a cover to consider; I wanted to keep the leaves out. I bought a huge roller and solar bubble cover. The idea was that with the cover on, the sun heated the air bubbles on the cover which in result heats the pool slightly. Getting a 24x12ft cover off the pool manually would be a pain, hence the roller system.

Keeping leaves off would only be half the problem. I still had to maintain the water cleansliness. I could do this through the use of water tester strips to check ph and other important levels and then add the relevant chemicals and consult online charts. There was a whole science to this and I spent many hours studying the complexities. I eventually found out about something called a saltwater chlorinator system that sounded much easier, but decided to cut the spending for now and maybe purchase later if it became too much to manage.

An additional cost was the levelling of the garden. Recalling the large effect even a slight incline had made on a relatively small pool, I realised that a level surface would be critical to a pool of this size. We drafted in a couple of guys for a day to level off the garden and lay a solid sand base, and take away the excess earth. I can’t recall how much this cost, but I don’t believe it was as cheap as I would have liked.

So what else did I need to spend money on?

An outdoor waterproof electrical system was required. The heat pump and filter pump needed a safe electricity supply that could
operate outdoors. A suitable panel was bought at cost of something horrendous like £500 if I recall correctly, and then I had to pay for the electrician to fit it.

Anything else to buy?

A heater.

Ah, the heater.

The critical element to the whole picture.

The main problem with my previous 10 foot, 2500l (550 UK gallons) pool had been the water temperature – particularly important in
the UK climate!

How was I going to heat a 24 x 12ft 32,000l (7000 UK gallons) pool?

Well, I’d done my research.

Electric heaters were the simple option, but only really worked for smaller pools. They were cheap to buy, but the heat output was minimal, and they cost a fortune to run.

Gas heaters were the supreme option. These heated up a pool the quickest and were more efficient to run. But the outright purchase cost of these were extortionate.

Surely there was a middle ground?

Enter the wondrous technological miracle that is the Heat Pump.

A heat pump works in the opposite way to a fridge. Instead of using electricity to turn outside warm air into cold air, it turns outside cold air into warm air.


Many people in the US and Canada were already using heat pumps attached to their houses to provide warmth in winter. Recently the
technology had been adopted for swimming pool heaters, particularly in Canada.

The heat pump used a measly amount of electricity so was incredibly cheap to run. However, it also output a measly amount of heat. The idea was that you would leave it running constantly and it would gradually heat up your pool.

Sounded like the solution for me.

Some of them though were as costly as gas heater. However, after much digging, I eventually found a suitable heat pump for £1500 (they’re cheaper these days, see here).

Ok, it was twice as much as the pool itself cost. But it was the best solution; and the total cost of my purchases was around three and a half grand – surely you couldn’t buy a complete pool solution with heater, that size, for any less?

Indeed you couldn’t.

That’s because my solution didn’t work.

I’d saved huge costs by shopping around, buying different parts from different suppliers.

It seemed the Americans, Europeans and Chinese all used different sized pipes and plumbing fittings.

So nothing fit together.

I spent another small fortune on pipes and connectors, trying to piece the giant puzzle together. I’d figure I’d need one part and order it, only for it to arrive a week later to find that it didn’t fit after all or I would need an additional part for it to work.

Eventually, I bolted, screwed, glued and jammed all the equipment and plastic piping together. I’d even had to build a small shed to house the pump and heating systems, as a lean-to at the back of the house. If the ugly grey vinyl monstrosity of a pool in the back garden wasn’t exactly a pretty sight, then my lean-to shed, also visible from the kitchen window, wasn’t helping matters.

I started to fill the pool.

37 hours later (yes, that’s right, thirty-seven hours) the pool was more or less full.

The pool filled
The pool filled

I opened the values to let the water flow through the pipework to the pump and heater.

And closed them again immediately after being sprayed with water from (several) leaks.

After repairing the leaks, I tried again.

The leaks weren’t so bad this time, but they were still present, and at multiple junctures. The sheer volume and pressure of the water was too much for my bodge job piping to cope with.

The leaks were significant enough to not be able to run the system; too much water would be lost over time and air bubbles in the pump could also cause damage. I had to repair the leaks.

Usually the bodge job fittings I’d made were from parts sourced from eBay and B&Q plumbing spares. All attempts over the next few weeks failed; I couldn’t fix the leaks using these solutions.

I had to go to the Australian Navy!

Well, not literally. But I found a product that they used to fix leaks in their ships. It was a resin soaked bandage that you wrapped around the leak, soaked with water, waited, and it set hard. It wasn’t cheap but I had ran out of options.

At this stage, I was getting somewhat stressed. Spring had passed and we were in the critical summer period. Also, I hadn’t had time to attempt any ‘camouflage’ to make the pool look better and the missus wasn’t happy with the ugly beast ruining her view. Worse still, I was spending so much time on the pool I wasn’t helping as much as I should with the baby either.

This solution had to work.

It didn’t.

Well… it worked on some of the fittings. In places it dribbled at a rate I could ignore; in some places I had to redesign it completely and buy new piping and re-glue. If I ever get offered a ride in an Australian Navy boat though, I’ll give it a miss.

Unable to run the pump to mix chemicals, the pool had gone green by this stage.

Come on in, the water's lovely!
Come on in, the water’s lovely!

In July I’d decided to purchase the saltwater chlorination system as opposed to using chemicals; the idea is that an electric current passes through an electrolytic cell, electrifying the salt water to turn salt in your water (at a concentration much less than sea salt and barely tastable) into chlorine. Salt is composed of sodium and chlorine; by passing a current through it the salt temporarily breaks down into chlorine (and sodium); thus cleaning the water passing through; before turning back to saltwater.


Except this had further complicated my pipework and I couldn’t run it until the pipework was sorted!

By the time I got the plumbing (more or less) fixed and I was able to run the system and clean the water, summer had passed.

I tried to use the heat pump but it was autumn and she didn’t seem up to the job; it was barely raising the temperature by a degree or two.

Dejected, I waited for the next season to be able to use my pool.

The water was a 'tad' cold in my pool...
The water was a ‘tad’ cold in my pool…

Meanwhile, I’d been trying to make the pool ‘prettier’. The original plan had been to build an edging around 50cm deep at the height of the pool all around it on which you could sit and dangle your feet in.

This was beyond my carpentry skills though.

The next idea was more along the idea of fence panelling. It would border the entire pool to mask the vinyl sides, and have a small overhang to hide the top rim of the pool.

Again, it looked tricky or expensive to do, and winter was coming.

The wife at the time, desperate to make the most of a bad situation, had a solution. We could lay (relatively cheap) trellis panels on the metal side supports and plant creepers that would grow up the sides of them, masking a significant part of the pool to merge it more into the green garden.

Good idea in theory, but the creepers took forever to grow, and in some cases, didn’t grow at all.

Spring 2009 came around and I was desperate to try my over sized paddling pool.

I fired up the heat pump and watched the temperature climb.


Oh, so very slowly.

One spring day, the temperature outside reached 25 degrees celsius.

A lovely day for a dip!

Not in my pool it wasn’t. It was far too cold still.

Was I doing something wrong with the heat pump? No, it all looked good… I could feel that some warmer water was coming out of it… but it didn’t seem to be able to cope; especially overnight. I’d loose the vast majority of any heat gained.

I kept my solar cover on, but this didn’t help with the heat loss. On sunny days, I’d lift the cover and put my fingers in the pool, to find the water a lovely warm temperature.

For the first two centimeters.

Dipping my hand lower resulted in a cold shock. The cover was only warming the very top layer of water and the main pool water was still very cold.

It was then I realised my mistake.

Heat pumps are designed for in-ground pools.

Not for above-ground pools.

All my heat was escaping through the thin vinyl sides of the pool.


The heat pump was doing its job correctly; using minimal electricity and topping up the pool temperature by about 1 or 2 degrees daily.

Through the night though, it was unable to contest with the cold spring temperatures and the heat loss though the sides of the pool.

Would it cope in summer?

Thankfully, it did. The summer weather heated the pool water and the evenings became milder; the heat pump was just about able to fight off the heat loss. The water temperature rose to a pleasant, even warm, level!

I was able to swim!!

Finally enjoying a swim in my own pool!
Finally enjoying a swim in my own pool!

It was amazing. The water was just the right height to swim comfortably in, and being able to do about 7 full breast strokes from
one end to the other before having to turn around was just about long enough to have a good 20 minutes blast of solid swimming in.

My Dad came round as soon as he heard the good news, and was in the pool before I’d even had the chance to say “come on in, the water’s lovely”. Being 12ft wide, there was room for us to both swim side by side.

I was living the dream!

I had my own swimming pool in my back garden!!

I tried my original plan of waking up and having a swim before work. It was only just bearable though on the warmest days. A swim after work was better but again it had to be a significantly hot day and the sun still out.

I worked from home occasionally for a period at that point; this was ideal. At lunch time I’d go straight outside and spend an hour in the pool.


Summer passed too quickly.

The heat pump couldn’t cope with the quickly cooling evenings, and the water became too cold for me to swim.

Dammit dammit dammit.

What could I do?

Buy a gas heater?

Nope. I was skint.

Summer 2008 has presented Europe with an economic crash.

My contract had ended and wasn’t renewed; I had been out of work for 5 months, finally getting a new permanent job in February 2009. It didn’t pay as well as contracting though, and the bills had mounted from the 5 months I’d been out of work.

Then we decided to move house.

The pool had to go.

I’d considered trying to take it apart and transport to the next house, but the wife wouldn’t hear about it. It just wasn’t practical, and it was a waste of money. Couldn’t we sell the damn thing?

At first I dismissed the thought: how could I sell my rather dodgy bespoke above ground pool system? The best bet was to just sell it with the house. The estate agent though decided that it wouldn’t increase the value of the house at all. In fact, it may put people off.

So I figured I’d try selling it on eBay.

And it worked!

Someone bought it, and took the entire system back to Yorkshire with him. He didn’t pay much more it in the end; yet I bet he’s still cursing me for buying such a contraption.

The question in my mind though was: how do I install a cheap but optimal pool system in the next house?

My obsession was rudely interrupted by the break up of my marriage.

I’m not going to discuss such a personal thing as my separation and eventual divorce on here, and the reasons leading to it, but I’m pretty sure my pool obsession hadn’t helped matters.

Actually I’d become a bit obsessed about many things and when 6 months later a new girlfriend accused me of having OCD, it hit me
that she was actually probably right. That’s when I was forced to reinvent myself – but that’s an entirely different story!

I lived with my Dad for a year before buying my own house.

2 years later and several dry hot summers passed; I needed a pool again.

But this time I would be more realistic… Part 3 coming up soon 🙂

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