Sep 20, 2008

Endless Pool: One Year In-Service Review

I have always wanted a pool. Always.

My great friend and cousin in-law, Chris, had a lap pool growing up and for over 30 years I have been talking about that pool! But the problem with a backyard lap pool for a Triathlete is that it is very difficult to build one long enough (25 meters) to get a satisfactory workout.

Then along comes Endless Pools.

Imagine an adjustable flow of water coming straight at you, just like a salmon swimming upstream. The company calls them a "swimming machine" and another way to look at them is sort of like a treadmill, but for swimming. All this in a compact 10' x 7' footprint. Takes up little space, you determine the speed of the water flow, no lines at the local pools or gyms. What could be more perfect!

The only problem is that these pools are extremely expensive. There is no way that I could ever 'cost justify' the incredible extravagance. Sort of like Warren Buffet who calls his Gulfstream IV-SP jet "The Indefensible."

The cost of a basic Endless Pool is listed at about $20K - $25K, but let's talk real numbers, not the advertising hoopla.

In addition to the basic pool package which is assembled on site, either above or below ground, you'll certainly want to add some extras. The electric pool cover alone can be as much as $4,500. But it doesn't stop there. How about a swim mirror to check on your stroke? Got it. How about lights? Yep need those too for swimming late nights and pre-dawn. What about a swim meter to tell you how fast you are going and to record your workout distance? That's a must, and that's extra. Want a swim step so someone can get out of the pool? You'll need to order that as well. How about four hydro-massage jets for a Jacuzzi-like experience? You bet, especially after a long bike ride! I could go on and on regarding the extras.

In my case, I thought I was getting the deal of a lifetime because I was able to locate a pre-owned pool from a private party and verified all the data with Endless Pools. It came with a custom-made $5,000 cover and most of the parts. All this for about $12,000. I saved well over half and was elated.

But let's just look at the REAL numbers:

$12,000 The initial cost of the Pool
$9,000 Installation cost (I got ripped off here; big time!)
$2,000 Prep and pour a new concrete slab
$1,500 Upgraded electrical service to power the massive hydraulic pump
$5,000 New gas pool heater to save on energy costs (My first electric bill was $2,000!!)
$2,500 Build a deck around the pool for a platform and easier access.
$2,000 Cultured stones to face the outside of the pool structure
$1,500 Labor to install the stones
$2,250 Extra parts, new parts, service call on the cover, service call on the electrical
$300 Landscaping around the deck

The total cost is about $38,000 and I am certain that I have left out a lot of things.

Endless pools will never quote you how much it is going to cost for everything, but friends, these are the real numbers. Nothing extravagant or unusual here either.

OK, enough about the costs, what about the performance and value?

I love the pool. It has been a great tool and I am a much better swimmer because of this pool. It has operated flawlessly for about one year now. I have not had a single issue or problem and I am very happy and proud of that pool.

It does take a little adjustment to get used to the pool's current. As the current comes from the front of the unit in a smooth, waveless motion, it is also sucked back and down into a grate at the back of the pool; this is the return. So the water is returned to the front where there is a huge propeller safely housed in a solid stainless steel compartment. Totally, 100% safe to be sure. But the thing is that your feet are drawn down a bit by the power of the returning current. The faster the current, the stronger the draw and downward pulling motion on the lower legs. You'll get used to it, and one cool thing is that when you get back into the lake, ocean or community pool, you will not believe how much faster you are going without that pull on your legs; it's an amazing difference. You feel like you are just gliding right along the surface.

I am the first to recognize that it was a crazy and unjustifiable extravagance. Had I known that it would cost about $40,000, I never would have considered it. Never. For that price I could get a lifetime membership to the finest health clubs in the world. But it's done, and I don't regret it at this point.

I am very happy with the pool. I also like the hydro-jets which I can focus on parts of my back that get trashed from riding in the aero position on my Time Trial bike. But the really great thing about the pool is both the convenience as well as the ability to practice at exact pacing. If I want to complete my 2.4 mile Ironman swim leg in 1 hour and 20 minutes, then I know that I have to just set my pace meter to 1.80 mph and that will be the exact pace I will have to swim in the event. I can adjust the speed to whatever I like, although it gets to the point where it is just too fast!

The Endless Pool has also been used as a family hot tub from time to time. We upgraded the heater to an actual swimming pool heater (thus the $5,000 cost!). That allows me to superheat the water in about 2 hours from about 88-degrees where I typically swim, to 101-degrees for a hot tub experience.

The pool holds about 2,500 gallons of water and it is very easy to maintain. Endless Pools sells a kit of some minerals that you install into the filter and replace every six months. This product alone takes care of everything you'll need to do, except for chlorine. I use bromine tablets in a floater for when I am out of town and this has worked perfect to maintain an excellent balance. Caring for the pool is nearly effortless, but whatever effort is required is actually quite fun.

The pool can be installed indoors, outdoors, above ground or below ground. Below ground installations are quite expensive. At the same time, if you just install this 4.5 foot tall "box" on top of an elevated slab, it can be unsightly.

What we did was to pour a solid concrete pad, then build a deck around the front and side of the pool. that allowed for easier access with two stair steps. Then in front of the elevated deck, we planted flowering bushes to soften the whole look. So you see the lawn, then the flowering bushes, then the deck, then just two feet of the stone facing of the pool. This method allowed us to really break-up the massive box and really soften the overall look. I just love the way it all turned out.

The pool is definitely an excellent training device. I won't go as far as to say that it is a must, but it sure is a very convenient, fun and practical piece of exercise equipment that could possibly last a lifetime. And if you move, you simply have an installer come out, unbolt the pool and reassemble it later. All you'll need to do is to buy a replacement liner, which by the way are very attractive.

If you are really interested, I would be happy to send you photos or talk to you about the process and just give you the straight scoop here.