Backyard pool building surges as Canadians opt for at-home oasis to escape COVID-19, heat and boredom

·4 min read
Marcos Borges of BC Pools and Spas Ltd. at a North Vancouver construction site where he is in the midst of installing an inground pool. He has had 47 pool orders in a record year of sales. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Marcos Borges of BC Pools and Spas Ltd. at a North Vancouver construction site where he is in the midst of installing an inground pool. He has had 47 pool orders in a record year of sales. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

While some parts of the economy struggle to recover, the pandemic has proven to be a boon for Canadian pool builders.

Some people say COVID-19 restrictions and the summer heatwave have driven unprecedented waves of demand from homeowners looking to build a backyard oasis.

Backyard 'slice of paradise'

Harmony Pero's family in Anmore B.C., about a 50 minute drive east of Vancouver, is in the midst of constructing a custom infinity pool to keep her two teen boys busy in their back forty after almost two years of pandemic life, and to be ready for more record heat, which gripped B.C. this past summer.

"We live so close to Buntzen Lake and White Pine Beach but with covid it brought so many more people into the area looking for some water. It's hard to even get into those places, so covid definitely played a big role in us wanting to have our own little slice of paradise at home," said Pero.

Maggie MacPherson/CBC
Maggie MacPherson/CBC

Her family is part of a wave of new private pool owners in Canada. Tired of masking, the anxiety of mixing with crowds or booking travel only to have to cancel, many are remaking backyards, often using cash they haven't been able to spend on travel. Others taking the pool plunge say they are buoyed by rising home values.

All of them want a backyard escape where they can spend time together.

38K pool permits in 2020/21

The pool and spa industry says it is seeing an "unprecedented" demand for pools on private property.

A total of 18,820 applications for pool permits were logged in 2020, according to a tally of Statistics Canada building permit reports. The tally for 2021 eclipsed the 2020 figure in the first eight months of the year. By August 2021, Statistics Canada says 19,306 pool permits had been recorded.

Last year the majority of pool permit applications were in Quebec, which had 13,625. Ontario was second with 3,400 and B.C. was third with 591.

Since January of 2020, 1,286 pool permits have been recorded in B.C.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

For builders like Marcos Borges it's been a record 2021.

His North Vancouver company B.C. Pools and Spas Ltd. had 47 pool orders.

Borges says he installs everything from above ground to in-ground custom pools. They cost on average between $12,000 to about $100,000 to install the pool and landscape the backyard.

But the cost for a custom pool with unique landscaping can cost millions, depending on the site.

Borges says his customers want to upgrade their backyards because they plan on spending more time at home.

"Our customers tell us that they're not going away to take a lot of vacations in the future, so everybody's looking to do a renovation in their backyard ... to turn the backyard into their 'staycation' or so they can stay home and enjoy family," he said.

Maggie MacPherson/CBC
Maggie MacPherson/CBC

He and other builders say they are so busy they are struggling to meet demand. He's also plagued by supply chain shortages related to the pandemic and high demand for everything from pump parts to pool liners. Items — from pumps to pipes — that used to take weeks to arrive, he says, can now take months.

Some items, such as specific pool liner designs, are just not available due to high demand.

Record demand for pool builds

Across Canada many pool and hot tub builders and installers are booked into 2022 or beyond.

Bill Roberton, executive director of the Pool and Hot Tub Council of Canada, says his approximately 400 members tell him they haven't seen demand like this before.

Maggie MacPherson/CBC
Maggie MacPherson/CBC

Across Canada pool builders and retailers tell him they are doubling or tripling sales, and hitting capacity.

"Most are saying this is unprecedented, the demand for pools and for really anything in backyards. People are investing in their homes because they realize [the pandemic] may continue or it may come back."

In Ontario, Roberton said initially there were delays to get permitting and building underway during initial covid restrictions. But he said that didn't dissuade customers, it only added to pent-up demand and a backlog in orders and supplies.

"Some suppliers are sold out right into next summer or next fall," he said.

That's left some frustrated pool buyers with nothing but a muddy hole and visions of that first dive on hold, as they await parts and keep dreaming.

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