A swimming pool makes a lovely addition to your French home, but make sure you do your homework before jumping in at the deep end, says Vicky Leigh
For many people, having a swimming pool is a big part of the French property dream. The prospect of having to venture no further than the back door in order to go for a dip is a particularly attractive one, as is the knowledge that you can enjoy your swim in the privacy of your own home without having to share your pool with anyone else.
With summer now upon us your thoughts may well be turning to the possibility of installing a swimming pool at your French home (whether you already own it or at the househunting stage), so here are a few aspects to consider before taking the plunge.
The cost of installing a swimming pool is probably going to be your main consideration. This will vary depending on the type of pool you choose and how you decide to install it. Fibreglass pools are generally considered to be one of the best structures but do come at a cost. Installation can either be a DIY job or overseen by a professional. The more traditional block and liner concrete pools are often the builders’ preferred choice as opposed to the modern panel method.
The cost of the pool itself may be just the tip of the iceberg, as maintenance equipment will also need to be factored in. Terracing and landscaping work may also be required. However, there could be considerable savings to be made if you purchase your pool and products at the end of the season.
ABOVE-GROUND OR IN-GROUND?
If you are looking for a more budget-friendly option, you may want to opt for an above-ground pool. DIY kits can be picked up at the supermarket for less than €500, and there are no added costs for burying the pipework.
Further advantages include quicker and easier installation, without the need for any professional assistance. There are many types available, and they range in size from compact splash pools that are ideal for smaller gardens and young families, to those large enough to swim lengths in. So, if you’re confident that your DIY skills are up to the job then this could be the solution for you.
In-ground swimming pools are considerably more expensive to install. They are also considered to be a permanent fixture by the taxman, and as such will increase your taxe foncière. However, they will increase the value of your home by at least the cost of the installation if done properly.
This will give you the best of both worlds, as not only will you get greater enjoyment out of your French home while you’re using it but it also means you’ll have an added advantage if ever you decide to sell it. Pools often feature on buyers’ property shopping lists, so it may well give your home the edge and help it to stand out from the crowd.
For those renting out their property during the summer months, or offering holiday accommodation in the form of gîtes and chambres d’hôtes, a swimming pool is likely to make it more attractive to holidaymakers too.
Give careful thought to where your swimming pool should be sited in terms of accessibility, the location of water and electricity supplies, and whether you want to be able to see it from the house.
The weather in France is probably going to be a lot more accommodating in terms of sunshine and warm temperatures, so you should also consider where your pool will get the most sunlight. This will allow you to make the most of your pool, so you can squeeze every last drop of use out of your piscine.
Of course a heating system will prolong the pool season even further. Solar-powered heating is a good way of making even more of the plentiful sunshine, and there are cost savings to be made too, as once solar panels have been fitted they will provide a free source of heat. Furthermore, a solar heating system is also environmentally friendly if you’re conscious of your carbon footprint and are looking for a green solution.
Once you’ve decided on the type of swimming pool you want to install, you will then need to check whether you are required to apply for planning permission before any work can start. Above-ground pools are exempt but an in-ground pool measuring less than 100m2 will require a déclaration préalable de travaux (building notice).
Larger pools with a surface area of more than 100m2 will require a permis de construire. The local mairie will be able to supply you with the appropriate paperwork and also help you to complete it.
If you need to obtain a full permis you will be required to provide a selection of documents including a sectional drawing of the land and proposed construction, and a graphical representation of the proposed pool within the existing surroundings.
You will need to ensure that your swimming pool complies with the strict safety regulations in place in France. Passed in 2003, the loi Raffarin stipulated that all in-ground outdoor pools must be equipped with an approved safety system. This law was introduced in an attempt to reduce the number of deaths by drowning, particularly among children, in private pools.
Indoor and above-ground pools are exempt from the regulations, but all in-ground outdoor swimming pools must be equipped with one of the following devices:
• An enclosure, fence or barrier surrounding the perimeter (compliant with standard P90-306). These can be in a variety of materials, such as metal or wood, but no natural boundaries, for example hedges or ditches, can be considered as a security barrier.
• An alarm (compliant with standard P90-307). There are two main types: a perimeter alarm uses infra-red beams to detect when someone enters a specified area; an immersion alarm senses a fall into the water and must activate within 12 seconds. There are, however, downsides to alarm systems. AFNOR regulations state that an adult must be able to respond to an alarm in less than three minutes, so if you’re away from the property you will not be able to do so. Some also require a code to be entered, which disables the alarm while people swim. So, although they are approved, it is advisable to use them in conjunction with another approved security device.
• A safety cover that can withstand the weight of an adult (compliant with standard P90-308). Again, there are a number of options available but it is worth remembering that a cover must be used whenever the pool is left unattended, so make sure you choose one that is easy to put on and remove.
• A pool abris (compliant with standard P90-309). This shelter looks a bit like a greenhouse and is probably the most expensive option, although it does have several advantages. In addition to being an approved safety device, it will help to heat the pool and also keep out leaves and general debris.
These devices must comply with the standards set by AFNOR (Association Française de Normalisation) and failure to ensure that your pool has an approved security system could result in you facing a €45,000 fine.
When in use your swimming pool will require daily maintenance. Costs can mount up, so these should be considered when you’re working out your budget. Chlorine is the most popular sanitation option and is widely and cheaply available.
Choosing a saltwater pool is an alternative option and, although initially more costly to install, your annual maintenance expenditure will be reduced, as a bag of salt can last a year.
If your pool is only going to be used by you, your friends and family, a standard filtration and sanitisation system is fine. However, if the pool is going to be used by more than one family at a time, for example in the case of gîtes or chambres d’hôtes, you will require a more efficient system that keeps the water in a sanitary and balanced state much more strictly than normal.
If the property where the pool is installed is your holiday home, it is worth keeping in mind that the pool may be unused for long periods of time. Therefore, if you are not going to be able to maintain the pool, you’ll need something that can be emptied and refilled at the beginning of every season.