Owning a cottage is an all-time Canadian dream

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

Karen Turner

A shed is a convenient storage spot for pool accessories and garden tools. Photograph by : Julie Oliver, CanWest News Service

Jackson, 11, Avery, 6, and Nolan, 10, leap into the family’s new salt-water swimming pool — their parents’ affordable, easy maintenance alternative to a family cottage. Photograph by : Julie Oliver, CanWest News Service

Owning a cottage is an all-time Canadian dream. A cabin in the woods on the fringe of a quiet lake, where swimming off the dock and toasting marshmallows over an open fire are favourite summer pastimes, offers a relaxing escape from hectic urban life.

It’s a place where breakfasts are big, suppers are late and the only fashion decision you need to make is whether to wear a bikini or a one-piece to the beach.

While our cottage lacks a sandy waterfront, its split-second commute and easy access to pristine salt water are hard to beat. The best part is that our dream retreat only cost us $11,000 and a healthy helping of sweat equity.

This spring, my husband Anthony Clayton and I decided to turn our backyard into a suburban cottage by installing an above-ground swimming pool in the corner of our lot.

Years ago, before there were four sons to feed and shuttle from soccer fields to swimming lessons, we talked about investing in a recreational property where we could spend summer weekends splashing around in the water and dining on barbecued steaks and burgers.

But our cottage dream never got any further than scouting the real estate listings.

Talk is cheap, but waterfront properties aren’t.

Besides the hefty price tag, there’s also the upkeep of two properties to consider and the lost time spent loading and unloading the van for the commute back and forth from the city. A stay-at-home cottage, we had decided, was our best solution.

Though in-ground swimming pools are beautiful, they cost about four to five times more than an above-ground system, not including landscaping, lighting and decking. That expense, as well as the long-term commitment to a fixture in our backyard, was not what we wanted.

Having just moved into our four-bedroom house last August, budget played a key role in our decision-making. And with a large deck already jutting off the back of the house and a yard fully hedged with 30-year-old cedars offering maximum privacy, an above-ground pool plunked into the back corner of the yard was a perfect fit.

We started our search in March, comparison shopping 21-foot round, all-resin pools.

Having grown up with a conventional chlorine pool, my husband insisted on buying a saltwater system, which is not only easier on the eyes and skin, but doesn’t require mixing a lot of toxic chemicals to keep algae and bacteria at bay.

By shopping early, we lucked out and saved ourselves more than $500 on a saltwater conversion kit on sale for $450. More dickering ensued and we shaved another $100 off the cost of having a light installed inside the pool for night-time swimming.

With the ladder, pool-cleaning equipment and filter and pump, our new pool cost just under $5,700 installed.

Next came the levelling of the ground where the pool would sit.

This would have cost several hundred dollars given the slope of our yard. By doing the digging ourselves, we saved another $400.

Many more blisters were earned from lugging river rock to form a wide border around the base of the pool. Easy maintenance was our objective, so we skirted the pool with landscape tarp topped with coloured pebbles to avoid having to mow unwanted grass and weeds.

I put my novice green thumb to good use and planted beds of bushy ferns, black-eyed Susans and hardy hostas near the entrance of our yard and next to the new garden shed to camouflage the sides of the pool. Screens of lattice provide a graphic backdrop to the greenery and hide the clunky pump and filter.

They also keep the boys from darting through the gardens to retrieve wayward balls and overboard pool noodles.

Of course, no cottage would be complete without a dock to jump off or sit on with your feet dangling in the cool water.

To connect our pool to the existing wood deck, my husband built a raised extension out of pressure-treated lumber that follows the curve of the pool. The “dock” floats just above the pool lip, offering enough spring for the boys to do perfect cannonballs into the water at full sprint.

We may not have loons bobbing past our dock, or white sand for building castles, but our cottage in the city is private, convenient and ultra-relaxing. And family and friends are always welcome.


– Shop early to secure the best installation date so you can start enjoying your pool sooner rather than later.

– When you pay to have a pool installed, it doesn’t include the electrical connection or filling the pool with water. Budget at least $400 for these additional expenses.

– Be sure to apply for your pool permit as soon as possible, because the pool can’t be installed until the permit is approved and in hand.

– Spend the extra money (about $200) on a pool light because it allows you to safely use the pool after dark and provides a moody backdrop for evening outdoor parties.

– A pool heater is a wise investment to maximize your swimming season. A gas heater for a 21-foot pool starts at about $1,000, about double the cost of an electric heater.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006


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