British Columbia

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

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

As of August, more than 19,000 pool permits have been tallied by Stats Canada across the country in 2021

Marcos Borges of B.C. Pools and Spas Ltd. in the midst of installing an in-ground pool at at a North Vancouver property. He has had 47 pool orders in a record year of sales. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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. 

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 like the temperatures that gripped British Columbia 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.

Harmony Pero looks at the infintiy pool being built on her property in Anmore, B.C. on Oct. 28. (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.

38,000 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 2020, 1,286 pool permits have been recorded in B.C.

Marcos Borges of B.C. Pools and Spas Ltd during a pool installation in North Vancouver, B.C., on Oct. 14. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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

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 and about $150,000 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.

Harmony Pero can't wait for her backyard oasis, a custom infinity pool, to take shape behind her home in Anmore, B.C. (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 certain parts. Items that used to take weeks to arrive can now take months, he says, while things like 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.

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca

With files from Angelina Ravelli

now