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Even with the Peconic Bay and Long Island Sound in their backyards, North Fork homeowners are looking more now than ever at installing swimming pools in their backyards. (Credit: David Benthal)

Before Emily and John Miller bought their home on Nassau Point Road in Cutchogue three years ago, they had one key question: Could they put a pool in? John, a physician, is an avid swimmer, and Emily, an English teacher, wanted a pool the couple’s grown children and grandchild could enjoy on visits. Still, when the couple installed the pool last summer in the front yard of their bayfront home, they couldn’t have imagined how much use it would get this year. 

“We usually don’t open it before Memorial Day,” said Emily Miller. “This year we opened it before Mother’s Day.” 

Emily, an English teacher, worked remotely from Cutchogue this spring while her husband, a physician, spent more time in New York. She said that the pool was probably most appreciated by her grandson, who is almost two, and who came to visit several times in the last few months. “He loves the pool. I thought he was going to shrivel up into a little raisin he was in there so much,” she said. “In retrospect, we’re really lucky we put it in last year.”

She’s right: Contractors in the North Fork pool building industry report that they’re experiencing a “boom” that is a direct result of the Covid-19 crisis. “I can’t even meet with half the people who call,” said Patrick Kenney, who owns and operates Patrick’s Pools in East Quogue and who installed the Miller’s pool. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t have five requests for new pools. I would say my business has doubled.” 

With social distancing guidelines in effect at beaches, and many public pools and marinas either restricting access or remaining closed entirely, putting in a pool has never been more appealing. The call of the water is so strong that people are moving forward despite pressures on the economy that have them pressing pause on other major purchases. 

John Wysoczanski, who has operated Islandia Pools in Riverhead for more than 30 years, said he can barely keep up with demand for pool installation, and that everything in his retail showroom has been sold out as well. He’s waiting on a shipment of 15 new spas after selling every one he had in stock. At East End Pool King in Southold, even the stock of inflatable kiddie pools is nearly gone, said manager Jen Del Vaglio, who runs the company with her husband, C.J. Del Vaglio.

Inground pools are a significant expense, so for many people an inflatable, spa, or above-ground pool might be a more budget-friendly option—and one that you can start using right away. That said, if you’ve been dreaming of an inground pool, experts say now is a good time to get the process rolling. The high demand for pool installation, combined with pandemic-related slowdowns in permitting and building, is expected to create delays that may last until next year, so you’ll want to get in the queue as soon as possible. Here’s what to keep in mind if you’re ready to take the plunge.

The privacy of a backyard pool is hard to beat. (Credit: David Benthal)

Find the right partner.

The best way to choose a pool company to work with, said Del Vaglio, is to get a recommendation from someone you trust. If not, she suggested, “you definitely want to make sure when you’re contacting pool companies that you’re following up with referrals and references.” 

Make sure the pool company has the proper licensing and certifications. All contractors building pools in New York are required to be Certified Pool Builders issued through Northeast Spa and Pool Association (NESPA). It’s also good to find a contractor that is part of the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance and has its certified professional certification through Long Island Pool and Spa Association. Aside from checking those boxes, homeowners should also ask the contractor if they have workman’s compensation and limited liability insurance.

“These are questions that should roll off the tongue when you’re asking someone to come in your back yard and dig a big hole,” Del Vaglio said, pointing out that while some companies based further west of the island will claim to do it cheaper, putting in a pool the right way is an expense of $45,000 and up for North Fork residents. “It’s not a small investment. And it should be a great experience. You should be looking for a connection with whoever your contractor will be so you can enjoy the whole journey. You really need someone you can lean on.”

And the closer they are, the easier it is to lean. Staying local was a piece of advice shared by several pool contractors. It’s is in their best interest, of course, but they also made the case that choosing a local contractor is a better call for their clients rather than going with someone based further west, even if there is an initial cost savings on paper.

“You have to make sure you get a person that’s legit,” Wysoczanski said. “There are a lot of guys who try to undercut [other companies], and they’ll put a pool in and either don’t finish it or something goes wrong and they’re not there to help. I’ve been in business for 32 years, and I always give people my cell phone number. I don’t want them to feel like they’re left out there alone.”

For continuity, consider choosing a company that also has a service department. On the North Fork in particular, pool service contractors have been harder to find as the numbers of pools in the area has steadily grown and demand has increased.

“It’s not a small investment. And it should be a great experience. You should be looking for a connection with whoever your contractor will be so you can enjoy the whole journey.”

Jen Del Vaglio

Be clear about your budget.

Del Vaglio said she is often surprised by the reluctance of homeowners to dig into budget specifics. She said it is key to have that discussion, early and in detail, to avoid any issues down the road. Consider any extras or upgrades that may be desired, like an outdoor barbeque area, pergola or sundeck. For a project that goes beyond a standard in-ground pool installation, Del Vaglio also suggested spending some money upfront on a conceptual drawing. “That way everybody can be on the same page,” she said. “And the vision is on paper for everyone to refer to.”

Any budget also needs to take into account permitting guidelines, some of which are standard across New York State—such as a four-foot fence that encloses the pool—and others that may vary in different townships. Most of the towns on the North and South Fork are now mandating dry wells, which are an extra expense. If the Department of Environmental Conservation or trustees need to be involved—for instance, if there are adjacent wetlands —that process can add money and significant time delays as well, stretching out the timeline as long as six months in some instances.

Done right, a pool can be a perfect backyard oasis. (Credit: David Benthal)

Choose your materials.

Vinyl pool liners are the most affordable option, fastest to install, and easiest to replace. But as a synthetic product, vinyl may not age as well as gunite, a form of concrete, said Kenney. “Gunite will melt into the surroundings and look graceful,” he said. “And it has a nicer feel, with smooth marble or quartz plaster.”

Perhaps the biggest reason for choosing gunite over vinyl is the value it will add to the home, he said. “Gunite pools seem to hold 100 percent of the value on whatever the investment was when the home sells,” he said. “Unless you’re in love with one over the other, you should build with the long view of the property value.”

Nicholas J. Planamento, a broker with Town & Country Real Estate in Mattituck, confirmed that pools are among the key features sought by North Fork home buyers and renters. “The first thing house hunters want to know is if there is a pool, or the first thing they do when they move in is get a pool,” said Nicholas J. Planamento, a broker with Town & Country Real Estate. “Of course, we have the best pool of all in the Peconic Bay, but they want the privacy.”

There are few better ways to relax without leaving your own property. (Credit: David Benthal)

Prepare to be patient.

The time it takes to complete a pool installation can vary depending on a lot of factors, and local contractors all agreed that things are slower than usual lately for several reasons, all stemming from the ripple effects of Covid-19. Kenney pointed out that the latter part of the spring is typically when foundations that were installed earlier in the year are turned into useable swimming pools, and he said he people who were hoping their pools would be finished by the beginning of summer have experienced delays, which in turn have delayed the start of other contracts. 

State mandated factory shutdowns weeks ago caused a backlog for manufacturers of important pool parts, such as liners and pool heaters, and the pandemic-driven increase in demand has made the backlog even more acute. The shutdown also created a backup with permitting in town building departments. Contractors said that while the requirements in towns on the North and South Forks can vary, they are generally all reasonable.

“I have to say that all the towns are great to work with,” Del Vaglio said. “The application process is different in each township, but everybody has a checklist you have to run through, and if you follow protocol and do the right thing, you should have a good experience.” 

Del Vaglio had encouraging words for homeowners who will see the summer end before their pool is complete. “Fall is a great time to build,” she said. “You don’t have that construction zone in your yard [during the summer months] and a lot of people are really thinking about the future. They understand that things were shut down for a long time and are just opening. I think we will see pool building still in high demand this fall and spring.”

It’s a trend she’s seen climb steadily over more than a decade, and with the extra push from the coronavirus pandemic—which will continue to affect life for the foreseeable future—it doesn’t show any signs of stopping. “People aren’t going to be traveling, so they’re looking to invest in their homes,” she said. “Everyone seems to be finding the value of their home, and in being home, and making something that can be an outlet for the entire family.”