Above-Ground Pools Have Their Moment

Ellen Dioguardi and David Gribin living the life in their above-ground pool. Lori Hawkins photo

When the school year finally came to an end in June, parents who limped their way across the remote-learning finish line breathed a collective sigh of relief, free — at least temporarily — from the impossible task of trying to simultaneously manage careers, their children’s education, and their sanity all within the confines of their homes. That brief feeling of respite was followed by a new pressing question: what am I going to do with these kids all summer?

How to have an enjoyable summer in the time of coronavirus isn’t just a conundrum for parents. Staring at their backyards, many people started to consider something they probably wouldn’t have a year ago — an above-ground pool.

In-ground pool construction companies abound in the Hamptons, and they’ve seen a surge in demand in recent months related to the pandemic. But installing an in-ground pool is an expense of $45,000 and up, meaning it simply isn’t an option for everyone. In communities where a body of water is never more than a half hour ride away, a pool typically hasn’t been a necessity for many. But with social distancing measures in effect, and people being generally skittish, to varying degrees, about gathering in public, above-ground pools are having a moment.

Ellen Dioguardi — who lives in the Pine Neck neighborhood of Noyack and is the director of events for the Express News Group — was never a fan of above-ground pools, a stance that she said probably started when she was a child and her mother had no interest in putting one in their yard.

Ellen Dioguardi and David Gribin relaxing in their new above-ground pool. Lori Hawkins photo

But in April, staring down the possibility of months confined at home, Ms. Dioguardi found herself scouring the internet late at night, determined to buy one.

“We have a boat, but the last few years we’d been having issues with it, and I said to my husband, ‘what if we can’t get it running?’” she said. “In the beginning of all of this, we didn’t know how locked down everything would be. So I said I wanted an above-ground pool.”

Dioguardi sold her husband on the idea by telling him that regular swimming would be therapeutic for a nagging knee injury.

“That’s the only way I hooked him into it,” she said with a laugh.

The journey from an impulse purchase to having it all set up in her yard has certainly been longer and more arduous than Dioguardi expected. A rectangle shaped 14×8 pool she had her eye on in March was sold out by early April, when she was ready to pull the trigger. The presence of three cesspools underground in their back yard made finding the right place to situate the pool a challenge, particularly once they were forced to commit to a circular model.

Dioguardi finally clicked the purchase button late one night, after her husband had fallen asleep on the couch, and, she admitted, more than one margarita may have been consumed to help embolden the click of the finger. A few days later, a 14×4-ft. round pool arrived at their door, for a total cost of $650 once shipping was figured in.

The pool now sits in a corner of the backyard, partially blocking an entrance gate. Trees and shrubs needed to be trimmed back to accommodate it, and a homemade outdoor bar is currently being configured to sit adjacent to the pool. If Dioguardi squints and uses her imagination, soon she’ll be able to pretend she’s floating seaside in a Caribbean resort pool with a swim-up bar.

Dioguardi admitted that it’s far from perfect. The rectangle shape would have been a far better fit for their yard, connecting the filter to electricity was a challenge, and extra money was spent on bags of gravel to spread around the pool to prevent mud and puddles. But adjusting and making the best of a situation has become a way of life for everyone, to varying degrees, during the pandemic, and at this point, Dioguardi has still retained a sense of humor about their new backyard investment, chronicling the journey on her Facebook page.

“Ultimately, my $600 is either a folly or a hoot,” she said. “I don’t know yet.”

Dioguardi was not the only one feeling the tug of desperation in the spring. Many others were following that impulse, either to Amazon, Wal-mart and Ebay, or, if they had the means, to pick up the phone and call a pool contractor. Dioguardi said her neighbors, second-homeowners from Brooklyn, moved out to Sag Harbor indefinitely in the spring, and even asked if their two-year-old daughter could occasionally come swim in the above-grounder once it was installed. Dioguardi agreed, and then heard a few days later that they decided to install a gunite in-ground pool.

Emmett, left, and Jaxon Schumann (Jaime Mott’s sons) in their above-ground pool in Noyac.

Jaime Mott, another Sag Harbor resident, has her own above-ground pool story that mirrors Dioguardi’s in many ways. She also spent hours scouring the internet for a pool that would help her twin sons, Emmett and Jaxson, turning 9 in July, expend their seemingly boundless energy. She started looking in late April before ultimately purchasing a 15-foot-round by 3-foot-deep model made by Intex off Amazon. Prices would change by the day on Amazon, she said, ranging from $900 to $2,500 for a pool that typically retails for around $400. Mott ultimately ordered three pools, figuring she’d keep the one that worked best and return the other two, but two other friends quickly volunteered to take the others off her hands.

Two of the pools were ordered in the wee hours of the night, and Mott said that “a glass of wine or two was probably involved.” She has zero regrets, however, as she watches her sons and even a few neighborhood friends happily splash around in the pool for hours every day.

“I have a small house and very active children, and the thought of long days spent sweating in our small yard was not appealing,” she said.

The set-up took less than two hours, and Mott said they didn’t bother doing much to protect the ground underneath.

“If our grass dies there, it’s well worth it,” she said.

Mott lives on a cul-de-sac street in Noyack with several friends who also have small children and said the pool has been a godsend in many ways.

“It was an easy way for us to socialize outside and have everyone feel safe,” she said. “And for the littler kids, it’s great. I didn’t have to worry about anyone hurting themselves. It has a rubber liner, it’s as safe as it can get.”

While adults might prefer the luxury of a beautifully designed, in-ground gunite pool, a simple above-grounder has particular appeal for the youngest swimmers, a fact that was driven home, Mott said, by the son of a good friend whose father is a successful local pool contractor. He told his mother that the above-ground pool was “way cooler” than their pool, mainly because it has one standout feature that in-grounders cannot claim — by running together in a circle around the edge, the kids can make a whirlpool.

Those are the kinds of simple pleasures that have made hours of late-night internet bargain hunting worth it.

“It’s really just for the kids to have some low-maintenance, easy fun,” Mott said. “That’s what our quarantine life became. It was about finding something we could do that didn’t cost the family tons of money and was function based.”

Like Dioguardi, Mott said she never would have considered buying an above-ground pool prior to the pandemic. But in a time when options for fun have been severely curtailed, a return to basics is forced, although not necessarily unwelcome.

“When you have all these other options, it’s easy to see what’s better or nicer,” Mott said. “These days, you’re just going for survival, but in the simplest and purest way.”

Dioguardi echoed similar sentiments. She said she still expects to get out on the boat this summer, but admitted she won’t be showing up as frequently at the local bay, a stone’s throw from their home, and a favorite summer tradition she shares with her husband — attending concerts — is off the table as well. They splurged on a few extras to surround the pool, including the homemade bar, a dartboard, a table and an umbrella

They also bought a kiddie pool for their dog, Boots, a black lab/pitbull mix they adopted recently.

Earlier this month, Dioguardi was still on the cusp of christening the pool, hoping all the hours spent researching, setting it up, and adding extras to make the backyard oasis complete would be worth it. She wondered out loud if she still would have gone through with the purchase if she’d known how laborious it would be. She settled, at least momentarily, on saying yes.

“I think I just need to be floating in it with a cocktail with the sun beating down on me, and not have it bust,” she said, adding that a friend who had commented on one of her facebook posts had some good advice for what to do if her fears that the water will breach the walls and flood her yard come true.

“They said, ‘just make sure you’re in it if that happens, to enjoy the ride.’”