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Robert Lamoureux: Is filling in a pool the best plan?

Posted: July 16, 2010 9:41 p.m.
Updated: July 17, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Dear Robert,
Thank you so much for your column. I am a retired homeowner with a swimming pool that is rarely used (less than once a year). It costs more than $100 per month to maintain the pool. Is there any way to eliminate the swimming pool — or must I just sell my home of more than 40 years? I cannot afford this much for maintenance. My son suggested I fill it with sand and make a Zen garden? Please help. Thank you,
Mary H.   

Hi Mary,
It basically comes down to a matter of choice and economics. If you can’t afford it, don’t enjoy it, don’t use it and nobody else is using it — and hypothetically have paid the house off — then yes, one option would be to fill it in.

Or, if you are considering selling your home an average sized swimming pool adds about $5,000 to the value of your home. 

Have you considered the various costs involved with filling in a pool? To do it right, you’d have to break out all of the flat work. The minimum allowable decking surface around a pool is three feet.  That means at least three feet of concrete all the way around the pool would need to be demolished and hauled away — with disposal fees. 

Also, factor in the additional cost to bring in all the dirt or sand to fill in the pool. What about accessibility to your backyard?

Will the fence need to be removed to bring trucks in? Will the fill dirt or sand have to be brought in one wheelbarrow at a time? This adds up quickly in labor costs.

How much damage will be done to the landscape getting the dirt to the pool? After it’s filled, it will need to be compacted.

These steps all take time, and time is money. Once you have a better understanding of those costs, it may make more sense to keep the pool.

In addition to the material and labor costs you will need permits for the project  — one for moving the soil and one for the demo work.   

After considering all of the costs, you may discover it’s best to sell your home and move into a place without a pool.

It’s difficult to say. You would first need to find out how much your home is worth in today’s market, investigate what type of property you could move into after you sell and decide if would you be happy with the alternative.

Mary, there may be some pool maintenance companies that could save you money. If it’s alright with you, I will forward you all of the contacts we receive. 

Hello Robert,
What is the correct location for battery-operated smoke detectors? Two city inspectors and a VA/FHA inspector have given me three different answers for the same locations. One inspector said it had to be within 12 inches from the ceiling (18 feet high), another said above the bedroom door and another said it couldn’t be close to the air-conditioner vent. Thank you.
Carla G.
P.S. I look forward to reading your Home Improvement answers in The Signal each week.

Hi Carla,

Thank you. You do not want to mount a smoke detector near the air conditioner vent, the diffuser, because in the event of a fire, the air flow could disrupt smoke reaching the detector, causing a delay before it sounded the alarm. If there is any smoke in your home, you want to know about it immediately.  

The California Building Code requires smoke alarms, as approved by the State Fire Marshall, must be placed in every living quarter and main passageway. More specifically, for two story dwellings, one must be installed on each story and in the basement; in each bedroom (even if not used as a sleeping room); centrally located in the corridor or area giving access to the sleeping room. When sleeping rooms are on an upper floor, the code requires a smoke alarm to be placed on the ceiling of the upper level in close proximity to the stairway.

Because I’m paranoid, I have detectors in every room. I have detectors everywhere. If there is a fire in my den, I want to know about it immediately. I don’t want to give the smoke time to travel to a bedroom or a hallway before I’m aware there is a problem. The faster I’m alerted to it the better. 

Smoke alarms are under $10 each and is money well spent. I change the batteries twice a year, each time I change the clocks. Or, you can hard wire the alarms in if you like, to save the trouble of changing the batteries. Code for new construction is that all smoke detectors must be hard wired with a battery backup, but in existing buildings, battery operated smoke detectors are fine.

Hi Robert,
I read your column every week. My home faces south, which I always heard was bad for wooden doors, and now I’ve noticed termites and a crack through the door. Unfortunately, I am a senior on a very tight budget and would like to repair the door instead of buying a new one. Could you recommend the best procedure and the best glue? Thank you,
Lee R.

Hi Lee,
Sometimes you have to bite the bullet. If your entry door has split, that’s it. It’s over. It should be replaced. You could try to glue it back together and clamp it, but you’d have to have your front door off while it set. There are some things that you shouldn’t skimp on and your front door — your safety and home security — is one of them.  

If I were you, I would look into the metal skin doors. These are stamped doors, made of metal, with a wood-grained looking finish. Once installed, you won’t have to worry about the door. The doors come with a fiberglass frame, two metal skins, and are very nice. The door manufacturers have come a long way with the pre-stamped doors. With one of these, you won’t have to deal with any more cracks or termites, and the doors are reasonably priced.   

We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we will give you if we answer your question. The shirt is available for pick-up at our office in Valencia.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send your questions to


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