As winter rolls on, Canadians may share visions of swimming pools, but for different reasons.

Southern Ontarians, who have enjoyed warm, almost spring-like weather since winter officially began, will continue to have inground swimming pools installed until heavy frost hits. From Manitoba west, the intense winter freeze may have house-bound property owners wishing they'd installed an indoor hot tub.

The actual number of swimming pools in Canada is difficult to pinpoint since many installations do not require building permits.

Winter can be the best time to think about swimming pools. Pool ownership is no longer a simple 'yes' or 'no' decision. Most Canadians are not fully aware of the range of variations on the pool theme, and the array of choices of type, materials (fiberglass, resin, concrete) and features. Time invested in planning will be rewarded by a gorgeous design that's also practical and on-budget. Whether you have a pool, hot tub or spa in mind, the constraints of winter provide good perspective for the initial choice: outdoor seasonal enjoyment or year-round indoor use.

"It is a large decision to be making, even if it is not the time to break ground and put a pool in," said Mark Brown, Communications Manager of the Pool & Hot Tub Council of Canada, who says it's "apples and oranges" when you consider the difference between pools and hot tubs. "A lot of dealers will be more than happy to point you to a finished project before you buy."

National or provincial professional trade associations, like the Council, can be excellent resources for locating the local expertise vital to a successful installation. With outdoor designs, the decision between excavating for an inground pool, constructing an above-ground pool or installing an on-ground pool should be based on facts and budgets provided by experienced, qualified professionals. Indoor installations include concerns about controlling moisture levels, so expert advice is essential for enjoyment of the water feature and protection of your home. Brown describes having a pool as "kind of like owning a pet [because] there are maintenance issues," but he is quick to reassure that user-friendly water-quality management is the norm.

Professional experience is also essential to clarifying what you can't do. Having the space for a pool does not guarantee you may install one."There is no question that you can put something in, even if it's a small swim spa," said Brown, explaining that lot size is not the limiting factor it used to be. "From a technical standpoint, there is not a restriction on who can have a pool and where it can go. In urban areas, it is who is allowed."

Ironically, Brown's property backs onto a school and so a swimming pool is not permitted in his yard. Municipal zoning bylaws, subdivision restrictive covenants and easements dictate what property owners may or may not do with their land. Each property carries unique rights and restrictions. Even if a swimming pool is allowed, the location or size may be restricted.

Pools have grown up with Boomers and vice versa. Pools became practical and affordable when vinyl liners appeared, but the desire to own was driven by television's evolution into an omnipresent source of lifestyle cues for Boomers and their families.

The pool-side living portrayed on TV inspired families to welcome swimming pools into their backyards. Later, hot tubs appeared as symbols of the swinging social scene and made it more than okay to stay home and entertain. The current media-driven hunger for celebrity, epitomized by spa visits, has made home spas the latest attraction.

Technology has broadened the choices, but have you noticed? The barrage of TV and magazine make-overs rarely includes the addition of pools or hot tubs. Unless a friend has an avant-guard pool, you've stayed in a pool-endowed, multi-star hotel, or you frequent a toney gym, you may not have tried a swim spa, river walk or any of the new water experiences. Do you know what you're missing?

"It is a very social thing to have a pool," said Brown. "It is still your yard, so whether you want it as a familial haven, a private place ... or a popular party stop, the choice is up to you. And that is the beauty of it -- you decide."

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