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The champion of Europe: Why France has so many private swimming pools

The Local France
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The champion of Europe: Why France has so many private swimming pools
A child gets ready to swim in a private swimming pool in France. (Photo by DENIS CHARLET / AFP)

France is home to millions of private swimming pools, with the highest rate of pool ownership in the world. Here is why they are so popular among the French.

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Private swimming pools are often assumed to be the preserve of the rich, but in France, they are not only found in the gardens of the wealthy.

France has the highest number of private pools in Europe - in May 2023 there was one private swimming pool for every 20 people, bringing the tally up to 3.4 million piscines privées across the country.

It's second in the world after the US, but although the USA has more private pools in total, it only has one pool for every 31 people, well behind France's 1 in 20 ratio of pools to people.

While they are particularly common in the south of the country, private pools have also grown in other parts of France, like in Alsace where the two départements of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin count more than 10,000 private swimming pools each.

Why so many pools?

A large part of the reason so many people have private pools in France has to do with cost and accessibility.

The craze began in the 1990s, particularly in France's south, when pool sellers set off with the la piscine pour tous (swimming pool for all) objective.

Jean-Louis Desjoyaux, the CEO of Desjoyaux swimming pools - which is world leader of in-ground pools having built over 13,000 in 2021 - told Franceinfo that the goal of democratising swimming pools has been part of their market strategy for more than twenty years. 

READ MORE: Everything you need know about installing a swimming pool at your French property

"Our target is the middle classes. We sell to the whole public now", Desjoyaux told Franceinfo.

Pools are available at all price levels, and the costs have decreased, ranging from just a few hundred euros for an above-ground removable pool to thousands of euros for a large, in-ground pool. But when it comes to above-ground pools, they have become more affordable, with many able to be installed for less than €10,000 according to Franceinfo.

In the early 2000s, according to the regional newspaper Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace, there were only about 150,000 across French territory, but as of 2020, this number had increased tenfold.

The owners of those new above-ground pools are no longer solely high-earners - the share of pool owners who were working class, farmers, or in lower level salary positions, increased by 10 points between 2017 and 2021, according to a study by French federation of swimming pool professionals.

The other benefit to above-ground pools is tax-related. Most types of pools will increase one's annual tax bill, but if the pool is smaller than 10 square metres, or it is 'removable' (meaning it can be moved without being demolished), then you do not have to pay extra taxes.

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Another factor is size - in the 1980s, the average swimming pool was larger, on average 72 square metres, and 1.8m deep, and intended for swimming laps. These days, pools are much smaller, as they are built to allow people to relax and cool off from the heat. As of 2021, pools averaged at 21 square metres, and about 1.3m deep.

This also means that newer pools use less water and energy than previous ones, and it also has tax-related consequences, as pool-size is taken into account when calculating additional taxes.

And finally, the pandemic played a role; during 2020, when Covid-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home measures were in place, swimming pools experienced a boom - increasing by over one million during that period. For many, there was a greater appeal in being able to take a dip in the safety and serenity of their own gardens, particularly as public pools were either closed or subject to restrictions.

What about droughts and climate change?

Heatwaves, which are becoming more common, have played a role in making private pools more appealing to some French households, but the climate crisis has also rendered them controversial. 

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During drought periods, local authorities in France can place their area under water restrictions, which at the higher levels can include limits on filling swimming pools.

In early May 2023, France's environment minister Christophe Béchu announced that he had requested the préfecture in the Pyrénées-Orientales ban the sale of above-ground pools because of the drought situation in the area.

However, according to Le Parisien, France's entire stock of private swimming pools use just 0.15 percent of the country's water consumption. 

France's Office for Biodiversity told Le Parisien that "If a household only renews the water in its swimming pool every five years, its consumption will only increase from six to seven percent per year".

There are also some water-saving techniques advised by the Federation of Pool Professionals (FPP). They published a 'water-saving' booklet with tips on how to best treat and cover pools in order to recycle existing water.

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