Weather aside, homeowners still want pools and outdoor living areas

April 20, 2018

By Jason Cramp

Editor’s note: This is our 40th annual report on the state of the Canadian pool industry, including statistical information and market analysis. Information is based on Statistics Canada’s building permit records for swimming pools with an overview of new pool permits for census metropolitan areas (CMAs). The figures are conservative and do not reflect many of the rural areas that do not require building permits for pool construction.[1]
Editor’s note: This is our 40th annual report on the state of the Canadian pool industry, including statistical information and market analysis. Information is based on Statistics Canada’s building permit records for swimming pools with an overview of new pool permits for census metropolitan areas (CMAs). The figures are conservative and do not reflect many of the rural areas that do not require building permits for pool construction.

Despite the Canadian pool industry’s solid year in 2016, the number of building permits issued in 2017 declined slightly. However, this was not immediately apparent thanks, in part, to the pent up demand for pools that occurred during the summer of 2016, which was one of the warmest and driest on record for many parts of the country. Another factor was the strong growth of the economy, which allowed consumer confidence to rise steadily. In fact, this index increased by nine points in February 2017—the largest monthly increase since March 2015[2] and, at the time, it was sitting at its highest level in more than seven years. As a result, homeowners were ready to spruce up their outdoor living space. However, with consumers ready to spend their money, the weather rained on the pool industry’s parade.

Where did the summer go?

In terms of the weather, Canadians endured one extreme to the next when comparing the 2016 and 2017 spring/summer seasons. To put this in perspective, the city with the warmest average daily temperature between June and July last year was Regina at 26.45 C (79.61 F). Even the temperature averages in major cities such as Vancouver (21.25 C [70.25 F]), Edmonton (22.7 C [72.86 F]), Winnipeg (24.4 C [75.92 F]), Toronto (24.85 C [76.73 F]), Montreal (24.45 C [76.01 F]), and Halifax (22.35 C [72.23 F]) were polar opposites from the year before[3].

While it was dry and hot in the west, it was cool and wet for most of central and Atlantic Canada. Initially, last year’s unfavourable weather did not seem to factor in on a homeowner’s decision to invest in a backyard pool, as interest likely spilled over from the 2016 season thanks to the relentless heat. In fact, 335 more permits were issued in the first quarter, representing a 39.5 per cent year-over-year increase. However, this industry and the consumers who enjoy its products can only endure so much rain. Unlike the previous season, when permit registrations increased (year-over-year) throughout each quarter, the 2017 season saw them fall by eight, 11 and 27 per cent, respectively. Permit registrations in census metropolitan areas (CMAs) fell by 6.5 per cent, representing 615 less permits than the year prior. Despite these decreases, many builders remained hard at work and persevered.

“Although the weather was terrible last spring, we had some carry-over projects from fall 2016, which kept us busy until the weather changed mid-summer,” says Frank Blanchet of Betz Pools Ltd., in Stouffville, Ont. “This led to us having a good summer/fall.”

According to Dan Thurtell of Solda Pools Ltd., in Brampton, Ont., last year did not come and go without its challenges and opportunities, as the wet start to the construction season meant conditions were not ideal.

“Late summer, however, which usually sees a plateau in activity, continued to be highly active,” he added. “This continued into the fall, which compensated for the wet spring. As a result, the fall push made up for the lost time at the start of the season and allowed us to finish the year with strong numbers in sales and completed projects.”

Despite last year’s cooling effect, to some degree, many would be hard pressed—except those in western Canada—to believe 2017 was still one of the top 10 warmest periods in 70 years of reporting weather, with temperatures averaging 1.4 C above average[4].

Similar to the 2016 report, when breaking up last season into three categories: start of year/early spring (January to April), mid-spring/late summer (May to August), and fall/winter (September to December), pool permit registrations were up by more than 10 per cent during the first four months of the year. Between March and August, the industry’s prime construction season, 10,050 permits were issued, representing a five per cent decrease. Strangely enough, the only month that had fewer permit registrations in 2016 was December (down 23 per cent); however, in 2017, this month was up by 10 per cent. This halted a streak of six consecutive months (June to November) with fewer permit registrations year-over-year.

Due to weather anomalies, pool construction can sometimes extend into later parts of the year. While building permit registrations between September and November 2016 illustrated this, these figures were down during the same period last year. That said, this did not mean there was no work to do. For instance, Dave Warren of Total Tech Pools & Leisure in Oakville, Ont., says once the weather co-operated, the season was extremely busy and this continued late into the fall.

Thanks to the unpredictable weather last year, Roger Willis Contracting Ltd., in Ottawa, decided to continue working on projects throughout the 2017-18 winter months.

“We did this hoping to alleviate some of the upcoming season’s pressure,” says the company’s Michael Willis. “Our projects tend to be scheduled into the following season and we cannot afford to have such a large backlog of projects in the spring.”

According to Mark Fournier of Piscines Bonaventure Inc., in Laval, Que., the weather in his region did not start to improve until August.

“Many customers delayed their pool project until later in the season and some even put it off until this spring,” says Fournier. “During the winter months we have had a busier sales period and have most of this summer already booked.”

Top five major urban centres with increased building permit registration in 2017

Region 2016 2017 (+) Change
Halifax 36 224 188
Hamilton 414 494 80
Windsor 134 191 57
Toronto 311 360 49
St. Catharines/Niagara 221 268 47

Top five major urban centres with decreased building permit registration in 2017

Region 2016 2017 (-) Change
Montreal 4730 4272 458
Ottawa/Hull/Gatineau 367 180 187
Guelph 245 76 169
Barrie 248 118 130
St. John’s 97 11 74

Regional activity

A simple comparison of the total number of pool permit registrations from Statistics Canada shows a slight decrease year-over-year. However, when looking at the regional break down of these statistics—especially over a three-year period (2015, 2016, and 2017)—a pattern becomes apparent. Similar to the permit registrations in 2015, pool builders in western Canada had a great year, while those in eastern parts of the country struggled somewhat. In fact, pool permit registrations last year in western Canada were up 20 per cent over 2016, and 10 per cent over 2015.

Further, while only two out of nine CMAs in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia reported increases in pool permit registrations in 2016, six out of 10 (Lethbridge was added this year) showed growth in 2017. On the other hand, a total of 12 CMAs between Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland reported increases in 2017, which is nine fewer than last year. Interestingly, every CMA in the Prairies, with the exception of Saskatoon (-1), reported an increase in permits, which is a complete reversal over the previous year. Also intriguing is Hamilton was the only CMA to remain in the top five with increased building permits year-over-year, as well as the fact that Halifax was the top CMA in the country.

Building Permits Issued For Swimming Pools in Census Metropolitan Areas (2013-2017)

Region 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Canada 12052 10154 10698 13054 12067
Abbotsford 14 10 6 10 5
Barrie 211 170 163 248 118
Brantford 77 31 59 30 39
Calgary 37 36 36 31 39
Chicoutimi-Jonquiere
Edmonton 25 31 38 31 77
Guelph 82 59 42 245 76
Halifax 32 38 29 36 224
Hamilton 436 283 187 414 494
Kelowna 150 140 243 180 221
Kingston 62 42 36 51 36
Kitchener/
Cambridge/
Waterloo
171 146 86 127 146
Lethbridge 38
London 205 153 144 256 259
Moncton 25 20 13 25 21
Montreal 4546 3763 4175 4730 4272
Oshawa 2
Ottawa/Hull/
Gatineau
186 15 170 367 180
Peterborough 66 46 46 52 34
Quebec 542 447 463 598 612
Regina 9 12 11 5 10
Saguenay 45 84 67 56 47
St. Catharines/
Niagara
201 192 179 221 268
Saint John 22 17 15 18 33
Saint John’s 21 22 23 97 11
Saskatoon 10 10 11 9 8
Sherbrooke 406 397 386 481 409
Sudbury 150 107 89 159 108
Thunder Bay
Toronto 458 228 279 311 360
Trois-Rivières 147 117 134 181 158
Vancouver 129 161 171 226 207
Victoria 10 6 13 9 6
Windsor 96 105 106 134 191
Winnipeg 125 106 125 101 111
Total Major Urban Area Permits 8696 6994 7545 9439 8824
The installation of residential swimming pools does not require a building permit in every municipality. Some areas issue permits for inground pools only. These figures are therefore conservative. Statistics Canada combined the Ottawa/Hull/Gatineau statistic. Source: Statistics Canada

Atlantic

The weather in Atlantic Canada was abysmal, to say the least. If one were to name almost any weather calamity, this region likely experienced it—from severe winter storms and spring flooding to record rainfall and extreme winds. As a result, this led to one of the worst starts to the season in recent years. To put this in perspective, six permits were issued during the first three months of 2016, and five in 2015; one permit was registered during this same period last year. In fact, it took four months before six permits where registered and pool installations did not ramp up until May. Essentially, builders in this region were left with a four-month window to install pools.

Despite this, it was not all doom and gloom for this region. Nova Scotia (Halifax) had a 522 per cent increase in pool permits year-over-year. In fact, June was a successful month for this CMA, as 177 permits were registered, as opposed to one the year prior. Further, while other CMAs in the region such as Saint John (83 per cent) and Prince Edward Island (116 per cent) saw permit increases, St. John’s continued its two-year downward spiral with an 88.5 per cent decrease year-over-year.

Once the season started, the number of pool permits registered last year between July and December outpaced the 2016 season by 49 per cent. After a 168 per cent year-over-year increase in 2016, pool permits went up again in Atlantic Canada by 66 per cent in 2017. This region represents 3.5 per cent of the total number of building permits issued in Canadian CMAs, which is an increase of 1.5 per cent over 2016.

Quebec

Several weather extremes felled this province throughout 2017. At the start of the year, a new single-day snowfall record was set in Gaspésie, while snow and freezing rain hit areas such as Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Shawinigan, and Montréal. During the latter part of 2017, parts of the province experienced high winds, power outages, and severe storms, along with record rainfalls and flooding. Sandwiched in between was one of the lousiest summers on record, considering the number of days above 30 C (86 F) went from 16 in 2016 to three in 2017, while the total number of heavy rain days (above 10 mm [0.4 in.]) doubled.[5]

This took its toll on the Quebec pool market, which is one of the largest in the country. So much so that every CMA, except for Québec City, gave back what it gained in 2016. This did not happen immediately, however, as 45 per cent more pool permits were registered between January and March last year than the year prior. That said, permit registrations were lower in each following month to close out the year, representing a 15.5 per cent decrease.

While the market took a hit in 2017, the total number of registered permits last year remained higher than the numbers reported in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

When taking a closer look at the year-over-year statistics for each CMA, one will see the largest decrease in permit registrations (55.6 per cent) occurred in Ottawa-Gatineau. This CMA had the highest increase in 2016. Pool permits in Montréal, Saguenay, Sherbrooke, and Trois-Rivières decreased between 10 and 16 per cent in 2017.

Montréal had the lowest decrease in permit registrations at 10 per cent. Surprisingly, however, this CMA, which was the top producer of pool permits in the country for two years running, now holds the top spot for total number of decreased permits in the country.

The lone bright spot for this region was Québec City, which saw a 2.3 per cent increase in registered pool permits last year. This is the third consecutive year permits have increased in this CMA. Overall, the province saw 747 less pool permits registered in 2017.

Quebec represents 64 per cent of the total number of pool building permits issued in the country’s CMAs, which is a decrease of 3.6 per cent in comparison to 2016.

Ontario

One would think after the dreary start to 2017, combined with the warmest January and February on record for more than 70 years in southern Ontario[6], the season was going to have a good start. For instance, Kitchener had a record 12 straight melting days in January (the longest since 1944), while in Windsor, minimum temperatures fell below -10 C (14 F) only 16 times by the end of February[7].

According to Environment Canada, the jet stream that hovered over the country for the majority of last summer brought record rains and cooler conditions to the province.

For instance, between June 20 and July 31, the temperature in Toronto, the province’s capital, hit 30 C (86) degrees a mere seven times, 17 less than in 2016. Further, by the end of July, 386 mm (15 in.) of rain had fallen, compared to 133 mm (5.2 in.) the year prior.[8]

However, while there were extreme variances in the weather across the province, some areas even teased with the prospect of an early spring, many homeowners who were tempted by the hot summer weather the year prior were determined to get a pool in 2017. Many may remember from last year’s report that permit registrations had not been strong between January and April in 2013, 2014, and 2015. It was not until 2016 that permits showed a 60 per cent year-over-year increase during this period. Considering the weather conditions, some may have not realized the number of pool permit registrations during this same stretch in 2017 were strong. In fact, 280 more permits were registered in 2017 than the previous year, representing a 112 per cent increase.

The upward trend that started in 2016 continued for much of last year (between May and September), despite the weather.

Regardless of cooler temperatures and record-breaking precipitation that are certainly not conducive to pool construction, let alone backyard entertaining, 1420 pool permits (427 more than the 2016 season) were registered between May and September, representing a 43 per cent increase. Thanks to a fall, summer-like heatwave, permit registrations in the fourth quarter (October, November, and December) continued to outpace the 2016 season; however, not by much. During this period, an additional 23 permits were recorded, representing a 12 per cent increase.

Of 16 reporting CMAs in the province—one more than in 2016, as Belleville was added—only one showed no change (Thunder Bay), while permit registrations increased in nine and decreased in six.

Toronto had a 16 per cent increase in pool permit registrations year-over-year, and after being bumped from the list of top five CMAs in 2016, it was back on the list in the fourth position in 2017. After a strong showing in 2016, permits in Hamilton increased again last year by 19 per cent and, as a result, this CMA retained the second spot on the list of top five CMAs. On the other hand, after Guelph’s 483 per cent increase in 2016 (number three overall), this CMA saw permits decrease by 69 per cent last year. As a result, this CMA fell to the third spot on the top five major urban centres with decreased permit registrations year-over-year.

It is important to note that Ottawa, which was crippled by snow in early 2017 and hammered by rain all year, still had a positive year-over-year increase in permits. This region experienced its wettest spring (March through May) and its wettest year on record long before 2017 was over. The total amount of rainfall between January and November was 1085 mm (43 in.), 64 per cent above average.[9] That said, 23 more permits were registered in 2017 than the year prior, representing a 12 per cent increase.

Another positive take on the 2017 permit statistics is the fact another CMA was added in this region. While it is not an astronomical number, a total of four permits were issued in Belleville.

Ontario represents 24.5 per cent of the total number of building permits issued in Canadian CMAs, representing an increase of 0.6 per cent.

Prairies

When looking at the permit statistics, pool installers in the Prairies (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta) benefitted from the hot, dry weather last year. For instance, in Medicine Hat 22 of 31 days in July were above 30 C (86 F), while Regina hit a one-day, 28-year high of 38 C (100.4 F). Minimal rainfall, which is not necessarily a good thing, was also experienced in this region.

Similar to 2016, different parts of the Prairies still experienced a range of weather extremes from abnormal warm temperatures in February to windstorms in May, hailstorms in June, and thunderstorms in July. The warm/dry weather was also conducive to the active forest fire season across Manitoba.[10]

While these destructive storms and wildfires have remained consistent year-after-year, pool permit registrations have not been, as they continue to fluctuate up and down. For instance, five CMAs reported a decrease in permits in 2016; however, just like two years ago, only one of six had fewer permits in 2017. (The addition of Lethbridge [38 permits] in 2017 brings the total number of CMAs in this region to six.)

When looking at the individual CMAs, Edmonton was the most successful, as pool permit registrations increased by 148 per cent in 2017. This comes after a 19 per cent decrease in 2016 and a 60 per cent increase in 2015. While this CMA did not make it back on the top-five list of major urban centres with increased building permits, it is no longer on the decreased permit list either. Pool installations were also up 100 per cent in Regina and 26 per cent in Calgary.

Overall, the Prairies represents three per cent of the total number of building permits issued in Canadian CMAs, representing an increase of 1.1 per cent.

British Columbia

In 2017, this province faced many weather extremes from the wettest spring on record (40 per cent more precipitation than average) to the driest summer ever (June to August). The unfortunate result of this was the longest, most disastrous wildfire season in the province’s history.[11]

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, thousands of people had to evacuate their homes. The fires burned more than 300 dwellings and resulted in the first province-wide state of emergency in 15 years, which lasted from mid-July to mid-September.

In what seems to have become the norm for residents in this province, level-four drought conditions were enforced for the third consecutive year.

Similar to how the trends in permit registrations in the Prairies returned to levels that were more positive from 2015, the same thing occurred in British Columbia.

While 2017 permits were down in Abbotsford-Mission (50 per cent), Vancouver (8.5 per cent), and Victoria (33 per cent), they were up in Kelowna by 23 per cent. Even though the market rebounded in Kelowna in 2017 (221 permits), just as it did in 2015, it was not enough to get back on the list of top five major urban centres with increased building permits. That said, the increase did help this CMA get off the top-five list for decreased permit registrations, which it entered in 2016.

In a year-over-year comparison, this region, as a whole, was down during the first six months by 17 per cent; however, between July and December, pool permits were up 29 per cent. Overall, the province experienced a three per cent increase in pool installations in 2017.

British Columbia represents five per cent of the total number of building permits issued in the country’s CMAs, which is an increase of 0.5 per cent over 2016.

2017 Percentage of Inground Swimming Pool Permits Issued (by Census Metropolitan Areas [CMAs])

Region Percentage
Atlantic 3.5
Quebec 64
Ontario 24.5
Prairies/Alberta 3
B.C. 5

A lot of promise

Using the 2017 permit registrations as a measuring stick, the number of pool installations slightly receded last year by 7.4 per cent (a difference of 987 permits). Keep in mind, the industry had a breakout season in 2016; the total number of permits (13,054) was the most reported in the last 13 years. That said, the number of permits issued in 2017 was the third most during this same period.

In addition to the weather, increased interest rates and new mortgage guidelines will likely have a bigger influence on consumers’ decision to purchase big-ticket items such as pools. That said, those who have planned properly, or simply have the means to make this type of purchase, will still look to enhance their backyard environment.

“Even though the market improved as the year progressed, and the building season extended well into late autumn, all of the lost ground was not made up,” says the Pool & Hot Tub Council of Canada’s (PHTCC’s) executive director, Robert Wood. “Overall, 2017 will be remembered as a relatively mediocre year for the industry as a whole. This year should bring about a significant rebound, largely due to pent‐up demand.”

Another positive sign is an optimistic weather forecast from Environment Canada noting “Canadians nationwide will be content with the weather spring has in store, as it is not expecting any colder-than-normal conditions on the horizon between March and May.”[12]

According to Warren from Total Tech Pools & Leisure, the outlook for 2018 is very positive, as the current economic climate is sound, even with the market volatility. It is the weather, as always, that will play a critical role this season.

This report and all of the figures contained herein are copyright to Kenilworth Media Inc. No use may be made of this or any part of the data or reproduction of charts or graphs without the express written permission of Kenilworth Media Inc. © 2018

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: https://www.poolspamarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/IMG_1949.jpg
  2. consumer confidence to rise steadily. In fact, this index increased by nine points in February 2017—the largest monthly increase since March 2015: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/e-library/abstract.aspx?did=8674
  3. were polar opposites from the year before: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/summer-weather-canada/article35871014/
  4. with temperatures averaging 1.4 C above average: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/top-ten-weather-stories/2017.html
  5. Sandwiched in between was one of the lousiest summers on record, considering the number of days above 30 C (86 F) went from 16 in 2016 to three in 2017, while the total number of heavy rain days (above 10 mm [0.4 in.]) doubled.: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/top-ten-weather-stories/2017.html
  6. for more than 70 years in southern Ontario: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/top-ten-weather-stories/2017.html
  7. For instance, Kitchener had a record 12 straight melting days in January (the longest since 1944), while in Windsor, minimum temperatures fell below -10 C (14 F) only 16 times by the end of February: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/top-ten-weather-stories/2017.html
  8. by the end of July, 386 mm (15 in.) of rain had fallen, compared to 133 mm (5.2 in.) the year prior.: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/summer-weather-canada/article35871014/
  9. The total amount of rainfall between January and November was 1085 mm (43 in.), 64 per cent above average.: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/top-ten-weather-stories/2017.html
  10. The warm/dry weather was also conducive to the active forest fire season across Manitoba.: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/top-ten-weather-stories/2017.html
  11. The unfortunate result of this was the longest, most disastrous wildfire season in the province’s history.: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/top-ten-weather-stories/2017.html
  12. “Canadians nationwide will be content with the weather spring has in store, as it is not expecting any colder-than-normal conditions on the horizon between March and May.”: https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/weather-expert-s-good-news-for-canadians-warmer-and-drier-spring-for-most-1.3824043

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