Should You Buy a Swimming Pool? – Costs, Types, Pros & Cons
“Success will be when I can have a real swimming pool instead of the fifty-dollar one I buy at Kmart every year,” quips singer-songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff. For many, pools are a status symbol signifying “luxury, leisure, and above all, glamor,” according to Lucy Scholes of the BBC. They’re also a lot of fun.
Swimming is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the United States, behind only exercise walking, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It improves flexibility, stretches muscles, and helps you lose weight. According to Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist and triathlete, an hour of vigorous swimming burns up to 700 calories — more calories than walking or biking for the same duration.
It also offers mental health benefits. In his book “Blue Mind,” Marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols claims that humans feel better when they interact with water, which can put us into a “mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life.”
Once considered a luxury only the wealthiest could afford, private swimming pool ownership has exploded since the 1950s and 1960s as a result of higher incomes, improved technology, and new pool financing sources. Today, approximately 10.4 million homes in the United States have swimming pools, according to the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals. Should your home be one of them? Let’s take a look.
While a swimming pool can be great fun for you and your family, pool ownership isn’t something to be entered into lightly. Here are the questions you should ask yourself when deciding whether to install a swimming pool or purchase a home with a pool installed.
Children and teenagers tend to use swimming pools more than other age groups, spending more time swimming than doing other recreational activities, according to the Census Bureau.
I built a pool when my children ranged from two to seven years of age. They were in it almost every day in the spring, summer, and early fall until they left for college. However, having neither the time nor inclination to swim, my wife and I rarely used the pool after that until our first grandchild arrived.
Realty Times notes,”If your pool is going to have more downtime than usable time, it’s probably going to feel like a waste of money. Unless you have the funds to have an indoor pool, you should probably avoid a pool if you’ll only be able to use it a few months out of the year.”
Those who live in a fairly dry, warm-weather state such as Arizona, California, Florida, or Texas will obviously get more use out of a pool than those living in states with lengthy cold seasons or a large number of rainy days.
Many potential pool owners elect to use public or semi-private pools, such as those found in residential communities, rather than own a private pool. Chris Bibey, a Money Crashers writer and pool owner, notes that an individual summer membership at a local pool usually doesn’t cost more than $100 to $150. Most country clubs offer a variety of amenities, including pool access, in the cost of membership; however, the initial cost of membership can run anywhere from $5,000 to $500,000, and monthly dues can run $100 and up.
It’s worth noting that some public pools are safer than others. A 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found at least one safety violation in 80% of routine inspections of public pools in Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and Texas. One in eight pools had severe problems that forced their closure. The combination of chlorine, sweat, and urine creates chemicals called “chloramines” that cause eye and respiratory problems.
The CDC recommends that parents purchase testing strips to check the quality of their public pool’s water themselves. However, you may opt instead to install a pool of your own or buy a home with an existing pool.
Few people want a backyard dominated by a swimming pool. Experts recommend having open yard space that’s at least equal to the size of your pool. For example, a yard with a 40 x 20-foot pool should have at least 800 square feet of walkways, decks, patios, and grass.
Bear in mind that how you intend to use a pool — for recreation or exercise — will affect the size and depth of the pool you’ll need. If you plan on using it primarily for recreation, the size is less important than if you plan on using it for exercise. For lap swimming, you’ll need a minimum size of 32 x 16 feet for a single swimmer.
Building an in-ground pool in the yard of an established neighborhood is more expensive than constructing a pool in a vacant space with open access.
In an established neighborhood, fences, gates, and temporary structures must be removed and stored during the construction and installation period. A concrete pool typically takes four to six weeks to build, excluding the time necessary to get permits, conduct an inspection, and contractor and subcontractor delays. During this time, you will have a construction zone in your backyard and all the problems that go with it, including noise, loss of parking space, possible neighbor complaints, and loss of privacy.
Most states and communities have laws regarding pool signs and fences, some requiring a fence around any pool inside a fenced backyard. Homeowners’ associations (HOAs) may require special conditions for building and using private pools. Other requirements could include how to dispose of pool water when draining a pool or conditions for removing a pool. For example, the City of Los Angeles allows pool owners to drain pools into storm drains or sanitary sewer systems. Before draining a pool, contact your local municipality to find out the rules and prohibitions for your community.
A swimming pool requires constant maintenance, including removing debris such as leaves and grass, testing the water for proper balance, adding chemicals, and pump and filter upkeep. Depending on conditions, owners can easily spend five to 10 hours a week keeping their pools in shape. The need for maintenance continues even when the pool is not in use.
You can opt to use a pool maintenance company, but that will result in an added expense. Willan Johnson, CEO of the national pool management company Vivo Pools, suggests in a CNBC interview that pool cleaning services will run $100 or more each month. My present pool service in Dallas, Texas averages $180 per month for weekly cleaning and chemical supplies.
Owning a pool isn’t cheap. As you weigh whether it’s right for you, keep these considerations in mind.
A basic in-ground pool costs $25,000 to $30,000 without amenities, while an above-ground pool averages $6,000 to $8,000. Monthly maintenance costs can easily add $100 to $150 to your budget. Unless you have significant disposable income and a good credit rating, the cost of a private swimming pool may be out of reach for you.
According to FindLaw, a swimming pool is considered an “attractive nuisance,” or something on someone’s property that might attract a child and pose a risk to their well-being. If you have a pool on your property, you are liable to anyone who uses it, whether or not they have permission to do so.
Homeowners insurance may cover the replacement or repair of your pool, as well as liability for death, injury, and damages up to a state maximum (usually $100,000). Insurance counselors recommend that pool owners have a liability rider of a minimum $1 million and be sure that their pool conforms with all local and state regulations. Many carriers will exclude pools with diving boards or slides due to the high incidence of injuries and medical expenses as a result of these features.
Remodeling surveys and real estate agents seem to agree that a swimming pool is probably a wash when it comes to cost versus value. However, this can depend on your area. Massachusetts real estate agent Kimberly Kent sums up the ambiguity: “A pool is a great selling feature for those buyers who want one, and a major detractor for those who are absolutely against one.”
Homeowners who live in neighborhoods where private in-ground pools are common often face market pressure to have a pool. Carol Royse, a Tempe-based real estate agent, says pools are a “must-have” feature for a new home in Arizona, and that any home with a market price of $250,000 and up is pretty much guaranteed to have a pool. Those that do not are likely to sell for less.
While a pool might not add to your home’s resale value, local taxing authorities might increase its taxable value to gain additional municipal income.
You can try to deduct the costs of a private swimming pool as a medical expense, but the likelihood of successfully receiving such a deduction is very low. To determine whether a deduction is available and worthwhile for you, consider the following:
On the bright side, if you can obtain the medical deduction for a swimming pool, you can also deduct the cost of operation — such as electricity, chemicals, and cleaning services — and repairs as long the medical reason for the pool exists.
Swimming pools today range from do-it-yourself above-ground tanks with wooden frames and plastic liners to elaborate backyard oases with cabanas, fully equipped outdoor kitchens, waterfalls, and decorative lighting. There is a pool design to fit every pocketbook.
Potential pool owners have a plethora of options when considering the addition of a swimming pool to their property, but for all of them, there are three main characteristics to consider.
Indoor pools are found in many regions of the country, especially where weather limits outdoor use. In addition to allowing year-round use, indoor pools require less cleaning time and effort since natural debris (e.g., leaves, insects) is avoided. Security is also easier, and sun safety is improved. Nevertheless, there are specific disadvantages to owning an indoor pool:
Most swimming pools are outdoor, located away from and independent of housing structures, primarily to lower the cost of construction compared to an indoor pool. Though inclement or cold weather can limit the number of days an outdoor pool is available, there’s nothing quite like the ambiance of swimming under the sky. Also, you can extend swimming seasons by using pool heaters.
Outdoor pools are less expensive than their indoor counterparts, and more conducive to social events, due to the additional space surrounding the pool. The significant drawbacks of an outdoor pool are:
Some outdoor pool owners try to capture the best of both worlds by erecting a transparent cover or structure over the pool. The options for this vary from domed vinyl covers that rise above a pool’s surface by a constant air blower to retractable, high-walled glass or transparent plastic structures.
The upsides of such a structure are that less debris gets into the pool, warmth is kept within the structure, and swimming is potentially available year-round. The most significant disadvantage is the cost of the protective cover, which can exceed the value of the pool.
Above-ground pools are most popular in regions where swimming seasons are short. Across the country, above-ground pools are almost as numerous as their in-ground counterparts (48.2% versus 51.8%) and share many of the same features. While their design is more restricted, above-ground pools are available in round shapes up to 30 feet in diameter and oval shapes of 18 x 36 feet.
Since these pools are installed above ground, adding a latched gate to the steps is generally adequate for security. If you have a deck around the pool, a fence along the perimeter of the deck will be necessary to guard against falls. The greatest advantage of above-ground pools is the cost — basic above-ground pool packages range from $1,500 to $5,000 depending on pool size. Installation can be completed over a weekend, site preparation is limited, and maintenance expenses are proportional to the smaller size, even though they use similar equipment as larger in-ground pools.
On the negative side, above-ground pools won’t add any value to your home since the structure can be easily dismantled and moved to other locations. Pool sides can be punctured, resulting in leaks that can cause damage to lawn and landscaping. Above-ground pools may be subject to special regulations in some municipalities, so be sure you’re familiar with any legal requirements in your area before making a purchase.
There are three types of in-ground pools, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. All require ground excavation and are considered permanent structures. They are all more expensive than an above-ground pool and require professional installation and similar maintenance.
Contrary to popular opinion, chlorine is the sanitizing agent used in both chlorine-treated and saltwater pools. The difference between the two systems is the method by which chlorine is added to the water. Homeowners with a traditional chlorine system physically add chlorine to their pools in the form of tablets or granules; a saltwater pool has a chlorine generator that delivers a lower level of chlorine on a constant basis.
Traditional chlorine-treated pools have been around for decades and constitute the majority of in-ground pools. Ideally, chlorine levels in a pool should range between 3 to 4 parts per million (ppm). However, an excessive number of swimmers contributing sweat, saliva, oils, and urine to the water, or additions of untreated rain or tap water, dilute the free chlorine in the water below adequate levels, necessitating frequent testing and adjustment of these levels.
The disadvantages of a chlorine-treated pool are:
Though traditional chlorine pools have been a suburban backyard staple for several decades, many homeowners have decided to switch to saltwater swimming pools due to the increased comfort they offer swimmers. According to data from Swim University, saltwater pools account for 12% of the 10.6 million pools in the United States.
These pools require less constant attention since self-regulating chlorine generators — which cost around $1,000 — automatically check and maintain the proper chlorine levels, reducing algae buildup and delivering a continuous, reliable level of cleanliness. Saltwater pool owners never have to buy or add chlorine to their pools.
However, a saltwater pool is more expensive to install and maintain, according to Fixr. A saltwater generator costs about $500 to $1,500 more than a chlorine generator according to Angie’s List and uses more electricity. Due to the corrosiveness of salt, metal parts and components require replacement more often. Also, the salt chlorination cells in the generator need to be inspected each quarter and replaced every two or three years. Since saltwater can kill plants, some cities and towns ban saltwater pools. Be sure to check your area’s requirements before switching from a traditional chlorine treatment system.
Lighting options include in-pool fixtures as well as fixtures for the surrounding area for decoration and security. Access to a sound system through remote speakers around the pool can add immeasurably to your pool experience; however, avoid any electrical devices in or around the pool. Outdoor cameras focused on the pool can relieve anxiety when children or single adults are swimming unsupervised.
Optional in-ground accessories include waterfalls, sheer water walls, infinity edges, fountains, jets, and bubblers. Many pools have attached spas, tanning porches, splash pads, and custom entries. In-water benches and tables, grottoes, and swim-up bars are becoming more common as entertainment moves outdoors. More than half of home pools have a diving board or slide. The addition of a cabana with a toilet provides a changing room and protection from bad weather while eliminating wet traffic through the home.
While accessories quickly increase the cost of a pool, they also increase its likelihood of use and how much enjoyment you get from it. If you’re seeking a unique outdoor entertainment area, have adequate space, and can afford it, consider hiring a pool designer before finding a contractor. A designer can encompass your ideas for the pool and the surrounding space to ensure you achieve your dream.
As an in-ground pool owner for four decades, I have learned the following lessons the hard way.
Owning a pool is a significant responsibility and sometimes requires an owner to be the “bad guy” and enforce rules and safety practices. However, failing to manage the swimming environment and experience can lead to tragic consequences.
Swimming pools are expensive and can be a pain in the neck. It’s doubtful that constructing a home swimming pool can be justified as a financial investment. Nevertheless, pool ownership has given my family and friends hundreds of hours of pleasure during the past four decades. Even today, our grandchildren clamor to go to PaPa’s house and swim. Having a home pool also enabled my children to learn swimming and water safety skills, which they are now passing on to their children.
Whenever I think of water and the role it has played in my life, I always recall the Pixar movie “Finding Nemo.” When Marlin, the clownfish father searching for his son, gets depressed, Dory, a Pacific blue tang fish who suffers short-term memory loss, sings: “When life gets you down, do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do? Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.” Her advice to Marlin has been true in my life. How about yours?
Do you own a pool? Have you considered installing one? Why or why not?
Updated: July 10, 2018
Categories: Spending and Saving
Michael R. Lewis is a retired corporate executive and entrepreneur. During his 40+ year career, Lewis created and sold ten different companies ranging from oil exploration to healthcare software. He has also been a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC, a Principal of one of the larger management consulting firms in the country, and a Senior Vice President of the largest not-for-profit health insurer in the United States. Mike’s articles on personal investments, business management, and the economy are available on several online publications. He’s a father and grandfather, who also writes non-fiction and biographical pieces about growing up in the plains of West Texas – including The Storm.
Should You Buy a Swimming Pool? – Costs, Types, Pros & Cons
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