To Swim or Not to Swim
What’s better than relaxing at the pool on a hot summer day? Relaxing in your own pool, of course! It’s tough to beat the convenience of having your own oasis just outside the door; not to mention the privacy. Plus, your own pool is always open, and everyone loves a pool party! Owning a pool is awesome, and getting a pool might be easier than you think. But, before you start calling contractors for quotes, be sure to do your homework. From the initial decision to install a pool to its ongoing maintenance, there are scores of decisions to make. If you’re thinking about installing a new pool, read on for 10 things you need to consider before putting in a pool.
Do you really want a pool?
All of the adults in the household should agree that installing a new pool is a good plan. Ask yourselves if having a pool will fit your lifestyle. Do you live in a warm climate where you will use the pool four to six months of the year? Do you have younger children who love playing in the water? Is a neighborhood pool membership out of the question? Do you enjoy spending time off at home? Do you just want to have a pool, or will you really use it? The fun and convenience of pool ownership might seem obvious, but sometimes the drawbacks are easy to overlook. Adding a pool, takes away a portion of the yard. The yard will be a mess during construction. Then there is the cost. Depending on the pool type and size, it will cost from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars to install the pool. Afterwards the pool goes in, it requires consistent maintenance and expenses. If everyone agrees that the luxury of owning a pool is worth the cost and effort of building and maintaining it, you might be ready to make the move.
Related: Dive Into These 12 Luxurious Pools
How will a pool affect your homeowner’s insurance?
The first concern that many pool shoppers have is their liability in case of an accident. In short, a homeowners’ insurance has them covered, to an extent. A swimming pool is considered an “attractive nuisance,” or something that attracts children but could be dangerous. The owners of a property with an attractive nuisance, like a pool, is held liable for children who use their pools, with or without permission. So the owner's liability applies to guests they invite, as well as to inquisitive children who may invite themselves into the pool without anyone's knowledge.
Homeowners’ insurance policies typically include $100,000 of liability coverage. It is widely recommended that pool owners increase their coverage to at least $500,000, because a lawsuit over the death of a child can greatly exceed $100,000. A pool owner can either increase the limit of existing liability insurance, or purchase a separate umbrella policy. The other insurance-related question is how insurance companies cover damage to the pool. They might cover the pool under “replacement cost value” or “personal property limit.” It is important to know which of these covers a pool. If it falls under replacement cost value, it is considered part of the home. This means an owner should increase the value of the home to include the value of your new pool. This also will increase insurance premium costs.
If the pool falls under personal property limit, the covered owner will need to declare it, and might have to buy additional pool coverage. Policies often limit personal property to a percentage of the home value, which usually will not cover the full cost of replacing the pool. Be sure to consult an insurance representative for advice on how best to protect yourself and your pool.
How difficult will it be to put a pool in your yard?
If cost is not an option, a pool can go almost anywhere. Realistically size, slope, and access play into the decision. Each can become a limiting factor, or a reason to cancel the project. If space is limited, challenges increase. Setbacks often apply to construction projects. Setbacks might range from 5 to 50 feet, meaning that the outer edges of the pool would have to be at least that far from the property line. Rights-of-way are also off limits. For a small property dealing with setbacks and, or a right-of-way, a pool may be out of the question. Slopes require leveling, either by excavation or by building retaining walls. The builder may need to bring in fill dirt, or haul away excess soil. These activities can add significantly to the costs of equipment, labor, and engineering. Most pools are built using excavation equipment that needs a 6- to 10-foot wide access path. Maybe a section of fence will be removed. Possibly a prized landscape specimen lies in the path. Sometimes houses are simply too close together for equipment to pass. There is almost always a way to do it, but the more difficult it is, the more expensive it will be.
What kinds of pools are available?
Professionally installed above-ground pools average $4,000 to $8,000 and some can be installed in as little as a day. In-ground pools normally take six to eight weeks to build, and cost between $30,000 and $60,000. Above-ground pools are more budget friendly, but have fewer options for customization and are more visually intrusive. In-ground pools offer total customization, and are more durable, but the total cost of ownership is significantly higher.
Swimming pools come in one of three materials: vinyl, fiberglass, or concrete (gunite). Each offers a unique set of advantages and disadvantages. Fiberglass pools are low maintenance, durable, compatible with salt systems. Because they are built offsite, and because of their low chemical usage, fiberglass pools boast the lowest total cost of ownership compared with both concrete and vinyl. However, the initial cost of fiberglass is higher than vinyl and the material is not customizable. Concrete pools offer total customization and extreme durability. However, they have the highest maintenance and chemical requirements, and highest total cost of ownership. They are also incompatible with increasingly popular salt systems. Vinyl liner pools are easily customizable and cost the least to install. But, the vinyl must be replaced every 5 to 9 years at a current cost of about $5,000. Also, the vinyl can harbor algae growth, which the other materials do not.
Finally, the choice of pool water treatment systems comes down to either chlorine or saltwater. Actually, both types of systems use chlorine to keep the water clean, but they do it in different ways. In salt water pools, salt chlorine generators use electrolysis to convert sodium chloride (table salt) into chlorine. This method delivers chlorine at a consistent rate as long as the pool pump is running. Salt water pools are a great choice for anyone who is sensitive to the scent or feel of chlorinated water. They have far lower levels of chlorine, and much lower total chemical usage (less than $100 per year). But, saltwater systems cost as much as $2,000 more to set up than chlorinated systems. And they can damage sensitive pool fixtures and concrete liners. Chlorinated pools are far less expensive to set up, and easier to fix without calling a pro. Chlorine is safe for pool liners and fixtures, and these systems are easier on your electric bill. But chlorinated pools require more monitoring and more chemicals (between $300 and $800 per year), which also means more chemical storage.
What added features are available?
When talking to the pool salesman, suddenly a world of options will open. Waterfalls, fountains, lighting, pool warmers, and more can be added to turn a concrete pond into an oasis. A general contractor can provide options for landscaping, pool deck furniture, shade structures, and more. These cool add-ons add to the bottom line, so it pays to know in advance which upgrades a family wants most and work those into the total budget.
What about pool maintenance?
Pool water requires weekly monitoring and testing, along with regularly adding salt or other chemicals. Frequently, pools need more intensive treatments. Other weekly tasks include: skimming leaves off the surface, removing sediment from the walls, vacuuming the pool, cleaning the skimmer, and backwashing the filter. These tasks need consistent attention, even when the owners are away on vacation. Many pool owners maintain the pools themselves and others hire it out as needed. Professional pool service contracts range from $80 to $120 per service visit. Other maintenance considerations include annual start-up and shut down for the season, as well as long-term fixture and structural maintenance.
What do other pool owners wish they had done differently?
Contractors install thousands of pools each year, and every new pool owner has a unique story to tell. The biggest regrets that past pool buyers share include buying the wrong size of pool (too large or too small, too deep or not deep enough), installing it in a poor location, not budgeting properly (or sticking to the budget), not communicating well with the contractor, and only getting one quote for the work. Take the time to build a budget based on your own research and conversations with pool contractors in the area. Get quotes from three or four companies. When deciding on a pool company, proactively communicate your concerns and lean on their expertise. Don’t be afraid to make changes during construction if needed—it’s easier to change mid-project than to go back and change it afterward.
What is your true budget?
A new in-ground pool will cost from $20,000 to $60,000 or more. Most pool customers use a combination of cash and financing. To plan a pool budget, you need a clear picture of how much you can afford, how much you are willing to pay, and how much your new pool will cost. The pool will not increase a home’s value. Plan the pool budget based solely on the value of enjoyment. Figure a total project cost based on a percentage of the home’s value; about 15 percent is a good starting point. Then interview three or four good swimming pool installation contractors. In addition to their quotes, verify their work quality, warranty policies, client references, licensing, bonding, and insurance. Pool customers finance their new pools in one of four ways: home equity loans, home equity lines of credit, cash-out refinancing, and personal loans. The first three require having enough equity in a home to obtain the amount of financing needed for your pool. Personal loans do not require collateral.
What do you want from your pool contractor?
Different pool companies have different specialties. Some do only pool installation. Others can act as a general contractor to build an entire outdoor living space centered around the pool. If the landscape just needs the pool added, go with the pool-only company. If looking for all the bells and whistles to create a fully finished oasis, hire a company that has all the qualifications to do the complete job. Finding a good pool company is like finding any other professional. Check business referral websites like Angieslist.com, and the Better Business Bureau. Interview at least three or four companies to be sure that quotes are competitive.
What are the required permits and fees?
Most municipalities require a residential building permit to install an in-ground pool. This helps ensure the work is done according to safe, professional construction standards. They also might require a separate electrical permit. Pool permit fees average about $250 and can take from two to six weeks for approval.
Pool contractors and electricians normally coordinate the permitting process for their clients, although residents may do so. They fill out the permit application with the city, township, or county, pay the permit fee, and wait for approval of the permit. After completion of the job, an inspector reviews the work to ensure it conforms to local building codes.
How will a new pool affect your home value?
Do not install a pool as an attempt to increase a home’s value. Pools have either a neutral or negative effect on home value. Very few home buyers specifically want a pool. Some will buy a home with a pool because they want the house for reasons other than the pool. Others walk away just at the thought of owning and maintaining a pool. A new pool installation is a big project that you shouldn’t take lightly. Doing it right requires a little self-reflection and a bit of research and planning. However, it’s a big investment in summertime fun and relaxation that you can enjoy for years to come.
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