While not quite fully amphibious, humans are still pretty enamored with swimming: According to the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, the United States has well over 10 million residential pools in use. If you plan on adding to the count this year, here are some tips to keep in mind before diving in.
1. DECIDE ABOVE GROUND VS. IN-GROUND.
When it comes to adding a body of water to your property, this might be the easiest decision you’ll make. While in-ground pools are aesthetically appealing and come in a wider variety of sizes, shapes, and depths than above-ground units, they are by far the most expensive: Expect to spend a minimum $20,000—often considerably more—to have one installed. Above-ground pools, which are typically sold as “kits,” require far less labor and materials and can start at $1500, with additional installation fees.
If price isn’t a factor, consider that above-ground pools can be easily disassembled if desired, while in-ground pools (typically made of vinyl, fiberglass, or concrete) can be customized for diving-safe depths and are large enough to accommodate laps. If you’re a short-term planner, realize that a concrete in-ground job could take up to 12 weeks. An above-ground kit, while not quite as attractive, can be assembled in a matter of hours.
2. CHOOSE THE RIGHT CONTRACTOR.
If you opt for an in-ground pool, the job will likely be the single most complex addition you'll make to your property. A contractor will have to assess your land for building compliance, ease of access for construction equipment, and tackling additions like fencing and walkways. While a professional will be able to navigate these waters successfully, getting stuck with a disreputable installer could prove costly. Avoid outfits that promise cheap prices and bury necessities (steps, pumps) in fine print; collect references and contact each one; see if the installer is affiliated with the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, which can accredit installers.
3. CONSIDER LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.
While in-ground pools can sometimes only be placed where it’s easiest to dig—some backyards could host giant rock formations that can prove problematic—you’ll want to consider the proximity of the pool to other backyard fixtures. Having trees overhead can increase the need to skim the surface of leaves; a shaded area can also make for cooler swimming in unheated pools. Ideally, you’ll also want to keep the pool within view of a deck or window to monitor the swimmers' safety.
4. BE PREPARED FOR A SPIKE IN POWER CONSUMPTION.
That glorious, shimmering body of water can use up to 20,000 gallons of water, and every single ounce of it needs to be filtered. Depending on energy costs in a given region, a typical pump could add as much as $300 annually to your utility bill.
5. PLAN FOR MAINTENANCE COSTS.
The cost of a pool doesn’t stop when construction does: Chemicals to keep the water free of bacteria and algae can run from $50 to $100 monthly, while expenses to have a pool professionally opened and closed in cooler climates can run up to $300. Depending on the surface material used, in-ground pools may also need periodic refinishing or repair.
6. FENCING IS A MUST.
Though all types of pools require some measure of safety to stop children from wandering in unsupervised, your in-ground pool may require you by law to install a protective fencing barrier. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission [PDF], more than 300 children die annually in preventable pool-related deaths. To minimize the danger, the CPSC advises pool owners to install fencing with self-closing, self-latching doors, and door or motion alarms to alert adults to the presence of a child in the pool area. Above-ground pools should have access ladders removed when the pool is not in use.
7. USE A COVER.
In addition to preventing debris from getting in, a proper pool cover can also help prevent evaporation and retain pool temperatures, reducing utility costs to heat the water. Keep in mind that you’ll have several cover options, including ones that are child-resistant and ones that are more concerned with keeping winter weather at bay. Make sure you know the limitations of each before buying.
8. UPDATE YOUR INSURANCE COVERAGE.
Owning a pool is, for the most part, an absolute blast—but having a large body of water in your backyard can also invite some hazards. While most home insurance policies have a $100,000 cap in base liability, it’s recommended that pool owners bump that up to $500,000 or even consider an umbrella policy for up to $1 million. Falling trees, personal injury, or water damage can add up.
9. DON’T CONSIDER IT A HOME UPGRADE.
Your pool may be beautiful, serene, and some of the best money you’ve ever spent. But don’t expect future potential buyers for your home to feel the same way. In some cases, real estate transactions can be waylaid by residents who are fearful of maintenance costs or safety concerns. Make sure any pool installation is for your enjoyment, and not with the expectation of recouping costs down the road.
All images courtesy of iStock.