As we head into the heart of summer, thoughts naturally turn to fun in the sun while staying cool. For some, that might even mean contemplating the addition of a sparkling swimming pool. But what does it take to turn your backyard into a watery oasis? And do swimming pools add value to your property? To answer these questions and others, let’s take a deep dive (pun intended) into the wonderful world of swimming pools.
Humans have been building pools as communal baths and gathering places for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the post-World War II era that their popularity skyrocketed in residential use. In those early days, private pools were seen as a coveted luxury and a celebrity status symbol, but over time, in-ground pools have become more prevalent and accessible to all homeowners.
Before calling your local pool installer, take a moment to consider your property’s overall suitability. Large, level lots with good soil make installation cheaper and easier, while sloping yards, high water tables and sandy or rocky terrain will add to your excavation costs. When it comes to placement, you’ll want to consider which parts of your yard get sun and shade throughout the day, where you’re willing to sacrifice any existing landscaping and how the flow from patio to pool to the house might work best.
You and your builder will also need to be aware of all municipal regulations which could include rules regarding fencing, property lines and more. Insurance is another factor to examine carefully. While your homeowners insurance policy may already cover swimming pools, check with your insurer and consider bumping up your liability coverage while you’re at it.
Homeowners have more choices than ever when it comes to swimming pool materials. While the typical poured concrete method is still popular for in-ground pools, gunite – which uses a rebar framework spray-coated with a concrete and sand mixture – is a durable option that offers excellent flexibility and shorter installation times than plain concrete. Despite its durability, however, the porous surface of gunite pools makes them more prone to algae growth than other materials, and they may require an occasional resurfacing.
Fiberglass pools arrive as a pre-made shell ready to be placed directly in the ground. This type of pool is amenable to customizations in size, shape, lighting, tanning shelves and steps, and custom edge treatments. While it’s the most expensive option in terms of upfront costs, the smooth finish means lower maintenance expenditures over time. Fiberglass is also the fastest way to get to go from inspiration to pool party.
In vinyl pools, a vinyl liner is applied to a structure of wood, cement, steel or polymer to create a smooth and flexible pool that is resistant to cracking and algae. Vinyl pools are customizable in terms of size, shape and color, and they are among the cheapest to install. However, even with the most meticulous care, the vinyl liner will need to be replaced every 10 years or so, and owners must be diligent about spotting any tears or leaks that could cause the pool liner to shift and bubble up.
With the latest innovations in pool construction, even city dwellers can enjoy their own watery paradise thanks to plunging pools, jetted lap pools and pool-jacuzzi combos – many of which can be installed within an urban townhouse roof or basement.
While our childhood memories may be filled with the pungent aroma of chlorine, today’s swimming pools are likely to be maintained by more earth-friendly – and less smelly – means. To maintain pH levels and combat algae and bacteria, some homeowners choose the saline route, which is not, contrary to popular belief, chlorine free. So-called “saltwater pools,” use a salt cell or generator to break down the sodium chloride in the water to create chlorine, but without the irritating chloramines that give it its trademark smell. Saline pools have higher upfront costs but lower operating costs. However, over time, the salt can degrade any metal components in or near your pool.
Another alternative is a mineral pool system which uses magnesium chloride, sodium chloride and potassium chloride to keep things clean while cutting chlorine use in half. The water in mineral pools feels soft and silky without the corrosiveness of saline systems.
Costs for installing a swimming pool vary widely based on size, type, terrain and more. Home improvement website HomeAdvisor outlines several of the cost considerations involved for straightforward installations, pegging the price of a concrete or gunite pool at $35,000 to $100,000 with fiberglass and vinyl installations running closer to $20,000 to $60,000. The total bill for ongoing operating costs, including maintenance, heat and filtration, can reach $4,000 per year for concrete or gunite, $1,500 per year for fiberglass and $1,700 for vinyl.
Don’t forget that the construction costs above don’t include special features, such as lights, slides and waterfalls. When preparing the budget, you’ll also want to plan for the paving or decking surrounding the pool, and for the cover that will go on top of the pool when it’s not in use. At high-end properties, the addition of a pool house or cabana would add to the ultimate indoor-outdoor living experience. And don’t forget to include a bit of room in the budget for an Instagrammable inflatable swan and an ample supply of pool noodles.
With their water use, energy use and chemicals, there’s no getting around the fact that swimming pools are an environmental concern. With that in mind, the environmental organization the Sierra Club offers a few tips for mitigating some of the impact: First, cover your pool to prevent evaporation, maintain water quality and reduce heat loss. Second, invest in an Energy Star-rated pump and lastly, consider incorporating a natural or seminatural filtration system that uses plants, rather than chemicals, to keep the water clear.
Now that we’ve addressed the options and costs associated with swimming pools, we must answer the question most homeowners have top of mind: Will adding a pool increase my home’s value? Well, it depends. While HouseLogic.com, the home improvement site run by the National Association of Realtors, notes that a swimming pool could boost your home’s sale price by up to 7%, several factors will influence that figure. Chief among them is whether you live in a warm climate where pool use is feasible year-round and whether you live in a community where most of your neighbors have swimming pools.
All in all, a nicely designed pool that is in good condition and in keeping with the overall size of your yard can help cool off your family now and heat up your listing price when it comes time to sell.