Why Are Pools So Expensive?
Why are swimming pools so expensive? Is there any way to make pool ownership more affordable? While pools are expensive there are actually lots of ways to bring the cost down and make pool ownership more affordable to the average person. When you start to examine the costs of owning or installing a pool a number of ways to cut costs become evident. Please note that I said cutting costs, not cutting quality, because there are some things in life that you want to pay for quality...swimming pools should be one of those things. A well built pool can be done cost effectively but a very poorly built pool is the kind that will cost you most of all!
To learn more about why swimming pools are so expensive we should separate this subject into construction / installation and maintenance / repairs. The truth is that these two subjects are directly related however people searching for "why are pools expensive" will either want a pool or have a pool already and this will help them to find what they are looking for more easily. If you already have a pool and want to keep your costs down then skip further down this page however it is recommended that you read the construction / installation section as many of the shortcomings of your current pool will be covered in this section.
Cost of swimming pools - The actual dollar value cost for a swimming pool varies greatly depending on where you are located geographically. An exact clone copy of a $60,000 gunite pool in one area might cost $100,000 to build in a different area of the country. This is far more variance than exists with typical consumer purchases, and that is because the scope of a swimming pool installation closely resembles that of house construction and real estate development. Real estate prices usually drive the prices of swimming pools. One of the reasons that a pool might cost so much in your area is because the real estate values are high and can substantiate higher dollar value spent on property upgrades such as a pool. Not that a pool increases real estate value, which they do not primarily because a pool drastically reduces the number of potential buyers interested in your home, but if a house and property is worth a million dollars then you can perhaps justify $125,000 for a swimming pool. If the house and property is only worth $125,000 then obviously the market for $100k+ pools in this area will be small and pool dealers will need to offer very budget minded pool options to suit the properties.
Why Are New Pools So Expensive?
Why is having a new pool installed so expensive anyway? The answer, quite simply, is that it is an appreciably large construction project with many different stages, expensive components, utility provisions such as gas, electrical and plumbing being needed. This all needs to be put together by an experienced swimming pool contractor who has technical skills and proficiency across a half dozen or more individual skilled disciplines. Building swimming pools is like drywall or tile work or concrete finishing, or any number of other things that look easy enough in skilled hands. When you see someone do this kind of work it is easy to think that you could even do this yourself if you wanted. That is the thing about skills...it looks really easy but once you try it for yourself you realize that there is more technique and nuance involved than you realized, and you can not compensate for your lack of experience with extra effort.
Juggling looks easy enough, right? Try it. Unless you learn, and practice, you simply will not be able to do it. Yet those who do make it look as simple as can be. Building a pool might look easy enough but it really is not. Just like with any of these skills you can probably get the job 75% done without too much trouble. Everyone can slap on some tile, or throw up 20' lengths of siding on their own house...but it is all about the finishing details. The finishing details are what separates skilled trades people from DIY or first time builders. If you want to try to pour a concrete driveway then you might be able to live with a job that only got 75% done right. You definitely do not want a 75% done correctly pool. Swimming pools might very well be the origin of the term "doesn't hold water" because if you do any one thing wrong when you build one then it simply is not going to work. So that is the first reason that having a pool installed is so expensive - because you have to hire someone skilled across multiple trade disciplines and the people who really have those kinds of skills tend to not give them away for cheap.
Material costs for building a pool - Aside from the skilled labor component, which is certainly appreciable, swimming pools are big and no matter which kind you have installed the material costs are going to be a lot. Concrete is expensive to buy (and place/finish) and most pool projects require a bunch of concrete. Concrete pools which obviously use more than vinyl or fiberglass pools could need thousands of dollars just in concrete costs from the local batch plant. Vinyl liner and fiberglass pools both have less concrete because they have a kit or shell that you need to buy. Kits for liner pools and fiberglass pool shells can range from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars and that is not installed, delivered...nothing.
Filtration Equipment - Pumps, filters, heaters, salt water systems...with modern pool filtration equipment being more high tech than ever before you can easily drop five to ten thousands dollars on your pool equipment for even just a basic pool setup. If you have something fancy like a shared pool and spa system or other features you can double this number. Even a single component upgrade like an electric heat pump or new AOP system could cost $5000 or more so you can see how these numbers start to add up really quickly. A super pump and sand filter were standard equipment for decades in the pool industry and that system by todays standards would cost around $500 or so. Some people still stubbornly go this route but the reality is that even if you want to mimic the minimalist pool filtration systems of the glorious 1970's and 1980's you will save so much money with a variable speed pump that it is worth the additional investment. A high end equipment pad with two or three pumps, a couple of filters, a heater or two and some supplemental sanitation systems could easily set you back $30,000. When you ask why pools are so expensive to install the mechanical system is a big component of this cost.
Interior surface costs - The waterproofing layer in a pool costs a lot of money no matter what kind of pool you have. Vinyl pools are the cheapest and this is one of the biggest reasons that vinyl pools dominate the entry level swimming pool market. A new liner might set you back a few thousand dollars, but the interior surface of a concrete pool could cost you $10,000. If you need tiles around the top of your pool that could be another $10,000 as well. Consider these pricing examples to show how expensive interior surface like tile can be. If you wanted a foot of new tile at the top of your pool wall then you might need 100 sf of tile, or more, depending on the size of your pool. Base cost tile might be five dollars per square foot so this would only be about $500 in tile...not bad. But what if you want glass tiles or something else fancy. That might be in the $20 to $40 per square foot range. Now that $500 is more like $2000 to $4000. What if you want the entire pool interior surface in fancy glass tile and you found some for a reasonable $25.00 per square foot...well if the pool that needed 100sf for the border then you might need 1000sf to tile the whole pool so now you are looking at $25,000 in material costs for just the tile. Also you now need a few thousand pounds of tile to get from the store and into your backyard, and then you need to pay a highly skilled tilesetter to put it all in which can take weeks to do properly. All pool interior surfaces are expensive and the type you choose for your pool will dictate heavily how much your pool costs.
Hardscaping & grading - A large part of a swimming pool installation is the moving of earth and other aggregates as well as hardscaping the ground. While bulk materials like sand and gravel are quite affordable it is the placement costs that really add up on a pool project. You will pay more in labor costs to place sand and gravel then you will for the materials themselves. Machine operators and heavy equipment are extremely expensive to rent or operate and skilled equipment operators are much more expensive than laborers.
Automation systems - Automation systems enhance the functional control that you have over your pool. When you have a fancy swimming pool with a lot of options an automation system is the best way to handle the day to day interaction with your pool system. When you are talking about conserving costs and low cost pool installations then there really is no need to add any sort of automation. With a basic pool filtration installation there is very little day to day interaction that you actually need to do. The truth is that the variable speed pump that I recommended you to invest in is actually a form of automation already since you will be able to program your pump to follow daily filtration schedules to minimize your needed interaction with the pool system. If you did want to add automation control the cost of this will depend entirely on what kind of control you need, and also what you are controlling. Anything is possible today with apps, motorized valve controllers, synched lighting but the more complex your automation demands, the more expensive your system will be.
The most expensive pool upgrades - There are some upgrades that you can add to a new swimming pool installation that drastically increase the price. These usually involve additional water features or bodies of water such as an attached hot tub. Not only are you paying for the tub itself, but also the mechanical systems needed to operate it such as more pumps, filters, heater, concrete, electrical installation, gas lines...and hot tubs are not the only large and costly upgrade option on a new pool. Vanishing edge pools (infinity edge, negative edge, knife edge) require additional surge tank reservoirs, pumps, extra thick walls, more mechanical equipment and plumbing. To a lesser extent infloor cleaning systems also require appreciable time and material upgrades to a standard pool installation, as do automatic safety covers. But the benefits from upgrades like these two can be very alluring to someone shopping for a new pool. Safety or ease of maintenance are often two of the most vocalized concerns of new pool shoppers but when you add individual components in the $5000 to $10,000 to a project the final total can get out of hand pretty quickly for a budget minded individual. Here is an article that talks more about upgrades for new pools.
There is just no getting around the fact that a swimming pool is a large expense because it is a lt of work to put one in and regardless of the type you choose you will end up sinking a bundle of money into materials and equipment. This is the ultimate answer to the question "why are pools so expensive?" They are expensive because they are large, involve a lot of different components, and take a lot of skill and effort to install. So now that you know why swimming pools are so expensive to install lets see what we can do to help you keep the cost of a new pool installation as affordable as possible.
How To Reduce Costs When Installing A Pool
In reading an article like this you might be hoping for some secret silver bullet or tip that makes getting a pool more affordable. I actually have this for you...but be warned that most people do not like the answer. The secret to getting an affordable new pool installed is to forego almost all of the optional upgrades that you are presented with. As someone who has contracted and built hundreds of pools I can tell you with certainty that half of the budget for "the average" pool installation gets eaten up with optional extras that the pool owner has elected to add. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a well built bare bones swimming pool. You do not need to have all of the bells and whistles to swim, stay cool and have fun. People tend to get caught up with customizing the pool just like when buying a new car. The car you want might be $30,000 but by the time you fit it with all the optional upgrades that you want the price is $45,000 to $60,000!
So what is the most cost effective swimming pool budget installation? A rectangle pool with a solar blanket, an entry level variable speed pump, a sand filter, and a basic four foot broomed concrete deck around the pool. The deck is to allow for the installation of a safety cover, either right away or at some point in the future. There is a lot of logic built into this proposal. A rectangle pool is an off the shelf shape which should keep kit costs and cover costs down. The sand filter will definitely keep the pool clean even if there is better (more expensive) filters on the market. The variable speed pump will pay for itself in a few years time easily. Chlorine can be added manually to the pool. If you live in an area where the pool gets closed in the winter then the concrete deck is needed to accommodate the cheapest safety cover installation. Tarp and waterbag covers are cheaper, but an antiquated process. The water bags and tarps are made so cheaply and will require replacement so often it is likely to end up costing more than the vastly superior mesh safety covers. If you live in an area without cold winters then the rectangle pool with concrete decking is perfect for adding an automatic safety cover, either as part of the initial design, or as a surface mount aftermarket system one day in the future. Automatic safety covers are very expensive, but getting less expensive all the time, and I highly recommend finding budget for one for any new pool installation. I would sacrifice every other optional pool upgrade to be able to afford an automatic pool cover. They are safer, which has unlimited value, but also return well on increased chemical and heat efficiency.
Diving boards - diving boards cost a few thousand dollars to buy and install. They require a robust installation process in order to be safe, and the boards themselves are large, heavy and expensive. Since diving boards are one of the most dangerous parts of a swimming pool I would easily recommend to save that money and skip on the diving board. Residential pools just are not deep enough for diving anyway...and don't think that your shallow diving is any safer. It is the shallow diving responsible for more neck injuries than anything because people dive shallow and hit the long slope. Even a huge 20x40' pool might only have a six or eight foot deep end pad, plus the board comes a foot or two past the end wall of the pool.
Pool slides - Much like the diving boards swimming pool slides are responsible for a high number of injuries around swimming pools. When you look at the cost of pool slides and the fact that they can be dangerous, this should be enough motivation alone to skip installing a slide on your pool. Consider that slides are also the worst offender for optional upgrades that get used for a season or two , but then largely just sit unused year after year once the kids grow up. Save your money on the pool slide if you are budget conscious. I guarantee your kids will still have a ton of fun in the pool even without a slide.
Automation systems - Pool automation systems are fantastic and we are absolutely entering into a golden age of pool automation...but the reality is that these units are very expensive and they are 100% a luxury upgrade as no pool needs an automation system in order to run. The closest thing that i would recommend for any new "budget" pool installation would be a salt chlorine generator to alleviate you of needing to drive to the store to buy jugs of chlorine every week...but even that is still an optional upgrade that you technically do not need.
Supplemental sanitation systems - You might have heard great things about ozone generators, UV systems, AOP systems, pool ionizers or any one of a number of less popular or less effective systems. If you want a budget pool installed you need to resist adding these items as you simply do not need them. Best of all most of these can be added at any point in the future should some extra budget for your pool become available. The only provision I would install would be a pool return that goes to the floor of the deep end if you definitely plan to install an ozone system one day. Other than this one rare stipulation, I would largely say to forget about all of these systems, at least for now, and focus on getting an affordable but high quality pool structure, deck and minimalist filtration system installed.
If you want your pool installation to be less expensive then it really comes down to the upgrade costs. The part that catches people off guard is simply how many upgradeable components there are to consider when having a new pool installed. There are literally dozens of upgrade considerations to make along the way and saying yes to even a few of them is going to add a lot to your total cost. It would also be a good idea to not get hung up on one pool versus another. There are hundreds of thousands of vinyl liner pools out there so don't think you need to pay more for a concrete pool or a fiberglass pool in order to get something decent. A vinyl pool is likely your best option if you are looking for a budget pool installation.
Why Are Pool Repairs So Expensive
Pool repairs are so expensive because it is actually very difficult to contain such a massive volume of water within a structure. Holding that much water requires a cohesive and stable structure that incorporates a filtration system to prevent the pool water from turning gross or dangerous. When you have a failure of the pool system there is not always an easy bandaid approach that will get the pool up and running again. Many times the pool will need expensive remediation in order to get running again if something integral fails. To the average pool owner this is all somewhat of a mystery, but to a pool and spa specialist there is no mystery to be had here.
Swimming pool components all have a finite service life. This is no different than cars and trucks with serviceable parts that must be maintained and replaced as they wear out or break. The only difference is that people tend to not consider pools as something technical like an automobile and as a result will tend to ignore problems and symptoms that manifest within the pool. Saying that pools are so expensive to repair is not entirely accurate. A good amount of the cost for owning and maintaining a pool can be accounted for with an understanding that you should be saving every year to replace these serviceable parts of your pool. Cars are not particularly expensive to maintain, but if you buy a new Mercedes SUV and then drive it for years without servicing it, changing the breaks or oil etc. then you can bet your bottom dollar that you will be looking at some ridiculously expensive repair bills. It would be unfair to make the blanket claim that Mercedes SUV's are bad because they cost so much to maintain...yours only cost so much because you did not understand the technical nature of serviceable components, and now you are paying the price for this. To this extent pools are prety much the same way.
As a working number you should set aside 5% of the total price of your pool every year to account for serviceable component repairs and renovations. If you can manage to save this much for repairs and maintenance then you will probably be covered for the costs as the larger service items come due. What you want to avoid at all costs, assuming you want to keep your total expenditure as low as possible, is letting broken components slide for "one more year" while you save up for the repairs. This is something that I have talked about in detail in this article about common symptoms that pool owners ignore. More times than not your pool will give you warning about impending failures or service issues and it is only when you ignore these warning signs that you can end up with some really expensive (and unnecessary) repairs on your hands. Consider this article that looks at the holy grail of pool problems that you should not be ignoring: why you should never ignore a leak in your pool.
Why you should not ignore a leak in your pool
Common problems pool owners ignore
How much you can save with a variable speed pump
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