How To Save Money On A Pool
When it comes time to start adding up the costs for your new swimming pool installation things can get out of control pretty quickly. Almost every new pool that gets installed will end up being compromised in one way or another from the original vision simply because the first estimates received end up being way higher than you were expecting them to be. By the time you add in the functional control you want like automation for controlling pool and spa function from your phone, lighting options, diving boards, waterfalls and deck jets...not to mention the equipment pad where a most basic pump and filter can be under $1000 but a more robust pad with a better pump, filter plus a heater could be $6000 to $10,000 or more. As an example, if you have heard good things about a commercial grade ASME gas heater then one of these bad boys could run you $7500 on its own. If you started adding new features and equipment to your pool without consideration of price you could make a $40,000 pool installation into a $250,000 pool installation without any problem at all.
So what are you supposed to do when you can't afford the pool that you really want? Well, the obvious answer is that you compromise your vision...but this is risky business. Imagine your disappointment to pay $50,000 or $100,000 or more and not get what you really want. Fortunately there are solutions to this problem, but unfortunately it is advice that is seldom heeded by excited home owners looking to have a new pool installed. The advice that most new pool owners don't want to hear is to cut out the expensive optional upgrades they have added. When you only build one pool, you end up wanting to put all the bells and whistles into it. It is normal to want to have some features and fancy / fun things to show off. This is why sports cars exist, right? When is the last time you saw a calendar full of pictures of beige Volvo's? When you are spending a boatload of cash you want to get something to show for it.
So what happens after you have built 100 pools? Would you build the 100th pool just the same as the first one? Almost certainly not. By pool 10 you would have a pretty good idea of what constitutes a useful feature versus something that does not really add all that much value. By pool 100 you have seen and done it all and know exactly where the real value lies with a new pool installation.
Water Features - The number one thing that every new pool installation requests is a water feature, water fall, sheer decent, or deck jets. It is extremely common for new pool owners to request these features. While some are more expensive than the others, like sheer decent waterfalls which require a great deal of water flow to function well, all water features cost money and the cold, hard reality is that they are just not worth it. Aside from the novelty that comes with a brand new feature, how often do you think you will use waterfalls and deck jets five or ten years from now? Unless you live in the Playboy mansion, or throw epic pool parties every weekend, the vast majority of water features and waterfalls sit unused all year long. This not only means that your hard earned dollars went towards something you don't use all that much...having these features on your pool is actually bad for your pool.
As an example, when winterizing pools as we do in the Northeast, for every 100 pools with deck jets that I would close, on average less than 5% used the deck jets more than once per year. The result of this is that for the entire summer the deck jet pipes have been filled with stagnant water. When we open these stagnant lines to clear them of water for the winter, the water that comes out is literally putrid. It is not uncommon at all to have new apprentices who throw up in the bushes from the smell of this putrid water. It is green and black and literally smells like a liquefied turd from a sick zombie. And when we blow out those pipes where do you think all of that putrid water ends up? That's right...right into your pool.
Are you really the party animal that you think you are? Do you need LED colored laminar deck jets arcing into your pool for you to go swimming or enjoy time with your family? Probably not. But good luck telling that to a new pool owner. As the builder of only one pool you can not imagine skipping out on the water feature or deck jets...as the builder of a hundred pools I can pretty much assure you that features like this are where you are going wrong and that is why your initial price for your pool estimate included the name of your first born son.
When you want to get the price down for your new pool installation then you need to start thinking pragmatically. You need to evaluate what you are actually getting for your money, and what affects it will have on your pool. My advice as a professional pool builder is to only choose things that benefit your pool, not things that hurt your pool.
So what do I mean by "hurt your pool"? As mentioned above having stagnant water in your plumbing lines for water features that you seldom run is an example of hurting your pool. That is not good for your water chemistry to say the least. But running water features and waterfalls also has the affect of raising the pH of the water, as well as potentially adding minerals that can cause staining - especially from natural stone waterfalls and water features. When you look at adding an expensive feature to your pool you should look at things that give you an actual benefit versus something that you think looks really cool.
An example of a smart allocation of funds for your pool budget, perhaps the best example, would be paying three times as much to get a new variable speed pump versus an older single speed pump. As I break down in this article about how much you will save with a variable speed pump the return on investment for a VS pump is so great that it almost certainly will pay for itself completely in electrical savings in just a handful of years. Now that is something worth paying extra for! In this example you are paying more but you are getting new technology that will filter your pool water better, and it will do it for significantly less money than the "cheaper" options, as compared to the water features which do not save you any money, and actually work to make the pool less efficient and harder to chemically manage.
Budget Pool Designs
The very first things that you need to cut out from your pool design to save money should be anything that you can easily add at a later point. A prime example of this would be salt water, a UV system, or pretty much any other peripheral sanitizer or oxidizer system. These units, like a salt system, can be adapted to the pool plumbing system at any point in the future without any concern. They typically just get cut into the return line right before the water returns to the pool and then wired up for power. In total a skilled pool technician can install a salt system on an existing pool in an hour, and that includes a smoke break or two even. So if you are trying to save money then remove everything from your "want list" that is something you can add easily enough later when you are able to dig up some more funds.
If you see value in my advice about skipping water features but really struggle to let go of the idea of having one, then I would suggest the best compromise is to plumb in for the waterfalls such that you have pipes from the pump room to the waterfall location installed during construction, but leave these capped off for future considerations. This way if you get more funds in the future you don't need to start tearing up your pool deck to have a waterfall. Do however be sure to add extra concrete sono tube columns to support the weight of the waterfall on your pool deck if you intend to build a concrete or natural stone waterfall in the future.
Safety considerations - As the final step to reducing the estimates for your new pool installation you should consider removing any (expensive) optional upgrades which are also safety concerns. Squarely at the top of the list for safety concerns are diving boards and slides. Almost all pool owners with children will want a slide, or a diving board, or both. I also had both a slide and a diving board on our family pool growing up so I understand the desire...but as a safety minded individual, and someone who sees pool and swimming statistics on the national level, I would never install a diving board or a slide again. Slides in particular are extremely expensive for what they are. Think many thousands just for an entry level one...and they are only good for a few years at most. That is a lot to spend on a few seasons of fun. By the time your kids approach teenage years the slide will be boring and that is when upside down and backwards sounds like a good idea to try on the slide. It is just not worth it.
Diving boards on the other hand are good for people young and old, unlike the slide which is really only good for young kids, but diving boards are easily the most dangerous thing on a pool that people take for granted. According to current pool installation standards, almost all residential pools do not meet minimum diving envelope sizes for a raised platform like a diving board. So what does everyone do to deal with this? They just shallow dive of course...and that is EXACTLY why diving boards are so dangerous. Pool owners do not realize that it is actually the shallow dives that cause the most injuries and this is from hitting the long slope of the pool near the shallow end. On a a shallow angle dive your feet are barely in the water by the time your face is about to hit the slope.
Most pools today in residential settings are six feet deep or less, but even the bigger and deeper pools are usually only eight or nine feet at most. Pools that are actually 12 feet deep or more are exceedingly rare in most residential markets, and yet that is closer to what you would need to meet minimum safe diving depths. So purely from a safety perspective you can make a strong argument for saving a few thousand dollars by skipping out on the diving board.
Stamped concrete pool decks - As much as stamped concrete is visually appealing it tends to be one of the more slippery concrete finish options. When used as a pool deck this is borderline negligent. There is a good reason why broomed texture pool decks have been popular for over 50 years and that is simply because it is one of the most non-slip and low maintenance concrete finishes. Stamped concrete, even when a silica sand is used in the sealer layer for added grip, tends to be too slippery for pool deck finishes. Broom finish concrete is much less expensive than stamped concrete anyway and when combined with being a much safer option this becomes a viable way to save some money with your pool design.
In total it is all too easy to get caught up with adding bells and whistles to your pool but the reality is that it is just the pool itself that really brings the enjoyment. Spending $10,000 on a water feature is simply not worth the money when you could put that money into something that will actually give you a return over and above looking super cool. If you want the pool to look super cool then add some neat lighting because lighting not only makes it look cooler, it also increases the safety of the pool so you can see the bottom at night. This is important enough that all new pools require a light by code, so just upgrade your white safety light to some color change LED lights. This is a lot of improved look for a minimal amount of money.
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