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Swimming Pool

Dreaming of a vacation getaway, complete with a sandy beach, spa grotto, romantic rock waterfalls, corkscrew slide and swim-up bar? Where can you find such a heavenly oasis? How about your own backyard! With the price of gas skyrocketing every summer, and exotic destinations becoming more of a tourist’s nightmare than a dream, staycations seem the way to go these days. While this may seem a budgetary impossibility, some pool builders can offer many affordable options to turn your home into paradise, personified.

Budget. The first step is to determine your budget!

  • Talk to your neighbors, look on the internet, even call some builders to get an idea, however rough, of what an average in-ground pool may cost in your area. If you built a pool in a previous home, avoid using those numbers. It’s likely that was either many years ago or in a different state. The same exact pool in San Diego will cost over double in Boise, so that’s not always a good budget barometer.

  • Leave a little wiggle room. Make sure you have a pad (around 10% is a good rule of thumb for any home improvement projects) for the unexpected issues that invariably pop up. For example, the excavators may uncover large boulders in your yard that will need to be moved (those are expensive, so keep them for your landscape!); there may be a concrete shortage, so your decking will be pricier; or local safety laws may require you to fence or cover your pool. Anticipating and preparing for additional costs will help the pool building process go a lot smoother.

  • Plan ahead. If you are going to require financing (as opposed to paying for your pool in cash) get all your ducks in a row before you give the go-ahead to the pool builder. This means discussing finance options with your lending institution. The more common choices include applying for a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or refinancing your existing mortgage. Some pool builders offer loan products as well, but their interest rates tend to be a bit higher.

Choose a Pool. The second step is to figure out which pool works best for you. The three most popular types of in-ground pools are gunite, vinyl, and fiberglass. Each has its own benefits and disadvantages. Ultimately, your pool choice will be dictated by your budget, area, space considerations, and lifestyle.

Types of Pools


Also known as “dry gunned” concrete, a mixture of cement and sand is added to water and sprayed into the pool forms which have been reinforced with rebar. Nearly every feature of this type of pool can be customized, from the surface material of the walls and floor to the finishes and decorative elements. A gunite pool is excellent for small spaces – sometimes gunite construction is used for backyard ponds and waterfalls.


  • Can be molded into any shape or size pool

  • Completely customizable with built-in waterfall, spa, grotto, rock slides, etc.


  • Susceptible to stress fractures in colder climates

  • Build likely to take 2-3+ months

  • Custom features add to the bottom line fast


While there are many choices for wall materials, the sturdiest and most durable is cement-reinforced steel. The floor can be “floated” with sand or made of cement. Then the liner of choice is installed to complete the look. Though some vinyl pools in the past have had a distinct vinyl pool-look, they now can be made with custom features similar to gunite pools.


  • Customizable into most shapes and sizes

  • Works well in any climate

  • Fairly quick build time; often under 2 months

  • Affordability


  • Will need to replace vinyl liner periodically


Do you remember having a great time swimming in your parents’ bathtub as a kid? Now fast-forward 30 years. In short, a fiberglass pool is a gigantic bathtub. It has a smooth, nonabrasive surface and is strong enough to withstand changing temperatures and soil conditions. Though specialty designs and features are available by some manufacturers, most models are pre-cast and ready for shipment.


  • Very short installation time; often under a month

  • Ease of maintenance

  • Works well in any climate


  •   Limited customization options or flexibility with shape and size

  •   Can be expensive

Geographic Location

Research what types of pools are most popular in your area. For example, gunite pools are widely used in Southern California, but vinyl-liner pools are more popular in the Northeast. Researching the Web and asking your neighbors what kind of pool they have is a good start. Create a list of questions based on your findings. Then, list in hand, call local pool builders and ask for their opinion and more importantly, their reasons for choosing that particular pool. Avoid calling builders first because they’ll likely give you a sales pitch pushing you toward the pool they build or the one with their highest profit margin, rather than the one best for you. Note which builders seem the most knowledgeable and forthcoming with information for future reference.

Choose a builder. Once you have chosen which type of pool works for you, you’ll need to find a reputable builder.

Ask Around

Get recommendations from friends, family, neighbors, pool-supply companies, general contractors – ANYONE who can give you a name so you’re not just choosing blindly. Ideally, when you spoke to your neighbors about their pools, you also inquired about the builder and their level of satisfaction:

  • Were there any unforeseen issues with the build? If so, were they handled competently and professionally?

  • Was the builder or a foreman on-site to oversee the building process?

  • Were you happy with the price? If not, were there hidden fees and costs that weren’t disclosed to you until after you signed the contract?

  • Did the builder begin and end when they said they would?

  • Were your questions during the build answered quickly and knowledgeably?

  • Are you satisfied with your pool?

  • Have there been any problems with your pool since completion? If so, has your builder addressed the issues quickly and willingly?

The Interview

Meet with as many pool builders that specialize in your chosen type of pool as you can stand. Ask them for references as well as a portfolio of their pools. Also ask what’s included (and more importantly, not) in their quoted price. Depending on the builder, the following may be separate charges, so it’s imperative to know up front:

  • Electrical

  • Plumbing

  • Upgraded equipment

  • Decking

  • Sprinkler system repair

  • Dirt haul and disposal (you can always keep your dirt for future landscaping to avoid this charge)

  • Testing kit

  • Accessories

If some of the above items are not included in your quoted price (e.g. electrical and plumbing), you have the option of choosing your own contractors or you can ask the builder for recommendations as they should have pre-existing relationships with many subcontractors. Also inquire about:

  • Parts and labor warranty

  • Pool maintenance and after care

  • Necessary permits

Customizing Your Pool. While most builders have a “signature” pool, nearly all pools are customizable to each homeowner’s needs and desires. The possibilities are endless!

Pool Shapes

No matter which type of pool you choose, the following shapes tend to be popular:

  • Lap pool

  • Bahama (rectangular with rounded corners)

  • Roman

  • Kidney shaped

  • Martinique (a circular shape fused to a rectangle)

Custom Options

Saline or chlorine water treatment system
LED lighting
Automatic vacuums
Spas and grottos

  • Rock waterfalls and slides

  • Fountains

  • Auto covers

  • Beach/tanning shelf


1. I’ve heard that I might have to buy a fence, gate or other safety measures for my yard if I get a pool. Is this true?

Yes. Nearly all areas have specific building codes governing safety measures for pools. In some areas, you may need a locking fence around the pool. An auto cover will suffice in others. Both options are expensive, so make sure you add these costs into your budget.

2. Do I need a permit to put in a pool?

You’ll likely need building and plumbing permits to start. For example, in some areas you need to maintain a specific distance from the pool to the property line. The pool has to have a specific clearance, considering neighboring utility lines as well. Then, if the pool is heated, there will also be an electrical permit involved.

3. What kind of warranty can I expect with my pool and its installation?

Hopefully, there’s at least a ten-year warranty on the pool and a one-year warranty on installation. Lengths and terms of warranties will vary with the type of pool, manufacturer and builder. Get details in writing and make sure you’re comfortable with them.

4. When is the best time to buy a pool?

If you live in a warm climate, any time is a good time to purchase a swimming pool. But think ahead! Pool builders often dig throughout the winter where possible and waiting lists can be months long, particularly if you wait until late spring to start the process.

Consumer Tips


Ask the builder about tie-in services, such as custom decks. It may cost less to have everything done by one company Ask the builder about cleanup Look for someone with a long track record in the area. The longer a company has been around, the longer it’s likely to stay around to service its products Find out what height your underground water table is. In some areas, it may be too high to install an in-ground pool Make sure the builder can get large equipment to the area designated for your pool – and find out who is responsible for repairs should there be extensive property damage Ask for written quotes. Every step, from delivery to completion, should be included in this documentation.


Build before you check with your insurance agency. You’ll likely need to change your homeowner’s coverage to include the pool. Assume that the builder will get permits for you. Specify this in the service contract. Assume that the builder will stay (or return) to make sure the pool fills correctly. You’ll need to keep an eye on it.