In-Ground Pool Cost Guide & Free Contractor Quotes
Today we discuss in-ground pool cost, design and how to get the best contractor for the job. Free contractor quotes included.
The warmer months eventually come around every year and thoughts of long hot weekends start to take over our lives. Barbeques and pool parties occupy the family’s spare time until the cold autumn months finally arrive. You have been to many pool parties with your family, but wouldn’t it be good if you could host one too.
When we think about having our own pool, most people think that the expense would be just too great. Sure you can buy above ground pools at a fraction of the price of an in-ground one, but they are nowhere near as good for swimming lengths or even just lazing about.
Today we are going to talk about how we go about getting an in-ground pool, the types that are available and the costs involved in having one built. Trouble is that it isn’t just about having enough money to build one; you also need to have the income to maintain it and keep the water sweet.
So you want to have a pool?
Yes having a pool of your very own in your own garden for you, your family and guests to use whenever you want is a dream for most people, but you are actually going to have one. Before you go out and start paying for it, remember to ask yourself a few questions first:
- Why do you want a pool?
- What will you use it for?
- Can you afford to buy a pool with all the extras needed to make it a pleasure?
- Who will do the maintenance?
- Have you enough money to keep the maintenance going?
Being able to answer these questions truthfully to yourself will help you determine whether you actually want a pool and will also help you decide what type of pool you want. Remember that buying a pool is a lot like buying a car, you will have a basic cost but then there will be lots of hidden extras to make the experience really special. It is also unlike buying a car in that if you find you can’t afford to run or maintain it, you can’t just trade it in for a cheaper model. You are stuck with it. We will discuss the points in this list later on so keep them in mind.
During this article today we will be mainly talking about the things that can go wrong and how much it will cost you to put them right again. Don’t let me put you off as having your own pool is a wonderful experience, especially if you live in a region that is warm for much of the year.
An in-ground pool
Apart from the purely recreational aspect of having a pool (and that is a big attraction), pools provide an attractive water feature for your garden and provide a focal point around which you can entertain friends and have family get-togethers. There is a feeling of luxury about an in-ground pool that is not present with an above ground one. There is also a sense of permanence about them that helps them blend into your garden landscaping. On a purely monetary basis, in-ground pools provide a selling point for your home and will increase its value considerably compared to a house without a pool.
Types of pool available
An in-ground pool is basically a hole in the ground that has been lined with a waterproof material. They can be made from three types of construction material:
Concrete. A concrete shell is applied to the hole and then plastered with a waterproof surface. Concrete will last a long time and does not become easily punctured. A big problem with concrete pools is that the surface is very attractive to algae and mould and if the pool is not properly maintained, they will completely take over and it will become like a stagnant pond.
Before the algae becomes rampant and at least every three to five years the water must be drained and the pool given an acid wash to keep the algae from forming. Each time you apply the acid wash, a thin layer of the concrete shell is stripped away and eventually the shell will need to be replastered to keep its waterproofing.
Fibreglass. This type of pool comes as a pre-formed fibreglass shell. It is placed into a hole pre-dug to the dimensions of the shell. This type of work is easily done as a DIY project but most people tend to prefer a contractor to do the work. Fibreglass can be very brittle if unsupported so the shells are usually less than 16ft across. This type does not need the same type of maintenance that a concrete one does, so the limitations in size are often regarded as a good trade-off for not having to perform the occasional acid wash. They are quicker to install than concrete pools and are usually ready for swimming after a day or two.
Vinyl. These are very popular because of their versatility and low maintenance. They are available in a range of different shapes and even custom shapes. Vinyl is soft to the touch so is a very pleasant, non-abrasive surface with which to come into contact. Vinyl does not allow algae to grow very easily so the chemical cost when cleaning is lower than concrete. An experienced DIY enthusiast could install a vinyl pool themselves if given the correct tools.
Size & location of your pool
The size of your pool and where you are going to put it will have a large effect on the total cost. And when I say size of pool I don’t just mean its area, depth comes into it as well.
Firstly let us consider the size. A small pool is usually considered to be about 10ft x 20ft and is about 5.5ft deep. Usually this kind of pool is just for messing about in during a hot Saturday afternoon. If you want a bit extra, you can have swim jets or wave machines fitted to give yourself some exercise.
A medium size pool is regarded as one of about 14ft x 28ft and is about 6.5ft deep. This is more like a swimming pool but if you want to do any diving then it is recommended that the depth should be at least 9ft. Don’t forget that you could have deep and shallow ends to accommodate this.
A large pool is considered to be about 18ft x 36ft, with a deep end of 9ft to 12ft. These are usually too large for a normal suburban home, usually being confined to private clubs and mansions.
Where you put the pool in your garden will have an impact on the costs too. Conditions below ground at these depths are not really known for certain unless you have some exploratory drilling done and take some core samples. There may be bedrock present which will have to be blasted to remove it. There may also be utilities and sewers present, which will have to be diverted before the area is excavated. Diversion of utilities can cost many thousands of dollars.
You will need access to the garden to transport away the excavated soil and rock and to bring in the raw materials needed to build the pool. If you choose a concrete liner then you will need access for the premix concrete truck and if you choose a fibreglass liner then you will need either access or room to crane the liner in. Access for diggers and dump trucks will make light work of the excavation otherwise you will have to do the job by hand and remove the rubble using a wheelbarrow.
If your garden is sloping then you can incorporate the slope into the design of the pool by having either a semi in-ground pool or a deep end.
Customisations of pool and surroundings
It doesn’t matter if you choose a cheap or expensive pool. People really only notice what is above the water. There are many accessories and customisations that can be done to make your pool look something really special.
Spas. Many people have a hot tub next to the pool. They are good for relaxing in with a tall glass of something.
Pool shape. Pools can come in all shapes limited only by your budget. The most common shapes however are rectangular and kidney bean.
Slides. If you have children then you will want to incorporate a slide. The design will vary depending on your budget and you can incorporate water jets too.
Rocks. Rocks, whether real or artificial, make a good addition to the pool surroundings. The cost depends on the amount, configuration and whether they are real or artificial.
Lighting. Built in lighting can not only provide atmosphere to your pool but also incorporates some safety aspects if you intend using the pool after dark. There are many different variations for the lighting units including colours, brightness, floating or fixed lights.
Waterfalls. These can really add a touch of magic to a pool but the cost is very difficult to calculate unless you talk to a specialist pool installation company who will be happy to give you guidance.
Diving boards. These are only really possible if you have a pool that is long enough and deep enough. Cost of installation will depend on material of manufacture and the requirements of the local building codes. It is best to speak to a specialist pool installer who will be able to help you.
Decking. The area around the edge of the pool will need to be finished off properly too and this will be included within your quotation so won’t be regarded as an accessory. The basic deck will be a simple concrete area but many different finishing materials can be used depending on the size of your budget.
Plants. Plants around your pool will add to the ambience, but should be determined by your own tastes. Remember that plants can drop leaves and blooms which will definitely find their way into the water. If you need your garden landscaping changed to accommodate your new pool, such as slopes, trees and boulders, then this will add considerably to the overall cost.
Safety covers and fences
Fences around a pool are not regarded as an accessory but as a necessity. They will prevent unsupervised children, pets and wild animals from falling in the water and drowning. Fences can be permanent or temporary. Personally I would always install a permanent fence as you would want to prevent someone walking on the pool cover when the pool is out of action.
Removable fences are sold in panels measuring usually 5 ft high by 10ft long. The posts will be dropped into predrilled holes made in the concrete. You will also need caps to cover the holes when the fences are not in use.
Gates are another necessity and you will need at least one self-closing gate, possibly two depending on the size of your pool. Childproof locks and latches are another necessity as any determined child will quickly find their way past a normal gate.
There is a lot more to a pool than just dropping the liner into a hole in the ground and backfilling a pile of soil. Other costs which must be considered include.
Surveying & exploratory drilling. Before you even start to dig, you will have to find out what is below ground at your chosen location. There may be utilities, drainage pipes, a high water-table or even bedrock. All these problems must be considered and a solution found before you start to excavate.
Permits. Any in-ground pool will be considered as a permanent addition to your home, no matter what the size. It will therefore require permits and inspections at various stages of construction. If you are hiring a pool installation company to build your pool, find out if they will do the surveys and organise permits.
Resale value of your home. If you live in a warmer climate then a pool will be looked upon as almost a necessity and will definitely add value to your home. If you live in a colder region then your pool may not be so attractive. Of course if you have a heated pool then that might sway opinion.
Quotation. When you ask for your quotation, remember to list those things you want included in the package. Typically you should be asking for:
- Excavation. Don’t forget the removal and transportation costs of excavated earth and rock.
- Installation. This includes the delivery and installation of the chosen liner. Don’t forget to specify what you want the pool made from.
- Electrical. This includes electrical supplies for pumps and filtration system as well as lighting.
- Pumps. Pumping is regarded not only as an essential when filling and draining the pool, but also as a basic cleaning and filtration operation.
- Heater. It won’t be hot weather all the year round and wouldn’t it be good to be able to use the pool when the days start becoming chilly. There are many types of pool heating systems, from traditional fuels such as gas and oil to more modern technologies such as solar power and geothermal.
- Plumbing. You will obviously need plumbing to make sure the water supplies reach the pool, drainage pipes to empty the pool and pipes to transport the water between the pool and the pump house.
- Pump-house. You will need somewhere to house the pumps and filters and this is the place. Normally just a small garden shed would do, but the size will depend on what is being housed within.
- Deck. As stated earlier you will need at least a basic deck area around the pool otherwise you will have cut grass or mud finding its way into the pool on the soles of the family’s feet.
- Safety. A basic safety fence with a self-closing gate will be required to keep the pool separate from unsupervised children and animals.
- Cover. You will need an easily removed cover for the pool. This will prevent leaves from falling into the water as well as preventing things from falling into the shell when the pool has been emptied. Make sure you know exactly what you have asked for, and ensure you understand what the contractor is expecting to supply.
- Property tax. An in-ground pool may increase your property tax. How much extra you will have to pay will depend on your state and city. It may not be too much but you should find out beforehand how much it will be.
- Maintenance. In order to keep your pool looking (and smelling) clean, you will need to pay for regular maintenance. This does not just include cleaning the leaves and other organic debris from the water, it also means maintaining and servicing the pumps and filter as well as ensuring you have a constant supply of water cleaning chemicals available. You will also have to empty the pool and prepare it for the winter months.
No matter what type of pool you choose, you will always have to do some maintenance. Whether it is something as simple as skimming the leaves from the water surface or something a bit more serious like draining the pool and cleaning the shell or having the pumps serviced, there will always be something to do. The different types of maintenance required by different pools should be a factor in your choice.
These pools are relatively low maintenance and some companies offer maintenance plans from as little as $15 a month. This usually includes maintaining the gel coat above the waterline. The big advantage with fibreglass pool liners is that the surface is not as chemically active as concrete and is certainly more algae resistant. These liners are always constructed offsite and transported to site before being fitted into the excavation.
Like vinyl liners, fibreglass is very mould resistant but it is very much stronger than vinyl and needs less minor repairs over its lifespan. If however the liner experiences cracks or knocks then the chip will be repaired and the liner will need to be resurfaced. The resurfacing is done using a special gel paint that is applied to the damaged part as well as the rest of the inner surface. This obviously takes time and needs the pool to be emptied of water but it is a very affordable repair that works out about $300 depending on the size of the pool. The types of damage that can occur to fibreglass liners include:
Spider web cracks. These are very thin cracks resembling a spider web. They are caused when pressure is exerted against a weak part of the liner. The weakness can be caused by faulty construction, shipping damage, installation damage or pressure from the backfill.
Bulging walls. Using a backfill other than the correct material can cause this. For example, if sand is used as a backfill then the layer can become oversaturated and press unevenly against the liner. If the fibreglass has been weakened or wasn’t strong enough when manufactured then it will bulge if it doesn’t crack first. The best solution for this is to get the backfill correct in the first place. Use pea gravel as a backfill rather than sand.
Colour fade. Over the lifespan of the liner the gelcoat’s colour will start to fade. When this happens the liner will need to be repainted to protect it against further weathering. The pool will need to be drained and dried before it is painted but this can be done as a DIY project. If you prefer to hire a professional then it will cost about $700 for a standard 500sq.ft pool. Before the liner is repainted it is a good idea to have it inspected and any small repairs done first.
Leaky plumbing. Over time the backfill will settle causing the liner to shift slightly. If the backfill is sand then it will slump and the settling will be more exaggerated than if gravel was used. The plumbing is designed to accommodate small movements but if the settling is large there will be excessive stress put on the pipes causing them to bend and break. Always use gravel as a backfill.
Although cheaper to buy than the other types of liner, vinyl is easily prone to damage.
Holes and tears. Patching holes by a professional can cost from $100 to $500 depending on location and size. You can buy DIY repair kits for less than $30. If it is an exceptionally bad leak it can cost up to $2,500 to fix. Consider having a new liner installed.
Sun (ultraviolet light) damage. Vinyl can be affected by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, but usually only above the water line. Usually the liner will have to be replaced but you can prevent the damage by installing a cover or a protective shield. The cost for this would be about $550 for 150 feet.
Misaligned beads. Vinyl liners are held in place by a bead around the pool edge. If this comes out and you cannot put it back then you will need to replace it. The cost of a new bead will be between $130 and $350.
Wrinkled liner. Wrinkles often occur in the vinyl liner and will need to be fixed. Wrinkles occur because of poor quality installation and ground water pressure. To fix the problem would cost a professional about $200.
Liner bulge. Bulges can occur in your liner, often caused by ground water pressure and bad weather problems. After the water table has dropped it should settle down into a few wrinkles. If not then the liner will need to be replaced.
All leaks and most liner problems will require the pool to be drained to determine whether the problem is with the liner or with the ground behind it (is there a sharp rock abrading the vinyl?). It is essential that the underlying cause of any liner problem is found and remedied otherwise the problem will just come back.
Pools made from concrete are some of the commonest in-ground pools in the USA. They are also the most labour intensive when it comes to installation. The concrete is poured on-site into wooden formers with steel reinforcing rods having previously been tied into a framework. After the concrete has set sufficiently the liner can be finished off with ceramic tiles, paint or just left plain. It all depends on your personal taste and your budget.
Repairs to this kind of liner are usually related to:
Cracks. Most cracks in concrete pools are usually in the surface coating. The structural concrete is rarely affected if the correct thickness, reinforcing and support have been calculated correctly. Repairs to the surface will require the pool to be drained and resurfaced. If the crack extends all the way through to the structural concrete then the damage will have to be widened and extended and caulked before the surface layer is repaired. Small cracks can be done by you but cracks larger than about 1 foot long will need to be repaired by a professional. Costs to repair this can be about $70 per foot.
Hollows. When the substrate separates from the pool because it is no longer supported by backfill, hollow spots can form. Repairs involve replacing the backfill and resurfacing the pool. Get a professional to do this. Costs can be upwards from $700 for a simple 150sq. ft. pool depending on the extent of the problem.
Popping up. If you have a high water table then water pressure can build up below the concrete liner and if you have to drain the pool, will force it to float on top of the water. If this happens then your pool will have serious damage and it will cost many tens of thousands of dollars to fix. Your only option is to demolish it and start again. You can prevent this by ensuring you have a hydrostatic pressure relief valve fitted when the pool is installed. This will relieve the pressure and stop your pool from floating away. The valves only cost about $15 so they are well worth fitting.
How do you find a leak?
If you are certain that you have a leak in the pool liner, you will have to find out where the water is draining away. Sometimes the problem is perfectly visible and easily repaired with a patch (although that is very unlikely). Usually the leak is underwater and not visible at all. You now have the difficult task of finding the leak. Often by swimming underwater you can find an obvious crack or other imperfection but you may have to keep your eyes open for movements in the water currents.
This may be helped along by using some food colouring to see how the water moves. If you have a small leak then it is usually repaired quite easily. If the leak is large or you cannot find it at all then you will need to call in a professional. The cost to find a small leak will usually cost about $350 but this price will include a repair as well. Before the professional arrives you just have to make sure:
- The water is clear and safe to swim in.
- You have removed any debris from the water.
- There aren’t any pool toys floating about.
Sometimes the leak in your pool is not to do with the liner but to do with the plumbing. In-ground pools require a water inlet pipe, an outlet pipe, a filter pump and sometimes a heater. Rather than spend many hours trying to find the leak it is often better and more cost effective to simply replace the plumbing altogether. They are reasonably priced and the only real cost is the labour involved. It will cost you about $1000 to have a professional change the line.
Hiring a professional to fix your liner problem
Buying a vinyl liner can be very expensive but that cost can be dwarfed by the cost of hiring a professional to sort out the problem. Doing the repairs yourself, however, may not be a good thing especially if you require specialist knowledge. Hiring someone to do the job will depend on your own personal circumstances but should be seriously considered if:
- You need the liner completely replaced
- You are not sure what is causing the problem
- You have little experience with vinyls and how to install a liner
- The problem requires a complex fix with a significant amount of time and skill
If the repair can be easily identified and is accessible then it is probably a good idea to do the repair yourself. For example there may be a tear above the water line and near the top of the liner. In that case you can buy DIY repair patches from good home improvement stores or specialist pool retailers.
Remember that some problems such as wrinkling may be caused by incorrect installation. In this case it would be advisable to ask a professional to put it right. Likewise all major jobs including those requiring the pool to be drained should be done by a professional.
When should you forget about repair and just replace the liner?
There will come a time when the age of the liner or the cost to repair a problem will outweigh the cost of a new liner installation. Most vinyl liners can last up to 15 years. Regularly inspect your liner to pick up any problems before they become major ones that damage other things besides the liner.
Liner lifespan. As a vinyl liner ages, it starts to lose elasticity. Sunlight and weathering all have an effect on its flexibility as do the chemicals used to clean the water. Eventually the liner will start to lose its colour and become unable to support the water pressure inside the pool. It will become brittle and pieces will break off and be unable to be repaired.
Poor installation. Vinyl pool liners are not structural parts of the pool; they are only a waterproof membrane. If they are not installed correctly then they will not properly touch the supporting structure like they are meant to. This will result in the liner stretching under the weight of the water above and a subsequent weakness forming in the membrane.
Sharp objects. Vinyl liners are soft and easily cut by sharp objects. If the support backing to the liner has not been installed correctly (usually fine gravel) then sharp stones might damage the liner. Similarly sharp objects can cut the liner from the other side as well. In both these cases it is not easy to patch the cut and a new liner should be installed.
Incorrect pool chemicals. If you use either the wrong chemicals or an incorrect dilution of chemicals then the vinyl liner might be degraded faster than it should be. Make sure you use vinyl safe pool chemicals and definitely use the correct dilution.
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when dealing with potentially corrosive substances.
In-Ground Pool Prices & Costs
There are many different factors which will affect the cost of your new pool. In this section we will consider a few of them.
|Average costs of different sized pools
|$50 per sq. ft
|Average and approximate
|Small pool 10ft x 20ft x 5.5ft
|Medium size 14ft x 28ft x 6.5ft
|Large size 18ft x 36ft x 12ft
As you can see from the different sizes, the only sized pools that would normally be built in a suburban home would be the small and medium sized pools. The large pool would be reserved for mansions. I would seriously suggest that the only pools that the user could take on as a DIY project would be the small and medium sized ones.
|Installation & maintenance comparison
|Installing a concrete pool
|$50,000 to $100,000
|Depending on size and style
|Maintenance of a concrete pool
|Average over 10 years
|Installing a fibreglass pool
|$45,000 to $85,000
|Depending on size and style
|Maintenance of fibreglass pool
|Average over 10 years
|Installing a vinyl pool
|$35,000 to $50,000
|Depending on size and style
|Maintenance of vinyl pool
|Average over 10 years
As you can see from the table, the initial installation costs of the three types of pool are very similar with the vinyl being the cheapest and the concrete being the most expensive. It is the maintenance costs that really show up the difference with the fibreglass pool being the cheapest. We can see that each type has its own pros and cons and it is up to the user to decide what they want from the pool as to which one to choose.
|Accessories & customisations
|$50 per sq. ft.
|$5,000 to $8,000
|Additional to base cost
|$400 to $3,000
|Depending on style
|$75 to $100 each
|For a 50W lamp depending on style
|For one basic waterfall
|$300 to $1,000
|Fibreglass is the cheapest while aluminium is the most expensive.
|$15 to $20 per ft
|$100 to $150 per panel
|5ft x 10ft panel
|Fitted with childproof lock
Things you may not have thought of
When you are planning and deciding on what pool to buy, you must realise that it isn’t like any other high cost purchase; you cannot trade it in or sell it if you decide you don’t like it. The only way to do that is to move house. Very drastic indeed!
Here are a few points you may not have thought about before buying the pool and you wish you had.
Why do you want a pool?
This is the biggy! If you just want one because all your friends have one or the neighbours have one then you must realise that you may not really want one when you find out the amount of work involved in looking after one. It is a big responsibility so make sure the pool is for you and the family, not to show off.
What do you want the pool for?
So that your money isn’t wasted, ensure you get the pool that you really want. If it is for therapeutic use then you will need a large shallow area and the pool will not need to be too big. In fact you may even be able to use a cheaper above ground pool. If you like the idea of entertaining and holding pool parties then a larger pool with a deeper diving end would be good. If it is for the kids to use, are they younger or older? Different aged children have different requirements but remember that young children grow up and their swimming needs will change.
Who is going to maintain it?
It is easy to maintain the pool, after all it’s only really lifting out the leaves, but it takes a long time. If you decide to hire someone to do it then it will probably cost about $100 a month. Decide if it’s going to be you or the Pool Guy and budget for it.
Is bigger necessarily better?
Many users have a large pool installed and then spend most of their time confined to the shallow end. This will waste over half of the pool and you are not getting your full money’s worth.
Don’t always go for the cheaper deal. Don’t hire installers who work out of their garages and are gone in a few weeks. Do your homework, choose a reputable and established company and check out their work.
Does the installer offer a warranty?
Read the contract in detail, especially the warranty and understand it fully. Notice which person is responsible for doing what.
A pool isn’t just a one off payment. When buying a pool, you aren’t just paying out one payment, there is an ongoing responsibility to maintain and repair both the pool and the pumps. This can add up to a lot of money. Always consider the running costs as part of the buying cost.
Let the buyer beware! Would you let a used car salesman trick you into buying something you didn’t really want or add on payments for unnecessary extras? Well there are some pretty slimy pool salesmen out there too so don’t be tricked into a more expensive model and certainly don’t be rushed into signing a contract.
This is a long term purchase
You must realise that this purchase is not just for this summer. Hopefully it will last you a long time, maybe as much as 30 years. Consider not only the maintenance over that time but also consider how your needs may change and plan accordingly.
Don’t get overwhelmed
As soon as you let it be known that you are thinking of buying a pool, you will have everybody ringing you and passing on business cards. Don’t get too overwhelmed, choose the first four suitable candidates and ask for a quote. Don’t be tempted to chop and change at someone else’s whim and don’t be tempted to change your plans because someone can “do you a good deal”.
What have we learned from all this?
In this article we have hopefully looked at all the things that will cost you money if you decide to buy yourself a pool. Firstly we asked ourselves whether a pool was really a good idea or whether we should catch up on a few monthly bills first! We have looked at the various pool types, their sizes and construction materials. We have looked at the types of problems that can occur when installing a pool and the problems that can occur with the materials as well as a few ideas to fix them.
We realised that the costs weren’t just about buying the pool, there were lots of after sales costs to thing about too. Not only accessories but safety features would be additional to the basic cost. There are also costs associated with getting permission and planning. Pool maintenance is potentially a huge after sales cost which hopefully will be limited to simple preventative maintenance. Sometimes the maintenance costs turn out to be so great that it is probably worth just replacing the liner and starting again.
Remember, all these things that could go wrong, may not happen. You may have a lovely experience with your pool and get nothing but fun from it over the many years of its expected lifespan. To help prevent the really serious problems you just have to follow a few simple steps:
- Choose the type of pool wisely
- Pay to have it installed correctly
- Use planned preventative maintenance
Finally the most important thing to remember with your new pool is to have fun!