In-ground Pools 101: How Do You Install a Pool and How Much Does It Cost?

Overview of in-ground pool types and installation costs

Scottsdale II Plan by Stock Development at Lely Resort. Naples, Florida

In-ground pool in the backyard of the Scottsdale II Plan by Stock Development at Lely Resort. Naples, Florida. Image courtesy of Stock Development.

For many, the perfect addition to a new-construction or custom-built home is an in-ground swimming pool. Depending on your location, swimming pools may be utilized year round and offer a host of both social and health benefits. However, what do you need to do to get a pool in your backyard, and how much does it cost?

In this article, NewHomeSource has outlined the things you should consider and expect as you begin your journey towards in-ground pool ownership.

Location, size and terrain suitability
Think of your backyard as a blank canvas and your new in-ground pool as the piece of art you intend to paint. Obviously, the size of your artwork will be dictated by the size of your canvas.

Ultimately, your backyard will be the biggest determining factor related to pool size and shape options. In addition, many backyards contain large sloping areas or conditions that may prove too costly to incorporate a pool, which can further limit your choices. Most cities and states mandate specific guidelines related to how close a pool may be located to your exterior fence or property line. Be sure to review all such guidelines before finalizing your install plans. Make certain to also research and obtain any needed city permits required to add an in-ground pool onto your property. Once you’ve determined the basic size and shape of your future pool, it’s time to select the type of in-ground pool that will best fit your needs and budget.

Three main types of in-ground pools
Pool retailers typically offer customers three in-ground pool options to choose from: vinyl liner, concrete/gunite, and fiberglass. Let’s briefly explore the pros and cons of each:

Vinyl Liner
Pros: Most cost-effective pool type. Easily adapts to all desired sizes and shapes.
Cons: Prone to damage and repairs. Much shorter overall lifespan compared to other options.

Concrete/Gunite
Pros: Longer overall lifespan than vinyl construction. Large variety of sizes and shapes to choose from in the marketplace.
Cons: Porous nature of materials requires continual chemical treatments and maintenance. Longer initial construction time compared to fiberglass. Will require a complete resurfacing within 15-to-20 years, on average.

Fiberglass
Pros: One of the longest overall lifespans of all pool materials. Lower cost of monthly maintenance compared to concrete and vinyl. Fastest initial installation time.
Cons: Depending on size and options it can be costlier than concrete. Pool shell is manufactured prior to delivery and that may not allow for the exact size and shape customer is seeking.

The current consensus within the retail pool industry is vinyl liner pools are a reasonable entry level choice if initial expense is your main priority. If your budget allows, select a concrete or fiberglass pool, as your initial install expenses may be greater than vinyl, but your pools overall lifetime expense will be less. Additionally, fiberglass pools tend to offer the least amount of monthly upkeep expense and typically include the longest lifespan of the three pool types.

Basic Overview of Total Pool Installation Expenses
Many factors impact the overall cost of installing a pool, and the following information is a general estimate of costs by pool type. The main determining cost factors are overall pool size and shape, expenses related to unusual terrain challenges during your install, any extras you may add on to the basic pool package purchased, and the competitive retail market of your specific location within the U.S.

General cost estimates by pool type
Estimates are for average pool size and standard shape with minimal obstacles to overcome during install: Note that costs vary by geographical location and availability of retailers within your specific area. Contact your local pool retailer for a detailed cost estimate.

  • Vinyl Liner: $30,000.00+
  • Concrete/gunite - $40,000 to $45,000.00+
  • Fiberglass – 45,000.00+

A few issues that may impact installation costs include:
Installers are unable to easily transport required heavy machinery easily into your backyard
Ground soil contains too much water, requiring extensive pumping and rerouting
A portion of your yard requires extensive leveling and grading
Underground utility lines need to be moved
Large underground rocks that require above average removal times.

Some of the extras you can add onto your basic pool package that may impact your install costs include:

  • Diving board and slide
  • Extensive underwater lighting
  • Custom steps into the pool
  • Heating system
  • Custom tile work within the pool or immediate patio area.

Another popular extra is the addition of a separate hot water spa area, which can greatly increase overall costs.
Cost savings tip – purchase your pool during “off season” (fall / winter) when local retailers may be more inclined to offer discount pricing. You may not enjoy the pool for many months but the potential cost savings may be worth the wait!

Fresh water vs. salt
The past decade has brought a noticeable shift towards salt water within the pool industry. The main attractions of a salt water pool include less required water maintenance, less overall expense to maintain, and the water is less harsh on skin and surrounding patio materials compared to chlorine. Ironically, saltwater pools are still employing chlorine to keep the water clean by converting the salt into lower concentrations of chlorine and reintroducing the water back into the pool.

This process is made possible by an external piece of equipment referred to as a salt cell or salt chlorine generator which is typically located with your main external pump and filter system. Owners are still required to test a saltwater pool on a regular basis to ensure all chlorine, pH and alkalinity levels remain within acceptable limits and may utilize salt test strips to ensure sufficient salinity levels are maintained.

As needed, bags of salt may be poured directly into the pools which, on the whole, are typically more cost effective and safer to both handle and transport than chlorine powder and tablets. A general misconception related to saltwater pools is the actual salinity of the water. In actuality, the salinity level is only 25 percent of that found in a human tear, so there is no need to worry about how a saltwater pool may impact your skin or eyes.

General Install Times
Your overall pool installation time may be impacted by a number factors such as the time of year, your installer’s availability, the complexity and size of your pool, and unexpected issues that may arise during the process. Here is a basic breakdown by pool type of what you can expect at a minimum regarding installation times:

  • Vinyl Liner: 2 to 6 weeks. Vinyl pools are manufactured ahead of time allowing for faster install times compared to concrete. Select from established pool kit designs and sizes if you’re seeking a fast pool install time.
  • Concrete: 4 to 7 weeks. Concrete pools usually include the longest install times, as almost all construction will be performed on-site. In addition, the concrete/gunite materials will need to “cure” for several weeks once poured and applied, which will bring most work to a halt temporarily.
  • Fiberglass: 2 to 3 weeks. Fiberglass pools will almost always offer the fastest install times possible. Since they are manufactured offsite and then lowered into the excavated portion of your backyard, the installation process is typically straightforward and quick.

Pool Information Summary:

  • Once you’ve determined the best pool size and shape for your backyard, you’ll need to choose from three main in-ground pool types: Vinyl Liner, Concrete/Gunite or Fiberglass.
  • Vinyl is the most cost effective pool type to install, but you’ll most likely give back your initial cost savings down the line, as they have shorter lifespans and tend to require more frequent maintenance and repairs.
  • Concrete and Fiberglass pools offer longer lifespans, and fiberglass typically offers the most longevity since concrete pools will eventually need to be completely resurfaced.
  • Consider a saltwater pool for less overall maintenance time and expense. Bags of salt are easy to obtain and typically cost-effective and safer to handle than chlorine based products.
  • Shop for pools offseason (during the fall and winter) when retailers may be more compelled to offer discounts.
B. Ford spent more than a decade in the specialty appliance retail industry, and now devotes his time to freelance print and video content creation. 

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