If I Was Building ‘My Pool’: A Professional’s Guide to the Perfect Backyard
By Craig McNutt,
Original Content Creation: Spring 2020 – Backyard Escapes Magazine
Updated January 2023
As someone who has worked in the industry for over 14 years now, I often find myself facing a common question from my clients; “If you were building a pool, what would you do?” You might think getting this question as often as I have, my answer below might be simpler…but it’s not, because pool ownership is never a one-size fits all thing. That’s why it’s so important to choose a reputable dealer with the experience to get you the perfect product.
Here’s my pool professional’s go-to advice when searching for the best product to fit your personalized needs.
Budgeting for your Pool-type:
At the top of the priorities list is always the price tag. Whether you have a set budget you have to work within, or simply trying to plan out your finances for the project, inevitably it comes down to the bottom-line, and let’s be honest, we all have one. So, what does this mean for your pool construction budget? Well to start the discussion, there are three different groups of pools to choose from: Above-ground, on-ground, or in-ground. Each pool project comes with its features and its tradeoffs, so let’s look at each:
- Above-ground pools: Above-ground pools, as the name suggests, sit on top of the ground. These pools are installed on top of a crushed stone pad, and usually come in two shapes: oval and round. They cannot be buried, so you are limited in the depth of water that you can have, usually a maximum depth of 50” of actual water. Above ground pools start off around $9,000 installed for a smaller round and can go up to $35,000 for a fully loaded, large oval with a heater and every accessory that you can think of. That sort of setup would be extreme however, as most above-ground pools tend to be around $12,000-$20,000 installed. Above-ground pools have the most limited selection of available add-ons, but with what’s available in today’s market, can be set up to suit almost any client’s needs.
- On-ground pools: This is probably the least-known pool type and are often mistaken for their counterparts. On-ground pools have thick steel panels that can be set up above the ground, partially buried into the ground or fully buried like an in-ground pool. With on-ground pools, you generally have an equipment package more like an above-ground pool, with a 20mm liner and similar standard features. On-ground pools come in more shape selections than an above-ground, incorporating round, oval, key and kidney shapes. These pools can have a 6’ deep end, available in most of the sizes. On-ground projects range from around $35,000 to $75,000 installed. Why such a big gap? It all comes down to size, shape, how far into the ground you want the pool installed and how many in-ground pool features you want to add such as a buried fiberglass step, in-wall pool lighting and even creating a project that’s hard to distinguish from a basic in-ground pool design.
- In-ground pools: Fully buried and offering by far the most amount of construction options, these pools come in dozens of different sizes and shape configurations. Custom-steel kits even allow pool professionals to create sun ledges, seating areas and swim-up bars into the pool design, rivaling the most impressive Caribbean resort. In-ground pools have too many options to list, and the process of creating one can result in a completely unique backyard experience. With features like automatic pool covers, water features and fountains to enhance the finished deck area, inground pools will have the biggest impact on your outdoor space.
Pricing an inground pool project? Clients should always go into a consultation with their ‘wish-list.’ These must-have items will tell your project specialist the most important features to budget for and ensure that you are getting the best possible product for your price range. Remember that with an in-ground pool, more so than any other pool type, it’s important to plan for the future. With a lifespan of over 40 years in some cases (liners usually get replaced by 15,) you should try to get as many of your must-haves as you are able to, as adding some features down the road may require you to do significant alterations to pool decks and buried plumbing lines. In-ground projects usually start at around $70,000 for a smaller pool with limited decking with most projects being in the $90,000-$125,000 range for medium or larger pools.
This comes down to preference and preferred seasonal usage. Without a pool heater, your pool season typically starts in Mid-May (though pools should be opened by late April,) and goes through to early September. Water temperature is 100% dependent on; the season, sun exposure to the pool area and if you are using your solar cover each evening.
If you want to use your pool for a longer season, or have more usage in the evenings as well as the early mornings, go with one of these pool heater options, you won’t regret it:
Solar: These are long panels with dozens of small channels that the pool water is forced through. The surface of the panels is made of materials that draw in the heat from the sun and increase the surface area of the water to passively heat the pool. Because sun exposure is the driving factor on how well these panels will heat, solar doesn’t offer much as a season-extender but can increase the pool temperatures to more comfortable levels during the standard season. There’s no operational cost associated with a solar system, once it’s in, it’s free heat. For above ground or on-ground pools, solar runs between $1,000-$2,000 generally, with a proper plumbing setup. Inground setups are much more complicated and require ½ the surface area of the pool in panels, which isn’t often suitable for a small property. A proper inground solar setup can run $15,000 or more.
Heat Pump: Like in your home, heat pumps transfer the heat from the outside air into a refrigerant inside a coil. The water passes over the coil and the heat is then transferred into the water. Heat pumps are the most energy-efficient way to heat pool water, except for solar. Offering considerably more efficiency than electric heating options, heat pumps are by far the most popular pool heater we carry. Simply set your desired temperature and it will maintain the pool all season long. The biggest benefit to heating with a heat pump is a much longer swim season, from early-May to late-October.
Gas/Propane: As a company, we do not commonly install these heaters in our area, as Natural Gas and Propane usage is less common than in other areas of the country. Propane and gas heaters will heat a pool faster than a heat pump, but at a higher operational cost and lower heat-transfer efficiency. These heaters are best for clients with an existing propane/gas setup on the property, as installation rates and setup costs would be considerably higher to add a new feed into the pool heater.
Electric Resistance: I personally avoid any discussion regarding a resistance heater. They tend to come in at half the upfront cost of a pool heat pump, but the cost of electricity to run them can be as much as 70% more, meaning that they have the highest operational cost to heat the pool once installed. Resistance heaters are just like a giant base-board heater, but the output is much higher to heat water vs air like in your home. My advice on these? They look good on paper when you are pricing out your options, but the trade-off means you will pay a lot more over the lifespan of the pool in power.
Ease of Operation:
One of the most important aspects of pool ownership is how much of your free time that you want to devote to it. Maintaining a pool, even with a basic setup, is not a big investment in time, especially if you are proactive. We don’t all fit into that category however, or we simply just want to enjoy the pool with the least amount of work possible. With that in mind, here are my options tailored for you, in order of importance to me:
- Pool cleaning: Pool surfaces require weekly cleaning, whether you can see the dirt or not. It’s an easy enough process, but why not let your pool clean itself instead? Enter the automatic pool cleaner. There are two groups of pool cleaner that are available on the market, suction-based and robotic:
- Suction cleaners use the existing pool equipment to create a water vacuum. You simply place the hose and connection into the pool skimmer, and the automatic vacuum head will slowly move around the pool surface to clean the liner and remove small debris. Suction cleaners are the most economical option, starting at around $350 for an above ground, and $650 for an inground version.
- Robotic cleaners are in my opinion, the greatest things for pool owners since the discovery of chlorine! Simply plug the base station into a 110V outlet, place the cleaner into the pool and select the level of cleanliness you want. Unlike suction cleaners, robotic cleaners very rarely miss any debris and for in-ground products, offer the ability to clean the sides all the way up to the water line. Robotic cleaners are a bit more expensive than suction, coming in at between $1,000-$3,000 depending on the version.
- Salt-water sanitization: By now, if you’ve done any research into pool options, you’ve discovered at least one article on salt-water pool care. Salt-water, simply put, is the conversion of salt-water into chlorine by a device installed into the pool plumbing. So why is it so popular? It’s very easy to use, it’s a mild form of pool treatment for those with sensitive skin and its reduced chemical maintenance. Our new Pristiva lineup of salt even allows for a ‘once-a-month’ pool treatment, vs adding chemicals each week with most traditional freshwater systems.
- Automation systems. Initially, I have to say that I wasn’t as interested when it came to pool automation. I didn’t really see the benefits, until I saw the systems in action on client’s pool and I was hooked. Pool automation systems, like the Hayward OMNI, control multiple pool devices into one integrated platform. With pool automation, you can control your pool heater, pump, saltwater system, pool lights and water-features remotely, just like a smart-home.
Automation systems have come a long way from what they were when I started and have become integrated into smart phone apps and can now be paired with your Alexa or Google Home devices for even more ease of operation. Automation systems also allow you to check on your pool and equipment when you aren’t home, for the peace of mind that comes with knowing your pool is running properly.
Advice When Buying Specific Pool-types:
Once you’ve selected the type of pool that you want and some of the features above, let’s talk about how to get the most out of each pool type.
Choosing a shape/size is your first big decision when buying above ground. Oval shapes fit smaller properties better and offer dimensions more like an inground, for swimming back and forth. For a family of four or more, I would recommend going a bit bigger to get the most out of the space. Round pools are great for getting more water for less money, as they are less complex to install. A family of four? Go 24’ or larger to get a great pool area with space for the adults to relax while the kids play.
Once you have the shape and size you want, now is the time to think about placement and what kind of pool surround you want. While we might all love the idea of a huge deck all around the pool, it’s often not financially possible to do both. If you’re on a budget, I find decking around 1/3 of the pool is a good way to get a seating area to enjoy the atmosphere, while not breaking the bank.
First, start with the type of installation you are looking for. Do you want the pool mostly on top of the ground, or are you partially or fully burying it for an in-ground feeling?
The shape and size are more like the above-ground pools, so look at sizing a similar way. Larger-shaped, round pools offer more swimming area, but will take up more room on the property. A good rule of thumb here, family of four or more, go with a mid-large sized pool like a 24 round or larger, or 15x30 or large oval or shape.
Finishing an on-ground pool is a big decision, especially if you haven’t fully buried it. The sides of these pools have an unfinished metallic appearance, so if you aren’t wood decking the pool, you may want to consider siding, or landscaping around the pool to cover the sides and better integrate it into the property.
Lastly, choose your decking and fencing options. If you live in a county with fencing by-laws, you’ll need a 5’ enclosure around the pool. Nuvo Iron decorative metal gives a beautiful, finished appearance as well as a safe space. Our crews can also install pressure-treated wood, or black-enamel chain-link, options to fit any budget. Decking options, if fully buried, can include stone, brushed concrete and wood. We always recommend you budget for a seating area, to get the most curb-appeal and usage out of your space. Nothing says summer like hanging out around your new pool!
Because these projects can be so custom and complex, I will go over the process to take with your trained pool professional:
- Do some homework and find example pool images you like out there. Make sure to bring these with you when you meet your new best friend.
- Build your wish-list of must-haves and accessories.
- Set a realistic budget.
- Schedule an appointment and meet our professionals for a one-on-one meeting.
- Get an on-site consultation. Here we will measure your elevations, mark out the pool you want and take tons of pictures for the next stage.
- Once a consultation happens, we then move to the digital phase. We will create a blueprint of the pool on the property, as well as any decking or fencing.
- Let the magic begin, as we design your perfect backyard oasis. Our skilled team of professionals will be with you the whole way, ensuring you get the pool of your dreams.
Remember, no matter the pool, the aim is to create the perfect space that fits yours needs.
Let Holland Home Leisure help and remember to always Vacation at Home!