Midsummer heatwaves are baking our lawns and sidewalks, and hiking up our power bills to keep those ACs on arctic blast. And if you’ve got school-age kids, you’re probably counting down the days until school’s back in session. Because if your home doesn’t have a pool, you’re probably being subject to some variation of this classic earworm right now.
If you own a house with a substantial yard and don’t have any water parks or places with pools nearby, you could be considering the risks and benefits of a pool right now. Even if you don’t have to hear “Can we get a pool, Mom/Dad/Auntie/whatever?” like a glitching Soundcloud file (what? “Broken record” is dated now.) Imagine having your own little aquamarine delight in the privacy of your own backyard, without having to brave the crowds and risk swimming in gallons of strangers’ pee. Being able to swim whenever you please without things like designated hours, or risking plantar warts and other fun diseases by trodding wet floors that have seen more bare feet than a podiatrists’ conference.
The ability to make your backyard a private aquatic gym sounds incredibly appealing. But is it worth the money and hassle? Let’s dig deeper and hope we don’t hit a water main.
Pool Maintenance Costs Add Up Fast
First, the pool itself is a significant upfront expense. According to Fixr, the absolute cheapest above-ground pool will run you at least $6,000 while an in-ground pool can be anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 depending on the type that you get. The average cost of building and installing an in-ground pool is between $25,000 to $30,000. And this is definitely something where you don’t want to go DIY. Botched DIY jobs already run significant risks of injuries and defeating the purpose of saving money on calling the pros, but you’re now dealing with digging a giant-ass hole in the backyard and getting a cement mixer back there while you play Whack-a-Mole with the water and sewage lines. You’re ABSOLUTELY calling pool professionals on this, trust.
I remember when I was a kid, my sister and I would drag our crummy kiddie pool to the backyard and fill it with the garden hose. It was spacious enough for one child, but get two in there and there’d be blood. The sun would be beating down on us and the garden hose would be doing its thing, and I’d mutter “This is bullshit,” as the water didn’t even cover my knees while grass and dirt would float in there like a dead body in the East River. But after seeing those above numbers, now I know why my parents never installed a pool. That installation fee is practically a vacation home in 1992 dollars!
So, you’ve got to be pretty committed to the idea of never having unpleasant grassy ass experiences again. For yourself or your kids. It is a HUGE upfront investment, and given the ongoing maintenance that requires additional time and money? You might want to take those thirty to sixty G’s and invest in your own business, a rental property, savings for your kids, and say screw it and just get a membership at the Y. If you don’t have kids, you could totally spend a whole month at a five-star resort with a pool in Costa Rica and still have TONS of cash left over with nary a pool net in sight.
Regardless of if you’ve built a pool to spec or bought a house with one, maintenance can swiftly take a bite out of your income and free time. HomeAdvisor put together this nifty chart for determining how much one-time pool cleanings cost, with $125 as the nationwide average for weekly or biweekly cleanings. Your first cleaning is expected to be more expensive, as much as $400 after installation. Winterization also runs at least $300 if you’re in a deciduous clime and can’t have the pool open all year.
There’s the routine debris cleaning that the pool company will handle for you with upcharges for things like part and filter replacement, but you also have to regularly do your own cleaning when the company’s not around to keep things sanitary. Get leaves and flyaway trash out of the water, occasionally test the water to make sure the chemicals aren’t off, and all on top of other home maintenance tasks. Annual maintenance can run anywhere from $1,200 to $3,000.
Thinking about bucking annoying things like seasons, bugs and leaves constantly falling in the water, and so on? Building an indoor pool in the basement or an external structure like a pool house costs anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000. Although you can build a pool enclosure for $5,000 to $15,000 if you keep it in the ground outside, it doesn’t provide the same protection from the elements that being indoors does but it will extend your swimming season. But I’ll be real with you: $20,000 alone makes me ponder staying at the Holiday Inn down the street for $150/night solely to use their pool when the craving for swim time hits. Not having to make the bed is just a bonus.
You’ll Get More Intimate With Your Homeowners’ Insurance Policy Than Your Spouse
When you own a house opposed to an apartment, you should always check the fine print in your homeowners’ insurance before commencing any major repairs or renovations. Depending on where you are and local insurance laws, your policy may have specific provisions for pools. If pools are less common where you live, you might need an extra rider when you buy your home or get the pool installed.
Pools can present a liability issue if you have guests over and someone gets hurt, which can put a real damper on the pool party. That can result in spending your summer vacation on the phone with lawyers, which no one wants. But property losses due to natural disasters and accidents can also present murkier stuff than what you yanked out of the pool filter: in the 2015 court case Bozek v. Erie Insurance Group, the plaintiff won their case against the insurance company because coverage was improperly denied. The Bozeks’ pool was emptied for cleaning, heavy rain came, and the pool lifted upward due to the pressure on the soil which irreparably damaged both the pool and the concrete slab it was on. The Bozeks’ homeowners’ insurance was supposed to cover up to $89,000 in property damage related to the pool, but Erie denied it based on the policy’s anticoncurrent causation clause. Courts look at the timing of disasters like this and circumstances that possibly led to them (in this case, it was increase to hydrostatic pressure because of the rainfall which was excluded in the policy, while pressure valve failure on account of the rain WAS a covered event).
While you’re also waiting for the insurance adjuster and if need be, attorneys and the court, to make a decision, you still have to mitigate the damage that a destroyed pool caused to your yard and any other parts of the structure. You could have a moldy conundrum on your hands in no time if pool water got into places it shouldn’t. Mitigating that kind of damage is not going to be cheap.
You have to decide if adding a pool to your home is worth this risk, and if it is, what does your homeowners’ insurance say about it? What is and isn’t covered? Check with an insurance professional or attorney if you’re not entirely sure what the extent of your policy is or what the consequences could be if disaster strikes.
More Wildlife Than the San Diego Zoo
Depending on where your house is, your pool can end up attracting a plethora of thirsty or dehydrated critters looking for a place to cool off. Every creature from deer to trash pandas has been spotted seeking a drink or dip from backyard pools, but in dry times you can expect lots of adorable amphibians!
“Hi! It me chilling in your pool because I strayed too far from my pond or my freshwater pool dried up!”
As the resident crazy toad lady, THIS MAKES ME SO HAPPY. I would love nothing more than to go for a refreshing dip just to be greeted by a bunch of happy warty children trying to find a safe place to soak up some moisture before venturing back out. But there’s some additional hazards you need to be aware of when amphibious babies in particular show up. Namely, chlorine and other chemicals used to keep your pool sterile for human usage are harmful to our froggy friends because their skin is incredibly absorbent and can soak up those chemicals. If you have a filter and get lots of little amphibians that decide to turn it into their new home, you can easily wind up with a frog smoothie, the thought of which made me cry as I typed it.
“We are discussing important toad things at this branch meeting. We are not smoothie ingredients, K? Toadies are for loving, not eating!”
A biologist invented The Froglog so frogs, toads, salamanders, and other fauna that finds their way to the pool can hop to safety on their own without having to wait for a human to get them out. It’s an inexpensive and ecologically sound investment as a pool cover alone won’t be enough to deter your amphibious friends from seeking refuge there. They can keep you company while you relax in the pool!
If I was going to make the huge investment of having a pool installed, being surrounded by frogs and toads would absolutely be a prime selling point. If you’re uncomfortable with potentially having critters showing up– or potentially traumatizing yourself or your child if a creature is unfortunately found dead in the pool– this can be a drawback as well. (PLEASE get a Froglog if you have or are building a pool, K?)
Pools Can Have a Wildcard Effect on Resale Value
It’s all about location, location, location with this one. In places like Florida and southern California, a pool is practically mandatory and more likely to be considered an upside. In colder or more deciduous states like most of the northeast, a pool is more likely to be a gamble.
Pools can be a very attractive selling point to some home buyers, many who likely also have those garden hose memories. And if the home’s not in a huge city where free or cheap public pools abound or the buyer is constantly making avail of hotel pools, a home with a pool just might make a nice house into their dream home. But if they went weak in the knees at the thought of all the maintenance and having to increase their homeowners’ coverage by at least another $100,000? It can quickly transform into a nightmare, and you’ll have a harder time selling that house than trying to hawk expired coupons on eBay.
Per Realtor.com, pools only add about 7% to a home’s resale value at the most. This of course depends on location, if your neighbors also have pools, property size, and other factors. But if you thought that purple countertops were a “commitment feature” your broker tried to talk you out of, a pool is that times a few thousand.
Ultimately, it comes down to your needs and lifestyle. Pools can come with major risks and expenses, even if you buy a home that already has one included. It’s definitely a forever home decision rather a starter home one, unless pools are common with them where you’re looking to buy. It’s also worth considering a condo that has a shared pool where your maintenance fees help cover it, and you never have to skim for dead bugs!
Rachel Presser is a crazy toad lady from the Bronx who was exiled to New Jersey, spending a significant chunk of her youth where all the hideous 1970s couch covers and avocado shag carpeting went to die. Upon escaping the sea of brown and founding Sonic Toad Media, she decided to devote her time to writing from the fantastically-preserved Googie artifacts in LA and former speakeasies in Chicago, to forging new game worlds in the tea lounges of Taipei and Tokyo. She can be found at game jams, hardcore shows, vaporwave dance parties, and petting amphibians on a sensible corner loveseat.