Is Putting in a Swimming Pool Worth It?

by Darwin on May 3, 2010

It’s that time of year again where the weather’s getting nice and the pool parties are starting.  We just went to our first one of the year and as always, my wife says, “Boy the kids would love a pool.  We have the room.  Would it be crazy if we did a pool?”  In years past, I’ve immediately replied that she is in fact crazy.  More recently though, I’ve started to at least give credence to the notion of either footing the bill for a new pool or perhaps even moving to a house that has a pool already.  There are some key hurdles I continue to struggle with though and it’s clearly a mix of tangible costs and intangible costs and benefits.

What’s a Pool Cost?

While the estimates vary widely by what type of pool you want, what type of landscaping, patios, fences, and even what your locale is, the high level estimate I’ll go with for our situation would be $50,000.  That sounds like a huge number, but when all is said and done, that’s about what we’d be looking at.  If you’re going to go forward with a pool, you’re going to want a nice look to go with it, not to mention all the additional ongoing costs once it’s in, like an increase in homeowner’s insurance, a tax increase, maintenance expenses like opening/closing the pool, heating it if applicable, etc.  For an additional data point, we have some friends in the area who got multiple quotes last year for a small pool given their yard size and they were coming in at around $45,000, so $50,000 for what we’d want is probably a decent bet.  Of course you could argue that adding a swimming pool increases the resale value of your home, but that’s not what I want to focus on here.

What are the Benefits of a Pool?

The kids would obviously love it, that’s the only reason we’d ever even consider it.  When I was a kid, my friend across the street had a pool and we were at his house constantly over the summers.  I still remember playing Marco Polo and all kinds of other games in there for years.  On one hand, that meant his mom had to worry about young kids in the pool, feeding us, washing towels, and everything else that goes along with it.  But on the other hand, she knew where her kid was all the time.  For people that like to entertain and have young kids of their own and friends/family with kids, it’s great. But then again, there are always fun summer activities you can do with your kids, even on a budget.

Downsides of a Pool

Aside from the added ongoing costs mentioned above, frankly, it’s solely for the kids.  I used to love pools as a kid, but as an adult, I can’t say I get giddy over a pool.  My assumption is that once the kids are off to college, perhaps even once they’re in highschool, they’re just not going to care or use it any more and it’s just going to sit there.  Maybe if it’s there we’d feel compelled to use it now and then, but it’s not something we’d actually desire in our 50′s.  Conversely, perhaps if you keep it around long enough, and we never move, eventually it would be a reason grandkids would love to come visit, but that’s looking REALLY far out and probably not worthy of decision-making inclusion.  We may actually have to just fill the thing in some day.

There’s also the constant fear of an accident.  Regardless of your homeowner’s insurance and an umbrella policy, if a kid drowns in your pool, regardless of whether you taught your own kids to swim, that’s not something we’d want to live with.  But life is about risk and management of those risks.  Presumably, we’d put in place enough safeguards and ensure our presence while kids and friends are at risk that the risk is manageable, but it would still weigh on us.

If we wanted to move, many homebuyers don’t want a pool.  So, while the pool may be of some incremental value to homebuyers looking for a house with a pool, it will greatly shrink the population of buyers that would consider our house, so we’d lose that flexibility and I wouldn’t count on any additional premium on our sale price as such.

Does it Make Sense Financially?

When my wife and I discuss the finances related to a pool, we delude ourselves with statements like, “If we had a pool, we wouldn’t need a summer vacation,” etc.  The reality is the novelty would eventually wear off and within a couple years, that couple thousand dollars in vacation savings we talked about would go out the window.  For the sake of argument though, turning this pool idea into more of a financial model, I could make the following assumptions:

  • 15 Years of Use – I have 3 kids, with the youngest at 1 year old.  I figure the older boys would start getting immediate use out of it now and our youngest would lose complete interest in it by senior year of high school.  Any mild benefit of the kids coming back from college in the summer or using it in future years is excluded.
  • $50,000 up front cost
  • Time and annual maintenance costs negligible – While there are costs, these days pools are much easier to maintain and since the $50K may be inflated to begin with and costs aren’t thousands per year, we’ll just assume it’s absorbed into our routine summer entertainment budget.
  • Assume the pool is used 3 days per week between May and August for ~50 uses/yr max – While there will be some spurts in the summer where kids are in the pool every day, there would be rainy days, travel/vacation outages and other scenarios to even it out.

With these assumptions in mind, if we were thinking along the lines of what it would cost per use for a simple day in the pool with kids and/or friends/family, that would equate to roughly:

$67 per Swim Session in Our Own Pool – Sounds a Bit Pricey!

It’s interesting to look at it that way.  I mean, we could join the community pool for a couple hundred bucks for the family each summer and make that up in a couple sessions.  But there’s nothing like the privacy and flexibility of having your own pool in a wooded back yard – with the convenience of your house a few feet away.

While initially thinking about the $50K spread over so many years, I figured the number would be much lower, but $67 per use for something we’d be doing several times per week over such a prolonged period does seem awfully expensive.  I complain about spending 50 bucks at the movie theater and going out to dinner seems expensive.  Imagine doing that across a year once per week for 15 years (spreading the $50 across a full year)?

I’m still not sold that it makes sense for us.  Perhaps if we were thinking of a move and we were able to find a house with a pool that was being sold reasonably close to its market value were it not to have a pool, I’d consider it.  But at the moment, unless my assumptions are way off, it just doesn’t seem to make sense for our family.


Have You Considered a Pool?

Any Good Pool Installation Stories?

Share

You're Not Following Darwin's RSS? Check out Why You Have to Subscribe to Darwin's Finance!

If you enjoyed this post, you can get free updates through RSS Feed or via Email whenever a new post is published. Rest assured that you can unsubscribe at any time via the automated system and your information will not be sold, archived or utilized for any other "nefarious" purposes.

{ 10 trackbacks }

The Simple Dollar » The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Lunch Edition
May 5, 2010 at 10:01 am
The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Lunch Edition
May 5, 2010 at 11:37 am
All Kind Mortgage » Blog Archive » The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Lunch Edition
May 5, 2010 at 4:33 pm
The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Lunch Edition | Frugal Living News
May 6, 2010 at 2:23 am
Black Coffee: My Favorite Blogs, Money News & Opinions #45
May 8, 2010 at 2:03 pm
Weekly Wisdom: The Most Important Financial Questions » The Online Investing AI Blog
May 9, 2010 at 5:06 am
Friday Find May 14th
May 14, 2010 at 10:16 pm
Friday Finds May 14th
May 14, 2010 at 10:31 pm
Weekly Favorites and Gratitude! «Budgeting In the Fun Stuff
June 8, 2010 at 4:36 pm
5 Misconceptions About Saving for Retirement | colareboenglish
January 24, 2011 at 7:29 pm

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rainy-Day Saver May 4, 2010 at 6:31 am

Based on your $50K cost estimate, I’m going to guess that you’re talking about a built-in pool, rather than an above-ground pool.

Built-ins are permanent, and, as you’ve noted, quite pricey. Perhaps an above-ground model would better suit your needs? It can always be torn down by a future homeowner.

[Reply]

2 Darwin May 4, 2010 at 8:14 am

Good point; I was basing on in-ground. We aren’t huge fans of the look, but that’s a great point about how reversible and inexpensive an above ground is in comparison.

[Reply]

3 Brian May 4, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Good questions and we ran through this decision tree ourselves 4 years ago. We live in rural upstate NY so the prices we looked at were about $30k before fencing and landscaping. I decided that I could be the General Contractor when I heard that the pool would go in in about 2 days.

We wrote a check to a local company for the pool for $12k – 20 x 40 inground with side step and 8 1/2 ft deep end.

Hired a pool guy to install it for $6k. About 2 hours into the job he hit bedrock and asks if I want to blast it out or have a 6ft pool. We decided to go with option #3, stick to the 8 1/2 ft depth but decided to build up the lawn to make it an inground – more on this later.

I had to jackhammer the drain line out of limestone bedrock but beyond that construction was VERY simple. Water was in by 8pm on the second day.

Water cost was over $800 b/c we have a 40,000 gal pool and that’s too much to ask of our well. That was a surprise cost we hadn’t budgeted for.

It took 37 dump truck loads of fill and topsoil to bring the grade of our lawn up to pool level. Another $2k.

Concrete was surpisingly cheap – $1.2k – if I had it to do over, I would have expanded the concrete deck further.

I installed the fence on a weekend – material costs – $1k

Our total was around $23k for the DIY but we have a really large pool that never feels crowded. Put 10 kids in a 16 x 28 and watch how they start bumping into each other very quickly.

I think you’ll be surprised how much you use the pool. Our kids live in the pool from June 1 to September 15.

I have a heater but with propane at $3.40 gallon and the huge volume of water in my pool it’s not economical to heat unless it’s a special occasion. By mid June the pool usually hits 80 and stays there all summer long (a “solar” blanket is the key to heat retention by preventing evaporation).

Re: Risks – It depends on what type of household you run, but I treat our pool like a community pool with clearly stated rules that you must follow. No diving except in the deep end, no jumping in the shallow end, an adult swimmer has to be in the pool area before anyone goes near the pool (a good gate w/a lock – mandated in NYS – helps enforce this rule), etc, etc. We’ve never had an incident in 4 years.

I do have two relatives with grown children that have inground pools. One didn’t even open his pool last year and the other opened in July and closed it August after 4 uses. I imagine that will be our situation in about 10 years.

It would have been a harder choice at twice the price but for what we paid we couldn’t be happier with our pool despite 4 below average temperature summers since installation.

Keep us updated…

[Reply]

4 Simon May 5, 2010 at 10:39 am

Nice computation. I recently did the same when confronted with buying an automatic park assistant for my car (which in the end costs me less than 30ct per automatic parking, so I went for it…)

Concerning your equation, why are you not factoring in the community use? If its 15 years of use for you, your wife, and 3 kids, then you end up with only about 13 bucks per swim per person.

[Reply]

5 Jeanne May 5, 2010 at 12:28 pm

50 uses per year? I live in the south, and it gets HOT down here. I’m guessing 80 days would be a good estimate here.

For me the real argument for is to be the house where your kids and their friends want to be. However, I like the social aspect of joining a community pool, and wonder if other activities the kids are involved in would keep us from the pool. I also worry about the safety. It only takes a few seconds…

[Reply]

6 Bob May 5, 2010 at 12:47 pm

No. I am a lifeguard and triathlete and love pools. I bought a house with a 20k gal inground with liner. The average cost of running the pool with occasional repairs over 15 years was about $1,000/year. I also spent more time maintaining it then using it. Now I am looking to fill it in and am getting estimates from 4 – 10k to put dirt in a hole!?! Now I need compaction reports, permits, etc.

Unless your whole family lives and breaths the pool, stick with an above ground pool for the kids or join a gym and let them take care of the maintenance.

[Reply]

7 valleycat1 May 5, 2010 at 4:53 pm

$50,000/17 years works out to about $2700/year. Seems to me that would pay for a decent family vacation each year.

We don’t have a pool, but neighbors on both sides do. One uses theirs pretty regularly, host a lot of parties, have the grandkids over, etc. & can use it from early May through September, but still probably only use it an average of maybe 3 times a week. The other neighbors – well, their house was foreclosed, pool was emptied by the bank, and when re-sold the new owners haven’t put water in it (3 years now) – and the previous owners would use it maybe twice a month (after the initial honeymoon phase of all the parties/gatherings being at their house for a few months every weekend, which is still only 1-2 days a week – then I guess either they got tired of always hosting or their friends/families tired of the novelty of the pool.

I’ve toyed with the idea of a lap pool, but never seriously enough to even begin pricing the job. Probably out of the question until I am not working full time!

[Reply]

8 AmandaLP May 5, 2010 at 9:05 pm

One thing also to keep in mind is that sometimes a pool can lower the property value of the house. Many people, unless they are specifically looking for a pool, see it as a detriment rather than a value added feature.

[Reply]

9 Tall Bill May 6, 2010 at 12:31 pm

In the Seattle area, rain, short summers, energy price increases, and of course; environmental awareness has pools and hot tubs dissapearing. Over the past 10+ years, any amount spent = twice that amount deducted from Real Estate sales prices. It’s not that you’ll not get your money back at resale, it’s the upkeep, liability, and costs that make them very negative. On any day, a check of Craigs List has folks begging for someone to just come and remove them for free – many of which are in very good shape. Big Negative Here!!

[Reply]

10 Budgeting in the Fun Stuff May 6, 2010 at 2:49 pm

I wouldn’t do it, but not just because of the cost. Maintaining extra stuff ticks me off and a pool is all about maintenance (just ask my in-laws). I’d pay the few hundred for a pass to a local pool and save the money for some awesome annual family vacations…you’ll get pool memories and vacation memories that way.

[Reply]

11 Funny about Money May 8, 2010 at 8:48 pm

A pool is an ongoing project. Just moments ago my son tried to replace the backwash hose…wrong size…another trip to HD. Whee.

While I occasionally tire of taking care of the pool, maintenance is negligible in the winter when the water’s too cold for anything to grow in it. Summer is a lot of work, daily. But I love my pool in the 118-degree summers here! Staying cool by jumping in the drink several times a day helps keep my AC bills down, because I can tolerate higher indoor temperatures. It’s 100 degrees right now, and I’m thinking today may be the first swimming day. :-) And I like the privacy of my own pool, being able to wear (or not) whatever I please, and knowing who has been in it and what they’ve been doing in it. Public pools gross me out.

About real estate values: in some neighborhoods, a pool is expected. If a house has no pool, its value is lower simply because it doesn’t have the amenities buyers expect in that area. In others, it really doesn’t matter. Unless there are almost no pools in a city, I can’t imagine a pool bringing the property value down. Generally the effect is neutral.

That said, I wouldn’t install a pool in a house that doesn’t have one. Too expensive. When I bought this house I paid about the going rate for the neighborhood. So, in effect, whoever built the pool here paid the price for it; since I could have bought a comparable house with no pool here for the same or more, the only thing I’m paying for the pool is its maintenance. Chemicals run about $200/year; in the summer the power bill is about $30/month more than it was my other house with the same square footage…but then, rates have gone up.

[Reply]

12 Jenna May 10, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Have you thought about weekly chemical checks and supplies? We have a hot tub and still need to check and make changes to the pH and bromine (chlorine-free hot tub) weekly. Depending on if you kept your pool filled during the “off season” you would still be doing maintenance on it all the time.

[Reply]

13 Smarter Spend May 11, 2010 at 4:28 am

I think 50,000 is a very high end pool, even here in pricey Los Angeles, you can get a very nice one built for about $35,000.

How much value does a pool add to houses in your area? Does having a pool increase the house price by 50,000? It probably doesn’t.

[Reply]

14 Darwin May 11, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Wow, lots of great comments – virtually all against. With the assumption that we’d recoup virtually none of the invested amount, it practically makes to just move to a house with a pool if considering a move anyway – let them pay for it! I’ve heard mixed reviews on maintenance. Some claim that newer pools are very little maintenance while others claim it’s a daily grind. I guess it greatly depends on which type of pool you get, whether you have trees around it, etc.

Anyway, I don’t think it’s something we’ll consider very heavily here given the negatives, but if a perfect home falls into our lap that already has a pool…maybe.

[Reply]

15 Ian Bright May 12, 2010 at 4:47 am

The financial costs of a pool are definitely high and the calculations mentioned make sense but there could be some additonal points to consider.

First, the price of water is rising and could easily increase running costs in the future. Here are some observations on this http://www.ing.com/ezonomics/showdoc.jsp?left=false&docid=440108

Second, pools can be risky – especially if you have children becuse of the increased chance of death by drowning . Dubner and Levitt in their original Freakonomics book posed the question of whether guns or swimming pools are more dangerous. Here is a blog link from 2006 where Dubner discusses this and a safety device http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2006/04/16/are-you-ready-for-swimming-pool-season/

[Reply]

16 Alison Shuman July 23, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Fabulous post – I love how you broke down the numbers into a per-use basis! I’ve been thinking about writing about pool values on our appraisal blog and if I get that post going, I’ll be back to visit, and will be linking back to your post here.

I do think the cheapest way to get a pool is to buy a home that already has one – the person that put it in is the one that has the poorest return on the investment – although one could argue that the joy alone may be worth the $50k.

[Reply]

17 william February 17, 2012 at 3:36 pm

i have NEVER replied to anything like this before – but having read the nonsense above i feel compelled to weigh in.

i have a pool. love it. it costs what it costs.

if you have to break it down to “67 dollars per usage” (hahahaha) you cant afford it.

[Reply]

Darwin's Finance Reply:

@william, We put one in last summer. We could afford it and figured we’re not moving so we’ll get plenty of use out of it.

[Reply]

18 Brad Smith April 12, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Pools are a luxury item. Not a need … but a want. If you have to budget for a pool, you probably cannot afford it.

That being said, most people would love a pool in their backyard. Especially if it is a salt-water model that requires very little maintenance.

I am installing my first pool this summer and looking forward to it!!

[Reply]

19 Mikhail April 17, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Lots of rationalizing going on here, and over analysis. Truly people waste a whole hell of a lot more money on things like suvs, $40-$50k cars, and wateful vacations at places like disney or atlantis. The “per use” calculation on those things are more like hundreds of dollars. Add up all the tv time, and internet time people waste. Thats money downthe drain too. You’re isolated, not hanging with friends or family. My sister and husband have had a pool for over 10 years, also take lots of vacations, and they have said multiple times their pool was absolutely the best investment theyve ever made. Their daughters use it, have friends over all the time, they have events like kids birthdays, or fathers day, and 4th of july. Who doesnt want to go to a pool party ? They use it for exercise. Also they not only knew where their kids were all the time, but they also got the opportunity to teach their kids all sorts of good practices for socialization, proper manners, responsibility (taking care of the pool), inviting their kids good friends over and teaching them some good behaviors they can use later in life. Many teachable moments, many friendships developed and fostered, lots of good “clean” fun, great exercise, and the kids arent in front of a tv or video games in a sedentary position all day. They sleep better at night too, and if you are the mom you dont spend the entire day every day each summer, trying to figure out how to entertain them when they say they are “bored.” i’d be more inclined to say a pool is priceless, and the smart people who own them, know its one of the best kept secrets, as their neighbors only either envy them, or dont have half a clue of all the intangible benefits that come from the investment. You show me how a bmw or audi for $50k does all that, and how so many people can benefit from it, then MAYBE, i’ll lower myself to consider the per use cost argument. My response is, if you have to ask, you cant afford it, but if you do it, and arent counting every nickel and dime, its priceless, and you fully understand the value, and dont even blink or flinch at the minor comparative expense of it.

[Reply]

Terry Reply:

@Mikhail, Thank You..I am debating on investing in a pool and was having second thoughts with all of the nonsense above. Your post brought a tear to my eye and pushed me over the edge to move forwar…the kids, family, friends, pool parties are so worth it…..funny I had people tell me a boat was a big mistake and a waste too….I gre up boating…..bought a fair priced boat 4 years ago and would do it over again 10 times without question….so many great memories with the family.

[Reply]

Terry Reply:

@Mikhail, Thank You Mikhail..I am debating on investing in a pool and was having second thoughts with all of the nonsense above. Your post brought a tear to my eye and pushed me over the edge to move forward. The kids, family, friends, pool parties are going to be so worth it. And being the house the kids friends want to come to in future years…priceless!….funny that I had so many people tell me a boat was a big mistake and a waste of money too….I grew up boating (and having a pool) …..bought a fair priced boat 4 years ago with no regrets and would do it over again 10 times without question….so many great memories with the family in those past 4 years on that boat. Thank you for posting what matters….miserable people can be so negative.

[Reply]

Keith Reply:

@Mikhail, Thanks, hard to put a price on quality family time.

[Reply]

Jannette Reply:

@Mikhail, Mikhail, I truly agree with you. I had a pool when I lived in Georgia and LOVED it! My family has since relocated to Virginia and we are having an inground pool installed in March. I am so looking forward to it. I am in my 50′s and I can ‘t imagine that being an issue for not having a pool. Who says only children enjoy a pool? As you said people think nothing of dropping $50,000 for a vehicle but try to convince others that a pool is too expensive. If you want it and can afford it, go for it. I have to say that if people have to rely on strangers on the Internet to convince them about the purchase of a pool, something is definitely wrong.

[Reply]

Susann Reply:

@Jannette,
I respectfully disagree about relying on comments from the internet. For me, there is nothing better than hearing from people who have been there, done that. I’m very happy I googled ‘jet skis worth it?’ before taking those home.

[Reply]

20 BR June 29, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Phenomenal post @Mikhail. Life is about more than “wise” investments. Be smart and enjoy living folks.

[Reply]

21 Colin July 31, 2012 at 3:09 am

The math is a bit fuzzy. The author assumes 15 years of use at 50 times per year equals 750 uses. Then he divides the initial cost by 750 and comes up with $67 per use. This calculation does not take into consideration the cost of water, heating, chemicals, maintenance, or the effect on resale. The pool is not a consumable. After 15 years it is still there. In the southwest US it is estimated that pools add 7.7%-11% to the value of a home. Some buyers only look at houses with pools and some will not look at any homes with pools (esp. those with infants). While it seems wise to do some math to check risk vs reward and affordability, in the end it is a quality of life choice. I am considering installing a pool, have no kids, but I have 2 Labs and like to entertain. I appreciate the comments given.

[Reply]

22 Laurie September 3, 2012 at 11:07 pm

We are having our first pool installed tomorrow! We priced in-ground pools, but it was just not worth the money (to us). With a good quality above-ground and a nice deck off the house around the pool, the look is similar for about 30% of the cost. We have three children, ranging from 9-14, and it is priceless to me to know that next summer, they will be here, with their friends, having fun outside!

Yes, it was still a lot of money to plunk down in one shot (relatively), but I cannot put a price on the joy on each of our kids’ faces when we finally said yes.

[Reply]

23 elizabeth rose August 3, 2013 at 9:57 pm

Great post! Given that my husband and I would LOVE a pool and spend hours in it from March through October — and all year in a heated spa — we’re definitely going to, um, take the plunge. Your analysis helped us think through our decision in new ways. Thank you.

[Reply]

24 Susann April 3, 2014 at 3:54 pm

We’ve been asking ourselves the same question so I was interested to read your take on it. Then I got to where you state only using the pool May – Aug and realized you are somewhere up north. I’m in So Florida where it would be used all year. Still trying to decide… hmmm

[Reply]

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>