The Great Pool Debate: Liquid Joy or Sunk Money
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
The landscape design for our yard came in two versions. One with a pool, one without. Otherwise the plans were identical. Oh, that and the price tags.
I looked at the renderings longingly. That cool aqua rectangle beside the verdant green lawn sure was seductive. I wanted to dive right in through my laptop. I welcomed the idea of looking onto or dipping into a cool patch of blue on a hot summer night, which, let’s be honest, are most nights in Florida. My husband, DC, did not.
“I’ve had a pool. I don’t want a pool,” he said.
“I’ve had a pool, too. I would love a pool,” I said.
“They’re sunk money.”
“We would take fewer vacations. Home would be our resort.”
Arms crossed. Backs turned. Heels ground in.
“Let’s just explore our options,” I said. Options, as in having many and keeping them open, is one of DC’s favorite concepts. He couldn’t refuse that argument.
We knew what our landscaper’s cost for the project would be not including the pool. So we got an estimate from a pool company: $35,000, at least. Ouch. (According to homeguide.com, $35,000 is the national average cost for an in-ground pool. Most homeowners pay between $28,000 and $55,000.)
I did the mental math: At $35,000, if I used the pool 100 times over 10 years, that would break down to $350 dollars a dip, not counting the cost of maintenance, which I looked up.
Monthly pool service costs between $80 to $150, and averages $122 a month, according to homeguide.com. That is, unless I want to do it, but I would be too busy working at my real job to pay off my pool.
When you add heating, repairs and insurance, a pool can run you $3,000 to $5,000 a year, according to Smart Money MD. I do more math. Even at the low end, at 10 swims a year, that’s another $300 per dip. Add that to the $350 per plunge when amortizing construction costs, and that’s $650 a dive. No number of poolside margaritas will help me wash that down.
“Like I said,” DC said, when I coughed up my calculations.
“But what about the joy! The beauty!,” I said, still not giving up.
Next, I set out to take a highly scientific, randomized, controlled pool poll, and surveyed experts, neighbors, friends and readers.
*The real estate agent who sold us our house said, “Don’t put a pool in thinking you’ll recoup the cost in a sale.” Then I showed her the landscape plan. She reacted like I did. “Put in the pool!”
*My neighbor, who has what she calls a small “cocktail pool,” loves it. “If I didn’t have a pool, I would have moved out of Florida by now.”
*My physical therapist, who’s married with a 10-year-old, said, “I wouldn’t have a house without one. I’m in it every week from April to October.”
*Susanna S., a reader from Sarasota, Fla., wrote: “YES, YES, YES pool!”
*My friend Paula, who moved last year from her large family home with a pool into a new custom home with no pool, said “I haven’t missed having a pool for one day. For every minute you think you’re going to use it, you don’t because you’re busy with your daily life, which doesn’t typically include an afternoon by the pool. Plus, they’re a huge amount of maintenance. If I want to go to a pool, I’ll go to my club’s pool, where someone brings me drinks and food.” (I don’t belong to a club where someone brings me drinks and food, but that sounds nice.)
*Reader Melodee C., of Orlando, wrote: “I have friends who moved so they could get rid of their pool and the associated cost and work.” Noted.
*A grandfather from the Bay Area wrote, “My pool remains for the enjoyment of my grandchildren, period. Lacking a specific need to swim, I would prefer a stone water feature that adds sound and ambiance.”
*Reader Rolan C., of Salt Lake City, wrote, “You asked for it: No pool. I don't want the liability, or to have to put a fence around it, which would make it inconvenient to get to, or to have to clean it.”
So we’re tied 4-4. “How about this?” I propose. “Let’s landscape the yard without the pool, and see if the fountain satisfies my water craving. If we’re sitting outside a year from now saying, our yard is great, but wouldn’t it be nice if we had a pool, and the stock market is up, we’ll discuss it.”
“Works for me,” DC said. “I like options.”
When weighing the pros and cons of putting in a pool, consider the following:
Return on investment: Don’t put a pool in expecting to get your investment back. Most real estate surveys confirm that while a pool typically adds value to a house, sellers tend to recoup about 40% of the installation cost. The real winners are those who buy a house that has a pool.
The space. Too many homeowners put in as big a pool as their lot will allow. That’s a mistake. You need backyard space, too.
Use vs. Cost: Your cost-per-use value will vary greatly based on where you live and your lifestyle. Having kids or grandkids also changes the equation.
Other options: If you have access to a pool through a club or community center, that may be the best solution of all. You get all the enjoyment and none of the upkeep.
The joy factor. You can’t put a price on joy or beauty. A pool can provide both. Only you can do that math.
CAPTION: Looks good on paper -- When considering whether to add a pool, factor in not only the cost to build and maintain, but also the price of joy. Photo courtesy of dreamstime.com.