It can be harder than it looks to plan your dream pool. Think about your options and what you have to do before you start building your inground pool, and everything will go swimmingly.

Few home features can be as fun and exciting as a swimming pool that is built into the ground. A pool can turn even the most boring backyard into a sunny oasis that people of all ages can enjoy. Even though in-ground pools take a lot of time and money to build, their popularity isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

So, if you’re ready to take the plunge, so to speak, and get an in-ground swimming pool, here are six important steps to take to make sure you get the best pool for your home and family.

Pool Styles

In-ground pools come in three main types. Concrete, vinyl-lined, and fiberglass are the most common ones. Small parts of the country may also have pools with steel or aluminum walls.

Concrete pools are really made to order, and they can be made to almost any size, shape, or depth. People often call these pools “Gunite” or “Shotcrete” pools because concrete is shot with a gun onto walls made of steel. Once the concrete is set, the pool is plastered, painted, and finished with a textured surface, or tiled.

Concrete pools take the longest to set up—usually between 3 and 12 weeks—but they last the longest and are the strongest. In fact, many concrete pools that are more than 50 years old are still used today. And unlike other types of in-ground pools, concrete pools can be changed, enlarged, and modernized.

Vinyl pools are made from a flexible liner that is already made and fits into the hole. It’s attached to a strong frame made of steel, aluminum, or a polymer that doesn’t rust. Most vinyl pools are rectangular, but some manufacturers make liners that are L-shaped or freeform. A vinyl-lined pool usually takes between one and three weeks to build.

If you are thinking about getting a vinyl pool, you should know that pool toys, pets, and sharp objects can all poke holes in the liner. Even though liners can be fixed, it’s best to choose one that’s at least 20 to 30mm (about 3/4 to 1 inch) thick.

A crane puts the big bowl-shaped fiberglass pool into the hole that was dug. The bowl is made in a factory. Because of this, fiberglass pools can be put in much faster than other types. In some cases, in as little as three days. Fiberglass pools have a smooth gel coat finish that is very durable and won’t stain. Also, fiberglass pools don’t have pores like concrete pools do, so they use fewer pool chemicals and have fewer algae.

But fiberglass pools come in fewer sizes and shapes than concrete or vinyl pools, which could be a problem if you have a small backyard or a backyard with an unusual shape. And the big pool must be sent by truck, which may have to take a long, winding route to get to your house. Each state has rules about how to move oversized loads, and truckers often have to drive through several states to deliver a fiberglass pool.

And when the pool arrives, there needs to be enough room in your yard for the crane to get close enough to move the molded shell into the hole you dug. Note that sometimes you can only get there by going through a neighbor’s property. Make sure you check with the trucking company or pool contractor to make sure the crane will have enough room to work.

Nationwide, you can buy pools made of concrete, vinyl, or fiberglass. But in some places, some types are more common than others. Because fiberglass and vinyl liners are flexible, they are perfect for cold climates where freezing and thawing can damage a rigid concrete structure. Most places sell vinyl pools, but the south is where fiberglass pools are most popular.

If you’re not sure what kind of pool to get, ask a local pool contractor for advice. If they mostly install one kind of pool, there’s probably a good reason for it. (It usually has to do with the weather and soil in the area.) And once you know what kind of pool you want, make sure to hire a contractor who has a lot of experience installing that kind.

Cost Comparisons

It’s impossible to say exactly how much your pool will cost because prices vary greatly depending on where you live, the soil conditions, the water circulation system, and the type and size of the pool. The time of year can also affect the final price since many contractors offer discounts for pools built during the off-season, when business is slow.

Concrete pools are usually the most expensive, followed by vinyl-lined pools and then fiberglass pools. But a high-end fiberglass pool with all the bells and whistles could cost more than a basic concrete pool.

I can tell you that a simple rectangular 20-by-40-foot concrete pool costs about $45,000 where I live in New England. This includes the filtration system, initial water fill-up, underwater lights, and stone coping around the pool’s edge. It does not include the cost of fencing, landscaping, decking, and other pool-related items. And remember that most homeowners spend about twice as much on their swimming pool project as the pool costs. So, if you buy a pool for $50,000, expect to spend an extra $40,000 to $50,000 on it in the end.

Zoning Rules

Building and zoning rules apply to in-ground pools, so you must apply for a building permit and get approval before you can start work.

Building and zoning rules vary from town to town, but you usually have to keep a certain distance between the pool and things like property lines, septic tanks, wells, sewer lines, and wetlands. There are also rules about the hardware for pool fences and gates.

In most cases, a perimeter wall or fence must be at least 4 feet tall and have gates that close and lock themselves. The space between fence boards or balusters can’t be more than 4 inches. Openings in chain-link fences can’t be wider than 1-1/4 in.

For extra safety, especially if you have young children or grandchildren, consider putting alarms on all house doors and gates that lead to the pool and putting a power safety cover over the pool. Contact the local building department or zoning board for a list of specific rules and restrictions.

Choosing the Right Site

Choosing the best spot for your pool is just as important as having one. An experienced pool builder can give you good advice, but you should also think about the following tips for where to put your pool:

  • Capture the Sun: Use free solar energy by putting your pool in a spot that gets a lot of sun and isn’t near any trees. Not only will the water get warmer, but there will also be fewer leaves falling into the pool.
  • Block Breezes: If you build a pool in a windy place, a lot of the water will evaporate, so you’ll have to keep adding water to keep the right level. When you are wet, strong winds can also make you feel too cold. Install a solid-board fence or plant a row of thick shrubs to block the wind.
  • High & Dry: Don’t put the pool in a low area where it could fill up with mud and other things when it rains hard.
  • All Clear Above & Below: The pool shouldn’t be built directly over buried sewer lines, septic systems, electrical cables, or under telephone or power lines.
  • Keep Eye Contact: If you can, put the pool where it can be seen from the house. So, you can watch the swimmers even when you’re inside.

Circulation System

A pool’s circulation system filters and sanitizes the water to keep it clean and clear. The filtration pump pulls water from the pool’s bottom drains, sends the surface water through an automatic skimmer, and then puts everything through a filter before pumping it back into the pool. Sand, cartridge, and diatomaceous earth are the most common types of filters (DE).

When installed and maintained correctly, all three types of filters work well. An experienced contractor can help you decide which type of filter is best for your pool.

The oldest and most common way to clean pool water is with a sand filter. They use a special kind of filter sand to catch dirt and other things. As the sand particles “load up,” or get stuck together, they trap smaller and smaller particles. Backwashing is the process of turning the water flow around in a sand filter and flushing the dirty water into a waste line.

Large, cylindrical cartridges are used to filter out dirt in cartridge filters. Most pool builders suggest using cartridges with 500 to 600 square feet of filter area. Cartridge filters don’t need to be backwashed like sand filters. You can instead just rinse them off with a garden hose, which uses a lot less water than backwashing.

Diatomaceous earth is a powder that looks like tiny sponges because it is porous and has tiny holes in it. Particles get stuck as water flows through the holes. Dirt, dust, algae, and some kinds of bacteria can all be filtered out by DE filters. Backwashing cleans DE filters when they get dirty, but it uses a lot less water than sand filters. After that, DE has added to the filter again.

The water filtration system in the pool gets rid of dirt and debris, but a chemical sanitizer is needed to kill bacteria and algae, which are organic contaminants. And an oxidizer is used to get rid of both inorganic and organic pollutants. There are three common sanitizers in swimming pools that have been approved by the EPA: chlorine, bromine, and PHMB.

By far, chlorine is the most common way to clean a pool. It also works well as an oxidizer. When chlorine is mixed with water, it releases free chlorine, which is also called hypochlorous acid. There are many kinds of chlorine sanitizers, such as cal hypo, dichlor, gaseous chlorine, liquid chlorine, lithium hypochlorite, and trichlor.

Tablets of bromine (hypobromous acid) can also be used to clean and disinfect a pool. Bromine, which is also a strong oxidizer, is made when the white solid tablets slowly break down.

Polyhexamethylene biguanide, or PHMB, is a cleaner for pools that is used with hydrogen peroxide and an algaecide. The oxidizer is hydrogen peroxide.

Salt chlorine generators are the newest way to keep a pool clean. This system turns common table salt into chlorine instead of using standard pool chlorine. Salt chlorine generators don’t turn swimming pools into saltwater, despite what you may have heard.

Before adding any chemicals, it’s important to test the pool water first. Take a sample of the water to a local pool store for testing, or buy a test kit to do it yourself. Keep the pH between 7.2 and 7.8, and keep the alkalinity between 80 and 120 parts per million. And when the weather is hot for a long time, make sure to test the water several times a week to keep the right balance.

Watch Out for Budget-Breakers

As we’ve already said, the final price of an in-ground pool is usually about twice the price of the pool itself. That’s because an in-ground pool is more than just a hole filled with water.

Here are some things that usually aren’t included in the price of a pool: outdoor lighting, landscaping, pathways, decks, fencing, patios, privacy screens, whirlpool spas, outdoor sound system, pool cover, water test kits, shade structure, patio furniture, equipment shed, storage cabinet, pool toys, and additional outdoor electrical outlets.

Now, you probably won’t need all of these things, but keep them in mind when making your budget for the building.