It was once said to me that a swimming pool is a giant hole in the ground where you throw away all your money. Having owned two pools now in my lifetime, I can tell you: I couldn’t agree with that statement more!
At times it can be very frustrating when it comes to how much money it costs to own and maintain a pool. But then again it can also be a great source of recreation for the whole family to enjoy. Really – I have a strong love / hate relationship with pools.
I absolutely love them on a nice, hot summer day when you’re hanging out with the family outside and that nice blue water is right there ready for you to take a dip into and cool off. Then you can crawl up onto a raft and enjoy a nice lazy afternoon.
But then I go crazy in the spring when it costs a small fortune to get the pool started. This usually includes: Opening the pool itself, pouring in dozens of chemicals, working on turning the water from green to blue, cleaning it EVERY DAY …. Ahhhh!
And then there’s the fact that every season something seems to have gone wrong with pump, motor, timer, or some other component. I think you get the idea …. It can be an expensive nightmare to upkeep.
So with that said, I’ve taken notes and learned a few things about pools that I think can be helpful to you. Here’s my tips for ways to save money on the cost of a swimming pool and the maintenance that will be required.
1- If you want a pool, don’t be the “first-owner”.
First off: The cost of a swimming pool can be HUGE factor in the overall scheme of things. There’s a smart way to do this, and a not as smart way to go about it.
First, I’ll share the “not so smart” way with a personal story. At our last house, we made one of the biggest money mistakes you could ever make: We bought our pool for full retail price.
It was an above-ground pool (… which comedian Jim Gaffigan hilariously calls a “giant bath-tub in your backyard”….) and we got it as an end of season item for what we believed was a great price of around $5,000 or so.
We’ve since moved out of that house, and we noticed the new owners decided to sell it on a garage-sale website for a fraction of that cost. A few hundred dollars. No joke!
We’re not the only ones to have this happen. One of our previous neighbors did the same thing after they moved out as well. Installed the pool for about $5,000. Sold it on CraigsList later for about $500.
Now the “smart way”. We made out like bandits when we moved into our new house and it already had a beautiful in-ground pool. To us, pool or not, the house price seemed like a steal. But I’m sure the previous owners had installed it for probably $30,000+. And that was likely over 20 years ago.
You see: As the first owners of a pool, it’s extremely hard to recoup your investment in a pool. According to the website HouseLogic, “At most, your home’s value might increase 7% if all circumstances are right when it comes time to sell.” So in other words: If you want a pool, don’t be the sucker who pays retail price for it the first time around. Buy one second hand (in the case of above grounds) or look for a house that already has one (as in the case with in-ground).
2- Consider installing an above-ground pool as opposed to an in-ground pool.
If you really want to have a pool for the kids to enjoy and don’t want to move, then please consider the financial benefits of an above-ground pool over an in-ground one.
Yes, I know I poked a little fun at myself and above-ground pools in the first tip. But in reality, I will say this: Going with an above-ground pool was a WAY CHEAPER option than the in-ground.
This is because when it comes to in-ground pools, there’s always a ton of additional steps that need to be taken in order to get it properly installed such as hiring contractors for digging the hole, laying the filtration system, installing the pump, building the patio around it, etc. Though you might find a pool body advertised for $15,000 or so, by the time you’re done with all the extra things you need to do, you’re really looking at more like $70,000+.
By contrast, as I said before, we bought and installed our above ground for $5,000 total. Which would you rather pay?
3- Don’t freak out if your water is green.
This s the part of pool ownership I hate. Every spring, we pool back the cover only to find … nasty green swamp water. Blahh!
One year it was so bad that we actually just emptied out our entire pool of all the water and started over. Talk about a huge waste of time, money, and chemicals!
As I’ve come to learn, the solution is all in knowing the right tools to use to combat the problem. So rather than buying a whole bunch of chemicals that you think might help the situation, keep your pool expenses to a minimum by cleaning up your water as follows.
To get rid of the green, you just need to pour in the right chemicals and get the water circulating. Usually a little algaecide and some calcium hypochlorite shock is the best place to start. Once the water starts to turn more blue, you can then vacuum it to get all the organic grim off the bottom and walls. While you’re doing that, you’ll also want to make sure you balance the pH and add in the right amount of chlorine to keep unwanted organisms from making a home inside your pool.
4- Keep that pump flow going.
One time right after we opened our pool, even after we got the water from green to blue, it still didn’t really seem to look “clean” inside. We keep noticing some ugly build-up on the walls that was turning more and more green every day.
This led us to buy an expensive vacuum for the pool that didn’t even work that great. Not to mention we wasted hours every evening just trying to clean it. At one point, we even considered hiring a pool cleaning service to come in and take care of it (since we were hosting a party in a few days), but we quickly put the brakes on when we found out they wanted almost $300 for just one cleaning! No WAY!
So what was the problem? Our pump flow was too weak. The problem was traced back to having too many pine needles and leaves clogging it up. By cleaning out the skimmer baskets, we were able to get the pressure up and the scaling went away.
In summary: Make sure your pump is flowing and there is always pressure circulating! Otherwise, expect to either pay for some very expensive cleaning service or waste money on vacuums that don’t really work so well anyways.
5- Get to know your system.
In the last tip, do you want to know how much calling the serviceman out to fix our problem cost us? $80!
The following spring, we had a similar situation happen where I noticed we weren’t getting any pressure to the pump. I checked all the skimmer baskets and make sure everything was clean. But still – no pressure or flow!
It was time to get dirty! I did a little research and discovered that sometimes the pump impeller (the little thing that redirects water upwards in the pipe) gets clogged with pine needles and leaves that somehow make it past the skimmer baskets. I figured out how I could clean that thing myself, and sure enough – success!
So there you have it. Get to know your pump system and all the possible work-arounds. It might just save you a costly service call. Sites like How Stuff Works are a great place to familiarize yourself with pools.
6- Only run your pool pump for 8-12 hours per day.
One summer when our pool was really green and nasty, I decided to let the pump run 24 hours per day, everyday in hopes that it would take care of the problem. Turns out a month later, all it did was create a new one: A HUGE electrical bill!
The motors that run the pumps on a pool are not small and will draw a lot of power. In this simple example I found on the web, your pump can cost you an estimated $3 per day to run. And I have two pumps! So you can see how quickly this all adds up.
Instead, only run your pump for 8-12 hours per day. If your pool is already somewhat clean, than this amount of time should be sufficient. Most people recommend to do this in the morning and into the early evening. Not only will minimizing how long you run your pump save you money, but it will also help prolong the inevitable death of your pump motors.
7- Keep your pool pump motor on an automatic timer.
Want to make the last tip even easier to do? Put your pump motor on an automatic timer box. This way you don’t even have to do anything. Just set it and forget it. Your pump motor will come on and off while you’re at work, busy, out of town, … wherever you are.
Mechanical timer boxes are relatively inexpensive to purchase. I bought one recently off Amazon for about $50 and paid $70 for a professional electrician to install.
8- Always buy your chemicals in bulk.
Pool chemicals are ridiculously expensive. But the cost can be somewhat alleviated if you buy them in bulk. Anytime you go to the store or order some chemicals online, be sure to always buy the biggest container or package they have. The cost per pound will almost always be cheaper.
Usually the chemicals are good for more than one season. And chances are that you’ll end up using all of what you buy anyways.
9- Buy your chemicals at the end of the season.
A lot of common, big-box stores have gotten in on the pool owning game, and they often will carry pool chemicals in their seasonal section. And just like everything else in the seasonal section, they will often mark these items down as summer starts to come to a close. This is your chance to buy the things you need when they are marked down at a discount.
10- Consider a salt water pool.
Not all pools need to be your standard chlorine type. Our current pool actually runs on salt. The salt creates its own chlorine through a process called electrolysis, which then keeps the pool looking nice and clean.
Translation for your wallet: You’ll end up needing FAR LESS chemicals. We only pay about $6 per bag of salt whereas we used to pay $100+ for packs of chlorine. So this has been a huge cost savings for us throughout the months that we use and maintain the pool.
11- Clean your pool regularly.
After putting all this time and effort into your pool, the biggest waste of money of them all is not to use it!
This is usually the case when people get lazy about putting the chemicals in every week or cleaning out the leaves that may have fallen in.
A dirty pool will get no use. So be sure to take the time each week to do your regular maintenance.
12- Invest in an automatic pool vacuum.
One of the best ways to shave hours off of your pool cleaning routine and keep it clean at all times is to buy an automatic pool vacuum. This can be one of any thousands of products where the device connects to one of your jets and then scours the bottom of your pool sucking up grim and scum.
We’ve got one of these devices and its a total life-saver! It runs while the pump is on and cleans up the floor of the pool all day long. This in turn ends up saving us boat-loads of time we would have spent cleaning.
13- Keep the pool covered at all times when not in use.
By far the easiest way to keep your pool clean is to keep a cover on it when its not in use. This will help big-time by keeping unwanted debris out and making your weekly clean-up far quicker.
In addition, it will also help to reduce the amount of heat loss and evaporation coming from your water.
14- Use a solar cover on your pool.
Speaking of pool covers, do you want your pool to get heated naturally throughout the day? Be sure to purchase a solar cover. These are covers that are specifically designed to take in the radiant heat and keep it inside, thereby heating up your pool water temperature.
Word to the wise: DON’T go cheap when you buy one. You can find them for a wide range of prices on Amazon. I bought a lower end product one time, and it lasted me about 2 years before it started to tear and we needed to buy a new one.
15- Fill your pool using sprinkler water.
Filling your pool with water from your normal, household water meter can be very expensive; especially if your regular utility bill is based off of this reading. For some houses (usually those with sprinkler systems), a separate water line with an alternate, cheaper meter can be installed. This the line that you’ll want to tap into and use to fill your pool with since the cost will be much, much cheaper per gallon of water used.
16- Skip the gas heater whenever you can help it.
Gas heaters are great if you like your water temperature hot! But make no mistake – it will cost you a lot of energy to heat up that giant bath tub by a few degrees.
17- Hold off on the patio until later.
Again: If you must buy a pool, know that getting the actual pool and filtration system will only be the first step. Afterwards, there’s no end to how fancy you can get with all the landscaping that might go around it. A deck, concrete patio, brick pavers, iron fencing, decorative plants, a built-in grill, etc.
Slow down! The cost of the pool was probably plenty at first. But there’s no need to do everything at once. If you just installed your pool, maybe hold off a season or two before putting all the other things around it. Give your budget a chance to recuperate.
18- Plan ahead and plumb for features you’ll want in the future.
If you do want to get fancy with your pool such as having a heater or a second pump for a more expensive vacuum, be sure to plan for all of that in advance and have the infrastructure ready to go. Once you’ve got a deck or patio up around your pool, these things will be quite a bit more expensive to try to have installed later.
19- Skip the jets and waterfalls.
It’s fun to have jets and waterfalls shooting water all around inside your pool. But they are not very energy efficient. So if possible, skip them.
20- Buy cheap rafts
What’s a day at the pool without having floating rafts and pool toys for fun?
Usually these things are so cheaply made that they only last about one or two seasons anyways. Therefore, don’t go too expensive when you buy these things. Just pick them up from a place like the Dollar Store or Five And Below. They will work just as good as the more expensive ones. And when they break (as they all eventually do), your wallet won’t break too.
21- Pay to have your pool professionally winterized.
When the end of the season comes and its time to close up your pool, this is probably the one time that you will NOT want to cheap out. Pay to have it professionally winterized. This usually means blowing out the pump and filtration lines. It also means having a solid winter cover put over the water to protect it all winter.
Not doing these steps can cause damage to the pool and system over time. And as you can guess, this can lead to much BIGGER and more expensive problems later on down the line.
22- Store your patio furniture when you close the pool.
Also when closing up your pool for the year, don’t forget to store all your patio furniture in a place that is protected from the winter elements. This will help keep them from getting too warn out and in need of replacement.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr