As we head into the heart of summer, thoughts naturally turn to fun in the sun while staying cool. For some, that might even mean contemplating the addition of a sparkling swimming pool. But what does it take to turn your backyard into a watery oasis? And do swimming pools add value to your property? To answer these questions and others, let's take a deep dive (pun intended) into the wonderful world of swimming pools.
Humans have been building pools as communal baths and gathering places for thousands of years, but it wasn't until the post-World War II era that their popularity skyrocketed in residential use. In those early days, private pools were seen as a coveted luxury and a celebrity status symbol, but over time, in-ground pools have become more prevalent and accessible to all homeowners.
Before calling your local pool installer, take a moment to consider your property's overall suitability. Large, level lots with good soil make installation cheaper and easier, while sloping yards, high water tables and sandy or rocky terrain will add to your excavation costs. When it comes to placement, you'll want to consider which parts of your yard get sun and shade throughout the day, where you're willing to sacrifice any existing landscaping and how the flow from patio to pool to the house might work best.
You and your builder will also need to be aware of all municipal regulations which could include rules regarding fencing, property lines and more. Insurance is another factor to examine carefully. While your homeowners insurance policy may already cover swimming pools, check with your insurer and consider bumping up your liability coverage while you're at it.
Homeowners have more choices than ever when it comes to swimming pool materials. While the typical poured concrete method is still popular for in-ground pools, gunite – which uses a rebar framework spray-coated with a concrete and sand mixture – is a durable option that offers excellent flexibility and shorter installation times than plain concrete. Despite its durability, however, the porous surface of gunite pools makes them more prone to algae growth than other materials, and they may require an occasional resurfacing.
Fiberglass pools arrive as a pre-made shell ready to be placed directly in the ground. This type of pool is amenable to customizations in size, shape, lighting, tanning shelves and steps, and custom edge treatments. While it's the most expensive option in terms of upfront costs, the smooth finish means lower maintenance expenditures over time. Fiberglass is also the fastest way to get to go from inspiration to pool party.
In vinyl pools, a vinyl liner is applied to a structure of wood, cement, steel or polymer to create a smooth and flexible pool that is resistant to cracking and algae. Vinyl pools are customizable in terms of size, shape and color, and they are among the cheapest to install. However, even with the most meticulous care, the vinyl liner will need to be replaced every 10 years or so, and owners must be diligent about spotting any tears or leaks that could cause the pool liner to shift and bubble up.
With the latest innovations in pool construction, even city dwellers can enjoy their own watery paradise thanks to plunging pools, jetted lap pools and pool-jacuzzi combos – many of which can be installed within an urban townhouse roof or basement.
While our childhood memories may be filled with the pungent aroma of chlorine, today's swimming pools are likely to be maintained by more earth-friendly – and less smelly – means. To maintain pH levels and combat algae and bacteria, some homeowners choose the saline route, which is not, contrary to popular belief, chlorine free. So-called "saltwater pools," use a salt cell or generator to break down the sodium chloride in the water to create chlorine, but without the irritating chloramines that give it its trademark smell. Saline pools have higher upfront costs but lower operating costs. However, over time, the salt can degrade any metal components in or near your pool.
Another alternative is a mineral pool system which uses magnesium chloride, sodium chloride and potassium chloride to keep things clean while cutting chlorine use in half. The water in mineral pools feels soft and silky without the corrosiveness of saline systems.
Costs for installing a swimming pool vary widely based on size, type, terrain and more. Home improvement website HomeAdvisor outlines several of the cost considerations involved for straightforward installations, pegging the price of a concrete or gunite pool at $35,000 to $100,000 with fiberglass and vinyl installations running closer to $20,000 to $60,000. The total bill for ongoing operating costs, including maintenance, heat and filtration, can reach $4,000 per year for concrete or gunite, $1,500 per year for fiberglass and $1,700 for vinyl.
Don't forget that the construction costs above don't include special features, such as lights, slides and waterfalls. When preparing the budget, you'll also want to plan for the paving or decking surrounding the pool, and for the cover that will go on top of the pool when it's not in use. At high-end properties, the addition of a pool house or cabana would add to the ultimate indoor-outdoor living experience. And don't forget to include a bit of room in the budget for an Instagrammable inflatable swan and an ample supply of pool noodles.
With their water use, energy use and chemicals, there's no getting around the fact that swimming pools are an environmental concern. With that in mind, the environmental organization the Sierra Club offers a few tips for mitigating some of the impact: First, cover your pool to prevent evaporation, maintain water quality and reduce heat loss. Second, invest in an Energy Star-rated pump and lastly, consider incorporating a natural or seminatural filtration system that uses plants, rather than chemicals, to keep the water clear.
Now that we've addressed the options and costs associated with swimming pools, we must answer the question most homeowners have top of mind: Will adding a pool increase my home's value? Well, it depends. While HouseLogic.com, the home improvement site run by the National Association of Realtors, notes that a swimming pool could boost your home's sale price by up to 7%, several factors will influence that figure. Chief among them is whether you live in a warm climate where pool use is feasible year-round and whether you live in a community where most of your neighbors have swimming pools.
All in all, a nicely designed pool that is in good condition and in keeping with the overall size of your yard can help cool off your family now and heat up your listing price when it comes time to sell.
Take your design aesthetic outside.
Whether it's a small courtyard or an expansive backyard, you probably don’t spend as much time on your outdoor patio as you’d like. But with a bit more effort put into the design, you may find you’re reaping the benefits of spending more time outdoors. “People more than ever … are really coming to the awareness that you need to be connected to nature, and you need to be connected socially for your health and well-being,” says Joe Raboine, an outdoor living and design expert with landscape design company and hardscape manufacturer Belgard. Read on for some simple decorating ideas that will help draw you and your family and friends out to your patio.Make it comfortable.
Make it comfortable.
It’s all too easy to forgo an evening in your backyard when the living room couch is just too comfortable. Rather than make excuses, why not design your patio to be just as comfortable? “It’s an additional living space,” says Debbie Howes, a Realtor with Re/Max Performance in the Colorado Springs, Colorado, area. Make sure any seating outside has weather-resistant cushions, and consider adding side tables to keep drinks or a plate of snacks within arms’ reach as you lounge.Don't forget color.
Don't forget color.
Just like in your indoor living room, furniture can feel a bit bare if you don’t add accents like pillows or tabletop decor. For these welcoming additions, don’t be afraid to go bold with pops of color. In real estate information company Zillow’s 2019 Outdoor Living Trends Report, popular colors for patio and porch space this year include bright oranges, reds, yellows and pinks. Plus, by adding pops of color with outdoor throw pillows or cushions, you can keep your more neutral patio furniture as-is without having to change it when new trends come around.Create a place for conversation.
Create a place for conversation.
For small patios, purchasing a bench or outdoor couch may seem like a simple, cost-effective solution to provide seating for two or three people at a time. But to make the patio more comfortable for lounging and spending extended periods of time, consider including separate seats that can be positioned to face each other. Furniture marketplaces like Ikea and Wayfair sell patio sets including love seats, couches, chairs and coffee tables at a bundled price. You can also combine unrelated pieces of furniture that complement each other – which the Zillow report notes is in style for 2019.Consider swinging seating.
Consider swinging seating.
A freestanding hammock is an old classic, but online furniture marketplaces like Wayfair and Hayneedle offer a wide variety of swinging chairs that take up less space and offer plenty of styles to fit your design plan. Modern, circular swinging chairs and beachy chair hammocks range from $30 to over $600 on Wayfair, for example. If your patio features an overhang, consider attaching a porch swing or even a swinging bed to add more space for people to relax. These pieces are available in multiple styles for less than $350 through Hayneedle.Create more than one space.
Create more than one space.
A simple way to make your patio space appear more luxurious is to designate areas for different purposes. A table and chairs are standard for eating dinner on the patio, but consider adding a bench close to your garden, or a fire pit area that encourages you and your guests to use the patio for activities beyond eating a meal. Patio bar furniture, small bistro tables and lounge chairs can help create an additional space for spending more time outside.Build in an activity.
Build in an activity.
A spot to eat or sit and talk helps draw you out to the patio, but to keep family and guests outside even longer, incorporate an activity into your design, such as cooking on the grill or playing card games at a table. Zillow’s 2019 Outdoor Living Trends Report notes that fire features and outdoor kitchens are particularly popular options. In addition to serving as a spot to make s’mores, a fire pit or outdoor fireplace can help extend your patio’s usability into the colder months.Don't forget lighting.
Don't forget lighting.
Traditionally, backyard lighting was limited to the light just outside the back door. But to truly embrace outdoor living – and make the space look more like a living room – invest in additional lighting for your outdoor space. Floor and table lamps designed for the outdoors are weatherproof, and in many cases solar-powered, which cuts down on your need to use electricity or have cords creating a tripping hazard. Outdoor lamps are available at places like Lowe’s, Walmart and Plow and Hearth, which offer enough variety to match a minimalist or traditional design aesthetic – or anything in between.Make your own wind.
Make your own wind.
You may not be able to handle stifling heat, or you may get eaten by mosquitoes when you sit outside – but a little man-made wind can help keep the heat and bugs away from your patio space. An outdoor ceiling fan installed on an overhang is a common solution, or you can bring a freestanding fan outside while you sit. To help keep you even cooler, consider investing in a misting fan, many of which are freestanding and simply need to be hooked up to a hose. Large misting fans designed to cover an entire patio space tend to cost more, however – Mistcooling or Dynamic Collections brands offer models for $430 and $240, respectively.Here are eight ways to decorate your outdoor patio:
Here are eight ways to decorate your outdoor patio:
- Make it comfortable.
- Create more than one space.
- Don’t forget color.
- Create a place for conversation.
- Consider swinging seating.
- Build in an activity.
- Don’t forget lighting.
- Make your own wind.
Larson has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Real Deal and other top-tier outlets for her industry insights and expertise. Recognized among her peers for her eye for design, she has bought, renovated and sold apartments and homes in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago and Nantucket, providing her an acute insight into the needs of buyers and sellers alike.
Lisa holds a Master's degree in History and was a member of the Division I cross-country and track teams at the University of California, Berkeley. Larson also remains actively involved with various charitable foundations, neighborhood associations and at both of her children's schools, and serves as a director on the board of the USA Track & Field Association.