In residential landscapes, a swimming pool can refer to any permanent or temporary tank or container used to hold water in which users can swim or simply relax. They come in many different types, and choosing the right one requires you to carefully think about what role you want the pool to play in your family's lifestyle. The label "swimming pool" is a broad one that covers very inexpensive portable play equipment for kids as well as major landscape features that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Budget, lot size, local codes, and availability of materials will all factor into what type of pool you will eventually decide to build or install on your property. Also consider the maintenance work required for each type. Some pool owners come to regret owning a pool that requires many hours of maintenance work or expensive pool maintenance services.
As you take the following tour of 12 swimming pool options, give thought to what you really want and need in a swimming pool, and how much time, money, and effort you're willing to invest.
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Best for: Providing a portable play feature for children.
At the very lowest end of the "Can I Afford a Pool?" scale is the easy-to-find portable kiddie pool, which can be either an inflatable device or a rigid plastic shell. Either way, these pools can be pulled out of storage whenever hot weather arrives and the kids need a place to cool off, then put back into storage at the end of the season. Just make sure you drain the pool after each use (water the lawn), and keep an alert eye on the kiddies at all times—even very shallow pools can be hazardous to unsupervised kids.
Kiddie pools often cost just a few dollars, especially if you purchase at the end of the season when prices may be discounted as much as 75 percent. It's entirely possible that this affordable option will satisfy your main reason for wanting a swimming pool. And no pool is easier to maintain.
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Above-Ground Swimming Pool
Best for: Owning a fully functional recreational pool for an affordable investment.
Above-ground pools serve as a symbol of attainable pool ownership. They can also be a good option for cold-winter climates where maintaining an in-ground pool for the winter can be difficult. There are both hard-sided and soft-sided options in this style, and some pools are almost indistinguishable from much more expensive in-ground pools, especially if you add an elevated deck or frame around the outside of the pool. In many climates, though, in-ground pools are drained, disassembled, and put away in seasons where they aren't needed. In this case, soft-sided above-ground pools are an excellent choice.
Above-ground pools are relatively easy for DIYers to assemble. The national average for installing an above-ground pool is about $3,000, but it's possible to spend $20,000 or more if your pool includes add-ons, such as built-up decking. While easier to maintain than large in-ground pools, above-ground pools do require managing water chemistry, as well as filtering and cleaning.
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In-Ground Family Swimming Pool
Best for: Active families needing a multi-use recreational swimming pool.
Increasingly, swimming pools aren't just a feature for the luxury real estate market. In some housing markets, especially in sun-belt regions, a swimming pool is now an expected feature even in middle-class neighborhoods.
Broad "for-all-ages" appeal is what recreational pools are all about. If you like to entertain and like noise, activity, and excitement, this may be the pool of your dreams—or at least your kids' dreams.
An in-ground pool is no small investment, however. Nationally, in-ground swimming pools average about $55,000 to install, and it's easy to spend $100,000 or more on an upper-end poured concrete pool. But for active families, this can be an excellent investment, both for current enjoyment and for long-term property value. But you must plan on spending several hours a week on water and filter maintenance and cleaning—or plan on hiring someone to do it for you.
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Best for: Serious health enthusiasts with limited space.
A lap pool is a swimming pool built and used for fitness and health purposes. Relatively shallow and narrow, these are not pools for diving boards and water slides, but rather for enjoying daily workouts by swimming laps. Typically, lap pools are rectangular in shape, which can make them ideal for long, narrow lots.
Nationally, installing in-ground lap pools costs about $44,000, on average, for an 8 ft. x 40 ft. x 4-foot-deep pool. And such pools come with all the maintenance work required for any in-ground pool.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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Best for: Affluent families with plenty of space and a healthy budget.
An indoor swimming pool is pretty straightforward: It's inside, under a roof, and usually insulated by at least one wall of the home. Indoor pools are generally simple, geometric shapes and are built for swimming or training throughout the year, especially in cold climates. In most cases, indoor swimming pools feature a standard in-ground pool (average price, $55,000), with a constructed glass enclosure that costs an additional $10,000 to $30,000. However, it is also possible to enclose an above-ground pool in the same way.
The cost for maintaining an indoor heated pool may sometimes be lower than outdoor pools. Because the pool room is protected from the elements, it retains its heat better than outdoor pools. And the enclosure keeps leaves and other debris out of the pool, reducing cleaning chores.
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Best for: Serious athletes and health enthusiasts with plenty of space and a large budget.
Olympic swimming is one of the most widely followed sports in the world and has the largest number of events and participants from different countries. It's no surprise that aspiring Olympians and swimming fans get caught up in the big event and want an Olympic-sized swimming pool of their own.
But adding an Olympic-sized swimming pool is not for the faint of heart. An official Olympic pool is 25 meters wide and 50 meters long, holds 500,000 gallons of water, and costs at least $300,000 to build. Anyone owning such a pool will probably need to hire a pool service for the basic maintenance work.
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Best for: A pool that makes a design statement as it serves recreational functions.
Just the name gives it away: an architectural pool must have structure, definite lines, and often echoes the form of the house and uses the same materials for a cohesive look. An architectural pool is usually geometric, sophisticated, and designed by an architect. If the house is custom-built, the pool is normally built at the same time, taking in the size of the lot and the layout and relationship of the house to the pool.
These are pools for more affluent owners who are likely to hire architects to design their properties. Costs are usually incorporated into an overall master plan for the home and landscape, but such pools can easily add $100,000 or more to the cost of a home. Pool and water quality maintenance are the same as for any in-ground pool.
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Best for: Taking advantage of surrounding landscape vistas.
Infinity pools are also known as infinity edge pools, vanishing edge pools, negative edge, zero edge, or disappearing edge pools. Infinity pools are always custom-built and should be designed to highlight a view. Done right, an infinity pool gives one an illusion of a sheet of water dropping off over the edge of the property, like a waterfall, although you can't see or hear falling water.
They're definitely on the more expensive end of residential swimming pools. Like architectural pools, infinity pools are usually designed and built as part of a master plan at the time of home construction.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Best for: Combining water recreation with natural landscape appeal.
Natural swimming pools (or swimming ponds, as they are called in Europe, where the concept originated back in the 1980s) are self-cleaning pools that combine swimming areas and water gardens. Most natural pools are lined with rubber or reinforced polyethylene. A separate-within-the-pool "regeneration" zone is equipped with aquatic landscaping, which acts as a sort of organic cleaning system.
Like any in-ground residential swimming pool, a natural pool can be designed in a freeform, rustic style with boulders and waterfalls, or it can be modern or architectural—sleek and elegant.
Natural pools usually cost about the same as or slightly more than conventional swimming pools, depending on landscaping. They often appeal to gardeners because of the great variety of plant life that can be grown in them, as well as to green advocates and others who don't want to swim in chlorinated water. When the ecosystem is kept properly balanced, these can be fairly easy pools to care for, but this can be tricky to do. If the water chemistry gets out of balance, or if the pool is overcome with algae, it can be hard to recover without considerable work.
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Best for: Relaxation and socializing.
Blending the words spa and pool, you get a spool. In recent years, pool builders have done increasing business with homeowners with tighter budgets and smaller properties who request water features that are smaller than traditional swimming pools but larger than standard spas. Many homeowners use a spool mostly for relaxation and entertaining—a place to soak and cool off on hot days or to enjoy drinks with friends on pleasant evenings. Spools may even have directional jets against which you can swim.
Some spools are in-ground affairs made of poured concrete, but more often, they are created by using a large manufactured spa/whirlpool shell surrounded by a wide elevated deck. Depending on how you outfit your spool, costs can range from $5,000 to $20,000. Maintenance is usually easier than with larger pools, but you will still have water chemistry and filter equipment to manage.
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Best for: Owners who prefer to avoid chemicals.
Popular in Australia and New Zealand for many years before making their way to other continents, saltwater pools (sometimes called ocean pools) are not a design or style of pool, but rather an alternative method of water filtration and purification. These pools use a saltwater chlorine generator to convert bulk salt into natural chlorine to kill bacteria and algae. The generator can be added during the pool-construction process or afterwards—a standard pool can be converted by adding key components. A salt-water chlorine generator can also be added to an above-ground pool, as long as it's made especially for above-ground swimming pools.
Maintenance for these pools is similar to traditionally chlorinated pools, with regular cleaning of pool surfaces and filter equipment needed.
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Best for: Alternative health enthusiasts.
Plunge pools are small, cold-water pools that have been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine and were also popular with the ancient Romans. Many swimmers and athletes like to plunge into a pool of cold water after a heated workout or sauna or spa session, believing it has therapeutic benefits.
Plunge pools can be separate or attached to a larger in-ground pool. Although they look like an ordinary spa, one cautious toe-dip into the pool will reveal otherwise.
Choosing a Swimming Pool
Costs for adding a swimming pool can vary enormously depending on your needs. At the low end, you can spend just a few dollars for a kiddie pool that provides a portable play feature for kids. At the high end, you can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on pools that serve as architectural features or professional-grade training features. Give careful consideration to your needs and budget when choosing from these 12 options. Among the things to consider:
- Your budget: Even if you're on a shoestring budget, your family can get considerable enjoyment from a simple kiddie pool or small above-ground pool. If budget allows, though, a major in-ground swimming pool might be an impressive addition to your home's real estate value.
- Your needs: A pool that is used primarily for physical fitness might be considerably different than one that is primarily a kids' play area, which is much different from one that is mostly a place for adults to socialize. Make sure the pool you choose meets your genuine needs.
- Available space: A large in-ground swimming pool can eat up the bulk of a backyard, so think about whether or not a swimming pool is how you want to use up your backyard real estate to the exclusion of other activities, like gardening or family sports. If the answer is yes, then go for it.
- Maintenance requirements: Most swimming pools require a considerable amount of maintenance, but some much more than others. If you have no interest in weekly cleaning, daily water testing, and all the other tasks that go into maintaining a swimming pool, then make sure your budget allows for the cost of a weekly and seasonal pool care service.
- DIY ambitions: Although there are rare DIYers who actually construct in-ground swimming pools, when you find one, it is the exception that proves the rule: Almost no homeowner is really equipped to build an in-ground swimming pool. On the other hand, plenty of skilled and ambitious DIYers can install and maintain above-ground swimming pools. Soft-sided pools that are installed and put away as the seasons change are commonly used by DIYers. In climates that allow for year-round use, DIYers can even construct large wooden decks around above-ground pools to give the feeling of an in-ground pool. If you are an energetic DIYer, you may well like the challenge of creating such a water feature, even if you can afford the professional in-ground option.