As summer draws near and the mercury starts to climb, the thought of getting an in-ground pool, a cool slice of luxury in your very own backyard, can become quite tempting. You wouldn’t be alone, either: according to a 2018 Roy Morgan study, nearly 2.7 million Australians, or 13 per cent of us, live in a house with a swimming pool.1
However, there’s more to getting a pool than handing over some cash and kicking back on the lilo. Owning a pool is a long-term commitment, and while it will provide plenty of entertainment, exercise and fun, this goes hand-in-hand with a certain amount of maintenance and ongoing expense.
So before you take the plunge and book that pool contractor, here are a few things to consider when deciding if an investment in a pool is right for you.
Do you have space for a pool?
If you have any sort of garden, the answer is probably yes. Pool contractors can custom-design and engineer pools for all sorts of yards – but if you only have a tiny patch of ground, you might be looking at a compact plunge pool rather than something you can actually swim in. According to Crystal Pools, plunge pools can be as compact as 5 x 3 metres, and average family pools will generally range from 7 x 3 metres up to 9 x 4 metres. If your space is long and narrow, a lap pool could be an option.2
However, some gardens are better suited to a pool than others. Ideally, a pool will be sited in a sunny, north-facing spot that’s protected from the wind – this will allow the sun to naturally warm the water. Try to avoid building a pool near large trees or you’ll be forever scooping out leaves and twigs – and marauding tree roots could potentially cause structural problems down the track.
Consider privacy from the street and neighbouring houses, and the pool’s connectedness to your own home – will you be able to enjoy the view from your living room or kitchen?
Another factor that can limit the placement or size of your pool is the location of underground utilities such as sewer lines, water pipes, gas, electrical, and communications cabling. Your local council may be able to inform you of where your water and sewer infrastructure is located, and you can also contact Dial Before You Dig (www.1100.com.au) to get the all-clear (or otherwise!).
How much will it cost to install?
Installing a pool can be eye-wateringly expensive. According to Canstar Blue, you can expect an in-ground pool to set you back anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000.3 This figure will include design work/structural engineering and reports; excavation; installation of the fibreglass shell or construction of a concrete pool; pump and filtration equipment; fencing; tiling; paving/decking of surrounds; electrical work and certification. Once the pool is in, you may need to spend more on landscaping and poolside furniture.
Fibreglass or vinyl liner pools tend to be cheaper to install than concrete pools. And the characteristics of your site will also affect cost. Sloping blocks, for example, require additional engineering and retaining walls; if rock excavation is needed this will drive up the price.
How long will construction take?
Installing an in-ground pool involves consultation, site assessment, design and engineering, and council approval before construction even begins. The entire process can take several months, so if you start planning now your private oasis should be ready by next summer.
According to the Swimming Pool & Spa Association of Australia (SPASA),4 you need local council approval to build a swimming pool and install a spa, whether it is in-ground or above ground. This is to ensure that your pool meets all the applicable requirements, including structural and safety requirements, in addition to state government safety requirements. SPASA says that obtaining council approval can take anywhere from four to eight weeks.
SPASA adds that concrete swimming pools traditionally take the longest to complete at approximately 16 weeks, followed by fibreglass pools at approximately 12 weeks and composite/vinyl-lined pools at approximately 11 weeks.
What are the ongoing costs?
Keeping a pool maintained will add dollars to your water bill, your electricity bill, and you’ll also have to pay for chemicals (chlorine or salt). Canstar Blue estimates that just keeping the pump running on an average-size swimming pool can consume between 2000 and 3000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, at a cost of between $800 and $1200.5 This figure will vary according to the type of pump you purchase, where you live and your electricity plan.
If you choose to heat your pool and hire a professional cleaner, the ongoing costs will rise again. Add to this the cost of repairing or replacing machinery and equipment as the pool ages.
A pool is a lifestyle investment and if you’re going to get plenty of use out of it, the expense is worth it. But if you’ll only swim in it several times per season, it might be worth looking at the ongoing expense from a ‘cost per swim’ perspective.
Are you prepared for the safety responsibility?
Having a pool represents a huge responsibility in terms of safety. According to the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne,6 drowning is the third most common cause of death for Australian children aged one to 14. As the owner of a pool, you’ll be responsible for the safety of your own children and children of your guests. While compliant fencing is one line of defence against accidental drowning, it’s by no means fool-proof. Keeping kids safe requires ongoing vigilance – it’s a commitment. Strategies include:
- Pool fencing must comply with the relevant safety standards in your state or territory.
- Gates should be self-closing, self-locking, open outwards from the pool and must never be propped open.
- Keep pool furniture and pot plants well clear of the fence and gates to reduce the opportunity for climbing.
- Store pool chemicals securely and out of children’s reach.
- Actively supervise children whenever they are using the pool. Keep children aged under five within arm’s reach.
- Do a first aid course to learn how to perform CPR on infants and children (a refresher course is needed every 12 months).
- Ensure your children have swimming lessons to improve their skills and confidence in the water.
What about water restrictions?
Water is becoming a precious commodity in Australia and many states have implemented some level of water restrictions.7 According to SPASA, pools can require 22,000–60,000 litres of water, and they’re thirsty things too: an uncovered average-sized backyard swimming pool will lose around 7mm of water per day during the summer months.8 Using a pool cover can reduce the amount of evaporation by 90–95 per cent (and will also reduce the amount of leaves and debris falling into the water).
SPASA says permission may be required to fill your pool or spa with mains water. If there are water restrictions in place in your area, you may need to contact your local authority for a permit.