Why pool dimensions affect price—but not always as you may expect
When it comes to the price of building an inground swimming pool, size matters.
Pool dimensions—square footage, perimeter, and depth—will affect the project’s total construction cost. However—and this is where it gets a bit confusing—sometimes size does not matter to the price all that much. Or, size does not matter as much as or in the ways you might expect it to.
Allow us to explain.
“Base” pool construction costs drive retail prices.
Ultimately, the dollar amount that a pool builder specs out for a new pool begins with the basic construction costs. From these, a pool builder develops the retail prices they charge.
For starters, it’s key to understand that no matter the size of a residential concrete pool, the required construction phases—such as excavation, plaster, and concrete (gunite/shotcrete)—remain the same. That means a pool builder must arrange for and pay various tradesmen to complete each stage to build the project.
To illustrate, let’s look at the first major phase of building, excavation. To make way for the pool structure, a large hole must be dug and tons of dirt cleared out.
Heavy machinery, such as a track hoe, must be transported to the job site. That fundamental aspect of the excavation process carries a certain cost. An excavation specialist, who must be paid, will need to come out as well in order to operate the equipment.
Other paid crew members, known as trimmers, will also arrive on site to hand-shape features of the future pool, such as the steps and contours. Once excavated, the removed dirt usually needs to be hauled away from the job site; this expense will vary on local factors, such as length of travel time and local dumping fees.
Barring any special conditions and depending on local factors, the process for digging the average 30-foot pool might take 6 – 8 hours, or the better part of a workday.
All of the factors described here are fundamental to excavation, and the associated costs are present with every project. With this in mind, a pool builder factors these job costs into their “base” cost for excavation. In turn, this cost will drive the ultimate total retail price that’s charged to pool buyers.
After excavation, each of the other construction stages will follow. From the power installation by a licensed electrician, to the crew laying tile along the pool’s perimeter water line, each phase has an associated cost.
The key point here to remember is this: Whether a new pool is small, medium, or large, the overall building process is identical. Pool companies program these fundamental costs into their base price and the contract amount they ask for.
To this, they add other costs related to client requests for optional features, material upgrades, accessories, and other design choices—as well as variables related to pool dimensions.
Increasing pool size may increase construction costs—but not all of them.
So now you understand that pool builders have some pre-set costs “baked in” to their base price. However, that base is only a starting point. As with any kind of construction project, dimensions influence total cost.
Continuing with the example of excavation: Compared to a dig site for a 30-foot pool, one for a 40-footer might take an additional 2 to 3 hours to complete. If a builder’s base-price excavation formula relies on expenses for a 30-foot pool, the builder will have to add to the retail price to cover the additional amount.
However, just because the pool is 25% longer does not mean the excavation price will increase 25%. You cannot always a draw a straight line from size to price; remember, there are those fundamental costs like transporting the machinery to the job site.
Much like menu items at a restaurant, pool prices do not always have price increases that directly relate to size. Often, an 8-ounce steak does not cost proportionally more than the 6-ounce cut.
That’s because the restaurant has to pay the chef, the electric to run the grill, and a variety of other related “base” costs. However, it did pay its beef supplier more for the larger cut of steak. It gets complicated. Let’s look at some other reasons why.
Cost increases vary for each construction phase.
Beyond excavation, other construction phases go into creating an inground concrete pool. Like the extra time needed to dig a bigger pool, most of these phases will entail greater labor to complete. What is unique to each is how the amount of time changes—the increase varies.
To explain this dynamic, let’s take two sizes common with residential pools. The first is large—40 feet in length and 20 feet in width, giving it a surface area of 800 square feet. The second is a mid-size project measuring 32 ft. x 15 ft., bringing it in for a total of 480 sq. ft.
The amount of time it takes the electrician to wire the large pool is virtually the same as for its mid-sized counterpart. However, plastering the pool is another story. How long a crew spends manually troweling material onto several hundred additional square feet of pool surface will significantly increase compared to the 480-sq. ft. pool. And so will the resulting labor cost.
Constructing that larger pool requires more material as well: More steel, more plaster, more tile and coping, longer plumbing lines, and more concrete. In most cases, the patio area around the larger pool will have more scale as well, requiring more brick, stone, or concrete, and more installation time by the decking crew.
Note: Bear in mind that a larger pool can come in another form: a deeper one. After all, another aspect of dimensions is depth. The deeper the structure, the greater too the construction expense—more digging time, more steel, more plaster finish, and more concrete for reinforcement.
So, those bigger pool dimensions mean larger quantities of material, and that will raise costs. But not always by that much. Why is that? The answer often lies with where you live.
Pool size, price, and understanding the role of geography.
Critical to the size-price relationship is your local market. The popularity of certain pool dimensions in a particular area of the country heavily determines pricing dynamics related to size.
Here’s why: In some metropolitan areas, large backyards make a 40-ft x 15-ft pool the norm. Where big projects like these are commonplace, pool contractors often have a base price that assumes these large dimensions and the associated labor and material costs. As a result, larger dimensions are already reflected in wholesale costs that go serve as the foundation for retail pool prices.
In these cases, a homeowner will not see an upcharge for a typical large pool. But their friend who lives somewhere else might. Where backyards are tight and short and 28-foot pools are the standard, pricing programs will be different. Because larger pools are the exception, vs. the rule, pool builders most likely charge more for projects with greater volume.
However, before you assume that since you live in a “big-pool” area you can simply get a bargain by making your pool smaller, hold that thought. Although going big may not always cost more, the reverse scenario for small-pool pricing rarely holds true.
Sorry to share the bad news, but building smaller doesn’t mean you will automatically save much. Shorter, narrower dimensions will lower expenses on labor times and the overall quantity of materials needed. However, remember those base construction costs outlined above? Again, they represent the bulk of the contract price for a typical pool.
Translation: Even if you build a tiny pool that’s only 15-feet long by 8-feet wide, each construction phase and specialty craftsmen are still needed for the job. Because they are, dropping pool size won’t save a whole lot. So if smalls pools are the norm in your area, then unfortunately, count on paying full retail for your outdoor addition.
The Takeaway: Consider how important size really is for you.
Without a doubt, large pools certainly make sense in a number of scenarios—in an expansive backyard, when you have a big family at home or have lots of friends who will regularly use the pool, or when your long project wish list needs the space for a number of design and functional features. And of course, when you have a nice budget to work with.
But smaller and mid-size pools can also pack in a whole lot of fun, as well as unique decorative features. Speak with your pool designer to review how you plan to use your pool and to identify your design priorities.
To learn more about dimensions and other design choices that can impact cost, contact your local Blue Haven Pools office; you can view a national office directory here.