—Understanding permit requirements and their impact on construction
It’s true: There’s nothing fun, sexy, or exciting about the required swimming pool permit before constructing a new backyard resort.
Nonetheless, in most metropolitan areas of the country, a building permit for an inground pool is non-negotiable. A permit is required for nearly all new pool construction projects and most renovations.
Why pool permits matter
Pool permits—like building permits of all types—exist to help ensure that your pool is designed to meet established engineering and construction standards.
Permits are part of the equation for ensuring that pools don’t crack apart or create electrical hazards.
Permit requirements, along with standards set forth in the International Building Code, are why a correctly built pool is safe to use.
Your approved set of plans becomes a yardstick for measuring competent engineering and workmanship.
Key elements ranging from the pool shell’s structural integrity to pool-equipment location are commonly addressed in the plan review and permitting process.
Yes, all permits add cost, and in some cases, cause delays. But they also drive quality work that preserves or increases property values. Permits ensure transparency, accountability, and code compliance.
Here, there, and everywhere
Pool permits are required in most metropolitan areas of the United States. Some scattered exceptions exist, particularly in rural areas, small distant suburbs, and very small cities.
So, when you decide to build an inground pool, you’ll most likely need a permit. Likewise, if you are significantly remodeling an existing inground pool, obtaining a permit may be part of the process.
Permits are typically issued through county or city building departments. Many agencies issue guidelines or “permit packets” to help guide laypeople through the process.
The good news: You should not have to worry much about the process. If you hire a reputable pool builder, they will manage the permit process as part of your sales contract.
If you live in a community with a homeowner association:
It’s worth noting that approval from the HOA’s governing body will be separate and in addition to any permit requirements from your local municipality.
Not all pool building permits are created equal.
Even within the same county, they may vary. Some are more stringent in specific requirements and level of detail.
To obtain a pool permit, nearly all building departments require a plot plan.
This shows your home’s property lines, the pool’s size, shape, and where the pool will be located. It will also show other related structures, such as decks, fire pits, outdoor kitchens, and shade structures.
Typical plan requirements include key data about the pool’s structure and construction: its dimensions, steel schedule, concrete thickness, and compression strength, and reinforcing steel size and frequency.
It will also outline the pool’s plumbing and electrical runs, as well as the location of the pool’ equipment pad.
Some municipalities require a grading plan that shows the pool’s final elevations, slopes, and contours within the property.
Some also require electrical panel plans. This may need to include details for gas fire features and landscape lighting.
Structural details, plumbing schematics, site plans, utility layouts, and electrical diagrams may all be required.
In addition, some authorities mandate safety measures to be part of the plans. These can include certain kinds of fences, locks, pool alarms, and safety covers that might need to be included.
Timelines differ—and so do potential delays
In some municipalities, the agency is speedy and typically turns around permits in a day or two. In others, even a simple, routine swimming pool permit can take several months.
During the spring and summer, processing times may increase. When fewer people are building pools in the off-season, times may improve.
What also varies from agency to agency is the level of scrutiny that staff review the application and plan.
Issues such as zoning setbacks and various local ordinances can potentially come into play as well. In turn, they impact the pool plan and required documentation.
Pool contractor coordination
One of the many benefits that come with hiring a professional pool builder is that obtaining the permits is primarily their responsibility.
They know how to design a pool to comply with local codes and understand ordinances that can impact construction.
Some builders employ “plan runners” whose sole job is to shepherd plans through the review process
Experienced builders and their teams understand each local agency’s permit application requirements and typical timelines.
Also important: They know the ropes—the real-world practices and nuances that may not be outlined in any written rules or official documents.
However, sometimes a planning department makes unanticipated changes.
It may bring on a new staff person or introduce a new requirement. There could be a new supervisor who decides to more strictly enforce a requirement that’s been on the books for years—but which until recently has been loosely followed. Or, someone retires ahead of schedule, and the agency takes several months to fill the spot.
Any of these can change can trigger a new level of scrutiny over certain plan elements or delay processing time.
Keep in mind: Even though your builder will carry the lion’s share of the permitting process burden, you will still play a role.
In most cases, you may need to be involved in reviewing and signing documents. In special cases—usually for requesting a variance (an exception) to a code—homeowners may need to be more involved.
Pool permit costs
The time and effort of coordinating the permit is a cost that contractors will build into the base pool cost.
In addition, there is the cost of the permit. What each agency charges runs the gamut.
A permit could run a few hundred dollars or several thousand dollars. In a handful of U.S. markets, the tab could run as much as seven or eight thousand dollars.
Builders take several approaches in incorporating permit costs into the contract price.
For example, some will charge an estimated cost, with a provision that they will refund any excess or require an additional cost once the permit is finalized.
Others, particularly in markets where the price range from city to city is small, will charge a flat price that is an average of the region. So, on some projects, the builder might lose a couple of hundred dollars, and on others, come out ahead—so the cost averages out overall.
On complex pool projects with special building conditions or on elaborate high-end projects, the permit costs may run high and be impossible to estimate. Here, the builder may keep the permit costs out of the contract price altogether. Instead, a contract provision will spell out that the permit will be an additional cost once the local agency determines it.
How long it takes to obtain a permit after plans have been submitted can vary wildly.
Time of year. Number of projects in a given municipality. The complexity of your project. Current staffing levels at the planning department.
Each of these can impact the timeline.
Barring an unusual problem of some kind, your builder should have a reasonably close idea of the time it will take to obtain a permit in your city.
Still, even with the best diligence and plan preparation, the wheels of bureaucracy can be fickle—and sometimes grind to a halt for no apparent reason. As frustrating as it may be, permitting delays are common in some markets around the country.
Regardless of how you feel about government regulation and the ensuing costs, do not be tempted to move forward with your pool installation without a permit.
While enforcement will vary in different jurisdictions, negative outcomes can include project stops, hefty fines, and even having to rip out a partially—or even fully—completed pool.
Beware of any builder that suggests moving forward on a project without a permit. As frustrating as permitting requirements may seem, skirting the law is never a good idea.
Moving forward with properly secured permits will give you peace of mind knowing that you are in full regulatory compliance—and that much closer to your first carefree dip in your new pool.