Building Your Own Pool: Is the Idea All Wet?

You’ve probably heard this before: You can save a lot of money by building your swimming pool yourself. When you say it like that, it sounds simple. Just self-install your new pool and avoid hiring an expensive contractor. No big whoop, right?

Of course, installing a pool is anything but simple. Do-it-yourself websites and heavily edited YouTube videos make it seem like you can accomplish the task in X easy steps, but a few minutes of research (or just a little common sense) lead you to a different conclusion. Pool installation is a complex job, and it’s usually best left to the professionals.

That’s not to say that installing your own pool is never a good idea. Lots of homeowners get deeply involved in their pool projects, doing everything from managing subcontractors to pitching in for the actual labor. For successful projects, the key is to keep things simple and, most importantly, recognize your limitations.

What it Means to Build Your Own Pool

Generalizing about pools or pool projects is always risky. With all the different materials, sizes, shapes, and features that are available – not to mention the particulars of the home and its surroundings – every pool installation is unique. Before we delve too far into a discussion of building your own pool, we have to take note of at least a couple of the huge variables involved.

1. How Difficult is the Project?

This is probably the first question that occurs to anyone thinking about installing their own pool. In truth, pool projects run the gamut from amateur-friendly to literally impossible (as in, most professionals would turn it down or charge an unaffordable price to do it). From easiest to hardest, here are some of the types of pool installations you can attempt:

Above Ground Pool. Many above ground swimming pools are designed for ordinary homeowners to set up themselves. However, even here, there can be big differences in complexity. For example, a large above ground pool built into a wraparound deck isn’t something most people can attempt without at least some hired help.

Pool Kit. Pool kits come with everything you need to install a basic inground swimming pool, including detailed documentation and telephone support. This extra guidance is all that many experienced do-it-yourselfers need to install their own swimming pool – albeit one with a limited number of options.

Custom Inground Pool. Inground pools come in a lot of different forms, but whether you’re talking fiberglass or concrete, small or large, basic or tricked-out, it’s safe to say that installation is multi-faceted and difficult. It’s not something the average person would even think about attempting.

Besides the type of installation, the other factor that can seriously impact difficulty level is the environment you have to work with. A sloping yard, or one with too much rock or ground water, makes installation more challenging. Unfortunately, without some level of pool installation or general excavation knowledge, you may not even recognize potential trouble spots ahead of time.

2. How You Define “Doing It Yourself”

When someone says “I built my own pool,” how impressed should you be? Unless the person is bragging about blowing up a kiddie pool, you can be sure that at least some credit is due. How much depends not only on the scope of the project, but how much of it they personally tackled themselves.

Four kids crowded into a kiddie blowup pool
No expertise required

Installing an above ground pool yourself generally means doing all the work involved (except, perhaps, any ground leveling required). On the other hand, when people talk about installing an inground or semi-inground pool themselves, they often mean that they served as their own general contractor – planning the project and hiring subcontractors to do the actual labor.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to get involved in a pool project without laying claim to “building it yourself.” You can do some of the unskilled labor (digging, hauling, etc.), pitch in with areas you happen to have expertise in, or simply take an active role in planning.

The Pros (Pro?) of Taking on an Inground Pool Project

Let’s set aside the “easy” projects and consider challenging installations (whether above ground, inground, or semi-inground). There are a few reasons people opt to build their own swimming pools, but only one of them is compelling to the average homeowner. Yep, we’re talking about money.

Even a basic inground pool typically costs more than $10,000, and the price can go much, much higher. With a lot of that cost going to pool company profits and labor, there’s an opportunity for an ambitious homeowner to save thousands by taking on part or all of the project. Exactly how much you can save depends on the type of installation and the going rate for pools in your area.

Of course, even with the potential for major savings, the vast majority of people would never consider building their own pool. Many of those who do consider it quickly reconsider when they take a closer look at what’s involved.

Caveat DIY’er

The cons of building your own pool are many, and there are enough obvious ones to dissuade most people from giving the idea serious thought. Here are three biggies that stop lots of amateur pool installers in their tracks:

1. You could mess things up royally. This is probably the most obvious one. When you’re dealing with excavation, plumbing, electrical, and everything else that goes into pool installation, there’s plenty of potential for things to go wrong. Do-overs can be painful and costly, and you could end up hurting your property value in the worst case scenario.

2. Local building codes could foil your plans. In some places, the law requires licensed pool builders to perform all pool installations. Even if the building codes in your area don’t include such a deal breaker, there may be red tape and other onerous requirements that make self-installation an unworkable hassle.

3. It might not be worth it after all. Whether you’re managing subcontractors or just doing some digging, your time is worth money. Think about how many hours the job will take, and what you would likely be paying for that work. Now consider the fact that professionals can often do the work faster and (no offense) better than you can.

No doubt about it – the people who can pull off their own pool installations are exceedingly rare. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to participate in a pool project without taking on an overwhelming challenge. For most of us, the way to get involved is to plan the pool you want, monitor the project from start to end, and let the professionals do what they do best.