Taking the plunge: a new pool?
June 19, 2007 9:10 AM   Subscribe

We're looking into building a swimming a pool in Northern Virginia and could use the advice and assistance of the hive mind.

We have tentatively decided to put an in-ground pool on our property, and have talked to a couple of contractors in the VA/MD/DC area. So, we're at an early stage. We have plans and specs in hands, along with wildly-varying estimates for the completed job. We've got lists of references and have Googled this to death, but some questions remain: In your collective experience, what pool features are absolute "must haves" and which ones unnecessarily inflated the cost? Is a "PebbleTec" or other non-plaster surface worth the extra cost? And, in the final analysis, is building a pool really worth it?

Recommendations/comments on pool contractors and builders in the NOVA area would also be welcome.
posted by flyingrock to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We live in Springfield. We use American Craftsman Pool & Spa out of Fairfax. So far they've provided excellent service.

Some pool things...

Consider having a salt-water pool (i.e. chlorine generation from salt... much better on your skin and eyes... and chepaer in the long run!)

We have a 'gunnite' pool, which is like PebbleTech ( I think) in that it is non-plaster. Looks better and doesn't feel like it came from the 70's.

I wish now that we had had a jacuzzi built in to the shallow end.

A Polaris cleaner works great from us. Jandy sucks.

You won't really use the pool until May, and you won't really have it clean until June (when the pollen is finally done).

We have a heater - it will increase your usability for the season by a little over two months. Heat it up, nice and warm, early in the season... it's much easier to maintain the heat than to let it fluctuate.
posted by matty at 10:13 AM on June 19, 2007

We love our pool, and use it, on average, every other day during the entire year if you count the jacuzzi, due in part to the solar heating, which I highly recommend.

Not really necessary features: those in-pool cleaning things that pop up? Don't get them. We didn't; friends who did routinely stub their toes on them when swimming and they don't do that great a job. You also don't need a really deep end for your pool--how often do you really want to swim down 8-10 feet underwater in a pool? In that vein, don't opt for a diving board.

Solar heating? Expensive initially, but absolutely pays off over time (probably a couple years of use). As I said, we use our pool most days, and others who don't have the solar heating simply don't get the same use out of theirs.

We have the Aqualink (salt-used-to-make-chlorine) system and I highly recommend it. Again, expensive, but pays for itself by not having to deal with all the chemicals, etc. all the time. Very easy maintenance.

I wouldn't opt for the PebbleTec, but that's a personal choice. We DID check out the various surface choices for the deck around the pool by literally going to other pools built by the builder, having our kids walk around on the wet decks barefooted, and seeing what was least slippery. I have boys, they WILL run on slippery surfaces, I wanted the safest. We found, surprisingly, that textured concrete was the way to go, without any additional "slip-resistant" covering.

We found our pool to be absolutely worth it. As I said, friends have not all had the same experiences. We did not go, for example, for the cheapest estimate, but the middle-of-the-road builder, because they had the best reputation and the builder of our house told us, "all the other pool companies are morons." We are VERY glad we listened to him! Our pool took less than 12 weeks to build--our friends' took over six months. Reputation counts.

If you have young children that are already swimming, this is the ideal time to build your pool so that you will get the most use out of it.
posted by misha at 10:15 AM on June 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

is building a pool really worth it?
Not worth it if you think it will improve property value. It does the opposite. But if you enjoy using it every day then it may be worth it to you. It is a nuisance to keep clean. It draws the neighbor kids and you might not want to baby-sit them. You must have ironclad rules about that. Tust me, you can be overwhelmed by nuisance guests unless you do not allow it to start.
posted by JayRwv at 10:15 AM on June 19, 2007

And, in the final analysis, is building a pool really worth it?

Do you have kids? I grew up in a house with an in-ground pool, and when my sister and I were still living at home, we spent all our summers out there. Partly because our house didn't have air conditioning, so it was the only place to stay cool. When we moved away from home, there was a time when my mom thought the pool was more trouble than it was worth, and contemplated moving. Now she has grandkids enjoying it though, so she's come around to the value of it again.

Over the years I've observed that pools require a great deal of maintenance, time and money. It takes quite a bit of time and money, in terms of chemicals, to open the pool in the spring and close it in the fall. There are also ongoing chemical costs that are not insignificant. There is also the time involved in keeping it clean, checking the chemical levels etc. Over time, things may break down and need replaced. My mom has had to replace the filter, dig up pipes, and replace the liner. (She's had the pool over 20 years though, so these things are to be expected). We've gotten so much use out of it though, so I think in the end, it's worth all the maintenance.
posted by Otis at 10:28 AM on June 19, 2007

Looks like everyone's going to have a different opinion on some things. Having a pool has definitely increased our property value here in NOVA, we love having the 10ft deep end with a diving board, and we find the pool cleaner to be invaluable. YMMV.

Our deck is made of Utah Slate - has a nice grain to it that's not slippery when wet.

I think the solar heating is an excellent idea - we use natural gas (direct line from the house) which is pricey.

Must haves: salt-water chlorine generator and solar heating

Is it Worth it?: Lots of great memories, so 'Yes'.

Unnecessary: We have a fountain that goes into the pool. It's kinda neat for the first week, then its just in the way.
posted by matty at 10:35 AM on June 19, 2007

If you're swimmers, I think it would be great. But of course:

-Talk to a real estate agent (or several) about what it will do to your property values (fwiw, I've always heard that it decreases it since buyers don't want to take on the maintenance).
-Talk to an insurance agent about what it will do to your insurance rates.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:13 AM on June 19, 2007

Get a heater. It will increase your pool use tremendously, and if you have a pool, why not be able to use it early in the season and later on too?

Site the pool equipment away from seating areas. It can be noisy at times.

Choose your installer carefully. Pool equipment breaks down and needs service fairly regularly, so having a good, reliable pool company at the other end of the phone can make the difference between using the pool when you want to, or not being able to because of down time.

We have gunite. It's beautiful, and lasts well if you brush it down regularly. We also have a turbo-cleaning system that directs debris to the main drain. We love it. No one ever tripped on the jets in the ten years we've had the pool, and the pool has gotten HEAVY use in all that time.

Build the pool deep. If you have kids to the pool, they love to dive (but don't get a diving board - too many accidents waiting to happen). It's a pain in the ass to have to go outside and remind everyone to not dive. Why bother? And someone will want to cannonball.

We just have textured concrete on the deck. It looks great after all these years with little more than an occasional power wash. Make sure that your installer builds in expansion cracks so that you don't have random cracks in your pool deck.

We didn't build a jacuzzi and I never regretted it. Jacuzzis are bacteria farms that require constant vigilance to keep them hygienic. (Then again, I'm a trained chemist so I'm picky - YMMV)

We love our pool. As my kids always say - "It's a vacation in our back yard!" Seriously, if you have kids, it's worth the work. Enjoy!
posted by Flakypastry at 4:26 AM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Forgot to mention landscaping and lighting. I would definitely put those on the "must have" list. You're probably going to use the pool area for more than swimming, and even when you have a party, there will will be those who do not swim. Landscaping that emphasizes beauty and privacy will make a big difference. Planting shrubs and trees with an eye to creating shaded places by your pool is really important.

We built our pool at the same time as our home, so our lighting designer threw in a lighting plan for the pool area. I thought it was kind of frivolous at the time, but I'm really glad that we had it done. All the wiring for the lights was installed during the excavation stage, so the lights (which are placed in trees surrounding the pool) are unobtrusive. We've had countless evening pool parties that required no more than a flip of the switch to light the area softly.

I've been to other homes whose pools are little more than a rectangular hole in the middle of an empty yard lit by skewed tiki torches. Landscaping and lighting make a huge difference.
posted by Flakypastry at 6:12 AM on June 20, 2007

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