A Swimming Pool Is A Terrible Investment

\"SwimmingWhen I was a boy, our family installed a swimming pool in our backyard. This was a big deal. I remember my friends being excited, and all of our neighbors were a bit envious. There was one exception, though. A woman we knew delivered a frightening warning on the eve of construction:

“There’ll be a day when you wish it was paved over with concrete.”

She then cackled wildly, jumped on her broom, and flew away.

OK, she wasn’t a witch and was normally a really nice person, but why so negative? Captain Buzzkill was trying to rain on our tropical paradise. Thankfully my parents laughed off her comment and got with the digging.

There was only one small problem. She was right!

Pools are a beating. Having had one for years and having experienced the maintenance firsthand, I wouldn’t want one now if you gave it to me for free. And they are nowhere even close to the realm of free.

So as summer approaches and you gaze with envy at neighbors with pools (“maybe this is the year to pull the trigger!”) I’m here to caution that a swimming pool is a terrible investment.

Why We Got a Pool

I was in the 6th grade when we got our pool. I wasn’t really sure why we needed one at the time, but I thought it would be fun. Had I known the cost or been a little older, I’d like to think I’d have pounded the table no.

I believe my parents thought that installing a swimming pool was going to make our backyard into the Mecca of the teen scene. I would transform from a somewhat nerdy kid into a social supernova. Any bets on how that turned out?

For those who are thinking of installing a pool to jumpstart your kids’ social lives: I think a pool is simply a lever. If your kid is going to be popular, it will help, but your kid is going to be popular anyway. If your kid often favors a good book over socializing, and, when socializing, plays Dungeons & Dragons and Axis & Allies, a pool may not pave his path to homecoming king.

The first summer of the pool was wonderful. We swam a lot and really enjoyed it. My brother and I hosted our friends, and my parents had quite a few parties for adults. Yay!

A backyard pool provides an incredibly evocative image. It’s like you’ve created your own beach resort right outside your door. The reality, as in most things, is a bit more mundane.

Over time, our use started to slip. When you have a pool available every single day, sometimes it’s easy to say, “Maybe tomorrow.” And even when I did go in, I’d jump in, swim around for about two minutes, and then ask myself, “What now?” A wet bathing suit and need to shower became reasonable hurdles, and you start to question why people without pools always want to come swim.

To be clear: there were some absolutely wonderful memories from our backyard swimming pool. Beating my brother in our legendary water basketball games (I believe I won almost all of them) is a joy that still shines bright. In college, my best friend would visit, and we’d be in the pool for hours every day. The missus (before she was the missus) and I had a great summer by the pool after finishing b school. Jumping in the pool with an ice cold beer after mowing the lawn on a 100+ degree Texas summer day is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

But when I add up all of the fun, and then compare it to the enormous cost of installing and maintaining the pool, there is no way it was worth it.

How Much Does a Pool Cost?

Great question. Very similar to asking, “How much does a car cost?”

Let\’s see what the folks at HomeAdvisor think (click for updated figures):

\"Swimming

That is a lot of money. But remember: that’s just the initial investment.

I’d wager the minimum running cost is way more than $1,000 a year (if you have a pool, I’d love to hear your current annual spend).

Chemicals and water (it does evaporate…) alone start to add up. You need to skim leaves and other junk and brush the sides – you could make that a labor of love or outsource it for additional cost. All of the different system parts don’t last forever, and eventually you’ll need to fix leaks and perhaps resurface the whole pool.

You may get a window of 3-4 months each year to use the pool, but the meter on maintenance is always running.

Once my brother and I moved out of the house, I’ll wager my parents used the pool less than 10 times a year. (One interesting note: I think they did entertain outside more than they would have without a pool, but these were non-swimming affairs, which makes the pool a curious and expensive bit of landscaping.) In the end, they may not have wanted it paved over, but I’d bet if they could have waved their hand and made it disappear, they would have.

What’s the Return? Also, What’s a Return?

Investopedia estimates a pool will give a return between 15 and 25%. They even use the term “ROI”. There’s only one problem – they’re actually saying that you may be able to recover 15 to 25% of the pool cost when you sell your home.

That is all very confusing to me, so I asked my 9 y.o. to explain it to me in language I could better understand. He read the article, worked the numbers, and offered this:

“It sounds like you will lose money when you install a pool. You will lose almost all of it! You may get some of it back when you sell your house, but it won’t be much.”

[Investopedia – if you’d like to hire my son for personal finance freelance work please see the “contact me” tab.]

But let’s not be too hard on Investopedia. If you’ve ever investigated home improvements, this concept of “return” meaning “the money that remains after most of it has been flushed down the toilet” is pretty much the standard out there.*

The point is that you shouldn’t plan on recovering much of a pool’s installation cost. If you’re going to write that monster check to create your backyard tropical paradise, just know it’s pretty much an expense, not an investment.

Your Loss Is My Gain

Of course, the clever kids in class are sitting up, because they now see an opportunity.

If homeowners see a huge negative return on installing a pool, why not just buy a house with a pool installed? (Outstanding work! Here’s a sticker.)

That is indeed a much better financial strategy than installing your own pool. You won’t get to pore over the blueprints, pick our your own ornate tile, or design the waterslide, but you’ll save a lot of money.

I still don’t recommend it, because I’m pretty much anti-pool nowadays, but buying a house with a pool is far better than installing one yourself.

Ranking the Best Pool Strategies

The best strategy for pools, just like the best strategy for boats, is for your neighbor to own one. And we’re all agreed that installing a pool is the worst, right?

But what’s in between? Thankfully I’ve done serious scientific research and can offer a full spectrum of pool strategies. Here’s your ranking, from best to worst:

  1. Have a friendly neighbor with a pool and no lock on their gate
  2. Have a nearby community pool
  3. Have a big bathtub and a great imagination
  4. Have a baby pool + a garden hose
  5. Buy a house with a pool already installed (and ideally in great repair…)
  6. Install your own pool

But We Really Want a Pool!

So I’ve poured out my hard-won wisdom and failed to convince you that pools just aren’t worth it.

Fine. I’ll ask you to take a couple more steps before you push back your retirement by many a year. If you are still thinking of installing a swimming pool:

  • Talk to people who own one. Probe hard on how they really feel. Some of them will be honest and say it’s an expensive beating, while others will gush about how their lives are transformed by its awesomeness. Watch the gushers, though – behind their happy smiles there are hints of doubt and frustration. Dig until you find them.
  • Test drive ownership. Volunteer to take care of a friend’s swimming pool for a while – labor and materials. It will give you a sense of what’s really involved. They’ll be eager to take you up on it. You could also rent a house with a pool for a month (find some rich family summering in Provence) and swim every day. You’ll learn a lot.
  • Consider moving. I’m serious. Your transaction costs may be much less than the cost of a new pool.

Anticipation Is All the Fun

You know who wants a pool the most? Someone who has never had one. A pool is an incredibly exciting home improvement until you actually install it.

You may be envious of your neighbor who just installed a pool. But guess what? Envy cuts both ways. You have three things they don’t:

  • A pool is still an exotic thrill for you. Going to a hotel or someone’s house with a pool is a special treat. That fun feeling died in me long ago (at best, it lasts one summer for a pool owner).
  • You have tens of thousands of dollars that you didn’t spend on a pool. You can splurge and buy your neighbor a case of beer when you go swimming at his house.
  • You have a backyard without a swimming pool in it! For many, that is the final stage of evolution in pool ownership, and you are already there. Congratulations.

Swimming is a lot of fun, and I hope everyone’s about to enjoy a fun summer with some time at the pool. For your pocketbook’s sake, I just hope it’s someone else’s 🙂

Do you have a pool, or is there one in your past? Do you love them? Hate them? Somewhere in between? If any pool owners can tell me your annual expense, I’d love to hear – let me know in the comments.

* For home improvement projects, I’d like to propose new language borrowed from my restructuring days: recovery rate. Your recovery rate (expressed in cents on the dollar) is what you may get back from a home improvement project. Since most recovery rates will be < 75¢ on the dollar (and pools <25¢), it’ll highlight how much money you’re blowing. I’m sure the home improvement industry will instantly embrace it.

The picture is actually my childhood pool. Minutes and minutes of joy were had each year!

30 thoughts on “A Swimming Pool Is A Terrible Investment”

    1. Yeah, too bad being nerdy wasn’t cool when I was in high school – I would have crushed it!

      Better late than never, though. I’ll bet my fellow 40-somethings are green with envy when they see my nerd chops. Yeah.

  1. My wife doesn’t read this (sorry Paul)… one benefit of moving to colder climes is that on-going discussions of pool installation will likely cease as the window for useage is even shorter there.

    1. You need to get her on board – there’s a cornucopia of knowledge awaiting her here.

      It’ll be like a 10% bump in my readership, and you can sponsor posts (I’ll write whatever you want me to sell her). Everyone wins! Well, except for her.

  2. I don’t really like swimming, so a pool will never be in my possession. I live in Minnesota, so if I wanted to get some water, I’d probably look to buy a cabin up north (land of 10,000 lakes!)

    Thanks for sharing. I didn’t realize how poor of an investment it was in addition to the cash sucker it is!

    1. Yes, I didn’t even add lakes / ponds to the list, but they certainly beat swimming pools on cost.

      If we had as nice and mild a summer as you, perhaps pools wouldn’t be as popular in Texas, but folks here love them. We actually had trouble finding a house in our neighborhood without one (we were worried about kids, plus didn’t want the running cost). We may be the only house in town without a pool when we finally move, so hopefully that’ll command a scarcity premium!

      Thanks for the note

  3. Two of my closest friends have pools. One bought a house with one preinstalled. The other installed an above ground one in his garage. Both pay online with your estimates. I’d rather pay for a year of y membership for that amount. I might some day consider a hot tub though.

    1. I’m right there with you – our HOA dues cover the use of the community pool, and since almost everyone has a backyard one, the community one is pretty much our private pool.

      I will have to admit some curiosity about an above ground pool in a garage – is this a huge garage, a small pool, or some combination thereof?

      In any event, with two close friends with pools, you have the soundest pool strategy of anyone I know. Nicely done.

  4. I admittedly would love to have a pool but I recognize that it is not a prudent investment. The only way I would consider one is if it was an indoor pool that I could potentially use year round. Even then I’m not sure it’s worth it. There are some houses for sale and they just sit. Seems like a huge liability in terms of resale. Thanks for sharing!!!

    1. I’m pretty sure an indoor pool would not be worth it. Find yourself a hotel with an indoor pool and treat yourself to a stay once in a while – it’ll be as fun and far more affordable!

      That’s interesting that they seem to be almost negative factors for resale in your neck of the woods – I wonder if it’s that buyers don’t want them, or the homeowner is pricing a premium that doesn’t exist (or both).

      Thanks for stopping by

  5. It’s funny, I just wrote a post about the cost of owning a pool!

    So we had a cheap, DIY pool for a few years but it didn’t last. We’re thinking of getting a newer one (above-ground, so way more affordable and not permanent) but we’ll see.

    We do have a nice, community pool but it’s expensive and I never, ever go. My wife takes the kids during the summer but they get bored fast because its crowded and they’re not allowed to jump in or play with balls or toys. And by the time I get home from work I’m not interested in going out just to go for a quick swim.

    I figure for a year or two of the annual pool cost through town I can get one right in my backyard. I’d be much more likely to use it and the kids would too. Plus they can have friends over and enjoy it too.

    Not sure when or if we’ll pull the trigger, and I don’t consider it an investment anyway. Just something that would be nice to have for the family and can be taken down when we’re done with it.

    1. Yes, it’s definitely the time of year to catch folks’ attention re: pools.

      The nicest thing (IMO) about an above-ground pool is that you could remove it a lot easier than an in-ground. That may be the best way to get your fill of pool time but then turn off the tap on expenses when use drops.

      Your friends are definitely hoping you’ll get one 🙂 Good luck!

  6. James Higgins

    We bought a house that already had a pool and I don’t think that we paid any premium for that pool. Maybe we did but it was small. I hated the pool from the beginning because all of the maintenance and upkeep fell on me and I didn’t even use the thing. The yearly cost of chemicals and water was probably just south of $1K but there was always parts that needed replacing, all at multiples of $100 each. In the end it cost $8,600 to remove the pool and I have never been so happy to hand over a pile of Ben Franklins in my life.

    1. I feel your pain! For those who have never had a pool, your account probably sounds unbelievable. But for those with history, it’s all too common and relatable.

      I never knew there was such a thing as a “pool destruction / removal” service until my brother was looking at houses and kept finding ones he liked with pools – had he bought one with a pool, the first order of business was removing it.

      The fact that those services exist should tell folks something. Pools can be a beating.

      Thanks for the note

    2. From an Aussie perspective, you are totally correct. Summers here, on the South Eastern mainland (Near Melbourne, Victoria), are officially December to the end of February. In reality, they can start as early as mid-October, giving swimming-weather until late March or sometimes mid-April. This means constant maintenance and cleaning. There is always something going wrong with the dosing system, pump, filters, lights or timers and everything is expensive to service or replace. Think carefully before you commit, is my advice.

  7. Well, I had a pool in Toronto and loved it. I won’t live anywhere without a pool from now on, for the 4 or 5 months you can use it, I used it daily – I’d jump in to start my day and spend all evening reading, hanging out around it. I will agree that a pool tends to be viewed as a negative in a sale situation, but people tend to polarize … love or hate.

    1. They are indeed wonderful…at least at first. Your experience in Toronto sounds like my first summer – pure bliss. But after that it got old, fast. I think you’re spot on that it’s polarizing – but sometimes it can be polarizing within the same person over time! Thanks for the note

  8. I cannot wait to have a pool installed, albeit one much smaller than my previous lap pool, which didn’t really offer the convenience I had anticipated. (Though it had a heater, using it was too wasteful to swim more than three – three and half months a year. Less rainy days).

    Now I want something between a shallow plunge pool and a spa, which is usable year round. I used my former spa continuously and miss it, as well.

    I did most of the maintenance and tending of the former pool, which was huge… 50 x 14, with spa. (Again, much too large). I still do my own yard work, sans mowing. We need to move more, be more active, and delight in settling in. It is good for the health, and good for the soul. We’ve become comfortable with physical, mental complacency. Yes, pools are some work. They are also a great source for physical activity, in and out, which is a good thing for most of us. If you enjoy one, as we did, we spent far less money seeking water involved trips. We stayed home and had our fun.

  9. At least no one can accuse you of going in with your eyes closed!

    If you’ve already experienced everything – the fun as well as the cost – a pool can offer and want one again, I’d say have at it. 50 x 14 is indeed huge, and perhaps you’ve hit on the secret to make everyone love having a pool: first get one that is too big and too much trouble, then get one that’s just right. Everything’s relative, after all.

    Good luck

  10. The ROI is terrible on pools. Not to mention it will hurt you when you go to sell your home. Some people do not want a pool so they will not look at your home. So that limits you to those home buyer that will want a pool. But those buyers are also looking at homes without pools and don’t want to pay much more for it. So why have a pool? It’s a luxury item and like all other luxury items they have terrible resale value. You should only buy if it is what you want, not an investment. I know “investment” is the sales pitch your given but it’s not an investment at all. Pool ownership is a personal choice. Great write up and thanks for sharing.

    Carlos

  11. I live in South Carolina. We bought our house with a smallish above ground pool. It was great the first summer. We finally gave up on it after a few years. Too much trouble!!!!

    This year I thought a lot about what I wanted to do in a pool. Turns out, I just want to sit in it and relax somewhere cool. I bought an 8’ diameter above ground pool. I realized I don’t really like the sun, so I put my gazebo over it. Now, it stays cool. It doesn’t get buggy, nor do I. It is so small that chemicals cost me about $30 for the whole season!!!!! Very happy with my little pool!

    1. It sounds like you’ve found the perfect solution for your wants / needs – I’m sure your first experience really helped you prioritize and think about it as a practical, rather than emotional / inspirational, home addition. Congratulations!

      Though in my defense, at 8′ diameter it almost falls into the “big bath tub” solution I mention above 🙂

      Thanks for the note, and I hope you enjoy your little pool for a very long time!

  12. >Having had one for years and having experienced the maintenance firsthand, I wouldn’t want one now if you gave it to me for free.

    Yup, this is why I always say you should only get a pool if you can afford to hire someone to maintain it for you. Or if you’re really prepared to do all the work involved in maintaining it… but most people aren’t, I think. The lack of foresight people have when it comes to getting a pool amazes me. But I guess that’s true for a lot of things, like people who get a dog and then find out you actually have to walk it and take care of it.

    1. A pool is definitely a luxury, and, like most luxuries, is most exciting just after purchase. I agree that being able to outsource the maintenance or fully preparing to do it yourself are the keys, but a lot of folks don’t approach it that way and are surprised. The dog analogy is spot on.

      Thanks for the note

  13. We live in the Carolinas and pool opinion here is mixed. One can get about 5 months of use out of a pool here. A lot of our neighbors have pools and we are friends with them, and we belong to an athletic club 5 minutes down the road for $70 a month that gives us access to 5 different area pools including 1 indoor as well as the exercise facilities and golf (which we don’t use). We have done this for 10 years, so at $70 a month even if we are members for another few decades, that is still much cheaper than installing a nicely landscaped in ground pool in our yard, and we have none of the maintenance. (We are not allowed above grounds, but that would have been the only thing we would have considered since they are removable). The novelty does wear off, and then you are stuck with teenagers who have little interest in the pool anymore because they are always at some kind of sports practice, or band practice, or working a job, or playing online video games. 🙂 Pools seem to have the biggest appeal to families with very young kids. Installing a pool with the idea that it will help your teen become popular (why that is even remotely important is a whole other discussion), is simply foolish.

    1. It sounds like you guys have the best of all worlds – not only neighbors with pools but a great community option for less than the cost of maintenance if you owned.

      “The novelty does wear off” – truer words never spoken. Most purchases are the same, but most purchases don’t require a small fortune, require a ton of ongoing costs, and take up much of your back yard.

      Families with young kids are the sweet spot for pools, but we were always worried about the risk. While you can have a belt and braces safety approach and teach your kids to swim early, the chances of your kid drowning in your backyard pool drops to 0.00% if you don’t have one.

      Many thanks for the note, and congratulations on your optimal pool solution!

  14. Granted, I don’t have an inground pool-but an above ground. My pool was worth every penny, and we opennit in early May and keep it opened through part of October. We swim at night, we swim during the day. We absolutely love it and have no regrets. We also use the inexpensive BBB method for pool maintenance/chemistry. It’s sooo worth having!

  15. Happy swimmer

    I’m saddened by so much hate in one thread about pools. In our case it was the best decision we ever made as we have a child with special needs who doesn’t easily travel but LOVES swimming (like our whole family does). We don’t go on vacation, we just spend every warm holiday outside as a family and it’s been wonderful.

    1. I don’t know if it’s hate so much as hard-earned pragmatism. Many people (including my parents) have entered into pool ownership with idyllic dreams instead of cold analysis. Your situation certainly makes you ideal candidates for pool ownership, and you’ve made the most of it.

      But many people realize after a short time that the reality falls way short of the dream, and this post encourages them to think carefully before installing one. We love the pool too, but ours is a 5 minute walk or 30 second drive away and we don’t have to maintain it. 🙂

      And another point of the post is that even for folks like yourself, who’ll truly benefit from a home pool, buying a house with a pool is far better, financially, than installing one yourself.

      Thanks for the note, and for presenting good points on the other side of the argument!

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