Are you thinking about building a swimming pool? If so, there are a number of interrelated factors that need to be considered in order to have the most successful end product at a budget that fits your needs. Though we like to dream big and by nature can have expensive desires, it is critical that budget be the first decision in the swimming pool design process. There is no point designing a pool you can’t afford. The second choice is which professional to help guide you in the process. A pool builder can build pools, but a landscape architect or designer knows how to properly layout the pool on the property and how to integrate it with the home and the remainder of the landscape and the right one can help make sure all the costs are being considered. Pool builders are notorious for leaving out costs and then coming back with them after a contract is signed. For example, does the pool price include the water to fill the pool, the pool cover, the pool fence, the permits, or the restoration of the site after construction? We suggest the landscape designer manage the whole design and pricing process as the key point person with the homeowner. A pool builder should be picked early to clarify details and the costs of those details.
What is a realistic swimming pool construction project cost? At the least expensive cost range, homeowners can build a 400 square foot liner pool with a simple concrete apron for around $30,000. That would include a simple fence around the immediate perimeter. A landscape architect is not needed for such projects since a pool builder can handle all that. The high end of the range is more difficult to pin down. An 800 square foot custom concrete pool with high end plaster finishes, natural stone coping, built in benches and wet ledges, a spa and spillways, fencing, paver or natural stone paving areas large enough to accommodate plenty of lounging and outdoor living area, a salt water treatment system, heater and safety cover easily gets into a $150,000 project or more. This type of extensive swimming pool and outdoor living project requires an experienced landscape architect or designer. Determine your budget early and be rigorous about sticking to it. That will guide the landscape and pool design and keep honest and open communication between all parties. Many designers and pool builders have a very hard time listening to clients specify budgets and there is a tendency for them to think the client will spend more than they say. Sometimes the contractor thinks the clients can spend much more. Don’t let this happen to you. Pick someone you trust completely and talk about the budgets often. Be strict and clear about that.
Pool builders like to sell themselves as full service designers who can address all of the design needs relating to the project. Most of them are not qualified for this and have no training or quality experience in the broader range of landscape design. They make their money building pools and at the end of the day that is all they really want to do. Sure, they will give a nod to some surrounding amenities to appease the client. But their goal is to dig a hole and build a pool. They seldom take a truly holistic approach to the design and end result as it relates to the entire landscape or home. They push clients to build the pool where it is easiest for them to build it. They don’t want clients needing to spend money on extra grading or design elements to site a pool in a truly ideal spot if it means those extra items are constructed by someone else and thus it isn’t money in their pockets.
A landscape architect or designer who is experienced in pool design and construction projects can manage the pool builder and utilize their valuable sources of information, while offering a much broader set of insights and project management abilities. They can also help keep the pool builder honest and focused. What types of paving materials are best around the pool and for what reasons? Are concrete pavers ideal, poured in place concrete or natural stone. How will the lounging and outdoor living patios fit into the overall design? Will there be landscape lighting, what type and how will it be laid out? How will the planting design accentuate the pool design and the patio areas? How does the pool connect to the home and other outdoor living areas? These are all questions handled best by an experienced landscape architect or landscape designer.
I have worked on numbers of swimming pool projects. Without exception, when the client calls me after the pool builder has done their thing and built a pool, there are a number of things I immediately see that could and should have been done differently. I have never seen a pool builder site a pool on the property well on their own. It is always placed in the ‘easiest’ location and I always see a better placement for it. The pool fencing is seldom thought through well in these situations and the hardscape designs are mediocre at best. The pool equipment is usually in again the easiest place and most of the time a place that will be visually and audibly distracting. It is always disheartening to be called to doing a planting project around a pool that has already been built. I always see ways that the project could have been designed better and usually ways the client could have saved money. I always wish they had called before they ever got started because I know the end product would have been far more successful for them.
So pick a budget and be rigorous with everyone involved that the budget is not to be surpassed. Decide what type of pool and amenities will fit your budget with some basic research on your own. Then call some professional landscape architects or designers. Interview them extensively about their pool design knowledge and experience, and then pick one to work with. They should charge for their design work because they are design professionals. You will save more than the cost of the design work with a well-designed and planned project. Once you have a preliminary design, then the architect should manage the process of getting a few preliminary prices from pool builders. Once you have those prices, interview the pool builders with the landscape architect together. Then it is time to choose a pool builder to work with as part of the collaborative team.