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What You Should Know When Installing a Swimming Pool

If you've thought about building your own pool, maybe now is the time. According to the National Association of Realtors, in-ground swimming pools add about 8 percent to the value of your home (above-ground pools, unfortunately, add no value but they do add lots of fun). Here's what you should know before you pool your resources:

What Are My Choices?

In-ground pools are either concrete, vinyl-lined or fiberglass. Options with concrete, the most popular type of pool, are almost limitless for design and materials. A concrete pool takes several weeks to build, sometimes months for the finish work. Vinyl saves money and is a smooth surface for tiny feet, but most vinyl pools come as a package with little customization. Fiberglass does not chip, tear or alter the chemistry of the water. Vinyl-lined and fiberglass pools can be ready to go within a week.

What Does It Cost?

In-ground pools range from $7,000 (for a basic vinyl-lined pool) to $20,000 for a fiberglass-shell pool to more than $50,000 for a concrete pool with tons of style and features (concrete pools start at around $18,000, which varies from state to state). Luxury materials, complex design, automatic systems and terrain can add to the cost. Above-ground pools range from $1,500 to $5,000.

What's the Upside?

Having an in-ground pool gives you the convenience of having a water fitness resort right at your house, the beautification of your landscape and the comfort of knowing nobody at the community pool ever has to see you in your bikini again.

What's the Downside?

Beyond the initial cost of building a pool, maintenance and safety are the biggest concerns. Concrete pools have to be resurfaced every 15 years. Vinyl pools need to be relined every 10 years. In cold climates, pools must be opened and closed for the season, which means extra work like cleaning, moving ladders, adding chemicals and draining the pump. Monthly costs for chemicals average $15 to $25. You can do it yourself to save money or hire a pool cleaning service for as much as $85 a month, depending on your region and the size of the pool.

Safety features are required by law in most states. Pools must be surrounded by a fence that is at least 4 feet tall, and all gates should be self-closing. Additional safety features to consider are pool alarms, drain covers and filtration systems that reduce the amount of harmful chemicals necessary to keep a pool sparkling. There are also the unexpected costs of new bathing suits, outdoor refrigerators, hammocks and Bob Marley CDs.

Whom Should I Call?

The Association of Pool and Spa Professionals at (800) 323-3996 is a good place to start. Ask friends and contractors for the names of pool builders in your area, and check their references with the local Better Business Bureau. Obtain at least three quotes. Get everything in writing (including landscaping, lighting, audio systems and features like waterfalls). Ask for a warranty.

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