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In-Ground vs. Above-Ground Pool -- Which Is Better?


Apr 10, 2020 by Marc Rapport

Nothing beats the heat like a backyard swimming pool, and homeowners considering adding one need to decide between an above-ground or in-ground version of their own, as Jethro Bodine so memorably put it, "cement pond."

There are major differences between the two options for that potential new centerpiece of family and friend fun. Cost is a good place to begin, and either version can be pricey, depending on your wallet and willingness to spend on something that may not be attractive to potential buyers if you decide to sell.

Built-in pools can be the centerpiece of an elaborate, elegant setting whose price is limited only by the depth of the buyer's pocket and the designer's imagination. Above-ground pools are much cheaper, but they can still be nicely accessorized, including with decks and wraparound siding, and provide as much fun as their built-in brethren (but no diving!).

Let's wade into the details.

Cost

Fixr.com sets the average price of an in-ground pool at $31,500 for a standard 12-foot-by-24-foot pool with concrete apron, safety fence, and vinyl retractable cover. That's for a fiberglass pool. One made of gunite -- the kind of spray-on concrete widely used to create "cement ponds" -- would be about $1,500 less for the equivalent size and shape. Vinyl lining is another option. Add in diving boards, a sloped entry, and other amenities, and the bottom line could easily exceed $70,000.

Now, make that $8,300 for a 19-foot (in diameter) above-ground pool with concrete sidewalk, safety fence, and retractable cover. That's about $3,700 for the pool itself and the rest in the other features and labor. Fixr.com fixes the price of decking to $4 to $24 per square foot based on the size and design of the feature and the materials you use.

In reality, there are so many variables, says PoolPricer.com, that it's hard to really put a fixed price on a pool. But there is one certainty. "For the cost of an inground pool on the low end of the scale," the site says, "you can probably get a top-of-the-line above ground pool -- and still have money left over to throw your first pool party."

And before you dig, check on permits. You most likely will need one for an in-ground pool, and even possibly for an above-ground pool in particularly fussy jurisdictions. Your home insurance might go up, too.

Installation

Accomplished, or at least confident, do-it-yourselfers can take on installation of their own above-ground pool. In-ground versions are best left to professionals, unless your skill set includes excavation.

Fixr.com also recommends using professionals even for above-ground pools, because of the warranty and the experience in handling the various materials and mechanisms. The site also warns that while you may see kits offered for low prices online and elsewhere, many installers will only put in kits they sell. Ask first.

As for time, an experienced crew of two can get an above-ground pool up and running in two or three days, depending on the work needed to grade and level the site. An in-ground pool can take weeks.

Maintenance

Maintaining water quality involves the same tasks regardless of pool type: cleaning, filtering, and maintaining chemical balance. It doesn't take a botanist to see that that's algae turning your blue pool green, and it doesn't take a chemist to keep the water clear, but there is chemistry involved. Detailed information on that is available from the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance.

Because they're in the ground, built-in pools don't have exposed walls and are less likely to be damaged by the elements or accidents, but if that does happen, repairs are more expensive -- in fact, more expensive in some cases than the total price of an above-ground pool.

Pools have to be maintained or they get real bad real fast. HGTV.com says to expect to pay $500 to $1,000 a year in materials if you do it yourself and $80 to $150 a month to have a service do it.

Lifespan

An above-ground pool typically lasts 10 to 15 years, although the lifespan can be extended with fastidious care. For in-ground pools, make that 20 to 50 years or more. The plaster finish on gunite pools, for instance, can be resurfaced, and fiberglass pools can get a new gelcoat finish every 10 years or so.

In-ground pools are a much bigger commitment. They're a permanent fixture. As Fixr.com notes in its comparison between the two: "For some homeowners, the shorter lifespan is a reason to have an above-ground pool. They may not be prepared for the long-term commitment of an in-ground pool."

Plus, if you decide you no longer want a pool, the above-ground pool is much easier and less expensive to remove.

Investment

Are pools a good investment? Depends on who you ask -- especially if who you're asking is a potential buyer. Some people want pools. Some people won't look at homes that have them.

Here's a article from Millionacres.com that takes a deeper look at that, but generally, experts say that above-ground pools add nothing and can even detract from the sales price of a home, while a well-kept in-ground pool adds to the price, with estimates typically around 7% of your home's value.

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