Painful Pool Cost Overruns – Part II

by Darwin on June 23, 2011

pool cost overrun

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A few weeks ago, I confessed my mortal sin to the blogosphere that as a Personal Finance writer, I’m putting in the dreaded swimming pool.  Swimming pools are lambasted for their lack of resale value and annual costs.  In our case, we have no intention of moving, our children are young enough to use it for well over a decade, and we have a great head start on 529 college plans and retirement.  So, there you have it – we had the money, the inclination and the time horizon to justify putting in a pool and we’re almost there!  I penned a piece on 7 Things Your Pool Contractor Won’t Tell You which outlined our learnings to date.  Well, we’ve learned more!  haha.  See, along the way, aside from the upfront scope changes and cost overruns, there are back-end costs to consider as well.  So, here’s the latest round of additional costs we’ve incurred for your viewing pleasure:

  • More Topsoil – Since our yard was sloped, it wasn’t clear until we got to the “re-grading step” what we’d be looking at in terms of remaining topsoil.  See, when they dug the hole, there was a giant mound of topsoil in our backyard that looked pretty impressive.  But once they regraded and leveled the soil with the concrete decking, it was evident there was quite a bit more needed – 3 loads to be exact.  So, that’s several hundred bucks more that we hadn’t budgeted.  On one hand, it’s not like they scammed us – we actually did receive the topsoil and they had to spend a day spreading it around.  But it would have been nice if this was projected, or even hinted at during the initial costing/contract signing.  If I didn’t have additional cash laying around (blogging income!), I might have struggled meeting these additional costs along the way.


  • More Retaining Wall – This was another questionable issue.  When we did the initial drawing, the retaining wall cost was “estimated” based on where they thought they’d put it versus the amount of ground they had to cut away.  So, when the day came to actually lay the wall, they notified us that they’d need more materials to span the full length of the wall as we outlined that day once we were doing it in real time.  They cited the quote that had a certain square footage and how we were exceeding that.  So, yes, I got extra material and labor.  But at the time I signed the contract, I had no real basis to assess if what was quoted was enough.  Only during the job did I find out I’d need more.
  • More Concrete – I knew we’d get burnt on this one, regardless of up-front negotiating.  When the picture was drawn out, it seemed like we had plenty of concrete around the pool  However, the day they came to pour it and everything was market out physically, we were struggling to find enough room for a table set, room behind the diving board, chase lounges, etc., which adhering to the initial square footage we agreed to.  So, we ended up having to add even more – above and beyond what was initially quoted.  And again… we DID get the material.  And you’ll laugh at this – I actually went out with a tape measure and calculated the square footage myself – odd shapes and all – to make sure I wasn’t getting ripped off.  They were right on with their estimate.  But beware!  You’re always going to spend more than you think on your decking!
  • Some Sealant Thing Around the Coping Next Year – I can credit them for mentioning this during our initial talks, but I kinda lost track of it.  So, they put this foam-like material between the coping and decking and also around the spa.  I guess this allows the materials to flex during the first year and prevent cracking.  But after the first winter, you’re supposed to have that strip pulled out and have someone come pour this special glue-like material to make it permanent.  Otherwise that foam strip thing would disintegrate and look nasty.  So, that’s another $800 next year we have to remember to set aside.
  • Furniture! I can blame my wife for this.  Personally, I could have used the crappy old lounge chair I have in the back yard, but she wants nice new furniture to go around the pool.  I get it, she doesn’t want a nice pool with ghetto furniture.  But I wish more research went into getting a sale or used furniture from someone who’s moving or something.  She was out last night screaming on the cell about how there’s only 1 large umbrella left, only 1 table set she likes, etc.  So, I had to relent and let her buy it at… not much of a sale.  I left it at the store so if there’s a huge 4th of July sale, I’ll try to return it and re-buy at the lower price before I lug it home.  But with a bit more upfront planning, we probably could have saved a few hundred bucks on that stuff.  I just can’t do it all.  So, by not investing the time up front, we probably overpaid for furnishings.

All in all, based on this experience compared to that of others, I’m still confident we went with the best pool outfit.  The workmanship is impeccable and they have the best reputation around, as we continue to learn along the way through talking to others who put their own pools in.  I just understand “the business” a lot better now and I’m all the wiser if I ever had to do this again (which I can’t imagine how I would under any circumstances unless I was forced to move and was making huge money).  Pool contractors seek to lock in as many deals as possible early on, they overbook which results in bottlenecks for certain steps requiring certain skilled trades or equipment, and finally, they seek to add on additional costs along the way with seemingly reasonable justification.  Sometimes I tend to agree, sometimes I don’t.  But I know how it works.  Hopefully you do too if you ever go down this road.

Any Similar Pool Experiences Out There?

Anyone Thinking of Putting One In?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

krantcents June 23, 2011 at 11:39 am

Long, long ago (1976), I had a pool installed. Either my memory is going or I just do not remember any issues building the pool. We spent a lot time checking the pool company out and his customers etc. Although I understand things changed for future customers, so there is no guarantee of a problem free installation.


Darwin June 26, 2011 at 11:40 pm

It’s so-so overall; the craftmanship is great; minor annoyances (and cost overruns) along the way though


101 Centavos June 23, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Sweet-looking pool. I’m sure it’s going to be completely worth it. If and when we decided to put in a pool, I have a couple of companies that friends have used and speak well of.


Darwin June 26, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Hey thanks, it’s finally done today!


retirebyforty June 24, 2011 at 12:24 am

Awesome pool! That hot tub would be great in the winter. We have a community pool at our condo and I am so glad I don’t have to deal with maintenance. It sounds like a huge headache getting it built. Hopefully, it’ll be done soon.


Darwin June 26, 2011 at 11:43 pm

Unfortunately; the spa is tied to the pool, so can’t keep it open all winter. But, it’s heated… so we plan on keeping it going through Oct.


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