Pool Limbo: How Low Can You Go?

Eric Herman Headshot

Photo of Eric HermanWe all know the current recession places levels of pressure upon the pool-and-spa industry never before experienced by those of us born after the Great Depression.

During the past two-plus years, reports from builders and equipment manufacturers have been dire, in nature, and frankly, at times almost fatalistic! It's not unusual, for example, to hear that the “mid-range” swimming pool industry will not return to robust market conditions any sooner than within three-to-five – or even, as long as ten years. 

However excruciatingly long these doldrums are expected to last – as it stands now, current market conditions have led to intense downward pressure on pool-and-spa prices. 


A quick survey of online and other resources reveal that price points for in-ground concrete pools are now commonly as low as $20,000, with prices for fiberglass and vinyl pools well below that. This raises an interesting and difficult question: How low can pools go? 

More specifically, what is the price point below which a concrete swimming pool cannot be competently built? 

It's a question that has lingered for years, sometimes fostering pointed, even heated debate: On the high end, many custom designers and builders contend that when you factor in soils analysis, structural engineering, reliable construction practices and project supervision, among other requirements, that number must be at least $50,000, or higher. 

On the other end, certainly those posting prices in the low 20 thousands would argue that their work, while perhaps aesthetically ordinary, does represent a baseline of reliable installation. 

Frankly, I'm inclined to believe the former and find the latter tough to swallow. 


As someone who has now followed and written about the pool and spa industry for more than 20 years (22 to be exact), I'm concerned about this pressure to hit a low number for a variety of reasons too long to list here. Chief among them is that at such bare-bones levels, how is it possible to avoid cutting corners?

Every pool installation is different and as any builder or designer knows, there are almost always unexpected variables and challenges that arise on just about every project. How then is it possible to make a profit at such narrow margins? Don't such low budgets encourage corner cutting anytime a problem or something unexpected arises? 

Still more important and I believe self-evident, is the fact that the true cost of any pool is driven first and foremost by soils conditions. Although a generalization, it is fair to say that a structure built to withstand expansive soils, for example, will be significantly more expensive than one in non-expansive soils. To build to standardized plans, which standardized pricing certainly necessitates, necessarily means making assumptions around the geology – and that can and verifiably does commonly lead to structural failures. 

Also, ultra-low pricing must, in some cases, lead to the use of black-market subcontractors. While another discussion itself, the litany of problems arising from those scenarios is as plain as exposed rebar.


I'll wrap this up by recalling what almost everyone knows but often tries to ignore – that the pool and spa industry has long been saddled with a reputation for substandard products and performance. And there is no question those stigmas have been germinated in the lower reaches of the industry in terms of price and sophistication.

This can only lead any reasonable observer to conclude that this downward pressure toward base-level pricing will only, can only, generate problems that will reinforce those perceptions and further compromise the industry's prospects for a full economic recovery down the line. 

In other words, are we not sacrificing the long view for short-terms gains? Are we not regenerating a culture of the price-driven commodity versus the value-added luxury?

So, let me leave it to the “room” here: all things considered what is the baseline price of a swimming pool? How low is too low?  

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