If you are thinking of putting in a pool, chances are you have wondered if it would be worth it to do an owner builder pool. We have (finally) finished our owner builder swimming pool, and I can say that overall, it is totally worth it!
What is an owner builder pool?
Building a pool is big construction job, which is why most people choose to hire a general contractor that specializes in pools. They typically work for large pool builders that manage several jobs at the same time. The benefit of going with a pool builder is that it is their job to manage your pool construction. They line up all the subcontractors, show up for inspections, and help you with any questions along the way because they have experience in the industry. However, like with most experts, you pay for their expertise.
When we decided to put in a pool in late 2020, there was an incredibly high demand for pool builders in Northern California. We waited weeks and weeks just to get quotes, only to find that we were not satisfied with the pool we would get for the price. On top of that, we would have to wait months for the dig to start. With all of this in mind, we decided to contract the pool ourselves, which means that instead of hiring a pool builder, we are our own general contractor.
Benefits of an owner builder pool
An owner builder pool requires you to be the head contractor of your build. You get complete control of the plans, the subcontractors you work with, the equipment you install, and the timing.
The main advantage to contracting your own pool is the cost savings. By going it yourself, you are cutting out the middle man. It seems like everyone decided to get a pool in 2020, which means that demand went up. We all know that when demand goes up, so do prices. The few quotes we got from pool builders were for much smaller pools and no spa. By contracting it ourselves, we were able to build a roughly 10’x30′ pool with a 7’x7′ spa (about 17,000 gallons total) for about the same price the larger companies quoted us for a much smaller pool.
Of course, rough material costs have also increased. We have found that we are being quoted higher prices for building materials like concrete, as well as labor. A short list of things that increased in price, or became scarce during our build: labor, steel, equipment, chlorine, muriatic acid, concrete, PVC, additives to make the cement, and plaster. However, that is more indicative of the times than of us being an owner builder pool because pool builders were facing those shortages as well.
Another benefit I found is that I really understand how the construction process works, and how the pool runs. This is not something I typically care about, but since I was more involved in the construction process, I have a very detailed understanding of how the whole thing works. I think this will be an advantage for years to come since I will be able to identify any potential problems and know if something is running as it should, whereas if we had contracted it out, I would be blissfully unaware.
Disadvantages of an owner builder pool
The main disadvantage of contracting your own pool is the sheer amount of time and energy it takes. You are the one responsible for finding, interviewing, and hiring subcontractors. Contractors are notoriously flakey, and staying on top of them is a full time job in and of itself.
The other big disadvantage we found is that you are responsible for all of the little odds and end jobs. We are pretty comfortable with DIY and do a fair amount of work around the house ourselves. We consider ourselves pretty handy, so while nothing was hard, it was time consuming and labor intensive. Little things like cleaning up the job site or hauling the construction debris to the dump fall to you as the head contractor. Also, big jobs are your responsibility too, like back filling all the trenches with dirt. We spent countless hours shoveling and rearranging dirt in our backyard. AJ also spent a good amount of time rearranging the existing sprinkler system and figuring out drainage. Oh, and how could I forget putting the fence down and up to allow for the excavation equipment? Small jobs that could easily be hired out, unless it’s 2021 and contractors are incredibly hard to find (and expensive!).
All of these extra jobs have been lots of work, but they really have given us extra pride of ownership that we would never have gotten if we hired a pool builder. We really know every nook and cranny of our new backyard, and I fully plan to explain to everyone who comes to swim how much time I spent back filling!
You should do an owner builder pool if…
- You don’t want to settle on design or features. Going in, we had a pretty basic idea of what we wanted. We knew that we wanted it to be rectangular and not freeform, and that we wanted it to take up the majority of the yard. My other must have was the zero edge spa. Other than that, we were pretty open. The few pool builders we did meet with for quotes had suggestions and opinions that came off as things they wanted to do to shortcut the process, or ways they could up sell us. The designer we worked with walked us through some of our choices and made suggestions about what would work best for our yard and budget, whereas the pool builders seemed to be trying to dictate the job based on the crew’s skills and preferences, and not mine.
- You want to save money. If you are working on a tight budget, or you have champagne dreams, this is the route for you. What you would have paid to the pool builder as profit can be reworked into the budget to get the grotto of your dreams, a spa, pavers instead of concrete decking- whatever it is you are set on.
- You’re comfortable with DIY and pretty handy. There is always something to troubleshoot, fix, redo, or tend to when you are contracting your own pool. We’ve done work on the fence, irrigation, back filling, grading- so many things between the bigger subcontractors to get ready for the next one.
- You have the time. Contracting your own pool will consume your life for the majority of the build. There are a lot of balls to juggle and organization is key. Of course, you also have the leisure of paying for jobs as you go. This will slow down the project, but it could help the budget.
- You are flexible and patient. This is probably true for any pool build, no matter what route you go! Contractors will not come the day they say they are. Materials will be out of stock or delayed. Weather is always a factor. Problems will arise no matter what. When you are your own contractor, you are the responsible party. You can’t call and complain to anyone but yourself.
Avoid contracting your own pool if…
- You don’t want to lift a finger. If you don’t want to be heavily involved in the process, this is not for you!
- You aren’t handy or don’t want to take on a project. We were naive to how much we’d have to do ourselves. We thought we’d just hire some excavators, then the gunite would come. Next we’d pour cement, plaster that thing and BAM we’d have a pool. Yeah, not quite that easy!
- You don’t like talking on the phone. Most contractors are old school, which means you are calling them on the phone. A lot. A few we’ve worked with will text, but the best form of communication we’ve found is talking on the phone.
- You aren’t assertive or persistent. AJ took on the brunt of the contacting and communicating, which I am so thankful for. He has had to stay in constant contact with so many contractors, and stay persistent to stay on their radar. Almost every field of construction seems to be overwhelmingly busy right now, so he had to call everyone multiple times just to initiate the job. You also have to be fairly assertive to get what you want. There have been a few things contractors have wanted to do, or change our minds about. We listened to their reasoning and appreciated their insights, but at the end of the day, we were very clear about what we wanted and stuck to it.
Building a pool is the biggest construction project we have ever taken on. We went in knowing there would be some bumps along the way, but we were also determined to get a pool put in this year. We never intended to go the owner builder route (I really wanted to sit back and relax while someone else dealt with this!), but when we heard how busy every company was, we knew it was our only option. Other than waiting of course, but we weren’t too interested in that!
Overall, it has been a great learning experience, and much less complicated or technical than I ever would have imagined. The jargon and process is fairly easy to navigate if you are willing to learn. Definitely more time and energy intensive than I expected, but as I hauled wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load of dirt to finish the back filling, I just kept imagining how amazing it would be when it was done. All of the fun afternoons with friends, the birthday parties, the girls nights, and family barbecues we will enjoy for years to come will absolutely be worth all of the short term sacrifices and work.