If you remember going to the pool as a kid, you know a swim is more than just a dip in the water. A trip to the pool was summer’s answer to a snow day– just one that was always within reach. And while snow days won’t get you out of work, jumping in the pool can still give you those feelings of fun and relaxation you got as a kid.
Those feelings are even better when they’re in your backyard. Having a space in your backyard dedicated to rest and relaxation minimizes your other problems, even if those problems are with the rest of the house. The presence of a refuge in your backyard can reduce stress, improve your health, and make your outdoor space as restorative as sleeping in your bed. At KP Contracting, we’re experts in all things outdoor living, pools included. But installing a full-size pool is a major undertaking. That's why the past few years have seen the rise of an alternative with all of a pool's benefits, but fewer of its troubles: the plunge pool.
We install plunge pools at KP Contracting, but our first priority is that your backyard becomes your oasis, big or small, wet or not. In this article, we’ll help you decide whether a plunge pool is the right fit for your backyard by walking through its pros and cons.
What is a plunge pool?
Plunge pools are smaller than a full-size pool, but bigger than a hot tub. Smaller plunge pools are 6x10 feet, and big ones can run up to 10x22. They’re also slightly deeper than hot tubs, with depths usually in the 5 to 7 foot range. They can be made of fiberglass, concrete, or vinyl.
The design idea behind a plunge pool is to provide the experience of taking a swim, with a smaller footprint and cost than full-size pools (20-40 feet long), or dedicated lap lane pools (generally 40 feet).
Who is a plunge pool for?
A plunge pool is for homeowners with a small yard, who want to spend less money, and who are looking for less work involved in upkeep. If you like the idea of relaxing in the water, and don’t need a lot of space to do it, a plunge pool might be a good fit.
Why get a plunge pool?
A plunge pool is a good option if its unique dimensions fit your exercise and recreation needs, and if your zip code and neighborhood make a pool an addition to your home’s value.
Plunge Pool Pros
A backyard plunge pool leaves you more backyard
While traditional pools take up most of your backyard, plunge pools are small enough to allow you to have your backyard and swim in it, too.
With most backyards between 6,000 and 10,000 square feet, space is at a premium. According to HomeAdvisor, the average yard size in Maryland is 7,599 square feet. Even smaller full-size pools start at 288 square feet (12x24 sq ft), so it's easy to run out of room. A large plunge pool, on the other hand, is 200 square feet (10x20 sq ft), allowing you to balance back yard real estate with the chance to take a dip. A smaller, 24 square foot plunge pool will leave you with even more room, while still providing all of a pool's baseline benefits. You'll still be able to relax and exercise, while not dominating your backyard with a single feature. Instead, you’ll have more backyard space in addition to the plunge pool.
The permitting process for plunge pools is easier
It's also easier to get approval for plunge pools. Plunge pools have an easier installation process and less construction entailed than normal size pools, increasing the likelihood that your town will say yes. For instance, many municipalities have setback requirements, which require a pool to be set back a certain distance from your house. According to poolresearch.com, most localities want at least ten feet of distance between house and pool. That’s generally the case for Maryland, as well. A plunge pool is more likely to fit within those rules, and your backyard. If you want to know for sure, contact your county authorities. Here’s a list of links to county permitting and inspection departments throughout Maryland.
Plunge pools are cheaper than full-size pools
The average price for a full-size pool runs from $50,000 to $100,000 when you include labor and installation. Plunge pools, on the other hand, will only set you back $40,000 to $80,000.
To put it in perspective, the median monthly mortgage payment in Maryland is $2,013. That means the difference between a plunge pool and a full-size pool can be up to roughly the same as a year’s mortgage.
Plunge pools perform many purposes
Plunge pools can serve multiple recreational purposes, whether personal or social. A plunge pool is also a great social space for when you want to have friends over, big enough for a few people to hang out, without the coziness (or temperature) of a hot tub.
If you do want to swim, however, a plunge pool can be adapted to allow a version of the lap swimming experience. With the help of a swim tether, or a swim current machine, you can recreate lap swimming in even a large enough plunge pool.
A concrete plunge pool can also fulfill landscaping purposes. Since concrete plunge pools are reinforced with steel, a concrete plunge pool in the side of a hill also fulfills the function of a retaining wall.
Plunge pools make your backyard even better for get-togethers
Sometimes the best memories you have of your home aren’t even in the house. They're likely in the backyard. Given their modular size and function, plunge pools can improve that backyard experience, while preserving what made it special in the first place. Plunge pools transform your backyard in creative ways, without making it unrecognizable.
Just one for instance? A plunge pool can be the basis for a swim-up bar. They're also small enough to be included into patio or dining areas, opening up the possibility of going straight to dinner poolside.
Kids can cool off in the pool while the adults finish dinner
A raised patio above a lowered plunge pool creates a space for adults to talk, while kids get a chance to play within view. The ready modularity of a plunge pool goes beyond just the social, however.
Kids play in the pool, while adults relax within easy view
Plunge pools are easily installed
Compared to traditional pools, plunge pools are easily installed. Rather than having to worry about the construction hassles of a full-sized pool, all you'll need to do is install your plunge pool, and hook up the electrical connections. In the case of a traditional pool, the installation schedule can run from three to eight months. Installing a plunge pool can take as little as one week. Plunge pools are pre-assembled in a factory, so installation is merely a matter of lowering them into the right position in the ground.
Plunge pools come with the skimmer, plumbing, and wiring already installed. That's a marked departure from traditional pools, which require the construction of those systems around the pit dug for the pool itself. This difference also helps to explain the difference between installation times for traditional pools and plunge pools.
Plunge pools can stay open longer than just summer
Plunge pools can easily stay open for three seasons, and even up to four. Thanks to the heaters that come with most plunge pools, they're a possibility for the fall and winter. Since they're smaller sized, heating them is also easier and more cost effective. That smaller size also makes cleaning and maintenance easier and cheaper, too.
Plunge pools also come with a range of covers that are smaller and more easily removed than those on full-sized pools. There are options for both standard and mechanical/automatic covers, making it easy to open and heat your pool in the winter, even for impromptu uses.
Plunge pools can increase a home’s value…in the right setting
It isn’t a given that a pool will increase your home’s value. In some situations, however, a pool can boost your home’s sale price. Real estate experts say pools are selling points in hot climates, like a lot of the states that have seen an influx of people since the start of Covid. In the L.A. real estate market, one expert notes that a pool can add as much as $95,000 to a home’s value. Warm weather states also mean a pool can stay open longer. That’s a double bonus when you consider that plunge pools’ smaller size makes it easier to open them on an impromptu basis.
If you live in a neighborhood where most people have small pools or spas, a plunge pool can also help keep your home’s value on par with the rest of the neighborhood.
Plunge Pool Cons
You can’t swim laps in a plunge pool
If you’re looking for the full lap swimming experience, a plunge pool might not be the best option. You can get a facsimile of the lap lane experience with a swim belt or a swim current machine, but practiced swimmers will likely view those options the same way trail runners view a treadmill. For instance, there will be no room to work on your flip turn or your dive off the blocks.
Plunge pools aren’t little-kid friendly
A plunge pool might not be the best option if you want a pool where much younger kids can play. A plunge pool might be close in size to a kiddie pool, but that doesn’t mean it’s well-suited to how kids use the pool. A plunge pool will be too small for games of pool basketball, volleyball, or marco polo. There’s also the fact that pools tend to inspire kids to jump in, and that’s unsafe with a depth of 5 feet, and a width of 6.
Plunge pools aren’t practical for pool parties
While a plunge pool can be a great option for a chill get-together with a few friends, most can hold six or seven people at most. Asking a plunge pool to be the center of a pool party is like asking a smooth jazz trio to play a convincing rendition of the 1812 Overture.
Plunge pools may not suit your neighborhood
If every other house in the neighborhood has a pool, your home value will likely decrease if you don’t have one. And if the other pools on your block are full-size, a plunge pool in your backyard may be a net loss in home value. That, or you and your real estate agent will have to go to the extra work of finding a potential buyer who’s comfortable with a small pool in a neighborhood of big ones.
In a high-end neighborhood, even this might be “keeping up with the Joneses”
Plunge pools lack the “wow” factor of a big pool
If you’re of the bigger-is-better school of thought, plunge pools might not be the right option. Plunge pools lend themselves to being part of a design scheme, but they would be underwhelming if tasked with being the centerpiece of a backyard (I doubt a plunge pool will headline an episode of Ultimate Pools). If your design sense– or the rest of your home– tends toward grand statements, a plunge pool may detract from the overall sense of your house.
Plunge pools: a pro for you?
If you fit most of these categories, you’re probably a good fit for a plunge pool:
you want to spend less money
you live in a warm climate
you don’t have small children
you have a small yard or other space restrictions
your exercise and recreation needs can fit in a space of 10x22 ft. or smaller
That said, plunge pools and full-size pools both provide a range of great opportunities. It ultimately comes down to what is valuable to you, and your home’s future value. Whatever outdoor living opportunities bring your family value, however, at KP Contracting, we’d love to help you make that value a reality.
If you're interested in learning more about whether a plunge pool is the right outdoor living option for you, call us at 240-266-5900, or connect with us here.
Phil Parsons is an owner at KP Contracting with 20-years’ experience in custom remodeling and the development of outdoor living spaces that bring friends and family together. He is a degreed engineer, and his work has been featured on HGTV.