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Cost Comparisons

Cost Comparisons - My Pool:
Owner/Builder vs Other Builders

Let me just say first off that it was extremely difficult to do an apples-to-apples comparison.  When I dusted off all my old pool bids from the various builders that I had visited, one thing I didn't realize was how much I changed things around as I went from builder to builder.  One reason for that was that early on, I had no idea what I was really after, so I let pool builders make some recommendations for me.  When I saw something I liked, I made sure that particular feature was added when I went to the next pool builder, but I gave the builder some freedom to add things at whim.  At the end of this whole escapade I had eight different pools and eight different prices.



 I ended up taking four of the "closest" pool builders (closest meaning that while a direct apples-to-apples comparison couldn't be made, the pool specification was close enough that with some price adjustments, it could be apples-to-apples) and putting each of them into their own column listing out and comparing a set of common features and specs between the four and the pool that I built.

In order to do an apples-to-apples comparison, I had to go back and make adjustments to each builder: giving them monetary credit (by either reducing the price of their pool or increasing the price of the competitors) for upgraded features and monetary debit (increasing to the price of their pool or reducing the price of their competitors) for lacking features.  It was a pain in the neck to do, but in order to be fair, I had to do this like a house appraisal, where adjustments/allowances are made for upgrades/downgrades.  It was the only way to have meaningful and fair comparison.  So here are the rules of the comparison table you will be looking at:

  1. The features/items marked in BLUE are those items that are significantly greater in quality or quantity than the other pools and will reflect a price adjustment in the pools.  The adjustment being that either the competing pools will get a price addition made to its total to compensate for that feature or the pool that has the feature will get a debit to bring that pool's features (and price therefore!) down to the level of the others.  If a pool had a significant upgrade, the choice to either subtract from its price or to add to the other pool's price was somewhat of an arbitrary one.  Since they are equivalent, the choice to do one over the other usually was determined by convenience.  Usually, but not always, a BLUE feature on a pool will either reduce its overall price or increase the price of its competitor's without that same feature.  I say not always because certain features can be much better than its competitor's but not much money was involved to provide it.

  2. The features/items marked in RED are those items that are significantly  lesser in quality or quantity than the other pools and will reflect a price adjustment in the pools.  The adjustment being that either the competing pools will get a price debit made to their total to compensate for that feature or the pool that has the deficiency gets a price addition to make the pool upgrade to the rest of the.  If a pool had a significant deficiency, the choice to either add to its price or to subtract from the other pool's price was somewhat of an arbitrary one.  Since they are equivalent, the choice to do one over the other usually was determined by convenience.  Usually, but not always, a RED feature on a pool will either increase its overall price or reduce the price of its competitor's that has that feature.  I say not always because certain seemingly significant features can be missing but not much money is needed to provide it.

  3. The price adjustments made for each feature addition/deletion is taken directly from the price list the builder provided.  However, where that was not possible, I made rough estimates based on what the other pool builders would charge for that same feature.  You may also notice that adjustments for the same feature is different for different builders.  The main reason why this is is either 1) The builder had an exact price for this additional feature and it differed with other builders or 2) Sometimes the adjustment is between what a pool builder would give it to you for (includes a typical 15% markup) and what it would take for the owner/builder to get it for.

  4. When making cost adjustments for missing features, I could either add additional cost to the pool builder who doesn't have it, or subtract cost from the builder who has it.  Either way is acceptable.  The way I decided which way to go was to determine which way results in the least amount of pool builders affected (e.g. if all the pool builders included Tile work in their price, but I did not do Tile, then I would increase my price rather than subtracting out from each of them.  This allows me to adjust only one column - mine, instead of the other four).  The main goal is to make adjustments so that everyone across the board either enjoys the benefit of not having the cost of a feature that no one else has penalize his bottom line price, or to penalize the bottom line of those who don't have that feature.  This is the only way to make a consistent and fair comparison.  Its got to be normalized or the comparison is meaningless. 

Ok, with that out of the way, here are a few comments about each of the builders that I'm comparing my pool to.  Each of them have their own characteristics and qualities:

Pool Builder #1 - this is one of the biggest pool builders in Arizona.  They are the near the top in terms of sheer number of pools built a year.  From what I hear they build thousands of pools a year.  They also use all their own crews now.  The only trade they still sub-contract out is for decking.  This was true as of the beginning of 2003.

Pool Builder #2 - a smaller mid-tier pool company.  They've been around for many, many years.  This pool actually turned out to be the best deal of all the pool builders after all the price-comp adjustments were made.

Pool Builder #3 - they are what I consider the BEST pool builder in the valley.  I've heard that they don't even have one complaint levied against them at the Registrar of Contractors that they didn't take care of.  They have offices in California and Arizona and I'm pretty sure in other states around the Southwest region.  I've rarely heard any bad comments made about the quality of this pool builder.  The question is whether you want pay what they are asking for a pool.

Pool Builder #4 - this is the builder that I think you will find the information the most interesting.  This pool builder is really not a pool builder.  They don't really build pools.  They are one of the largest Do-It-Yourself builders in the valley.  They teach you how to become an owner/builder (much like this site will).  They basically give you a list of approved subcontractors that you call, you collect bids from, you schedule, you work with, you get the picture.  You do the work.  They will design your pool, CAD it up for you, provide you assistance with questions you have, and do the inspections.  You do the rest.  Keep this in mind as you look at the price for their pools.  I think the numbers will surprise you.

With all that said, here is the comparison table you have all been waiting for:

Builder #1 Builder #2 Builder #3 Builder #4 Owner/Builder
Pool Design / Drawing poolforwebsite.gif (37840 bytes)
Pool Perim 79 ft 86 ft 90 ft 88 ft 95 ft
Pool SA 325 sqft 409 sqft 375 sqft 388 sqft 429 sqft
Pool Gals 10774 gallons 11250 gallons 11968 gallons 13000 gallons
Spa Perim 24 ft 25 ft 24 ft 24 28 ft
Spa SA 33 sqft 38 sqft 36 sqft 30 63.5 sqft
Spa Gal 743 gallons N/A N/A N/A 825 gallons
Spa Jets 5 6 6 6 6
Decking 704 sqft Kooldeck 428 sqft Kooldeck 485 sqft Kooldeck 432 sqft Kooldeck 790 sqft Acrylic
Interior Pebble-Tec - Tahoe Pebble-Tec - Std Pebble-Tec - Tahoe Pebble-Tec - Tahoe Pebble-Tec - Tahoe
Depth 3.5' - 5' - 4' 3' - 5' - 4' 3' - 5' - 4' 3' - 5' - 4' 3.5' - 5' - 4'
Waterfall 30 sqft 50 sqft 30 sqft 30 sqft 75 sqft
Acc Boulders 5 0 3 8 10
Filter Pump 1.5 HP 3 HP 1.5 HP 2 spd - 2HP 1.5HP
Waterfall Pump N/A 1.5 HP N/A 1.5 HP 2 HP
Jet Pump 2 HP N/A 2 HP N/A 2 HP
Blower Pump 2 HP 2 HP 2 HP 2 HP 2 HP
Heater 400K BTU 400K BTU 400K BTU 400K BTU 400K BTU
Filter Cartridge Sand 6.9 DE 60sqft Cartridge Sand 4.9
Cleaning Sys Infloor Infloor Arneson Vac Infloor Hayward Ultra
Auto Leveler Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Looped Returns 4 4 4 5 5
Aerator Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Skim/Drains Tied Tied Tied Separated Tied
Returns PVC 1-1/2" 1-1/2" 1-1/2" 2" 1-1/2"
Spa Jet PVC 2" 2" 2-1/2" 3" 2-1/2"
Blower PVC 2" 2" 1-1/2" 2" 1-1/2"
Skimmer PVC 2" 2" 2" 2" 2"
Main Drain PVC 2" 2" 2" 2" 2"
Aerator PVC 3/4" 3/4" 3/4" 3/4" 3/4"
Plumbing Run 24 ft 18 ft 35 ft 35 ft
Electrical Run 67 ft 70 ft 90 ft 85 ft 190 ft
Brass Run 30 ft 21 ft 38 ft 20 ft 104 ft
Gas Line Run 154 ft 138 ft 80 ft 138 ft 68 ft
Shotcrete 6" Wall / 8" Cove 6" Wall / 8" Cove 6" Wall / 8" Cove 6" Wall / 8" Cove 6" Wall / 8" Cove
Rolled Beam 36' 29' 42' 28' 20'
Pool Light 1 - 250W 1 - 400W 1 - 400W 1 - 400W 2 - 400W
Spa Light 1 - 150W 1 - 100W 1 - 100W 1 - 100W 1 - 100W
Controls Time Clock Time Clock Time Clock Time Clock Aqualink RS-8
Steps 21 ft 24 ft included 28 ft 18 ft
Benches 10 ft 6 ft included 5 ft 21 ft
Tile N/A Std Waterline N/A N/A N/A
BBQ Island No Yes Yes No Yes
Beehive F/P No Yes No No No
Bench Seating No Yes Yes No Yes
Firepit No No Yes No Yes
Umbrla Sleeve 1 4 1 0 4
V/B Sleeve 2 2 2 0 2
B/B Sleeve 0 1 1 0 1
3' Table Top No Yes Yes No No
8' RV Gate No Yes No No Yes
Steel Std #3@12 Std #3@12 Std #3@12 #3@ 6" on 12" Down to #3@3"on6"
Extra Steel No No No Yes Yes
Access/Dig Bobcat Bobcat Bobcat Bobcat Bobcat
Chlorinator Standard Standard Salt Chlorinator Ozone Salt Chlorinator
Startup Standard Standard Standard Standard Standard
Subtotal $41,725.69 $42,000.00 $40,250.00 $36,154.00 $34,816.51
Adjustments + $1295 Salt + $1295 Salt + $2500 Aqualink + $2500 Aqualink + $600 Tile
+ $2500 Aqualink + $2500 Aqualink + $1000 Acrylic + $1000 Acrylic
+ $1000 Acrylic + $1000 Acrylic + $950 Addl Lights + $950 Addl Lights
+ $950 Addl Lights + $950 Addl Lights + $600 Tile + $2650 Masonry
+ 4000 Masonry + $400 Tahoe Upgd + $585 Barriers + $585 Barriers
+ $500 8' RV Gate + $585 Barriers + $400 8' RV Gate + $400 8' RV Gate
+ ??? Size Diff + $1500 Acct Boulders + $800 Accent Boulders + ??? Size Diff
+ $585 Barriers + $100 Surcharge Steel + $ Extra Steel/Engr + $2000 WF Size Diff
+ ??? Extra Steel/Engr + $240 Perim/Size Diff + $400 Ex Perimeter + $275 Extra Pump
+ $??? WF Size Diff + $1500 WF Size Diff + $432 Ex Surface Area + $4441 10% Fee
+ $275 Extra Pump + $275 Extra Pump + $3000 WF Size Diff - $?? PVC diffs
- $2000 Infloor - $2445 Infloor + $275 Extra Pump - $2000 Infloor
- $800 TableTop - $754 TableTop - $150 Skim/Drain
- $3000 Beehive FP - $700 Table Top
- $150 Upgd 3HP pump
Adjusted Total $50,245.00 $45,950.00 $50,438.00 $48,105.00 $35,416.51
Owner/Builder Savings +$14,828.49 +$10,533.49 +$15,021.49 +$12,688.49 $0

Take your time going over this comparison table slowly and carefully because there is a lot of information there.  There are a few things I wanted to call to your attention.

  • The thing that should jump out at you right away after just a few minutes of scanning through the table is that you are getting a much bigger, beefier, and better pool going the owner/builder route and for about $10K - $15K less than the professional pool builder.  You can see it in the specs and you can see it in the pool drawings.  This should be the most obvious thing you see right away.

  • The next biggest thing I wanted to point out is that Builder #4 whose bid came out to $48,105.00 (adjusted).  This pool builder is one of the largest Do-It-Yourself Pool Builders in the state of Arizona.  You pay them a nice 10% consultation fee on the total value of the pool you want to build and here's what they do:
    • Draw up a pool design for you
    • Explain to you everything you need to know about pool construction
    • Give you a list of subcontractors to call
    • Send you on your way
    If you ask me, looking at the prices across the board doesn't inspire me to really go at it as an owner/builder if that's the price I have to pay to do it.  Granted, they give you access to their consultants when you have questions and they will perform inspections on your pool after each phase, but if you are going to be paying just as much as a full service professional pool builder, why not just hire one to begin with who will do *ALL* the work for you?

  • A quick glance across the table looking at all the items that are marked in blue will show that the best features and "beefiest" specs are stacked in the owner/builder's pool.  Its amazing what the savings from doing-it-yourself will allow you to do in terms of "upgrading" your pool. The items marked in red show that the deficient features are clustered the pool builder's pools.  The nice thing about going the owner/builder route is that you can tell the subcontractor what you want.  With pool builder's you have some flexibility, but not nearly as much as with doing it yourself.

  • I really wanted to be conservative in my estimations and adjustments to make sure I was doing a fair comparison.  Here are a few things  about the comparison table that you should be aware of:
    • Some of the adjustments in the pool builders area have a "???" on them.  It means that there should be a price adjustment for that particular category that is difficult to assign a dollar value to.  For example, in the column for the first builder, there is an adjustment for "Size Difference".  The builder specified a much smaller size on his pool than I did for mine.  If we were comparing apples-to-apples, this should either raise his final price (and hence the "+" added to it), or subtract from mine.  But because its difficult to adjust a price on something that is so encompassing (affects amount of excavation, steel, concrete, interior, decking, etc.), I left the price blank (to his advantage).  Just know that this significant added cost was not reflected in the final price.  There are many other cases where you will see this "+???" which benefits the other builders.  Again, I wanted to be fair and conservative in my estimations.
    • I tried my best to fill in as much information as I could from all the pool builders.  However, some of the information was not provided from their quotes and I had to leave those spaces blank. 



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