After purchasing our home in Costa Rica and doing some renovations to the interior, it was time to think about the yard. Even though we live near the beach, everyone in our family really wanted a pool. Somewhere we could swim for an hour or two without getting all sandy, packing up the car, etc. In this post, we’ll tell you more about our experience installing a pool in Costa Rica. Hopefully it will help you plan and avoid some headaches if you are installing one yourself.
Types of Pools in Costa Rica: Concrete vs. Fiberglass
Costa Rica has two major options for inground pools, concrete or fiberglass.
Concrete pools are constructed onsite. They dig the hole, lay a foundation, and use cement blocks and rebar to build the walls. Finally, the pool is sealed and tiled to make it watertight.
Fiberglass pools are made in a warehouse and shipped to you on a large truck when they are finished. A backhoe digs a hole, and it is dropped into place.
Gunite pools, where they spray the framework of the pool with a concrete and sand mixture, seem to be rare in Costa Rica. Likewise, vinyl inground pools don’t seem to be used very much.
We chose to go with fiberglass for a few reasons.
Why We Chose Fiberglass
When researching the options, there was a lot to learn. Here are three reasons why we decided on a fiberglass inground pool over a concrete pool.
(1) From our research, we learned that fiberglass pools generally use less chemicals and are easier to maintain. We’re sure many concrete-pool builders will debate this, but it was an appealing feature for us. Here is an article we found useful when comparing the two.
(2) We had lived at houses with and have friends who have concrete pools. Many of them eventually leak and need to get retiled or resealed. It seemed like fiberglass was a bit sturdier and had a lifespan of 25+ years (with normal maintenance, of course).
(3) Fiberglass pools were supposed to be installed quickly. Dig the hole, pop it in, and hook up the pump. A few days is all you need (they said).
A concrete-built pool typically takes about four weeks to construct if the crew is experienced and efficient.
Since we were starting our pool-installation process in the early rainy season, we thought it would be important to get it installed quickly. We have a property that gets a lot of rain and sits near the bottom of a mountain. The thought of a crew digging a gaping hole in the ground and trying to lay cement blocks for weeks on end didn’t seem like it would work in our situation.
Cost of Installing a Pool in Costa Rica
Putting all other things aside like pool decking, pumps, and structures, we found that the cost of fiberglass and concrete pools was similar. The total price will depend on the pool’s shape, size, and features.
When getting quotes, we found a wide range from $14,000 to $25,000 USD. Again, this is just for the pool itself. The price varies with the design and features. You can spend more with a larger or fancier pool.
You also will have to cost out the elements for your pool surrounds. Pool decking, landscaping, and structures like the machine room (pump house), ranchos, or a separate bathroom/pool house are all additional expenses.
Our Experience Installing a Pool
Installing our pool was an adventure but worth the effort. Below is more about the process we went through.
Hiring a Company
We contracted with a fiberglass pool company in the Orotina/Caldera area. After picking out the design of our pool at their showroom, a representative came to our house to evaluate the space. We had already had a backhoe prepare the area to make it flat and there was good access for their big truck to enter the property.
Moving forward, the pool company had a very formal, legal contract, which included a firm delivery date. It laid out all the features of the pool, with structural drawings, and what would be delivered on the specified date.
Our pool company included the pump, filter, and other equipment in the final price. All the specifications for the pump type, tubing, and everything else was included in the contract so we knew exactly what we were getting. The equipment they used seemed to be high quality, from a company in the United States.
In the contract, they also specified some requirements that we needed to meet. The pool company’s role would be limited to constructing and delivering the pool, then helping us get it started. We were responsible for everything else.
One of our main responsibilities was to build a machine room of a certain size with a certain type of breaker box for the electrical system. We hired a crew to do this. They constructed a small building that would have a pump house for the pool equipment on one side and a bathroom on the other.
The day our pool arrived, there was a lot of excitement. Our two young boys got to see the huge flatbed truck back up our driveway with the pool on top.
Then the backhoe started digging the hole. It took a full day to dig and truck the dirt away, slide the pool into the hole, level it, begin backfilling, and hook up the pipes.
Amazingly, the giant pool was lifted by only the backhoe at one end and every available person’s strength at the other. We lifted and shifted it slowly into place. There was a lot of teamwork and shouting out orders, and a few sore backs.
By the end of the day, our pool was in. We were relieved! Unfortunately, the stairs had been manufactured separately and were the wrong size. They didn’t fit. This meant that what was going to be a two-day installation turned into an extra week of onsite work.
It also meant that the pool needed to remain without water. This was concerning because if heavy rains came, the area of backfill around the pool could become saturated with rainwater and its hydraulic pressure could push the sides of the pool inward (with no water inside the pool to counteract it). Or just as bad, the pool could pop up and float because of groundwater.
Luckily, that week we had very dry weather (for rainy season), and the fiberglass worker was able to finish the stairs before any heavy storms hit.
Finishing the Project
Although the pool was now in the ground, filled, had the stairs, and was hooked up to the pump and running, it was still a long journey to completing the project.
The crew we had hired to do work on the pump house and small bathroom still had a long list of things to finish.
They needed to install the pool coping, pool deck, rainwater drainage, and finish the bathroom. This all took several more weeks with some frustration and headaches along the way.
We also had a solar company come and install a solar water heater on our roof for the pool. This was an important feature for us because it gets chilly at night where we live and really cools down the water. Our kids were turning blue, even in the tropics!
When it was all said and done, our pool installation was a success. However, we learned a lot through the process. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Costa Rica-Specific Considerations When Installing a Pool
One of the big challenges for our pool installation was sourcing the pool coping.
We assumed that there would be different options available around the country, or at least in San Jose.
While there were some options for square or rectangular pools, we only found one simple concrete coping available that would work for a curved pool like ours. When we asked about availability, they told us it would take 90 days to manufacture.
Ultimately, we had a contractor make a wooden form and pour a special mixture of concrete and a sand-like product called marmolina. It wasn’t our first choice, but we didn’t have time to have anything manufactured or imported.
For finishing off the area around the pool, we also ran into some hurdles. We wanted to go with concrete pavers, but not just the brick shaped ones. We were hoping to have a pattern with some different sized rectangles and squares.
We discovered, however, that these were not available or also needed to be manufactured. We found one small business in Alajuela that could make them, but eventually they didn’t fulfill our order.
This left us with very few options. Many people choose a manufactured stone product called Coralina. It is tan/beige in color and has a look of coral and shells embedded in the design. Having lived at homes with this product, though, we found it got very dirty and grew algae in the textured parts.
Another popular option is to just have a concrete patio poured around the pool. This would have worked but we wanted something a little nicer.
We finally settled on a non-slip porcelain tile manufactured by Atlas Concord. We found it at Construplaza in San Jose. This tile has a lot of texture that won’t have you sliding around when it gets wet. If you have visited some other pools around Costa Rica with regular tile surrounding them, you may know the importance of this!
The tile is also light in color, which is important since the sun can be strong in Costa Rica. You don’t want to burn your feet.
One final consideration is if you are going to get a building permit for the work. Technically, you are supposed to do this according to most municipalities, especially if you are building a small structure as well. Many people do not.
We decided that in case we ever sell our home, we would rather have everything done legally.
We applied for our permit before the start of the project, and it was finally approved (four months later) just after everything was completed. Go figure. The lesson here is to start the process early since it will likely take a lot longer than expected.
When we began our process of installing a pool in Costa Rica, there was a lot to think about and research. We found a few articles about building pools but wished there was more information out there. We hope this post helps those of you just starting out. If you need us, we’ll be by the pool.
Have a question about installing a pool in Costa Rica or have something to add? Leave a comment below.
Looking for more information about living in Costa Rica? Check out these posts:
Home Decor and Furniture Stores in San Jose, Costa Rica: Looking to stylize your new oasis? San Jose has the most options. Check out this post for a list of good stores.
What It’s Like to Live in Costa Rica in Rainy Season: Will the rain drive you away or will you learn to love it?
Renovating a House in Costa Rica: Read about our experience finding a contractor and renovating an existing home in the tropics.