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All About Plunge Pools

Wading in the water in a backyard meant having a massive swimming pool or settling for a scant hot tub. But plunge pools fill the middle ground, give a splash of fun, and offer relaxation in smaller yards.

Backyard plunge pool surrounded by green landscaping and two lounge chairs. Trina Curci/Courtesy Molly Wood Garden Design

Ask any kid who grew up with a pool, and they’ll tell you there’s no such thing as a bad one. Typically, if you wanted to take a dip in the backyard, you had two options: an in-ground or above-ground pool. The size of these pools, which start around 14x28 feet for an in-ground one and 12 feet in diameter for an above-ground one, come with a high cost and plenty of routine maintenance. That has given way to the popularity of the plunge pool.

For homes with smaller lots, a plunge pool gives you the cooling, relaxing benefits of a traditional pool, but on a smaller scale. Like traditional pools, plunge pools can be outfitted with bells and whistles like lighting, built-in stairs, jets, and water features. They use the same filter equipment and can be saltwater or chlorinated. The smaller size also means plunge pools are not only less expensive to buy than full-sized ones, but they cost less to maintain; fewer chemicals are required, and if you choose to heat a plunge pool with a supplemental heat source, the water comes up to temperature faster, saving fuel. Here we dig into the basics of plunge pools.

What is a Plunge Pool?

Smaller than a traditional pool, a plunge pool—sometimes called a digging pool—is just deep enough for lounging and cooling off, rather than doing laps or playing Marco Polo. While they’re not ideal for active games, they can be great for low-impact water exercise and rehabilitation.

How big are plunge pools?

Because they can be built on-site like traditional pools, the size can vary widely. But plunge pools typically run from 6 1/2 to 10 feet wide and 10 to 22 feet long. The depth ranges from 5 1/2 to 7 feet, and the bottom is almost always flat. A plunge pool that’s 10x20 feet is a popular size. Pre-cast or pre-fabricated models can start as small as 7x13 feet at 5 feet deep.

How are plunge pools made?

Like traditional pools, plunge pools can be custom made in your backyard or manufactured off-site. Custom versions are usually made by forming the earth, then covering it with a vinyl liner for an in-ground look. Pre-cast versions made off-site from fiberglass, concrete, or sometimes metal, like stainless steel or copper, get craned into your yard, and dropped into an excavated hole. There are above-ground plunge pools made from concrete or fiberglass, as well. Another popular option is a semi-in-ground plunge pool where the top 12 to 18 inches are above grade. Once finished, usually in stone, this allows for a short sitting wall around the pool.

Types of Plunge Pools

While they can take the form of any regular pool—oval, round, or rectangular—a rectangular version is often the most space efficient. Any style can be fitted with features like stairs, a sitting ledge, or a splash pad, but it’s often easier to get those elements in a pre-made version.

Cost of Plunge Pools

As with all home improvement projects, prices for materials and labor vary. A small plunge pool can cost $10,000 to $25,000 or more. A ballpark figure for installing an in-ground plunge pool is about $20,000. While this is less than a traditional in-ground pool, it’s not an inexpensive upgrade. Concrete pools tend to be the most expensive, while vinyl and fiberglass are less, and similarly priced. The least expensive versions are the above-ground designs.

The costs associated with a plunge pool are similar to a full-size in-ground pool, but on a smaller scale. Like an in-ground pool, you’ll need to hire an excavator (and provide access to your backyard for heavy equipment), pull permits, and spend to finish the pool deck around the watering hole. In most cases, the upgrade will be added to your property’s value and taxed accordingly.

Benefits of a Plunge Pool

The size enables homeowners who wouldn’t otherwise have the space or budget for a full-size pool to have a place to relax that beautifies the outdoor living space. After the initial installation cost, you’ll spend less to maintain a plunge pool than you would a traditional pool.

If you choose to add a heat source, it’s more economical to keep the pool at a comfortable temperature, which may extend your pool season. For older homeowners, the plunge pool is easier to cover and maintain; skimming out debris takes very little time when compared to a regular pool. Design-wise, it can be more cost effective to get higher-end treatments on a plunge pool versus a traditional pool. Details like tiling, water features, an infinity edge—all of which add significantly to the bottom line—might be in the budget with a plunge pool.

Limitations of a Plunge Pool

A plunge pool won’t be able to fit as many people as a traditional pool. Once four or five adults get in, it might start to feel more like a crowded hot tub. Young children who are used to cannonballing into a regular pool could get severely injured in a plunge pool—which is shallower than normal and has no “deep end.” Like a regular pool, your town will have regulations covering setbacks as well as fencing requirements to prevent a child from falling in