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Pool Excavation: 4 Questions You May Not Think to Ask!

Pool Excavation: 4 Questions You May Not Think to Ask!

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One of our goals with this blog is to nullify what we refer to as the “curse of knowledge” throughout the swimming pool industry. 

Pool professionals, and all professionals for that matter, often forget that the common customer lacks the depth of knowledge that they have taken years to acquire. 

What results is a breakdown in communication regarding products, services, construction processes, and an overall misconception of what exactly will happens in the backyard. 

I’m certainly not immune to this, as I certainly make the same mistake from time to time with my clients. 

So the purpose of this article is to discuss one of the most common pool construction processes that fall under the dreaded “curse of knowledge”: Swimming Pool Excavation. 


What questions should you ask your pool builder about pool excavation?

  1. What if you hit rock or water when you dig?
  2. Exactly how much dirt will there be?
  3. What will happen to my yard?
  4. Do I really save money by digging my own hole?


1.  What if you hit rock or water when you dig?

Your backyard is like a box of chocolates. Without a soils test (which 999 of 1000 customers don’t get), pool contractors never really know what they’ll hit when digging in your backyard.

Frankly, none of this really matters to you unless one of two things happen:

  1. Your soil condition compromises the structural integrity of your pool
  2. It costs you more money to install the pool

The structural component will have to be determined by your pool contractor and is beyond the scope of this article.

However, from a budget perspective, there two primary things a contractor may find when excavating that could result in an unforeseen cost to you: rock and water.


Options when hitting rock

  1. Move the pool to an area with less rock: This one is guess work. Just start digging some test holes and hope for the best.
  2. Elevate the pool and keep it in the same location: Work with what you have. There could be extra cost associated with the elevation change (walls, additional fill dirt, etc.)
  3. Hammer or blast the rock out and install the pool in the original location: minimum cost of $2k just for the hammer rental plus any additional labor the contractor may charge. 
  4. Fill the hole in, pay the contractor for his time, and install a pool at your next house.

Note: We may encounter rock in approximately one in every fifty pools we install. If any contractor with more experience with rock would like to chime in, please feel free to contribute in the comments section. 


Options when hitting ground water

  1. Install dewatering system (which is standard for us anyway), keep the hole dry until the pool is installed, and keep the pool where originally planned. This option works especially well for fiberglass pools because the pool is installed and full of water in a matter of hours after excavation, lessening the ‘fight’ required to tame the ground water. When encountering high water tables in conjunction with sandy soil, severe “cave-ins” may occur which increase the amount gravel backfill required around the pool. In our case, we will allow for one additional load of gravel beyond a normal installation, the customer covers the cost of any additional gravel beyond that. A load of gravel runs around $400-$500 in our area and it’s very, very rare that we require more than one additional load and have to charge the customer anything.     
  2. Elevate the Pool: same as when hitting rock. 

Note: Don’t let these potential unforeseen expenses intimidate you. Of the 600+ pools we’ve installed, only around 1% have incurred any additional cost due to rock or ground water.


2.  Exactly how much dirt will there be?

Part of planning every pool project is determining what to do with the dirt. Generally speaking, people have no concept of how much dirt actually comes out of a pool excavation…how could you know, right?

I usually tell people to imagine how much dirt they would expect and multiply it by 5 or 10.

Your average pool excavation will generate a pile of dirt the size of about five garden sheds. So, this is significantly more than we can ‘lose’ in a typical flat yard.

The best plan is to haul that stuff out of there so you aren’t stuck wheelbarrowing it on the weekends or hiring someone else to come and get it. 


3.  What will happen to my yard?

We haven’t figured out how to haul dirt, gravel, water, and concrete by helicopter yet; so until we do, we have to move all that big heavy stuff in and out of your backyard the old fashioned way…via the ground. And we do this with very large trucks.

So the reality is that your access lane and yard may incur some damage. Say good-bye to most or all of the grass around the pool as well as a 20’x20’ area for piles of material and the entire access lane if through the yard.

Hey, I’ve yet to hear any complaints about less grass to cut!


4.  Do I really save money by digging my own hole?

Many folks think they can save big bucks doing the pool excavation themselves and have the pool contractor do the rest.

Actually, most pool companies would probably prefer to charge you at least double if you want to dig your own hole, but we’re not quite that generous :)

Seriously though, it doesn’t save much money at all, maybe $500–$1000, because we have to bring our machine to the site anyway to lift and set the pool.

It only takes a couple of hours to dig the hole so we might as well go ahead and do the pool excavation while we’re there.    

Well, as you can see, there will be some major stuff going on in your backyard (which you can watch in a really cool video). But how exciting is a pool, right? All of this stuff goes by the wayside the first time you and your family relax, play, and laugh around your awesome new pool. 

Good luck!

Comments and questions welcome as always.


At River Pools, we manufacture world-class fiberglass pools for customers across North America. If you'd like to get a fiberglass pool for your home, you can browse our pool models, try out our pool cost calculator, or request custom pricing today. 

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Editor's note: This blog article was updated on July 11, 2020.

Editor’s note (5/3/24):  
This article was written by Jason Hughes, (Founder, River Pools Virginia, Genesis Course Instructor). The opinions expressed are those of the author. Any pricing information is based on information that was readily available at the time of publication.

River Pools is a brand of inground fiberglass pools produced via the River Pools division of the manufacturing facility in Fortville, IN. While our expertise is in fiberglass pool manufacturing, we are part of an extensive network of experts relating to all things inground pools. Our own collective experience from over the years spans manufacturing, project design, installation, and pool service. We often tap into this knowledge base and share information freely with homeowners, just like you, who are considering having a swimming pool installed in your backyard.