By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It cools you off during the dog days of summer and can serve as the go-to-spot for family fun.  If last week’s heat wave had you thinking about installing a pool, you’re not alone!  In this week’s Angie’s List Report, Jim Donovan takes a look at what you should know about pools before taking the plunge.

Homeowner Shannon McCollom added a pool to her backyard last fall. She says, “We decided to have a pool installed because our kids love to swim, and we felt like it was a good thing we could do as a family and we have a lot of land so we felt like it was a good use of our backyard.”

A pool can provide hours of entertainment, but it’s also a costly project that you should research thoroughly.  In-ground pools can cost between $20,000 and $70,000 and above ground is usually between $1,000 and $5,000.  So you really need to ask yourself ‘what will it cost versus what will I get out of it?’

Angie’s List Founder Angie Hicks says, “In the heat of the summer a pool might sound like a fantastic idea, but the reality is unless you are the only house in your neighborhood that doesn’t have a pool you should skip it.  Pools tend to scare off potential buyers of your house and you usually only get about 50 cents on the dollar return on investment.”

You should also factor in maintenance. Regular tasks include vacuuming the pool floor, balancing chemicals and checking the pump.  Weekly care plus opening and closing a pool can run about $2,000.

Building that perfect pool and keeping it that way depends a lot on who you hire.  Pool Builder Bill Lambert says, “This is sort of like open heart surgery on your backyard.  So it’s going to be messy.  We can try to contain the mess as best as possible, but you are going to have dump trucks, there’s going to be a lot of dirt moved around.”  According to Hicks, “Remember a pool is going to be with you for a long time so you want a find a reputable pool company who is going to stand behind their project.  You want to know what kind of warranty is going to be on the pool. And remember this is a project that can take a long time, especially given that you might hit some rainy days during installation. You want to have a well laid out plan to make sure you hit your deadlines.”

When hiring a pool builder Angie has this advice:

Shop around: it’s always a good idea to get at least two or three bids to find the right price.

Experience matters: companies that have been in the business a long time often have a healthy track record, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give the new guy on the block a look.

Document, document, document: verify licensing, if applicable, and insurance. get a list of subcontractors to be used.

Body of work: visit the company’s showroom, look at photographs, and consider visit former clients to see how some of the company’s other pool projects turned out.

Have a contract: this will detail each phase of the project, including when you’ll make payments. never pay the full amount in full – pay no more than one-third of the total cost as a deposit, but tie scheduled payments to job progress and completion.

Ask for a lien release: most pool builders hire subcontractors for various tasks such as excavating, plastering, and installing the electrical components. to protect yourself, ask for a lien release from your contractor as part of the initial contract, as well as a release from each subcontractor as they do the work.

Keep the lines of communication open: because installing a pool can be a lengthy project – sometimes taking a month or more – develop a good dialogue with your contractor; that way you can feel comfortable expressing any concerns or questions you may have with the status of the project as they arise.

Rules & regulations: contact your local building department for a complete list of rules, regulations and required permits.