Q. The only way my family can afford an in-ground pool is if I act as the "general contractor" for the project. I am trying to get a feel for what's involved. Can anyone give me a list of the types of contractors I will need to hire and any pitfalls to watch out for? What permits are typically required? Can a fairly sharp and organized layman actually pull this off?
A. The permits required will vary from location to location. Check with your local Building or Inspections Dept. Most insurance companies will want a fence around the pool.
As for the skills and contractors required...
Make sure there is nothing buried like water, gas, electric, telephone, where you will be working. A big hole will need to be dug which would require heavy equipment.
A high water table can float an empty pool out of the ground. You will need to keep the pool filled all the time, or verify that your water table does not get close to your pool, or install a drainage system or pump to draw down the water table around your pool.
The pool needs to be reinforced with steel re-bar. Steel prices have skyrocketed in the past six months, so be ready to spend some money. The steel will give the pool strength and help prevent cracks and leaks. Do not go cheap here.
The pool will need plumbing for the filtration and drains and an electrical for any underwater lights. You will need a contractor to spray the gunnite. Gunnite is a concrete process used most often for in-ground pools. The dry concrete is pumped through a hose and the water is not added until it leaves the gun at the end. Not do-it-yourself equipment. After gunnite, most pools are given a layer of "stucco" to smooth the interior. Then paint with a nice white or light blue. Do not forget the filtration. A properly designed filtration system can drastically reduce the time you spend cleaning.Then you need a surround/deck for the pool.
None of this is rocket science so it is not difficult to figure out: hole in ground, concrete, add water. Building an in ground pool will rely heavily on skills that most do-it-yourself types do not have. If you go cheap you could end up wasting your money on a concrete lined hole that does not hold water.
Keep in mind that pools are expensive to build and to maintain. They consume power running the filtration pumps. Chemicals for sanitation such as chlorine are expensive. Remember, you are trying to keep a big puddle of water nice, clear and clean. It takes a lot of work to keep Mother Nature from turning it into a farm pond.