Thinking of building a backyard pool? Read this first

The temperature is rising. It's Memorial Day weekend. Everyone into the pool!

At our previous house, my husband and I built an in-ground pool in our backyard. We did not go through the traditional pool construction companies to have it built. Rather, we were our own general contractors and hired all of the required subcontractors. This gave us valuable experience in the entire build process. Here are some things to consider when building your own pool.


Most pool companies have templates or catalogs of standard designs. However, even if you are going with a standard design, it may not be exactly right for your yard, depending on your landscaping, patios, etc. Increasing the area or the perimeter of the pool wil increase cost. This is also the time that you pck out the equipment for your pool: what type of filter to use (cartridge, sand, or diatomaceous earth), salt water chlorination or freshwater, whether or not you want automated bottom cleaners (pop ups), water features ( waterfall, fountains, etc) and what finishes to use (plaster or pebble-type, and what tile along the waterline).

All of these choices ae pretty permanent, so take your time and choose wisely. For the record, we built a freshwater pool with bottom cleaners and diatomaceous earth (DE) filter. DE filters are a little messier when you need to backflush, but provide the best water clarity (which is why they are predominate in commercial pools).

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Most "starter" pools cost in the neighborhood of $25,000.

Layout and Permitting

Next up is the paperwork. Most builders include permitting in their packages, so you shouldn't have to worry about this. Most cities can turn around permits in a few days. However, if you are in an unincorproated area, the county can take longer.


OK, now the messy part. Depending on the access you have, this may take a day or two. In our case, we had very limited access and had to use a "triple mini" Bobcat to get to our backyard. A "triple mini" is a Bobcat with a very small bucket. The excavator had to make numerous trip to the street to the dump truck, through our side access gate. Plus, we were building an extra long, extra deep diving pool. In the end, it took about a week to complete our dig.

Plumbing and Electrical

The location of the pump and filter is something you'll want to pay attention to during the design. Although pumps have gotten quieter, you won't necessarily want to install it under your bedroom window. You'll probably want to place it behind a "pony wall" or provide some sort of plantings to screen and soften the area. We had planted some bushes(bamboo) in front of them, but they didn't spread like other types of bushes so it was easy to keep them contained and allow continued access to the filter and pump. Inspections will be performed by the city after this phase.


Next comes the rebar and concrete. At this stage, both the pool shell and the rough deck are installed. Shotcrete is installed using pneumatic pressure. The shell and the deck will not be connected to each other. They will be allowed to "float" due to the nature of the soil in Arizona. Our soil tend to expand and contract, so by keeping the shell and deck independent of each other, the chance of shattering the deck is minimized. You should also expect another inspection at this point.

OK, now the detail work. At this stage, it will seem like work really slows down, but this is the point in the project where the details are added and the pool begins to look like what you designed. Tilers will install tile where the future water line will be, the coping will be installed, and waterfalls and accent boulders will be added. Be advised that any changes to your design at this point can become very expensive, so spend the time up front during the design phase to get the look you want.


At this point, the finish plumbing goes in, such as drains and pop-up nozzles for the cleaning system. Safety barriers or fencing goes in at this stage too. Most cities will also check to make sure that you have automatically closing gates to your backyard.

Plaster and Tile

Once you have your final inspection, you either finsish your pool with either pebble-type or plaster, which can take a few days. Then you are ready to fill, which will also take a day or two, depending on the soze of your pool, how many hoses can reach your pool and how good the water pressure is in your area.


Before you jump in, take a water sample down to your local pool supply company and have your water tested. If you tell them the number of gallons in your pool, they will le you know how much of each chemical to add to your pool to make the water safe (typically a chlorine shock and a pH adjustment chemical). Let the water circulate at least overnight to make sure the chemicals are mixed. It is very important to keep your chemicals in balance. A common fallacy is that the chlorine in the pool causes kids to get red eyes when swimming for a long time. However, there is typically only 3 chlorine molecule for every million water molecules (3 ppm), a small level the doesn't bother the eyes. Rather, it is the pH level (how acidic or basic the water is) that really affects the eyes. The pH of a normal eye is about 7.4 to 7.6. If you allow your water's pH to drift higher than the recommended 7.6, that is when your eyes will get uncomfortable.

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Keep your pH adjusted to the recommended range to get the most enjoyment and reduce the chance of eye irritation.

Why are you still here reading this. Get out there and enjoy your pool!