How to Design Your Own Swimming Pool

If the future plans for your backyard include an in-ground swimming pool, you might begin by doing your own design. Whether you wind up with just a rough sketch or a detailed plan, the time is well-spent and you will avoid many of those “I shoulda” moments. By giving the pros something tangible to start with, you will also save a great deal of time in dealing with them…less back-and-forth, as the family debates what you really want.

I recommend starting with a trip to the magazine rack at the bookstore. There are several publications that highlight all the latest trends and enough glossy photos to get the family excited. From the get-go however, be realistic about how much money and space you can dedicate to the project. Focus on designs that fit your property, not only in size, but in style and grandeur. The Trevi Fountain is beautiful but it wouldn’t look right in most sub-division backyards. If the architecture of your home is formal, stick with that. If it’s rustic, go with that. I’ve seen many people blow sixty grand on a beautiful pool that just looks out of place. Lastly, remember that there is a lot more to it than just the vessel that holds the water. A great pool is a collection of water effects, decking, furniture, landscaping, and sometimes architectural elements like walls, benches, fireplaces, and even outdoor kitchens.

If you are the engineering type, you may want to acquire one of the computer programs available that draw pools. Some are simple and free. Some are full cad/cam programs that require a PhD. Or, you may want to just grab some graph paper and a few colored pencils. Both methods work equally well. Your pool builder is only going to use it as a guide anyway to put the design into the format he/she is accustomed to. As you review your site, a few things will come in handy: Assemble enough garden hose to approximate the perimeter of your future pool. Most pools have a perimeter of around 90 feet but obviously, you may want more or less. Have a nice long measuring tape on your belt and gather up a few pieces of outdoor furniture that resemble what you may eventually want to accommodate at poolside. It’s much easier to see how much room you need to walk around an actual lounge chair than it is to imagine it on paper. Most importantly, you must drag any family members into the backyard that will ever use the pool. Now is the time to get a consensus on what everyone wants; not after you and the pool builder have invested 50 hours in the design.

Using the garden hose, layout the virtual pool perimeter in the shape and location you have in mind. Now, you have many things to consider. First and foremost is the proximity to the foundation of your house and any other structures. Some heavy equipment will be digging a very large hole and you do not want to compromise the ground that is supporting your very nice house! I recommend keeping the waterline at least seven feet away from any foundations. Assuming that you are doing a gunite pool, the pool wall at the top is 12″ thick so seven feet will provide a six foot buffer zone. Next, consider where the rain goes that falls off the roof of your house and drains off the surface of your yard. The location, and elevation, of the pool will need to be designed to prevent dirty runoff from fouling your pool water. Most anything can be accomplished with underground drains but as you might expect, complexity costs money. Next, consider the entry point(s) for the pool and the expected pathways from various points in the backyard. When planning the decking, you may want to use some additional garden hose. Decking can be expensive but it often makes the pool much more usable. Put some of your outdoor furniture in likely spots around your virtual pool and see what you need to walk around everything without feeling crowded. Most pool users spend more time around the pool than in the pool.

Another significant consideration is the location of underground utilities. Without charge, your utility companies will come out and paint lines in your yard to mark the gas lines, water lines, and any underground electric runs. Sewer lines and septic systems can be more difficult to figure out but now is the time to locate them. Having the pool excavator knock on your back door is not a good feeling. If you have overhead electric or phone lines in the pool area, you may also need to consider the height of the equipment needed to excavate the pool. Lastly, this equipment will need access to the pool site from the street; all that dirt must hauled away and the typical equipment needs at least six to eight feet of pathway. Yes, air conditioners can be moved and fences can be moved but it all costs money and in some cases may require the cooperation of neighbors. (Start bringing them cookies now.)

Lastly, consider the space needed for nice landscaping. Whether you do it with the pool or add it later, a landscape plan will ultimately frame the project and create the needed connection to the rest of the backyard. Simple or fancy, remember to include any needed water pipes and electrical runs for sprinklers and lighting. It’s much cheaper to trench through dirt than your pretty new pool deck.

In a future article, I will discuss the various types of pool designs as well as the various construction methods with the pros and cons of each. If your pool project is something for the future, enjoy the luxury of planning it slowly and carefully. A pool is a major investment by any measure and it’s permanent. You cannot back up and start again. When your plan is more or less complete, it’s time to call in a couple of pool builders and see what they think. Ask to see their portfolio and go with someone that already gets what it is you like. Most builders will gladly take you on an afternoon tour to actually see their work in person. Take the time with this as you did with every other step in the planning process. One future summer afternoon, as you sit poolside, sipping on your iced tea, you will be very glad you did!

This information provided by Don Uhle, President of Pace Research Ltd. in Houston, Texas. With his brother Ken Uhle, Don heads up PoolBids, the original web-based connection for homeowners and reputable swimming pool builders. Since 1997, PoolBids has helped over ten thousand homeowners in their quest for the ideal backyard pool and maintains a network of over 200 pre-screened pool builders throughout the continental United States. Their service is free to the public via the website Their sister company, Discount Salt Pool, provides specialized pool equipment to pool builders and directly to the public via the website With a line up that includes all popular brands, Discount Salt Pool provides conversion kits, parts, and lot’s of free advice. Call them with your questions anytime at 866-766-5243.

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