How to Build a swimming Pool (or not)

For a long time, I fanaticised about having a swimming pool in my back yard. The yard was certainly big enough and I even knew exactly where I would build it. The problem was money or more specifically, the lack of it, so when I retired, I said to myself, “It’s now or never.” Sure it was going to take a bite out of my retirement funds but since I was now going to spend much more of my time at home, I might as well make it as comfortable as possible

Now understand this, I am no engineer, in fact I worked for most of my life in banking so my expertise was more in handling money than in construction, but somehow I felt I was ready to take on this project. What could be so hard? after all, isn’t a pool nothing more than a concrete box with plumbing? You drain the water out of the bottom of the box and pump it back in through jets at the top right? This isn’t rocket science is it?

Well it turned out to be a bit more complicated than that and I learned quite a lot about the inner workings of this seemingly simple and straightforward operation. While this isn’t meant to be a complete, step by step set of instructions in how to build a swimming pool, my hope is that by sharing the knowledge and experience that I gained during the construction of my pool, this dream can also become a reality for many others who might also be thinking about doing something similar for themselves and their families.

 Planning/Approvals etc.

Before you start, it is advisable to familiarise yourself with your local laws and regulations regarding pool construction. This I am told can vary greatly from state to state and country to country so make sure you will be able to comply with all of the requirements.

Designing the pool

The next thing is to decide on the overall design of the pool. For this I perused books on pool designs and searched the internet looking for sites that featured swimming pools. There were many and some beautiful ones at that, some luxurious, some simple, they came in all shapes and sizes, some with fountains, some with waterfalls, some had Jacuzzis that cascaded into the pool, some were completely enclosed while others had a “vanishing edge”, where the water seems to fall off the edge of the pool.

Ok, back to reality.

What can I afford and what size and shape would fit into the space I had allocated for this pool?

After discussing the various options with my wife and my eldest son, the only one of my children who was still living at home, (This is a necessary step if you value peace and harmony, additionally, they had some pretty good ideas of what should and should not be included), we finally decided that we would go with a rectangular pool, approximately 24 ft long and 14 ft wide. I liked the idea of a Jacuzzi at the top flowing into the pool and my son wanted the vanishing edge at the deep end. My wife wanted a seat at the deep end just before the water fell over the edge. No waterfalls or fountains for me as this pool was not meant to be a showpiece but a practical and functional family space that we can all enjoy.

Obtain technical drawings

Having decide on the basic layout and features of my pool, I got out the graph paper and with pencil and paper, drew a crude and somewhat amateurish outline of how I envisioned the pool would be. It looked good and I was satisfied. From these crude drawings, I then got a professional draftsman to produce the necessary technical drawings. I was now ready to find a suitable contractor to actually build this pool.

Find honest, reliable and experienced contractors

Some of you may prefer to just give one contractor the whole job and just write out the checks and that’s fine if you are a trusting soul and have lots of cash. If however you are like me and prefer a more hands on approach, you can break down the project into its different components and hire individual contractors to complete each phase which turned out to be.:-


A couple of things to bear in mind:-

  • It’s important not to over-excavate the site as you would either end up with a pool that is deeper than you originally wanted or you would have to use extra concrete to bring the floor to where it should be.
  • There is going to be a lot of dirt so make arrangements for the disposal of the soil.

Build the shell or what I would call, “the concrete box”

There are a couple ways of doing this I am told.

  • You can build the frame work for the floor and side walls, get all the steel work in place and pour the concrete so that the floor and walls are all cast together. If this is the approach your contractor is using, the drain pipe(s), the pipes for the jets to return the water at the top of the pool as well as the pipe for the vacuum line all have all to be in place before pouring the concrete. There is no room for error here.
  • You can also just cast the floor and build the side walls afterwards. This allows for a bit more flexibility and control in ensuring that you get the plumbing right, which brings me to the next phase, but before that, a brief word on the electrical works

Electrical work

 Any qualified an competent electrician should be able to install the electrical infrastructure needed for this operation so I won’t spend too much time on that, except to warn that you do not want any electrical wires etc anywhere near the water. If you are putting in pool lights, ensure the wiring is properly grounded and the voltage powering these lights is very low.


The plumbing to me in one of the most critical aspects of this operation and I will spend a bit more time on this section as it needs to be well planned and executed.

In my case, I wanted the water to be:-

  • drawn from the bottom of the pool,
  • pumped through the filter,
  • passed through the chlorinator, then
  • channelled into the Jacuzzi which would then
  • overflow into the pool about two feet below.

Since I was also putting in a vanishing edge, water would also need to :-

  • fall over the edge of the pool into a trough,
  • Be collected in a reasonably sized holding receptacle,
  • be drawn from this holding receptacle, filtered, chlorinated and re-circulated back into the pool.

One also has to consider that when the pool is in use, the body mass of the people in the pool at any one time displaces quite a lot of water which falls over the vanishing edge. If the holding receptacle doesn’t have sufficient capacity, some water will be lost and when the fun is over and everyone gets out of the pool, the water level will be so low that it would no longer be able to flow over the vanishing edge.

This would soon be rectified as the pump continues to draw water from the holding receptacle and pour it back into the pool via the Jacuzzi, if however the holding receptacle isn’t properly sized to hold the excess water when persons are in the pool, it will run out of water before the pool is topped up sufficiently for the cycle to continue and the pump will simply be sucking air, and that’s not good.

I made mention earlier of a vacuum line when building the walls of the pool. You can build a pool without one but take it from me. DON’T. This small feature has proven to be an invaluable asset in maintaining the pool. The plumbing for the vacuum line is simple. You just need to connect it to the intake line of the pump via a valve so that you can open and close it by just a turn of the valve switch. The intake should be just below the waterline in the pool, ideally about two maybe three inches from the top of the water. On the surface, it looks like just another one of the jets that return the water to the pool but in this case it works in reverse and draws water out. You won’t believe the amount of debris that accumulates at the bottom of your pool during the day from leaves to just plain dust particles. and the vacuum is about the easiest way sucking up all the debris from the floor of the pool.

Talking about leaves, if you are going to have trees close to the pool, be prepared to be constantly removing the leaves. If you leave them in the water for any length of time, they begin to discolour the finish. Which brings me to the finish.

Tiling and finishing

You can now finish your masterpiece in the way that is most pleasing to you. A popular finish for the inside of the pool is to use “Diamond Brite”. You can also use tiles or a combination of the two.

It’s now time to enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Here is a picture of my finished project with my grandson in the foreground. He really enjoys this new addition to the home.



When I was building my own pool, I found the following website which proved to be extremely helpful. Actually helpful is not the correct word, it was invaluable and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this topic.

There is a lot of free information on this site, but if you really want to get into the nitty gritty details of pool building, you can register with the site and get full access to all of the information. I did and never regretted the small fee that was charged


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