Seven Ideas for Do-It-Yourself Backyard Pools

Build a personal oasis with everything from hay bales to scrap wood to a shipping container

Water runs from a hose into a hay bale pool. (Matthias Balk/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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There’s so much we’re missing about summer this year, as a result of COVID-19. Backyard barbecues. Neighborhood kids playing together after dinner. Vacations. Beer gardens.

But those of us lucky enough to have yards can potentially recreate one beloved summer tradition: long afternoons at the swimming pool. You can make a pool from a livestock tank, bales of hay, even cardboard boxes. All it takes is a little bit of hardware and a lot of innovative spirit.

Jen Stark, a home improvement expert and founder of the website Happy DIY Home, says she’s seen a “huge uptick” in interest in build-it-yourself pools this summer. “With pools closed [and] crowding at beaches unsafe, being able to cool off in the privacy and safety of your own backyard pool is a great alternative,” she says.

Here are a few of our favorite ideas for DIY pools:

Stock Tank Pool

The stock tank pool gained cultural caché several years ago thanks to Instagram. The galvanized metal tanks, typically used for feeding or watering livestock, make easy (and photogenic) swimming spots when hooked up to a pool filter. They’re about two feet deep, perfect for soaking at sunset with a cocktail. The extra creative have jazzed up their tanks by painting their sides, building rustic stone walls around them, or setting them in wooden decks. If you’re serious about building your own, be aware that stock tanks are a very hot ticket item this summer—you may be waiting a while for supplies to come in. The New York Times’ Wirecutter has a great guide to all the equipment you’ll need, and home repair guru Bob Vila has tips for proper site selection and tank maintenance.

“With stock tank pools, rust and peeling paint over time can be a big headache,” Jen Stark says. “Invest in a pool liner or rust-proof agent before use.”

Pallet Pool

All you need are wooden pallets, a tarp and a pool pump to make what Country Living has called “the new stock tank pool.” Prop the pallets on their sides to build a frame, then line with a waterproof tarp or fill with roofing membrane. The website Easy Pallet Ideas has a full tutorial plus tons of examples of pallet pools in action. Using untreated pine lumber or cedar pallets is best, DIY expert Brock Jurgensen told Country Living, as they’re naturally resistant to insects and rot. Depending on how many pallets you use, final results can range from single-person Japanese-style soaking tubs to nearly full-sized aboveground pools.

Shipping Container Pool

Those with bigger budgets and bigger backyards might consider a shipping container pool, made with the same rectangular corrugated metal boxes you see stacked on cargo ships. Several companies specialize in these pools—they’ll convert an old shipping container into a backyard spa, complete with stairs, decks, even dividers to create hot and cold areas, and deliver them to your backyard. Just fill up and hop in. Canadian company Modpool claims its units are far more versatile than traditional pools since they can be installed in-ground, above-ground or partway in-between. You can also cut windows in an above-ground shipping container pool, giving them an aquarium effect. When you move houses, just hire a crane and a flatbed truck and take the pool with you. For extreme DIY-ers, YouTube has plenty of tutorials for building your own shipping container pool. A prefab pool can run you upwards of $20,000, with fancy features like windows costing extra.

Natural Swimming Pool

Just dig a hole in the yard and wait for rain, right? Not quite. Unless you want a giant mud puddle, you’ll need to follow some steps for clean swimming water that doesn’t drain away into the soil. According to this tutorial from the pioneering back-to-the-land publication Mother Earth News, natural pools have been popular in Europe for some time but haven't exactly caught on in America. To create your own, dig a hole with sloping sides to avoid cave-in, then line with bentonite clay or a synthetic liner and cover the bottom with clean gravel. Carefully selected plants can act as a filtration system and keep algae at bay. You’ll still need a system to aerate the water so it doesn’t get stagnant and stinky.

Hay Bale Pool

Can’t source a stock tank? Try a hay bale pool. It’s exactly what it sounds like—bales of hay stacked in a rectangle and lined with a tarp. While most hay bale pools are shallow and temporary—a spot for lounging rather than swimming laps—there are some outliers. Kyra Christmas, a member of Canada’s national women’s water polo team, built herself a 2-meter-deep hay bale pool to keep fit during the pandemic (it helped that her father works in landscaping and had access to construction equipment to move the 16 bales).

“With hay bale pools, you want to test the sides carefully and make sure they are sturdy before filling with water,” says Jen Stark. “The last thing you want is the water flooding your backyard just as you are starting to enjoy your dip.”

“Whatever You Can Find in the Garage” Pool

While hay bales make good pool walls because of their sturdiness, you can apply the principle of “frame plus waterproof lining” to almost anything. People have made temporary pools from beer crates, dumpsters, truck beds, bricks, cardboard and giant tires. Keep in mind that any pool without a filter will become stagnant and can quickly attract mosquitos and other pests, so these alternative pools are best used for a weekend then drained.

Instant Kiddie Pool

So your kids are hot and cranky and the local stores are all sold out of kiddie pools? Try this 30-minute DIY project from Instructables, cobbling together some old PVC pipe and a tarp to create an instant wading pool. When everyone’s cooled off you can dismantle the pool and store it until the next scorcher. If you don’t have any PVC lying around, try a splash pad made with a tarp and pool noodles.

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