A Guide to Building Your Dream Pool

Apr 22, 2014


I had no idea there would be so many details to consider when we put in a pool last spring. Once we made the decision to move forward it was already late in the season so we had to make our choices very quickly. Some of them I regret and some of them have been pleasant surprises. I do wish I had a good year of looking at inspiration photos and talking to others who have already been through the process before building. One of the best resources I found is Garden Web's pool forum. I was so impressed with the kitchen forum that I found at the tail end of my kitchen facelift (of course) that I searched their website for a pool forum. Not only is there one, but it was great to see I wasn't the only one struggling with the details that goes into this process. Here are a few of the most important decisions you will have to make.

Choosing a Pool Builder

I let my husband choose the pool builder since he did all of the negotiations. We had to have a general idea of what we wanted in a pool-shape, size (including depth), water features, etc. to get an accurate price. The potential pool builder will ask you these questions and you will have no idea what you want. It's okay. Talk to a few builders and ask their opinions. They can even show you pictures of other pools they have put in. Your ideas will change with each builder you speak to, which means your estimates will not be an apples to apples comparison. Once you have decided on the main details, mainly because price put a damper on your ideas, then go back to each builder to get a quote of exactly what you want so you can accurately compare prices. You can negotiate! We chose our builder because he was able to get what we wanted much cheaper than the others.

But, price isn't always the most important. There are different theories when choosing a builder. Some prefer small builders because they get a more custom pool and are not pool #50 that's being built. Why is this important? The builder is not the one actually building the pool. That person is responsible for coordinating the subcontractors and making sure the job is done correctly. If you don't have someone overseeing the project then there is a very good possibility something will be done incorrectly and not be noticed. We chose a small pool builder and I can honestly say he was here every day and made sure things were being done correctly. The down side is that if something does go wrong you will not have a large corporation to guarantee the work if there's a major problem. Sure they are supposed to, but a small builder just doesn't have the funds. We did have a major problem with the subcontractors cutting our electrical line that caused almost every appliance in our home to go out over several months, which included our air conditioning. It cost us thousands. We got some of the money back, but not nearly enough to cover everything. I can't say a larger company would have done anything differently, but that's when I did feel insecure about my decision to go with a smaller company after that happened. Keep in mind that all the pool builders use virtually the same subcontractors so you are not necessarily getting better work done by choosing a different builder. The same diggers would have been here whether I chose my builder or a different one. It's just one of those unfortunate setbacks. I can be more diplomatic now that a year has passed!

This is when the big mistake happened. Make sure you take pictures of the process because this is the only reason we got a big of a refund. Our builder said his guys did not go anywhere near where the line was cut, but we have pictures of the digging right where the line was marked with a flag. Thank goodness I blogged about this or I probably would have never taken pictures!

The Basic Design Decisions


I knew that with five people in our family, extended family and our kids' friends that we needed a larger than average pool. Thankfully, our yard is on the large side for our area. I kept telling our builder to go bigger. He would come up with a size and we'd draw it out on the grass with paint. I would even have the kids stand inside the lines to see how we would fit.

It's a good thing we went bigger because this is one of our many weekend pool parties.

There are 13 kids in this photo, but there were even more there that day. Keep in mind your kids friends will also bring their brothers and sisters to swim.

Side note-Have kid-sized life vests on hand. Speedo makes a thin vest for $20 you can buy at Target or Wal-mart. They are easy to swim in and much safer than water wings.


Our pool is only 6ft deep because of cost constraints. We had to compromise on this because of the extra cost to make it larger. This means it is a no diving pool. I'm okay with this since it makes me very nervous to watch anyway. The kids still have fun doing their cannonballs off the rocks.

Pool Ledges and Sun Shelves

We have pool ledges almost around the entire perimeter. It does make the pool more usable. The adults can hang out in other places besides the shallow end and sun shelf. This was a decision the builder made on his own and one I didn't even think of. I also like that the kids have a place to sit or stand instead of having to hold on to the side of the pool.

I was initially disappointed that our sun shelf was so small at only 5 ft (see below). I had wanted it larger, but it fits two chairs nicely if we just want to put our feet in the water. If you have very small kids it would be nice to be a bit larger so they can sit and play. The kids like the water spout. Okay, I like the water spout, too. There's also a spot for an umbrella that we have yet to use since it's almost always shady here.

How cool is this pool shelf for kids? This is a very inexpensive upgrade, too.

I think this pool shelf is brilliant. It has a bit of a barrier and is perfect for small kids since it will be harder for them to slip into the deeper areas.

Traditional Pool by Austin Design-Build Firms Pillar Custom Homes, Inc.

Hot Tubs, Fire Pits, and Water Features 

If you just want to cool down in the summer you probably don't think fire pits and a hot tub are necessary. They are! You will want to use the pool in the winter, fall and spring. If a fire pit is out of your budget just make sure you leave a spot where you can put a store bought one, or even make one yourself. The benefit of having one built is that you can have gas, which is much easier to turn on and off. Hot tubs are not just for winter. When it's just starting to get warm outside your pool water will be freezing. You could heat the entire pool, but it won't last and will be expensive. It's much easier to heat the hot tub to a comfortable 90 degrees. It takes us 20 minutes to heat it this spring instead of the 8 hours it would take to heat the pool.

There are so many water features you can choose from besides a waterfall.

FYI-This one is pretty, but super annoying if you are trying to swim or float in the pool. Who wants to be hit in the head with a stream of water? The ones that pop out when you least expect it are really irritating. I swear a man invented that just so he could laugh when his wife got hit with it.

Water Features for More Contemporary Pools

The wall is a great way to add interest and add height for a water feature. No rocks needed. This is something we considered because it is cheaper and looks great. You can also customize the look to fit your style by choosing different materials.

We actually got a quote from the builder of this pool. He was just a tad of our price range, which isn't shocking considering the beautiful work he does. I swear half the pools I see pictures of online are in our Houston suburb!

I also like the idea of a water feature from a planter or statue.

Even if it's just the raised hot tub cascading into the pool, you will want to have some type of water sound. It's so relaxing to just sit outside and listen to the water. It also muffles your conversations from the neighbors. ;) We might have a little too much of a good thing. We have to turn down the valves of our water features when the kids are swimming because they can't hear us over the rushing water.

Decking and Pool Plastering

These are two very big expenses when building a pool. Pebble Tec/Pebble Sheen (and similar materials) is the more popular option right now compared to original plaster. Climate is a big factor when choosing plaster so this is something important to discuss with your builder. Pebble Tec does last longer than traditional plaster and is much more durable. This is why we chose it. It's a mixture of small rocks that is sprayed on like plaster. We decided on the Pebble Sheen because the rocks are smaller than the Pebble Tec.

The triangle in the middle is the one we chose. You can see the rocks are a bit smaller than some of the other samples.

We were a little worried this might be rough on the feet, but it isn't at all. It's actually better than traditional plaster that can cause my kids feet to bleed on occasion. That's just my experience with it, of course.

For decking we decided on stamped concrete. It has a bit of sand thrown in to decrease slipping and is stained a tan color to match the rocks. I really like the look of it. It does get hot in the summer, but there isn't that much concrete to cross since this is a small backyard pool. I was thinking it would be like what we experience at public pools.


Kool Deck is a brand we considered for the decking. There are also similar companies out there. It's an application that goes on top of the concrete so it doesn't heat up like concrete. Unfortunately, it's expensive and needs to be replaced about every ten years. The durability is also questionable. It's a very popular option in Florida and I noticed a lot of peeling decks when we were house hunting there many years ago.

Pavers are becoming a popular option. The best thing about this is you can add or subtract your decking after the pool is in. It does look great and it was suggested to us by this pool builder. Here is a pool he built using it.

I have to admit I was skeptical about this material because I've see way too many weeds growing between the cracks or the pavers themselves cracking, but I suppose if it's taken care of and installed properly it wouldn't be an issue.

My absolute favorite decking material is travertine. It's a natural material, it looks great, it's non-slip and it stays cool. It's also very expensive.

It's hard to believe this much goes into it, but those are the basic decisions you need to make to get the pool process rolling. Why? It's because they can add quite a bit of money to your total cost. There are other factors that could impact your cost like an outdoor kitchen, a slide, covered porch, a grotto, etc. This is where we had to make our cuts. The slide alone would have added $10,000 to our pool. An outdoor kitchen would have been $5000 more. It adds up! We did leave a space for a future outdoor kitchen. Luckily, it's one of those things that can be added later. We could have tweaked things to get the kitchen, but you can't add waterfalls and gas fire pits later.

The Details

This can be fun and stressful all at the same time!

Pool Color

This was probably the most difficult choice I had to make. As you can see from the samples, it does not indicate the color of your pool. I looked at so many pictures online and was so frustrated. Not only does the camera make the pool color look different, it also depends on the time of day, cloud cover (or lack thereof), and how much shade your yard gets. I went with Aqua Blue, which is the lightest shade possible besides white. Dark pools freak me out. Who knows what's lurking under there?! I'm still not sold on my decision. At certain times of the day or in certain pictures it looks like a Tidy Bowl.

Thankfully, it usually doesn't look like this. It only looks like this when it's overcast, which is not much in southeast Texas.

This is the most accurate picture I found. Because of the shady backyard it has more gray than a lot of the pools with this finish.


I can't say I would go with a darker color, but maybe something with a bit more green to it. That has it's own set of problems though. The Caribbean Beach that's so pretty when the light hits it looks like a dark green swamp in the shade. Yes, I checked out all of these pool colors in person and you should, too. Take into consideration what your backyard looks like (and the one that you are seeing)-a lot of green from the trees, shade, sun, time of day, etc. When I saw the Aqua Blue at someone else's house I immediately decided on it because it's the only one that gave me that refreshing pool feel. But, everyone is different so don't let me sway you!


I can't think of another word other than this one. This is where we messed up a bit. Imagine how you are going to use the pool, where you will lay in the sun, where you will dine, where the plants will go, and how far you have to walk to certain features. I'll just let you know where I went wrong because I didn't think this through.

Tanning Ledge-It is on the right side of the pool, which is completely covered in shade by 2pm. It's a little hard to get sun in the shade. This is also where we put the optional umbrella holder. No umbrella is needed here. It is needed on the other side of the pool that gets sun from the west.

Fire Pits-My husband insisted on fire pits on either side of the waterfall. It looks great.

BUT, the kids like to jump from the waterfall to the pool. That means we can't have the fire pits on when they are swimming. I believe this is the night we realized this. I like my kids non-bbq'd. Oh, and no balls can be thrown around the pool. We had a melted beach ball on our hands, too. Basically, if the kids are in the pool the fire pits can't be turned on.

Another problem is that we have to walk all the way around the back of the pool to sit down. It would have been better to put them on the side of the pool next to the dining table. You would still be able to talk to your guests and use the fire pit, not to mention it would be at a safe distance from kids and beach balls.

It's also hard to plant behind the pool because of the fire pits. We don't want any burning bushes and there are gaps in the landscape now. I think I've come up with a solution, but it was difficult to figure out.

Hot Tub-This is one that I am happy with. I decided to put it on the back side of the pool because it's such a pretty feature. Most builders put it closer to the house so it will be accessible. This is still easy to get to and you get to see it.

Landscaping-Do you ever why some pools look amazing and others look eh? I couldn't figure it out even though they all seemed to have the same elements. As I was looking through pics for landscaping ideas I realized the best looking pools had areas for plantings all around the pool. Make sure to leave areas free of decking for plants.

Here are some examples because it's something you have to see.

This one is in my town. I'm telling you! We're rivaling FL for the amount of pools here.

Amazing! I used to live in the town where this pool is, too. It's no wonder I'm addicted to pools!

So this is the same concept on a much grander scale. This is my absolutely favorite pool!

I could go on and on about pools and landscaping, but these are the main points. I know most of you aren't interested in building a pool (probably because you have nice weather), but I hope this helps if you are building one. I felt a little blindsided by how extensive this process is. It's also not cheap and you want to try to minimize your mistakes. I'm sure there is even more extensive information out there. Talk to your friends that have pools, look at lots of pictures, get several quotes and check out forums like Garden Web's pool board. And, feel free to ask me any questions!



  1. Hi Jennifer, I'm sorry I've been MIA lately, lots of stuff going on, but hey, what a nice post! I think building a pool is something that's not going to be in my plans ever, however it was interesting going through each and everyone of your words. I think it applies to most home renovations too. You did a great job, I pool and backyard in general is beautiful!

  2. I love the idea of having the walls of the pool be rocks. This can add an extra level of getting away from my cares. The reason I want a pool, is to be able to relax and refresh myself from a long day at work. I think that the pool motif could help with that, just as much as the water.

  3. . Not only is there one, but it was great to see I wasn't the only one struggling with the details that goes into this process. Here are a few of the most important decisions you will have to make.
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