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  • Writer's pictureKiersten

Operation Staycation: Preparing for Building a Backyard Pool

It's spring break in Iowa and while many of our friends are headed off to warmer places, we're staying put and dreaming of summer days. If you've been following along for any length of time, I am sure you're very aware that the primary reason we moved here was to have the space to someday put a pool in our backyard. We've been saving every extra dime for years in a special "pool fund" and would have pulled the trigger sooner, but we got a little sidetracked exploring what it would take to add some sort of pool house with bathroom to the plan. With the massive increase in supply cost, we're not ready for that kind of financing so we decided to do this in phases to see just how we use it and what we need before taking on the construction of a mini house in the backyard.

We're so excited to get moving, but we haven't officially signed the contract with the pool builder yet (we're close), so until that's a done deal we're going to give you a quick look at the prep-work and decisions we've made to-date, along with some of our lessons learned. Let the OPERATION STAYCATION commence!!

Figuring Out Lot Space, City Regulations and Underground Easements

We loved our old house and neighborhood but lived on a corner lot. While it was large enough for a pool at surface level, the way our lot was situated along a curve of the road made it so we couldn't even put a fence up without cutting into nearly half of the backyard. Our city wouldn't let us build anything closer than 30 feet from the lot line due to being along the road. So that's why we went with an invisible fence for the dog and knew that wouldn't be our forever house.

maps view of property
Our old yard - and deceiving lot line following the sidewalk

We actually stumbled on our most important learning about lots when we started looking for a new home: what's underground is even more important than what you think the lot looks like or could be. In one of the properties we were looking at early on, we had a question for the city about where they'd allow a fence from a bike trail that ran beside the property. The bike trail wouldn't have been a problem, but that home had THREE different underground easements for water and utilities that she thought we wouldn't be able to get a fence up at all, let alone find somewhere to dig a pool in between the land mines underground! Glad we asked because in our early days of house hunting, we found a couple houses that could have been serious contenders but had all sorts of issues underground we never would have known about. After becoming BFFs with the gal at the city, and narrowing our house hunt to just two primary neighborhoods, I finally asked her for the zoning maps for the WHOLE area. That way if a house went on the market, I'd be able to look without calling. The real estate industry was BOOMING in spring 2020 so I wanted to be ready. When our house went on the market, the first thing I checked was my trusty city map which looked clear of land mines in the backyard!

neighborhood plot zoning map
Handy Dandy Neighborhood Easement Map

Choosing a Pool Type

Feeling a little defeated about property issues for a while, we did consider finding a property that would allow for an above ground pool if the lot was right. While an in-ground was the ideal, an above ground would make our summers just as fun. So we left that as an option while house hunting.

Like we told you in our very first blog post - we bought this house for the backyard. Free of city easements, it was already relatively flat, wide open and had extra bonus privacy we were looking for without any neighbors directly behind the house. We don't have a walk-out basement or any way to allow for an in-ground to be built around, so we narrowed the pool type to an in-ground pool and interrogated anyone we met with a pool from then out to learn about their experiences, things they wished they'd done, what they can't live without, etc. This lead us to deciding we wanted:

  • SHAPE: A standard rectangle pool. This would allow us to build in an automatic cover for extra safety since the kids are still little. Being able to open and close the pool with the touch of a button sounds like a great option. Plus it would allow for a symmetrical deck, and you know I love me some good symmetry.

  • DEPTH: 8' deep end with diving board. At pretty much every pool we go to with a diving board, all Hank does is jump off the board over and over now that he's getting over. So since we're digging, we decided to dig real deep.

  • LINER/CONSTRUCTION: Vinyl lined pool. Because of the depth, our options were limited here.

  • STEPS: Full length shallow end steps with handrail . Since we really do want to be the place our families gather, we are going to build in full length steps to allow everyone young and old a place to sit and splash.

Here's one of my earliest drawings (I'm a visual learner!) This was me trying to figure out size. Hank had a few more teeth back then (spring 2021).

After a lot of conversation and planning, we decided to flip around which side would be the deep end. We've got a lot more space on the other side for adding phase 2 decking or bathroom situations later and that would be better right outside the shallow end. I made this one using Publisher. A little "real" and ALMOST to scale.

computer drawing of sketch

Selecting a Pool Builder

The first builder we talked to is a well known local company that built most of the pools in our neighborhood. They were clearly experienced, prices were good, but they had a two-year wait list. Because of that, we started contacting others to get competitive bids and didn't feel rushed to do so. This process took most of the summer last year to schedule and meet with different companies in off-hours. We found some pretty big differences in approach, material and costs amongst them all so getting things to a point that we could compare apples-to-apples was challenging. Many of the cheaper options required you do to the legwork to hire subcontractors like electric, gas and concrete. Those that wrapped some or all of the services into their fees were higher, but since we have full time jobs, it seemed like a worthy additional expense to not have to play GM on every need. Plus it seems that there will be a lot of benefit in leveraging a company with existing relationships to ensure the job would get done when it was needed and be to spec.

We're moving into contracting with a new company that we're excited about. While there's some risk with a project of this size with a new company, we love the perspective, attention and energy they are bringing to the project. Responsiveness has been really great and they are clearly passionate about doing things the right way. They're also already bringing some cool ideas and vizualizations that we'll share later once we know we're a lock.

Contracting Phase

We're in the middle of making a lot of decisions right now to get into contract mode and when we've landed on our final game plan, we'll share more details! STAY TUNED!




we're kiersten and zach

Follow along with us each week as we work to make the very 2000s home we bought during the middle of a pandemic more “us.” We’ll share everything from quick fixes to more permanent changes, along with projects you can do in your own home. Zach will also share all his lawn and garden advice as he starts over on the yard.


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