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How Deep Should My Swimming Pool Be?

There’s nothing as satisfying as jumping into the pool on a blisteringly hot summer day. From the beginning of the planning process, you plot every detail to get to that moment. But what things should you consider first in the pool design process? Pool shape? Placement or design? Material? All of these are necessary points, but they’re missing one of the most first, and most important questions of all: How deep should my pool be?

This question matters for a lot of different reasons. Answering it correctly is the difference between a beautiful pool, and a beautiful pool you can actually use. To know what pool depth makes sense for you, there are a few key things to consider.

But before we dive into the deep end, so to speak, let’s chat about why pool depth is an important point to begin with.

Why Pool Depth Actually Matters

Your contractor will be aiming to execute your vision for your space as closely to your dream as possible. But before they can start drawing up designs, they need to have a firm understanding of the kind of functionality you’re looking for. It’s one thing to create a beautiful freeform pool on paper. But if the drawing doesn’t accommodate the varying depths you’re looking for, you may as well scrap the thing.

Additionally, the depth of your pool affects how expensive and complicated it will be to build it. Single-depth pools require less digging, less legwork, and depending on how deep you want the bottom of your pool to be, are often cheaper. Of course, single depth pools aren’t great options for all homeowners.

Finally, pool depth and pool safety go hand in hand. You simply cannot have one conversation without bringing up the other. As we’ll discuss in a moment, if you’re dreaming of diving headfirst into cool, blue water, you need to ensure you’re working with a depth of at least 8 ft. The existence of this “deep end” usually means you will need a sloping pool bottom. That is, unless you’re keen on the idea of treading water all of the time.

While there is no official law or regulation in place telling you how deep your pool must be, there are rules of thumb. On average, most adult-centric swimming pools aim for an average depth of 3.5 to 6 ft deep. Pools accommodating children will likely start shallower than this, around 2.5 feet, and taper accordingly.

How To Pick Pool Depth

Before you decide on how deep you’d like your inground pool to be, you should ask yourself a series of five questions. This mini self-assessment will help you to pick a pool layout that is not only practical, but will guide the remaining design as well. From functionality to safety, run through this checklist before giving your contractor a final answer.

Who is my pool for?

Ask ten different people what their ideal pool depth is and you’re going to get a few different answers. Younger children will want to be confident that they have plenty of room where their feet will touch. Adults may be focused on lap swimming or enough space to exercise, and teens may just be looking for a pool deep enough to dive into headfirst.

All this to remind you that the perfect pool depth is reliant on the people using it. If your primary pool user is going to be young children, then that needs to be reflected in the design. More expansive shallow ends, or even a baja or tanning shelf all give kids comfortable room to happily splash around.

On the other end of the spectrum, if your pool is serving an audience of 18+ adults, then a shallow end may not even be necessary. Still, knowing who your pool is serving matters when designing a pool that is best for you and your family.

What is the purpose of my pool?

After the audience, the next question you should ask yourself is how your pool will be used. What is its overarching purpose? Maybe you’re looking for a pool that exists to help you relax. This dream includes a generous amount of tanning room, and doesn’t include much swimming or splashing around.

Perhaps your dream is family fun. A place for your little ones to splash when they’re young, and swim when they get a little older. Or maybe, your inground pool is more about functionality- a place to swim laps, practice a dive or two, or run through a water aerobics class.

While all of these scenarios have a pool as the common denominator, they require vastly different depths. It’s important to really think through this question thoroughly and understand the entire range of purpose for your pool. Give yourself a little room for imagination. As a rule of thumb, imagining yourself doing more in your pool is better than sticking to a very narrow vision.

Creating this extra wiggle room in the initial design will help give you confidence in the design. That is, even if the purpose of your pool evolves with time, you’ll know you’ve planned accordingly.

Do I understand pool safety?

As we said earlier, there is no set requirement regarding the depth of inground pools. For the most part, this is something homeowners can decide for themselves. However, if you want certain activities to be possibile in your backyard swimming pool, you absolutely must make safety the priority.

When talking pool safety, depth comes into place most when covering the topic of diving and children. If the perfect pool for your space is one that comes equipped with a diving board, then you need to ensure your pool depth reflects that.

A diving board must be built in a section of water that is at least 8 ft deep. Anything shallower than this and you are creating incredible risk for swimmers. Head and neck injuries sustained from impact with the bottom of the concrete pool can be serious, leading to brain injury, paralysis, or even death. There is never a scenario where this risk should be taken.

This being said, families with young children will need different accommodations. Namely, a functional shallow end or wading space where the risk of drowning is minimized. The amount of space you dedicate to a shallow end will vary from family to family. Some may find enough functionality in a sun shelf, or even a large set of pool stairs. Some may decide that much of their pool needs to cater to the safety of younger children.

Whatever you decide, it’s still critical to remember that drawing can occur in as little as an inch of water. Because of this, children should never swim unsupervised, and other precautions, such as a proper pool fence, should always be taken.

How much space do I have?

If you’re not working with a large amount of space, then the focus should be on getting the most functionality out of smaller square footage. This may mean compromising extraneous features such as space for diving, or a more extensive shallow end.

In this case, pick your top three priorities, and ask your contractor to keep this in mind when proposing a design. It is more than possible to construct a great, small pool, but it takes careful planning and consideration. Unfortunately, this could mean accepting a flat, one-depth pool, paired with only one or two extra features such as tapering stairs, or a sun shelf.

Is budget the priority?

All this is well and great, but at the end of the day, a pool that does it all doesn’t exactly come cheap. To begin with, inground pool installation is an expensive process. In some areas of the country, discussions can’t even start without accepting that you will likely be shelling out over $100k before all is said and done.

Still, if budget is a main concern, this concern is going to be reflected in the amount you can control your pool depth. In the beginning of this article, we mentioned that deeper, or sloping pools are more expensive than a simple, mid-depth flat bottom design. Not only will deeper pools cost more upfront, but they will continue to cost more after they are installed. Why? Volume.

The deeper the pool you have, the more water you will need to fill it. The more water you use to fill your pool, the more water you will need to clean. And the more water you need to clean, the more stress will be placed on pool filters. Not to mention, the price of additional pool chemicals and filters.

At the end of the day, pools are no different than a lot of other things in life. You pay more for a wider range of functionality. This is why knowing the purpose of your pool and people who will use it is so important. By asking these questions, you can get the best bang for your buck. We’d hate for anyone to overspend on a deep end that nobody is around to use.

Recommended Pool Depth By Activity

Preferred pool depth varies by function and purpose. Here are a standards depths for some of the most common pool activities:

  1. Tanning Shelf: A tanning shelf, or baja shelf, is typically between .75 and 1.5 feet deep. This depth is great for soaking in the sun, relaxing on some in-pool furniture, or watching the kids and dog splash around.

  2. Diving Board: Pools with diving areas must be at least 8 ft deep or greater for safety purposes. Anything less than this is considered to be a hazard.

  3. Lap Swimming: Lap swimming, water aerobics, or water sports such as volleyball all are best done in pools between 3.5 and 4.5 ft deep.

  4. Lounging: If your pool is for relaxation only, a consistent depth of around 3.5-4.5 ft. deep will fit the bill.

  5. Multi-Purpose / Transitional: Multi-use or transitional pools generally have a shallow end beginning at around 2 or 2.5 ft. deep, sloping into a deep end nearing 6 ft.

Pool Depth Does Matter: Choose Carefully!

At the end of the day, homeowners should be careful not to put the cart before the horse. You need to figure out functionality before deciding on aesthetic. A beautiful pool is great. However, a beautiful pool can quickly become a beautiful pain in the butt if you’re not able to use it in ways that best serve your family.

For this reason, it’s critical to discuss pool depth with your contractor before designs are drawn up and finalized. A good contractor will make this question part of initial conversations. Whether you’re looking to install a diving board, or just want a great place for your kids to spend summer afternoons, depth is paramount to user experience. So take your time, make the best choice for your family, and then get back to dreaming about cannonballs.

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