How to DIY a Cowboy Pool
When the dog days of summer settle in, spend your afternoons chilling in a pool right in your own backyard.
Of course, you could go with any of the many types of pools, spending tens of thousands of dollars on an in-ground pool or maintaining an above ground pool you build into place or take down and set up year after year.
Another option is a metal pool that’s pre-formed and easy to install. A cowboy pool, also known as a stock tank pool, starts with a round stock tank and ends with a cool soak on a hot day.
There’s actually a company that will bring everything to your location and set up your Cowboy Pool, but you can create your own version with some planning and a bit of time.
Step 1 - Pick a Stock Tank
The first step in creating your cool oasis is to find your ideal stock tank. Evaluate the amount of space you have and how many people you hope to accommodate in your sitting pool.
Standard stock tanks come in diameters ranging from six feet to twelve feet. The typical height is about two feet, allowing an average adult to sit in the pool with the water about chest high.
If you want to go larger, you can get tanks that are 15’ in diameter with higher, 33” sides. Whatever size you choose, you’ll want to allow a few additional feet around the pool, especially if you plan to add a deck.
If you’re more of a floater than a sitter and you have the space, make sure your pool will accommodate your preferred floatation device, even when sharing the pool with someone else.
Also think about how much water it will take to fill your cowboy pool. A small tank will hold around 300 gallons. An eight-foot tank will accommodate around 700 gallons.
A 15-foot tank with higher sides has a capacity over 2,600 gallons. Remember, you’re paying for that water, so it might be a factor in your budgetary decisions.
Stock tanks are part of a standard farming supply list, so they should be easy to find. However, the pandemic put a kink in the supply chain, making them more expensive and more difficult to find.
Start with your local farm stores such as Coastal Farm Supply or Wilco. If you don’t find what you’re looking for there, head to the internet. Check out Tractor Supply, Tank and Barrel, and Stock Tank Pool.
Of course, you can always see what selection of stock tanks Amazon has at any given time, although they’re a better resource for other parts you’ll need than the stock tank itself.
After calculating all these factors, expect to pay between $300 and $1,500 for your stock tank. Remember to take delivery charges into consideration.
Step 2 - Make a Plan for Delivery of Your Cowboy Pool
It isn’t like bringing home a kiddie plastic round pool, which can be challenging enough.
Stock tanks are large and heavy. You can’t just throw one into the back of the Suburban. These steel beasts can weigh as little as one hundred pounds or top out over 700 pounds, depending on the size you choose.
You’ll need to have your stock tank pool site prepped and ready for delivery before arrival since you probably don’t want to have to move it again once you get it home.
If you’re having a trucking company deliver your stock tank, think about any possible restrictions they may encounter. Do you have a tight driveway or limited street parking? Is there a way to maneuver the tank through side gates into the yard?
Will you need a crane to lift it into place, or can a few people roll it? Your stock tank will probably be delivered on a long flatbed truck so make sure your job site can accommodate it.
Step 3 - Source a Pump
With your stock tank picked out and a plan for delivery, figure out what type of pump you’ll be using for your pool. You can rely on a traditional pump with paper filters you replace frequently.
This type of pump requires a bit more attention, and you’ll need to remember to order filters and replace them on a regular schedule. You’ll also have more waste from discarded filters. However, this type of pump is more budget-friendly than other options.
Another common type of pump is a sand pump. These pumps rely on sand or ground-up glass to filter, so there is little waste and the sand only needs replacing every few years. Over the life of the pump, it will average out to a lower cost than a cartridge setup.
Like other products, there has been a supply chain issue with pool pumps. During the pandemic, scores of homeowners decided to invest more in backyard pleasures since we were all stuck at home more often. This created a shortage of all types of pool supplies, and we’re not completely back up to pre-covid production levels.
However, if you head over to Amazon, you’ll see a selection that ranges from a basic cartridge pool filter to a sand filter pump
Step 4 - Consider Power Source
Your pump needs power, so figure out where you’ll be plugging it in. If you’re close enough to the house, you may be able to plug it directly into an exterior outlet. However, if you’re not within reach (generally around six feet), you’ll need to use an extension cord or install a tower electrical outlet.
Just make sure you have a plan before installation.
Step 5 - Optional—Heat It Up
We rely on pools to cool us down, but sometimes the chilly water is too much of a good thing. If you want to provide a heater for your pool, there are myriad ways to go about it.
You can invest in a solar, electric, or propane heater to do the job. If this is part of your plan, now is the time to source supplies and map out the blueprint.
Step 6 - Prep the Space for Your Stock Tank Pool
Prepping the space for your cowboy pool is an essential part of the process. It must be precise. The surface of the water does not lie. If your leveling is off, it will show when the pool is filled.
To avoid draining and releveling the area, ensure the ground material is compact. Also, make the foundational support materials extend out at least one foot past the outer edge of the stock tank.
If you already have a poured concrete patio or other solid foundation, skip to the next step. However, note that most patios are graded away from the house to encourage water runoff, so the water level in your pool will likely be off a bit if you place it on a pre-formed pad.
Otherwise, start by clearing the area of trees, bushes, shrubs, plants, rocks, and grass. Use a rototiller to grind up the soil if you’re replacing grass. Then rake the sod away, leaving the soft dirt below.
Level out the dirt by filling holes and depressions and digging out high points. Place a straight 2x4 or other board across the surface of the dirt. Ensure it comes into contact with the soil across the length of the board. Place a level on the board to see where you need to make adjustments.
Once the dirt is lump-free and level, layer in playground sand. Use at least one inch across the surface. For an eight-foot stock tank, that equals around eight bags of sand. That’s a starting point, depending on how uneven and uncultivated your site is.
Repeat the steps to ensure the sand is level. Use a tamper to tamp it down as firmly as you can. Recheck level.
Step 7 - Place the Stock Tank
Now you’re ready for your tank to be delivered and put into place. Whether you’re having it lifted in by crane or you’ve scrounged up a group of willing friends, try to disrupt the foundation as little as possible. In other words, don’t drag the tank over the sand you’ve so diligently prepared.
Once you’ve placed the stock tank, level it once more, making adjustments as needed.
Step 8 - Prep and Install the Pump
Converting your stock tank into a pool is as easy as installing a pump. However, to ensure a long and efficient pump life, you need to make a few modifications.
Choose a spot on the side of the tank that’s closest to the electrical outlet.
Use an appropriate sized hole saw attachment for your power drill (most commonly 23/4”). Cut a circular hole in the upper part of the tank, below the top of the water level height, and avoid the biggest ridges on the side of the tank. It will sit about ⅓ of the way from the top lip.
This is for your pump outlet, which is a two-part system that goes through the hole.
A few feet to one side and lower on the tank, drill a second hole for the pump intake. File down any rough edges on the holes and use a shopvac to clean up all metal fragments inside and around the pool.
Wrap plumbing tape around the threads on the inlet and outlet valves. Then apply a thick thread of marine-grade sealant to the surface of each valve before installing them through the holes.
The outlet valve goes in the upper hole while the inlet valve goes in the lower hole. Attach the nut tightly to the inside of the pool. Clean up additional adhesive by smoothing it out using a wet finger. Then wipe away any left on the sides of the pool.
Next, attach a plunger valve to the outside of each valve so you can easily replace hoses and filters without water gushing out.
If you have an air jet valve, screw it into place on the top of the outlet valve.
Fill your pump with sand or glass, or put your filter in place. Then attach the lines to the valves with the other end of the hose attached to the filter. Follow the directions associated with the pump you chose.
Step 9 - Prep and Install the Heater
If you chose to install a heating system for your DIY pool, now is the time to get that set up.
Step 10 - Build a Deck
It doesn’t have to be large, but a deck surrounding your cowboy pool provides a spot to place drinks and sunscreen and can double as a bench if you only want your feet in the pool.
There are countless ways to design a pool deck, so figure out what works for your space. It may be part of a larger landscaping design with a comprehensive deck built up around it, or it may be little more than some boards along a portion of the pool that create a flat and elevated surface along the edge of the stock tank pool.
Step 11 - Fill the Stock Tank Pool
If you’re worried about the mineral content of your water, purchase a filter for the end of your hose. This will remove any calcium, VOCs, and hard water minerals. Allow your tank to fill completely before turning on the filter.
Step 12 - Maintain the Cowboy Pool
Stock tank pools are easy to maintain with a dash of balancing magic. Equip yourself with an inexpensive water testing kit. Use food-grade hydrogen peroxide or bleach to keep your water’s balance in check.
Get a cover for your pool, especially if it’s located beneath a tree that will drop debris into the water. It’s a good idea to have a cover when young children are around and to keep the water as clean as possible. Some pool covers also help to keep the water warm.
If you don’t have any sort of shelter above your pool, you may want to install a cantilever umbrella nearby. Find some options here.
Learn How to Clean Your Pool’s Filter for more maintenance tips. Who knows, maybe you’ll move on to How to Build a Pool House next.