Considering a DIY pool


Active member
Dec 9, 2014
Murrieta, CA
Earlier this year we eventually got quotes from the only two pool builders in the area I could find. Getting a quote was like extracting blood from a stone which gives me zero confidence in actually hiring them. Added to that, I asked in a local well known pool supply store who they would recommend. "Nobody" was the curt answer - and not from a professional independence but they simply did not think any of the local builders was any good. Both quotes were in the low to mid 40k for a 15ft x 40ft pool with spa.

So I mulled over the options and, what with a couple of unplanned financial hits, abandoned the idea of doing it this year. However, I'm now thinking again and have dismissed the idea of fibreglass and vinyl pools (really bad reputation around here, mostly because of the harsh sunlight up here at moderately high altitude in the Mojave desert).

So what I would like to do is partly self build a concrete pool but in stages. Please can you comment on whether any of this is a good/bad idea! Inspections as and when necessary.

Phase 1
1. Hire someone to excavate. I'm a little concerned about wall collapse during digging, with this sandy soil, though it's fairly firm underneath.
2. Myself: erect retaining walls with something like plywood and 2x4s (smaller if I can but only if wall collapse risk is low)
3. Myself: erect rebar
4. Myself: lay in plumbing/returns etc for pool and stubs for spa (spa to be built much later), plus stubs for solar panel
5. Myself: pour small concrete slab for mounting filter/pumps/heater etc. Install and plumb equipment except heater.
6. Hire electrician to hook up electrics.
7. Hire shotcreters to form pool shell.
8. Myself: plaster pool
9. Hire water tanker to fill at least most of the pool.

At this stage it would be a concrete shell, albeit plastered. No coping decking as such. Is this going to be usable at this stage?

Phase 2
1. Myself: install coping and *possibly* pour decking (otherwise hire).

I guess I'm asking here whether it would be that much of a problem adding the coping and the walkways several weeks after filling and using the pool?

Phase 3
1. Myself: Dig hole for spa
2. Myself: Lay rebar, connect plumbing stubs
3. Hire shotcreters to form spa shell
4. Myself: Plaster/finish spa, this time with coping and decking before first use

Phase 4
1. Install and plumb the aquatic side of the heater
2. Hire gas engineer to hook up the gas side of the heater (mains gas, not tank)
3. Possibly electrician too if necessary

Phase 5
1. Install and plumb in solar heating panel

To reiterate, I would want to hit each phase as a block of work (whether a couple of days or a few weeks), then there might be weeks or months before the next phase.

One other thing, where I'd ideally like the heater and pump would be probably 30ft from the nearest corner of the pool, and could be 80-100ft from the spa. I'm more concerned about heat loss over that distance. But having the heater and pump close to the spa would mean 80-100ft of gas pipe and electrical which is a big up-front cost, though no ongoing cost as such.

Sorry for the long post but any comments would be very much welcomed. Any very rough ballpark costing figures for each phase would be helpful too, let's say 15ftx40ft rectangle, 8ft deep end, plus 8ft diameter spa. Nothing particularly fancy. Southern California codes and earthquake considerations.


LifeTime Supporter
Aug 4, 2013
long beach
First off, welcome to TFP.
Next, let's see, Right off the bat you would need a set of drawings to pull a permit. Likely engineered.
I don't see any mention of tile. Coping is generally installed along with tile before plastering. It is a big project to do yourself. Not saying it can't be done but most "owner builders" don't actually do all the work they just play general contractor and hire and manage each sub in different phases of the project. This can save a lot of money but if the local subs don't do good work it's on you. No pb to blame.
Pool and spa built separately means two sets of equipment. Big expense.
Nothing wrong with thinking outside the box but I would probably do a little more homework and hang out here and watch a few builds from start to finish to get a realistic idea of what goes into the build.
Last year I knew nothing about pools. Now I could build one. Not all the craft work because some parts take a lot of practice and special tools and such but definitely the design and functionality. I did a ton of work on my own pool and designed it including plumbing electrical and equipment.
Good luck however you move forward with it.
There are many many others on here who know a whole heck of lot more than me. It's really worth listening to them as they will offer you nothing but the best advice.


Active member
Dec 9, 2014
Murrieta, CA
Thanks for pointing out my first mistakes :) I've been trying to do a fair amount of research - I have a couple of books, watched loads of YouTube videos, read , and read a whole bunch of articles and websites. Obviously reading is completely different from the practical!

Coping/tiling/plastering - ah. That is something I'd not picked up.

RE pool and spa built separately being two sets of equipment - which equipment do you mean? What I intended with the plumbing was to put Ts/valves in place but cap off the spa bits until ready to do the spa. But I guess it would be two sets of inspections, two jobs for the shotcrete, and possibly doubles of some other things. Maybe I'm kidding myself by thinking I could get a pool sooner than a pool+spa.

Engineering plans - yes, I just noticed the rebar has to be of certain spacing and diameter for different areas of the pool. That is probably as much experience as it is reading standards/code. Getting it wrong would be fatal. Noticed one advert that was offering localized plans for about $500 I think. I think I could do the actual rebar myself though. I like to get my hands dirty but I would like to think I know when it's way over my head :D .


Divin Dave

LifeTime Supporter
TFP Expert
Oct 2, 2013
Longview, Texas
I think the order in which the tasks are listed needs a little tweaking. They order you have the tasks listed now leaves way too much time between the hole dig and the gunite or shotcrete installed. You dont want to have the dirt walls collapse, so its important to consider that.

You really need to focus on getting the gunite or shotcrete shell completed as soon as possible. A less risky task order would be;

Phase 1
dig hole
Install Rebar
Install Skimmer and stub out the plumbing from pool walls (finish out the plumbing runs later)
Install Light niche
Install the bonding wire
shoot the shotcrete or gunite
Build Equipment Pad
Install Plumbing to Pad

I would say go ahead and install Tile and Coping before plastering. It will be very difficult to do that after without running a high risk of ruining the plaster.

Once the shell of the pool is in, then you can proceed something like;

Phase 2
Install Electrics to equipment
Install Deck

Building a pool is a lot of manual work. Pool Companies have multiple people available who have all of the right tools to do it. Even so, it can take them months to complete a pool install. So, be prepared for this to take a long time doing most of it yourself.


TFP Expert
Apr 19, 2013
Sacramento, CA
Welcome to TFP!!!

You are in California So some things are a bit different here.

First you need a set of plans -- not elaborate, just very basic. Those plans have to be blessed by an engineer. That only costs about $200 to $400. And you turn the whole thing in for a building permit.

Generally you get inspections before gunite for rebar plumbing and rough electrical. After gunite for pre decking that looks at electrical bonding. Before plaster that looks at barriers and after its complete that looks at everything.

In theory you can do it all yourself except gunite but most sub out the excavation, rebar, gunite and plaster. Electrical isn't difficult but the rules are complicated and weird so its generally best to sub the actual electrical work. Plastering a pool is miserable work for a DIY guy it will take days -- yes days.

I strongly suggest you read these three threads regarding DIY pools in southern California. They are fun and have a great deal of information. Plus all those folks will usually share information with you like names of subs and sources of materials.

Oh and a thread on a plastering a pool (jump to the end of the tread for the plaster part):

Good Luck and try to have fun with it!!!


Active member
Dec 9, 2014
Murrieta, CA
Thanks everyone, that's really helpful. Sounds like I really should just concentrate on project management than doing the easier (!) bits myself. Lots more reading to do.

Looking at my original ordering again, even I can see it wasn't very appropriate. I have in my mind the things that needed to be done but didn't express that very well - I am quite worried about wall collapse so dig-board-rebar-shotcrete was supposed to be in very quick succession.

One thing I've not quite worked out from the many photos is whether plumbing generally goes outside the walls rather than in it? A specific detail for later but I'm trying to fill the large gaps in my knowledge while I think of them.

I've seen some posts mentioning distance to equipment and that means one of two things: move the pool further away from the patio doors, or move the equipment closer to the pool - which will make it a lot more visible. However, maybe a 3-4ft walled enclosure with shrubbery around would hide it a little, just not so much the noise though.


LifeTime Supporter
Aug 4, 2013
long beach
Today's equipment is much quieter than what you are probably thinking.
Distance is ok but does change a few things which can be dealt with if you aware ahead of time.
Plumbing should not be encased in the pool shell because you will have a real hard time accessing it if necessary. It does obviously penetrate the walls but really shouldn't be in them if possible in my opinion.
This is a great place to learn and understand how each part of the pool functions as a whole. Take your time, it will start to become more and more obvious as you watch the builds of others on here. It's a great place to share. Enjoy.


In The Industry
Jul 22, 2014

Sounds like you are still on the drawing board.

In my book step #1 soil sample to be anaylzed - your message indicates soil is not homogenous.


1.It would be more than wise to have/hire outfit shooting the pool to place the steel, to be brief there are failure and warranty issues to consider - from structural to cosmetic.

2. Take the time to fully digest NEC 680, your inspections will depend on it.


Well-known member
Aug 18, 2012
Sunny SoCal
Look over my build in the link I provided below. It shows my start to finish 5 week build. The order everything was done is mainly due to the order that is required by the Los Angeles County inspector. That is... engineering drawings, permit, dig, rebar, electrical, gas, plumbing, etc. At the end, a bunch of sign offs kind pile up on each other, which includes things like gates, door alarms, etc. After the gunite / shotcrete shell is completed, you can pretty much take as long as you want to finish the rest of the pool, within reason. Most cities have a 12 month cap on you closing out your permit, before you have to apply for another one to complete the job.

- Also, all those steps you plan on doing yourself should be left to the pro's. You want to screw around for weeks learning how to set rebar, when a crew of 3 or 4 guys can rebar a pool in about 4 hours. Total waste of time. I know my time is worth a lot more than the frustration of doing it yourself.

As a closing note. Right after building my pool I helped a co-worker of mine owner build his own pool. He has all the features I have, with a total saving of $10K - $15K over what I paid. Before my build, I was too scared to take on such a big project, but after watching my PB hire out all the subs and then having my friend confirm what I learned on his pool, I would have no problem doing OB the next time.!!-DONE!!!


Active member
Dec 9, 2014
Murrieta, CA
Drawing board, hah, barely even on the back of a napkin at the moment! Ok, looks like I really ought to stick to just managing the thing rather than trying to do it myself. Just trying to save a few pennies and have some fun... but yes it would probably be anything but if I did it!

Nice pool, Killer. In fact they're all nice here. I can only hope mine will turn out as good.

I just need to save some money now. :eek: