In a secluded corner of Joshua Tree, a livestock tank painted white, surrounded with cactuses and crowned with black string lights, serves as an outdoor tub for ultrahip Airbnb “The Shack Attack,” owned by Kathrin and Brian Smirke.
The tub, which the Smirkes dreamed up as a respite from the desert elements, quickly took on new life as an Instagram photo booth of sorts, where guests are all too eager to pose for a mid-soak snap.
Last year, New York magazine’s the Strategist dubbed stock tanks “the Mason jars of backyard pools.” But unlike Mason jars, this resurging throwback shows no sign of losing steam.
“People in the country have been using stock tanks and clawfoot tubs as pools for years,” says Taysha Murtaugh, lifestyle editor for CountryLiving.com, an early chronicler of the DIY pool trend. “Many of our readers have told us they remember spending their summers in these ‘hillbilly hot tubs,’ as they’re affectionately called, back in the ’50s and ’60s.”
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Murtaugh saw the trend take off last spring after Country Living picked up a stock-tank pool tutorial from retail chain Tractor Supply Co. at about the same time that pools hacked together out of wooden pallets, shipping containers and pickup truck beds starting gaining traction on Pinterest and Instagram.
Scroll through enough photos of these filter-enhanced water features during the dog days of summer, and all of a sudden taking a hose to just about any large vessel seems enticing. But is rigging up your own outdoor oasis really a good idea?
“For a lot of people, when it comes to outdoor living, they want something unique and different that ties into their personality,” says Kurt Kraisinger, founder of Lorax Design Group in Overland Park, Kansas, and member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. “Whether a DIY or custom project, each should be approached with caution.”
Although DIY shipping-container and pallet pools aren’t exactly practical, Kraisinger says that, executed correctly, stock-tank pools achieve a certain design aesthetic for a fraction of the cost of an in-ground pool. But once you start adding custom features such as pumps, filters and lighting, look to a professional to ensure everything is up to code, says Kraisinger, who after 25 years in the business has seen his fair share of DIY disasters.
“It ends up costing three times as much as if they would have asked a professional from the start,” he warns.
Nashville bloggers Casey Freeman and Savannah McNeill of the blog Hey Wanderer fell for the look of stock-tank pools after seeing them on Instagram and Pinterest, but it took a few rounds of trial and error and plenty of elbow grease to achieve their perfect backyard setup. One of their biggest concerns from the get-go was keeping pesky Tennessee mosquitoes at bay.
“The first season, we hired a landscaper, and he set it up as a pond,” Freeman says. “It had a waterfall pump that kept water circulating but didn’t filter it.”
McNeill decided to take matters into her own hands, assembling an aboveground pool pump and filtration system she purchased at a hardware store and documenting her step-by-step process in a YouTube tutorial. The bloggers say it’s their most popular video to date, and the corresponding post has generated significant commission from affiliate links.
Not bad for a project they estimate cost approximately $500 – they purchased the stock tank from a local co-op for $350 and spent about $100 on the pump.
McNeill, who has since built a custom bench seat around the perimeter of the pool – which they call a “game changer” – says the project definitely requires someone with a DIY mentality.
Ultimately, Freeman and McNeill say, the 8-foot-diameter pool has been worth the sweat equity and never fails to impress house guests. “People lose their mind when they see it,” Freeman says.
The usefulness of stock-tank pools extends beyond happy hour; they are sturdier and more aesthetically pleasing alternatives to plastic kiddie pools.
Darci Haney of MD Haney & Co., an Oregon-based home design and remodeling company she runs with her husband, says she, too, found a picture of a stock-tank pool online when looking for an affordable pool option for her two daughters and quickly became a convert.
“I love the look of it – it went with the feel of our landscape,” she says. “I couldn’t quite get over the bright blue of aboveground pools.”
Now in their second summer with their 8-foot-diameter stock-tank pool, Haney says it’s big enough for her children, ages 5 and 7, to float in inner tubes and strong enough for them to hold onto the sides and kick their feet.
Her husband, an experienced contractor, had no trouble setting up the pool, leveling it out with sand, and surrounding it with river rock so the girls wouldn’t track in grass. Other kid-friendly additions include a solar heater, custom cover and sand filter pump, as an alternative to harsh chemicals.
“I think it’s resonating with different people aesthetically because it’s a fun look that goes with different styles of homes and backyards,” she says.
For those who love the look of a stock-tank pool but don’t trust themselves near a pump-filtration system, Kraisinger says the best option might just be something that’s designed to operate as, ahem, a pool.
He recalls a project he designed on a ranch in Kansas about seven years ago, where a client requested a pool overlooking his property that resembled a watering tank for his cattle. Kraisinger chose to incorporate a circular, aboveground pool surrounded with natural wooden planks. The stock tank? He reserved that for the cows.