How to Set Up a Stock Tank Pool: A DIY Guide

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Stock tank pools are a much cheaper and chicer version of the above-ground pool — perfect for those sweltering summer days where you just need a good, cold soak (and they're not too bad for adding a rustic vibe to your backyard oasis). A DIY stock tank pool is also more compact alternative to the typical above-ground pool, with the smallest taking up about the same amount of space as a deep bathtub. Designed as watering troughs for farm animals, even the smallest stock tank offers at least enough space to sit or lounge comfortably and the larger models offer enough room for a few close friends.

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Setting a stock tank pool up in your backyard isn't exactly a lazy day sunbathing in the pool, but with a few supplies from the pool store and an afternoon set aside you'll be pool lounging by the evening.

Stock Tank Pool Sizes

While thoughts of stock tanks may bring to mind the old-school galvanized metal tubs sold in antique shops, the type required for a swimming pool is much larger. When shopping for a pool (which is most usually only found at a tractor supply store), look for a tank at least 2 feet deep. The smallest stock tank feasible for a DIY soaking pool is 4 feet long, 2 feet deep and 2 feet wide and holds at least 100 gallons. Round stock tanks offer room for more than one person, even with the water just 2 feet deep. A 6-foot diameter, 390-gallon tank offers room for two adults and potentially a couple of kids, while an 8-foot diameter, 700-gallon pool holds four adults comfortably.

Stock tanks are also sometimes available in larger sizes, such as an 8-foot diameter, but these have been in high demand and can be quite difficult to haul and manipulate due to the size and weight. No matter what size pool you choose or what it's made of, one with a drain plug makes it easier to empty when necessary, such as when you decide to scrub it out at the end of the season.

Choosing a Location for a Stock Tank Pool

Before buying the stock tank, scout your yard for the ideal pool location. Look for an area that is flat and level and free from large, protruding tree roots. Although you may want to install the pool on a deck, this is not a good idea due to the massive weight of a full pool. One gallon of water weighs more than 8 pounds, which means a 100-gallon stock tank pool filled to capacity weighs more than 800 pounds in water alone, not including the weight of the pool itself. Add a human or two, and the pool weighs significantly more. For this reason, the area beneath the pool must be solid, sturdy and able to handle the weight.

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It's also a good idea to choose a spot about 10 to 20 feet from an outdoor outlet, which is far enough to keep the outlet from getting wet yet close enough to plug in the pump/filter combo that keeps the pool water clean. The outlet must be GFCI protected for safety.

Since the area around a pool gets wet after exiting the pool, look for a space where you can add a few stepping stones or pavers, although lush grass will also do. If you are choosing a stock tank greater than 2 feet high, you may want to include room outside the pool for a ladder so you can easily enter and exit the pool.

Preparing the Ground for the Pool Installation

The ground absolutely must be level to help prevent leaks or wall failure in your DIY pool. Walk around the proposed site with a 72-inch level to get a good view on whether the ground is flat and smooth. Another option is to set a long, straight 2x4 horizontally on the project ground so one of the narrow, long sides points up. Tape any length of level on top temporarily to help you find high or low spots on the project site as well as slopes. Reposition the 2x4 at multiple angles on the site as if the site is a clock face and the 2x4 is one of the clock's hands.

Dig out any high spots in the ground with a shovel and use a garden rake to break or smooth any clumps as needed. Use leveling sand, road base or crushed granite to fill in depressions and ensure the entire project area is level for the pool. Tamp down the site with a hand tamper. In most cases, sand, gravel and solid ground offer enough support to hold the weight of a stock tank pool.

Installing the Stock Tank Pool

Enlist the help of a friend (or three) to help move the stock tank into position. Set it down and check it for level again by setting the level down inside the tank. Check for level from several positions on the floor and along the lip of the tank. If necessary, scoop shovels full of sand or gravel under areas that need to be leveled and then check for level again. If the pool is slightly off level and it's made of metal, the water weight could put more pressure on one pool wall than another, causing a leak along a seam.

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Fill the pool to 4 or so inches deep to check for leaks along the bottom edge or any vertical seam. This is also a good time to get inside the pool and wipe it down with a wet sponge to remove any dirt or debris, rinsing the sponge out regularly in clean water that's not in the pool.

Mark the locations of any leaks using chalk or a piece of masking tape on the outside of the pool or inside above the water line. Then, drain the water. Repair the leaks using a waterproof, clear silicone sealant or a similar leak-patching material that's safe for pool use, allowing the product to dry for 24 hours or as recommended on the packaging.

Using a Pool Pump in a Stock Tank Pool

Since your stock tank pool will stay filled for a while once you're ready to use it, you'll need a pool filter and pump combo to keep the water clean and to distribute pool chemicals thoroughly. Without the pump and filter, the water quickly gets stagnant and becomes an attractive breeding ground for mosquitoes. Algae may also build up, which means you'll have to empty the pool and scrub it out to ensure the water stays clean.

Look for an above-ground pool and filter combo that is designed for the amount of water your tank holds, such as an Intex 1,500 gallons per hour cartridge filter pump. No matter which pump model you choose, read the product information carefully to determine if all necessary parts are part of the package, thus avoiding another trip to the pool supply store. Buying directly from a pool retailer is a good idea since the store representative will know which pumps or kits come with all necessary parts. The Intex pump comes with the required hoses and their respective fittings, gaskets and nozzles for the inside of the pool. Its cord also has a built-in GFCI as an added safety measure.

You'll also need a 2 3/4-inch hole saw with an arbor to drill holes to add the fittings that join the pump hoses to your pool. If you choose a different pump model, read the product information to ensure your hole saw is appropriately sized for the hoses and hose fittings. A lower-capacity pump may have narrower hoses, for instance.

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Installing the Pump

Make sure your drill is fully charged if you are using a cordless, as you'll need a high-speed setting to drill through the stock tank metal. Temporarily connect the hoses to your pump and choose a location for it where it won't be in your way when entering and exiting the pool. Manipulate the hoses to select incoming and outgoing water flow port locations on your pool, which is where you'll drill.

If your pool has ridges or ribs, choose smooth areas between them for your drilling, otherwise the hose fittings won't seal properly. The hole locations should be relatively far apart from one another for maximum water circulation. The hole for the hose that goes toward the pump inlet should be lower than the hole for the pump outlet hose for maximum water circulation.

Step 1: Drill the Outlet Port

Drill a hole with a 2 3/4-inch hole saw between ridges on the pool. A good location is somewhere midway up the height of the pool or higher than the inlet port location.

Step 2: Add the Outlet Port

Look through your pump filter kit for the outlet port assembly and note the order of the pieces shown on the enclosed instruction diagram. Take the assemblage apart if necessary and reassemble it through the pool wall so the outlet port is inside the pool with the rubber gasket (which is also inside the pool behind the port). Tighten the pieces by turning them clockwise. At this point, the hole has a plastic tube protruding without the hose attached. The piece should fit snugly with no air gaps, so no caulk is necessary.

Step 3: Add an Inlet Port

Drill a hole, this time for the inlet port, somewhere down low on the pool. Place the gasket or O-ring on the back part of the inlet cover, which is the piece with a strainer-type grid on it. Push the inlet cover protrusion through the tank wall from the inside of the tank so the finished part of the cover is inside the pool. Secure the ring that holds it all in place on the outside of the pool by hand tightening it clockwise. This entire assembly is for the water that exits the pool and goes into the pump's inlet port.

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Step 4: Attach External Parts and Hoses

Attach the various fittings on the outside of the tank designated for the inlet and outlet valves, focusing on just one valve at a time. These are all installed simply with hand tightening. Make sure you're attaching the right pieces to the right valve as noted in each respective assembly diagram; otherwise, the pump setup may not work as intended.

The parts may vary slightly depending on the pump you purchased, but virtually any pump is fairly easy to set up simply by looking at the diagram and attaching the pipes and hoses.

Step 5: Fill and Test for Leaks

Remove any metal shavings found in the bottom of the pool or around the pool from the drilling done earlier. Start filling the pool with a garden hose. Fill just a few inches or deep enough to cover an inch or so above the bottom seam. Choose a full jet or large volume of water and spray the outlet and inlet ports from inside the pool to see if any water leaks out. If it does, stop filling the pool, loosen the port fitting and tighten it again, testing for leaks.

If one of the fittings leaks no matter how many times you reassemble it, use a clear silicone sealant inside the tank around the perimeter of the problematic hole and then reattach the gasket and the port assemblage. Wait the amount of time indicated on the sealant package before filling the pool. Once everything is sealed and ready to go, fill the pool as deep as desired, keeping in mind that the water level rises once people enter the pool.

Stock Tank Pool Maintenance

Keep the pool's water in optimal health as if it was a standard above-ground pool. Add a 1-inch chlorine tablet about once a week or as directed on the tablet package based on the pool's water capacity. A floating chlorine dispenser is a good idea, as it prevents the tablet from sinking and sitting in one spot, which could cause premature rust on the tank bottom. Remove any debris you find in the pool, such as leaves or insects, using a skimmer net. A tarp or pool cover helps keep insects and debris out of the pool when it's not in use.

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Kathy Adams is an award-winning writer. She is an avid DIYer that is equally at home repurposing random objects into new, useful creations as she is at supporting community gardening efforts and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals. She's written numerous DIY articles for paint and decor companies, as well as for Black + Decker, Hunker, SFGate, Landlordology and others.

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