the how-to of a shipping container pool

[in case you're interested in the details]

this post is being written in response to requests for a detailed understanding of how to recycle a shipping container into an in-ground swimming pool

1.  [waterproofing part 1]  the container is welded watertight.  really.  this took a long time, and it required hours and hours of welding.  we did not coat the inside of the container with something that would hold water.  i think this should be qualified by all the options we considered in talking to engineers and chemists we know and are related to, plus a few people at pool stores…  concrete and metal have different expansion/contraction rates, and that wouldn’t work.  spraying it with the liner people use in truck beds seemed like an option, but those aren’t pools – we opted out on research down that line because we then began to see the container as having a lot in common with a water tank.  then we found a company here in town (austin tx) that resurfaces and maintains entire water treatment plants… aha!  drinkable water, metal container, chlorinated water, no liner.  watertight welds were the trick.  and good paint.

2.  [waterproofing part 2] because every container comes with a standard interior base of marine-grade plywood, it seemed easiest to lay metal over this flat and weld at the edges than to remove it.  solid wood floor overlaid with sheet metal (i’m sorry, i think i should know this, but i think it’s 12 gauge steel)… and the weld along the edge of this plate should be a straight line.  along the top edge, there will be the need to weld along each corrugation as it intersects the plate on top, but the bottom line is easy.  another note – steel in shipping containers is not thick, so where the other steel channel is welded onto the outside, there is a high likelihood that there will be pinholes in the metal that will be visible from the inside.  it is really easy to see these once it is painted.  i have gone through and put on a marine grade epoxy (from a marine store, or aqua mend epoxy in putty form) after priming but before the final coat.  some of these can be applied underwater as well, so if rust spots become visible when the pool is full, the patch can be done anyway.  my motto is to tackle rust as soon as i see it, but not freak out about it (this has been a learned skill).  hey, it’s a pool made of metal, right?  can’t freak out about a little rust; it’s just par for the pool.

3.  [sizing]  we cut down the container to the size we wanted for a pool, within reasonable limits (no shallow end).  the standard container sizes are 20′ and 40′.  i kept shopping on craigs list for an open container at first, having started out thinking that i would have an 8′ deep pool.  then i realized they are 1. expensive and 2. hard to acquire.  it ended up that the welder we started talking to told me we would just cut off the top and use part of it for a newly engineered end, so i could spec an interior height and he would slice the entire top off in one go, roof and all.  a standard 40′ container can be found for about $2500, plus delivery,  if i could go back, i would visually inspect a container i bought for rust along the bottom corrugated edges and try to pick the least rusty one, but hey, we patched.

4.  [structural engineering] the civil engineer who consulted on the house we were building (the one that now has the pool as its backyard) thought our pool idea sounded ‘interesting’ so he came out and very nicely walked around in the dirt and did lots of sketches for very little money.  his resulting recommendation was to ring our now 6 foot tall container with 3 rings of steel channel, at 1/3 and 2/3 of the way up the outside with 2″x6″ channel, and then with a  box around the outside of the top of 6″ square channel.  i then asked that we add a 6″ plate of steel on top of this to allow for a smooth curb/lip that would keep water in the pool or have it splash over the entire top.  i will attempt to draw this?!!?

poolwall

5.  [shallow end?]  i have already said this, but to say it again, pretty much every available container has a roof.  which means that the roof has to be cut off.  this was an epiphany for me, since i had been imagining trying to enjoy swimming in an 8 foot deep pool.  if you’re going to have to cut the roof of anyhow, you can cut it at any height.  so we had ours cut to make an exterior height of about 6 feet, giving us a swimming depth of 5.5 feet of water.  perfect for laps.  we didn’t delve into a shallow end.  it seemed like too much complication for a beta.  you could make an entirely shallow pool, i.e. a wading pool?

6. [plumbing]  we used entirely the same plumbing as we would have for an in-ground pool, but the edge fixtures (inlets and return to the pump) are using the thin, gasketed fixtures that would be used on an above ground pool.  the pump, filter, heater, one-way valves, etc. can all be easily laid out by a pool store for you for no charge (they want your business) and all you really need to know is what the water dimensions are on your finished container.  we went around and around on whether to plumb it on the outside, attempt to plumb it along the inside walls (we were really stuck on the idea that we needed a main drain in the middle of the bottom for months), or maybe whether the plumbing made it impossible.  the main drain is a bad idea.  a main drain in a concrete pool is embedded in over a foot of concrete and rebar, so in the horrible case that the pool moves a little, the drain is going to move with it.  a shipping container, on the other hand, is going to be lowered into a carefully excavated hole lined with sand by a crane or a very large forklift.  how does that happen with a pipe attached to the bottom?  one option, expensive, would be to weld a permanent drain of non-pitting stainless steel pipe to the bottom of the pool and then have it turn a corner and come up one side (the side where the rest of the equipment will be set) so that it is an integral part of the pool.  i presented this option to the manager of the pool store i frequent, who then said to me, ‘well, people normally turn off their main drain when they’re running a pool vaccuum.  why don’t you just leave your vaccuum on all the time and have that act as a moving main drain?’

brilliant.

needless to say, that also solves the problem of the no shallow end/deep end:  the vaccuum is moving around.  we have a polaris atv.  if i could keep shopping i would, because our many pecan trees clog it up easily, but i think that’s also the lack of a cover.  also, we didn’t put skimmer baskets along the top edges (or edge, as this size pool could get away with having only one) because, again, in a beta it seemed like to many details to attempt to make it structurally sound and watertight at every seam and keep cutting holes in it.  we instead have a skimmer that floats on the water and has the vaccuum running out the other end of it, so that if the vaccuum gets blocked, there is still a place for suction to pull in water, and then our pump won’t burn out.  to say it another way, water gets pulled in from the bottom of the pool through the vaccuum, whose hose then runs up to the surface into the side of a floating skimmer (ours is a polaris lcs – leaf catcher and skimmer – meant for above ground pools), and the skimmer has a 2 part basket, collecting leaves and debris both from the vaccuum and from the surface, and out of the other side a long hose is running to a hole in the side of the container, which runs through pipes back to the pump.  from the pump, the water goes through the filter, then through the heater (if the heater is off, it still runs through – super easy), and back into 4 outlets that enter the pool right at the same height as the suction hole (about 8″ below water level).  by the time we had worked all this out, we just decided it didn’t make any sense to pay someone to implement what we already knew how to do, so we paid the electricians and plumbers that built our house only once the equipment was set up to tie in the gas (for the heater) and electrical.  you may have to find an electrician to do this on the weekend – a residential electrical company is not going to want to take on the liability of giving power to a pool. (ours didn’t)

7.  [details]  we had the outside underground part of the pool painted with a 4-part coal tar epoxy normally used by the oil & gas industry.  the inside of the pool is blue.  there are 2 ladders, one at each end (one is kind of on the side toward the end).  don’t do one ladder – you need an emergency exit for kids.  the container sits 18″ above ground, so you can see its shipping container coolness.  it also means the plumbing gaskets/pipes all sit a few inches above grade, great for doing the plumbing after the pool is in the ground, and also great for leak checking.

there are things i have forgotten.  i will add answers to questions i receive at the end of the post, here: _____________

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52 Responses to “the how-to of a shipping container pool”

  1. Kim Says:

    You are a rock star.

  2. David Says:

    I liked your post. I am considering converting a steel water holding tank on our ranch to a pool. It is round, about 5 ft. tall and 25 feet in diameter. It is very rusty. I am most curious about the paint you used for the pool and the process you went thru to prep the material. How did your marine epoxy work out? Has it held up well to the chlorine? Any other tips/insights from your experience?

    Thanks,

    David

  3. selenato Says:

    Interesting Read! Very detailed blog.
    Thanks for sharing

  4. Jimmy Lee Says:

    I like what you have written.
    I have been exploring this for some time as an additional product to ad to my business.
    I am in Costa Rica and my container home building business wants to build pools. I am curious about the coating and some other things.
    Perhaps you could e-mail me your e-mail and help us out.
    Thank you
    Jimmy Lee
    San Ramon, Costa Rica

  5. Tara Cox Says:

    This sounds soooo cool! I want to do this when I build this fall/winter. Do you have any pictures? Did you ever think of ways to make a shallow end or gradual incline? I have small children.
    T Cox

  6. Tara Cox Says:

    One more thing. Are you worried about it popping up? I live in south Louisiana.

  7. theepic Says:

    well, tara, the pictures i have taken that are the best are with the first post, ‘i just went swimming in a shipping container pool.’ that’s all i have right now. you get the general idea, which is just a big box in the ground. right now it looks like a big empty box, but usually it is a big pool box. i did the logistical brainstorming for a shallow end, and frankly decided the best way to increase usability with small kids would be to design benches that hang over the sides like pool ladders that could be ‘safe zones’ for the kiddos.
    i think the wood in the bottom of the container is such a strong floor medium for metal support (it is a huge piece of sheet steel) that it would be quite a bit of work to reshape the bottom. if time were no issue, it seems you could just build a support frame, calculate the water weight for framing loads, and then use a 1″ ply to cover the frame, then lay sheet metal over that. but with the corrugations along the sides, there would be quite the cutting job to make a perfect seal. the detail work is tremendous, and we decided it just wasn’t worth the hassle. we can take our little kids to great wading pools around town, and we do.
    the shipping container is reminiscent of a purist lap pool from a design standpoint (even without water in it), and it also turns out to be the easiest way to reutilize one as a pool.
    you *could* have the container cut off at 2 feet and have a very large wading pool alongside a larger container that would be a lap pool. if space, time, money, and plumbing difficulties weren’t an issue. ?!?

  8. theepic Says:

    i am worried about it popping up, but only when i drain it. so we don’t drain it during rainy season. water weighs approx. 9 pounds a gallon, so our full pool has 63,000 lbs. of water, in addition to the metal, putting the total weight somewhere around 70K. rain won’t push that out of the ground. but you might want to ask around with pool owners in your area.
    i talked to our civil engineer about many aspects of this pool, and the site specifics of where we are.

  9. Sterling Magnificent Says:

    Hi, Great site loved this information.Just wanted to say thanks for The Read.I have booked marked this page so I can come back again. Thanks

  10. Jon Says:

    I love this idea…I was just thinking of doing this and decided to see if there were any other people out there with the same crazy idea…I am glad to see that I am not the only one. We are thinking of possibly cutting the roof off at an angle and placing the container in the ground at an angle to be able to wade into it and then you would not have to weld the end closed and you would have a shallow end too. Do you think that might work?

  11. Panama opportunity Says:

    We would like to incorporate container pools in a development in Panama. Are you interested in talking about consulting?

  12. theepic Says:

    i would be interested in talking about consulting. are there any sites representing your development yet on the web? i speak spanish, incidentally.

  13. Panama opportunity Says:

    The project is a very cool hostel on the island of Bastimentos. http://www.bocasbound.com/

    We are recycling as much of the unused materials as possible. We already have two 20′ containers and excavation and welding capabilities.

    Do you have pictures of your pool?

  14. theepic Says:

    if you search this site, there is a post from summer 2008 that shows the pool in many views.
    the pool is described there in more detail.
    i’ll check out your website…

  15. Panama opportunity Says:

    I found them. How can I reach you for a conversation about our project?

  16. GIORGIO Says:

    rheepic can you contact me to my mail?
    info_mateck@yahoo.it

    i am inerested in your idea because i have this idea in past…send me a mail.
    tahnk you…i speak a little write english.
    contact me urgently

  17. artkraft Loftdesign » Hogyan lesz konténerből medence? Says:

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  18. renaissanceronin Says:

    Wow.

    I teach people how to build homes out of shipping containers.

    And, I even teach them how to build pools out of them.

    But I must say… you went an entirely different direction in your pool conversion, than we do.

    Here’s how WE do it:

    http://renaissanceronin.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/im-in-the-hole-and-its-wet-in-here/

    I’d love to see pictures of your pool. And, hey, I’ll even feature in on my blog about shipping container construction, if you like.

    Great Job!

  19. The Brick House Says:

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  20. Tolge Wood Says:

    Hiyas…I am an Austinite and former Swimming Pool Sub…
    I would love to see your pool and enjoy some short chit chat about the process. Thanks for the good info….quite inspiring.

  21. Austin Aaron Says:

    Used a different email addy this time so you can hit up the email URL to have some background info on me. Make certain I’m not some crazy guy. Would it be feasible for me to call that #, as well?

  22. Chelsea Says:

    Hello, how much did this pool cost to make? and how long did it take?

  23. Chelsea Says:

    how much did it cost, how long did it take to buy, Was it hard? do you have any more photos

  24. chanchan Says:

    fantastic! thanks for all the detail it is very helpful!

  25. jason Says:

    Just wondering why your cost was so much more that Renaisance? Was it BC you went with paint? instead of a liner? BTW I have a SC home in Hawaii and love it. American ingenuity at it’s best.

  26. wong elana Says:

    informative article about how to recycle a shipping container into an in-ground swimming pool. keep on going

  27. Everest Base Camp Trek Says:

    Amazing site. Lots of beneficial information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

  28. John Conway Says:

    I knew this would work… glad to see it put into practice. I checked renaissanceronin’s site, too. Great method to create a “double-wide” pool.

    A couple questions (possible solutions):
    If the container is expertly welded to be watertight, why overlay the wood floor with a welded steel plate then cut off the roof? Turn the can upside-down… and cut the wood “floor” off the top.

    Fully supporting the corrugated “floor” could be accomplished by setting the container into a thin concrete “slurry” when it’s placed in the pit, or by creating a flat base by spraying a “stucco” on the exterior of the eventual “bottom” before turning the container over.

    A wider pool could be created by placing two upside-down containers side-by-side and removing the “common walls. If I’m not mistaken, couldn’t the flat surfaces of the steel “tubes” framing those corrugated steel walls then be welded together to create a “double-wide” pool?

    Next, you don’t need to create a “shallow end” to make the pool kid-friendly… just a very sturdy “shelf.”

    In a “reply” you mentioned a support structure to support the load on a welded enclosure for a shallow end… but, there is no “water-weight load” if water is under the shelf. Other than the combined “bouyant weight” of all the kids standing on it, of course. A hinge could allow the shelf to be lifted for easier cleaning. All you would need then is a length of rope to corral the munchkins.

  29. John Conway Says:

    Also, one possible preventative for the “rust” issue would be to start with an aluminium container (53′ long, harder to acquire and move). Of course, this would require any further welding to be of a highly specialized nature.

  30. Can Crusher · Says:

    of course above ground pools are easier to maintain and to clean ,;’

  31. Robert Says:

    what about flipping it and cut the wood bottom out , I want to make fish ponds for aquaculture any thoughts ??

  32. links for 2010-12-16 « banban@wordpress.com Says:

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  33. DawnMarie Says:

    Would love to see pics of this!

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  35. P.J. Says:

    How is the pool aging? Run into any big problems? Leaks? Rust? Considering that more than half of your pool was in the ground, do you think that the 3 rings of steel channel were entirely needed? I was thinking just the one around the brim would be sufficient. I’m considering doing this out at my place in Joshua Tree, CA. What did the budget for your entire project wind up being?

    Thanks,
    P.J.

    • theepic Says:

      hello p.j.
      well, the pool is aging well. i drained it and repainted it this summer with a friend, and used a product that covers welds like glue/paste as a first coat… i bought it all from sanitred.com. i really wish i had had this paint from the start. we also had a bike robbery this summer, and included in it was the theft of our roving drop-in pool vaccuum, so i’m now suffering through leaf drop with just the pump system. a rectangular container has much worse water flow into the skimmer than an oval pool, since water can’t really turn in a circle, but it’s fine. the entire budget at finish was about $22000. but every time we paint it is about $2000… sandblasting is costly. i won’t sandblast again, just steel brush loose paint and repaint over, but that’s a result of the new sanitred paint.
      on other questions, the pool isn’t entirely underground all the way around. it is below grade on three sides, but our lot drops significantly toward the back, so thus the rings.
      hope this helps. good luck. there aren’t many permanent pools like this…

      • P.J. Says:

        I’m sorry, one more quick question… What did your welder cost you/how long did it take to cut the container in half and do the steel channel? That seems to be the big question mark for me.

        As far as leak/rust proofing, I’m thinking a thick vinyl pool liner – a 48′ x 8′ liner would run about $1200 and theoretically last for 7-15yrs. That way you wouldn’t have to worry about taking out the plywood floor either.

  36. P.J. Says:

    Thanks for the response! Cheers.

  37. Heather Says:

    If you have to cut the top off, couldn’t you cut it at an angle going from 6 or 7 foot down to about 3 foot for the shallow end. Then you put it in the ground at a tilt so the top of the pool is level all the way across. This would make the pool have a gradual bottom.

  38. Denis LaVertu Says:

    Love the concept would like to see the finished project

  39. Betterways Says:

    How exciting! I just had this idea, wondered if it was possible, googled shipping container lap pools. and it is!!! Thanks for all the details.

  40. Shane Says:

    Hi There Im involved with a humanitarian project and we will be using Aquaponics to help empower people in developing countries. We thought about using the containers to raise fish in as we could manufacture them in the states and ship them as units at our international locations. Any thoughts, suggestions or concerns? Would oil based paint on the inside be a bad idea?

  41. Shane Says:

    PJ where can u find these type of pool liners do u have a web site or a company contact

  42. Charlie Says:

    I have always wanted to weld me a pool using whatever support I deem necessary, I would get the advice from engineers at work. I fabricate for an industrial maintenance department most of the time. An 8 x 4 10 gauge sheet is going for 87/.00 today, and if I used 2 inch square or some channel, I feel like I could form and solidify the pool beside where I was going to put it, but until this, I have never found a discussion on it. Should I use a liner or seal it and paint it? I would get pro advice on electrical, location of drain and all and just say thanks to all, this has made my day.

    • theepic Says:

      Charlie,
      Sorry I never replied to this. I can only speak from my experience on what you should do after making the pool structurally sound (i did a lot of conversing with some great engineers), and having chosen the paint route, I would do it again. I can’t speak to liners. I will be writing a post about the ongoing life of this pool at some point in the next month, so check back and you’ll be able to read in more detail. It’s like having an inside out boat: maintenance required but totally worth it. The happiest day of my life is not going to be the day I sell my pool. It’s the only thing keeping summer bearable.

  43. NancyB Says:

    Love your pool! I did a little research on wher to get open top ISO containers: location, location, and location! You can find them at the giant ports like Houston, Mississippi river, Philadelphia, New York.
    I <3 Hipster Austin. I am glad that you found an inexpensive method of constructing an awesome Hipster pool.You arefortunate to be located near oil country so you could avail yourself of all those awesome materials like the coal tar epoxy.
    Maybe the Hipsters in new Orleans or Williamsburg can make a Beta with an open ISO.

  44. Luxurious Shipping Containers | DomestiTech Says:

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  45. James Lostlen Says:

    Wonderful write up, thanks for the info. I am looking to do something similar and have a few questions…
    What paint / primer did you use and do you think it will work with a salt water pool as well?
    Do you have more pictures or info on what you did for reinforcing the sides? I have an idea to use about 50 railroad ties stacked on end along the outside of container to span the weaker side corrugation and connect the top and bottom frame. Then backfill with dirt as I fill with water, if back filled correctly the outward pressure of the water should match closely the inward pressure of the dirt, and not bow out of crumple in… I think. I know that water weighs about 1600 lbs a cubic yard and our desert soil is around 2000 pounds a cubic yard. So the extra 400 pounds should be within the ability of the corrugated sides strength, especially with the added help of the railroad ties.
    Thoughts based on your particular experience?

    • theepic Says:

      Hello James. I have just repainted the pool after 3 years of great experience. Your questions deserve a post, but to get you started, you should look at sanitred for the LRB coating to cover the welds (it’s a 3 step process that will help a lot with rust). Then on top of the sanitred, which is really only necessary once (ever, i think, but at the minimum it’ll last 20 years with good paint maintenance), you need to paint the entire thing with a really good quality pool epoxy. I just used paint from kelley technical, and the paint is called zeron (an olympic pool paint product). Will go into more depth in a post about the shipping container pool, 6 years going strong.

  46. Kris plambeck Says:

    Why wouldn’t you just flip it over and cut off the bottom?

  47. Andrea Says:

    Thank you so much for the detailed information on constructing a container pool. I have been looking into building a shipping container house in the wilderness (purchased 22 acres of land all natural with wild life and want to build a cottage) and came across this. Excellent job! Send me some pics of the finished product. I’m sure it looks amazing. If I decide to build a pool using the container I’m sure I will have questions. Thanks again for your kindness to share your ideas with others. All the best! AKS
    Toronto, Ontario Canada

  48. How to Make a Cheap & Easy Shipping Container Pool | Container Alliance Articles Says:

    […] HOW TO DO IT YOURSELF, via theepic: […]

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