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How to design a swimming pool: the complete technical guide

The complete guide to planning & designing a swimming pool. Get the complete technical guide with construction details, layouts and examples to download

This week’s guide will address some technical aspects regarding swimming pool designs and plans, including dimensions, building construction techniques and materials. Also, I will provide a complete 3D design project, that you can also use as a starting point for your next projects. You will also find render and dwg drawings.

If you want, you can already download the 3D model file for free and try photorealistic renders of the project for yourself.

To open and edit 3D models, or to create new designs, you can use the same software I used, Edificius, the BIM architectural design software.

pool design project - edificius

Pool design project | Render created with Edificius

The image above is the render of a swimming pool created with Edificius; download the trial and experience for yourself how easy it is to model your designs and make photorealistic images like this one.

Pool designs: types and classification

Swimming pools come in all different types and sizes, with hot or cold water, used for bathing or swimming, for relaxation or for competitive purposes. The most appropriate construction type should be built according to the site conditions and functions. Thus, design choices relating to shape, size and depth will also depend on the use of the pool.

Swimming pools can be installed using different materials:

  • reinforced concrete
  • with a prefabricated structure in galvanized steel wall panels
  • with expanded polystyrene formwork
  • in fiberglass
Swimming pool design - render

Swimming pool design – render created with Edificius

Several types of swimming pools are available to suit different needs:

  • for swimmers or swimming training;
  • for diving and underwater activities;
  • recreational, suitable for playing and bathing;
  • multifunctional, which simultaneously allows different activities and / or uses;
  • for rehabilitation, for curative and thermal uses.
Swimming pool design render - view from above

Swimming pool design – view from above | Render created with Edificius

Swimming pool designs and plans: shape, dimension and depth

Guidelines, shape and dimensions in the world of competitive swimming are established by the FINA rules (Fédération internationale de natation; English: International Swimming Federation).

Pool shape options are as follows:

  • geometric: rectangular, square, oval or round
  • complex : freeform, kidney shaped, grecian, etc.

In this case we have a rectangular shape and a constant depth. Similarly, variable shapes, different depths and the insertion of water features are preferred for recreational purposes.

Multipurpose pools tend to combine both these needs.

swimming pool designs and plans

rehabilitation swimming pool- cross section produced with Edificius software

With regard to depth, the first thing to consider is the length of the pool. It is also important to verify whether a trampoline, a dive access or a slide will need to be installed. In addition, the type of bottom material also needs to be taken into account.

  • For swimming purposes, the minimum depth for swimming is 1.20 meters.
  • If, in addition to swimming, there is also a trampoline one-meter high in relation to the water surface, a depth of 2.5 meters is recommended.
  • If the trampoline exceeds one meter in height up to two meters or three, a minimum depth of 3 meters is recommended.
swimming pool design

swimming pool render created with Edificius software

With regard to water depth shape types, there are several alternatives that can be adopted. Not all of them can be applicable, since a lot depends on the swimming pool perimeter shape. Generally, we could refer to four shapes of water depth:

  1. Flat: same depth at both ends of the swimming pool.
  2. Sloped: pool floor gradient starts with a 50 cm depth and progressively continues down to the desired depths
  3. Spooned: the bottom is first sloping and then creates a sinking with the shape of a spoon, so as to ensure maximum depth in the diving area
  4. U-shaped: the deepest part is at the center of the pool.


Pool installation: competition pools

olympic swimming pool design

Olympic swimming pool render produced with Edificius software

Public swimming pools can have multiple functions:

  • Competition pools
  • Exercise pools
  • Rehabilitation / thermal / therapy pools
  • Wellbeing and relax pools

Standards, prescriptions and indications for a correct planning are demanded for all these typologies; but major constraints, like dimensions, especially apply to pools for competitive use and training.

Similarly, according to the size of the pool, we classify competition pools in:

  • Olympic swimming pools (50×25 m, depth min 1,80-2,00 mt, depth max 2,10 mt, lanes from 8 to 10, lane width 2,5 m)
  • Semi-olympic (21×25 m, min depth 1,20 mt, max depth 1,80 m; 8 lanes with lane width 2,5 mt)
  • Minimum size pools (10×25 mt, min depth 1,20 mt, max depth 1,80 mt; 8 lanes)
  • Women’s water polo field (20x25mt, min depth 1,80 m)
  • Men’s water polo field (20x30mt, min depth 1,80 m)
Olympic swimming pool - plan

Olympic swimming pool – plan

swimming pool design

Semi-olympic swimming pool render produced with Edificius render

minimum swimming pool plan

Minimum swimming pool – plan


Semi-olympic swimming pool cross-section made with Edificius

Pool installation: water treatment and recovery systems

When designing a swimming pool project, it is necessary to provide a suitable water filtration and purification system with recirculation system and a compensation tank.

Water recirculating system

The water can be fed into the tank both from the walls and from the bottom, provided that the water is homogenized.

Water filtration systems

  • Most skimmers on in-ground pools are built into its upper sides, where the suction draws debris and traps it. Most pool skimmers are accessed via the pool deck area through a trap door or hatch of rectangular shape and they compensate the need for a compensation tank.
  • A ‘deck level’ edge allows pool water to constantly overflow the edges of the pool tank and drain into a continuous channel set into the pool surround and to be gathered into a compensation tank. The channel can be positioned at the pool edge or set back behind a tiled margin for at least 60% of the pool perimeter.

This system involves more accurate filtration and also allows effective aesthetic results, creating a ‘knife edge’ pool effect.

swimming pool design pictures

swimming pool design – render produced with Edificius software

Compensation tank

The compensation tank is a lateral structure which captures the surface water, directing it towards the filtration systems and which keeps the water level unchanged.

Furthermore, the volume of the compensation tank must be sufficient to maintain the maximum number of bathing people present in the tank (usually 8-10% of the main tank).

swimming pool design and plans

swimming pool design – render produced with Edificius software

Other aspects of the swimming pool project: cladding, pool surrounds, copings and equipment


After defining the type of pool to be built, it is necessary to choose an appropriate type of cladding, to guarantee good safety and hygiene requirements and a pleasant aesthetic result. A pool cladding goes from the bottom to the pool walls and is characterized by a variety of materials.

Reinforced PVC

PVC is one of the most used materials for any type of pool due to its adaptability, its impermeability, resistance and easiness of cleaning. PVC pools have a smooth but non-slippery finish, PVC is resistant to UV rays and has a long installation time, it is fixed directly on the spot and remains perfectly attached to the walls.

Preformed Liner

It has the same technical specifications as reinforced PVC but differs for its application: it is prefabricated directly in the factory according to the specifications of the tank, and is then applied through a suction system.


This type of coating is now used only for reinforced concrete pools. The most used material in the form of tiles is Gres: glued to the bottom and to the walls of the tank, it requires an internal and external waterproofing treatment.

The ceramic allows you to customize the pool, as well as being resistant to cleaning products, UV rays and biological agents.

Despite these positive aspects, the weak point of this type of coating is the joints, which must be checked every 4-5 years or so.


It has always been used to create elegant and valuable projects. Available in textures and colors for every taste, the mosaic is the ideal covering for those who want to create a work with great visual impact. The same type of critical aspects and strengths apply as for the tiles, however its use is widespread.

The tiles that make the mosaic generally have 10 x 10 mm, 20 x 20 mm or even higher dimensions. The laying phases, with the relative waterproofing treatment for swimming pools and the careful execution of each work, are similar to ceramic coating.


The paint coating technique is used for concrete pools and precisely consists in painting the walls of the structure with particular products based on acrylic resins.

Its application requires walls that are perfectly dry and clean and can not be applied to materials other than concrete, in addition to specific characteristics. It does not guarantee 100% the hydraulic seal and therefore is accompanied by other interventions.

As in the case of tiles and mosaic, it can undergo micro-fractures caused by temperatures and soil settling.

Glass fiber

Another option for covering the pool is glass fiber, which, although more expensive, is very durable compared to paint: in fact, its durability can last more than 10 years.

The main advantage of glass fiber is low maintenance, as well as being waterproof and resistant to water leaks. Its installation is quite simple and fast, it can be applied to both new and old swimming pools and even cleaning operations are quite easy.

Natural stone

The choice of natural stones is purely for aesthetic reasons, especially when you want to place the pool in a natural and rustic environment. The advantage of using natural stones is in its durability, low water absorption and its characteristics are similar to non-slip tiles, especially suitable for the pool edge.

Pool surrounds and copings

Pool surrounds

swimming pool designs and plans

Swimming pool with relax area – render produced with Edificius software

For an adequate pool design it is also necessary to consider the external paving, which must comply with adequate hygiene and safety requirements.

Many the materials that can be used. Here are some:

  • wood – teak, frassino, iroko and in general all those materials that show a high resistance to humidity and bad weather
  • marble – to confer an elegant appearance
  • natural stone – aesthetically remarkable, absorbs water in minimal quantities, allowing to have an anti-slip surface
  • cement – a low cost, versatile material that does not require much maintenance
  • cotto – shows excellent resistance against the elements and is a material resistant to the attack of moss and mold and is non-slip material
  • pebbles – used exclusively for aesthetic purposes, also ensuring a non-slip surface.



Coping is an element of the design of in-ground pools which, by definition, is the edging placed around the top edge of the pool. It has several functions – it separates the structure from the decking and serves as a frame, protects the swimming pool as well as protecting the surroundings from being damaged by water.


Finally, pools can be equipped with many accessories, such as:

  • ladder
  • trampoline, in the pools that allow you to practice diving
  • slide
  • mushroom fountain (with jet effect nozzle)
  • underwater lighting placed under water to light up the inside of the pool
  • hydromassage jets which, by mixing air and water, provides targeted jets with a massaging effect
  • pool heating that allows you to adjust the water temperature.


UK building regulations and planning permission for swimming pools

Swimming pools should be designed to meet the recommendations as indicated by British Standard 8007:1987.

Planning permission is not usually required to install an outdoor swimming pool as it is often considered as a garden project.

However it is always recommended that you check with your local planning authority, especially if the property is  listed building or located in a national park or in its surroundings.

If you’re deciding to go for an indoor swimming pool, first check if planning permissions for the building are required. Here is a direct link to the UK Planning Portal section dedicated to swimming pools.

It is advisable for indoor or commercial pools to commission an architect to prepare a basic set of drawings for an outline planning application.

USA building regulations for swimming pool

Although all States rely on established building codes from the IBC as well as Uniform Plumbing and Electrical Codes and safety and health codes, swimming pool regulations and codes vary among individual States.

Building regulations and planning permission will not normally apply to an outdoor swimming pool.However, Building regulations do apply to indoor pools.

Here is a useful link with requirements for the State of New york.

Download objects from the catalogue for your swimming pool project


Swimming pool designs: 3D models to download

Download the 3D BIM model (.edf file) of the swimming pool project

Download the 3D BIM model (.edf file) of other swimming pool models

Download Edificius for free