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Short on backyard space? Pint-sized pools are making a big splash

By Olivia Hughes
The Australian backyard was once a place where big swimming pools reigned supreme. As the demand for pools continues to soar, things are starting to look a little different.

Homeowners are increasingly turning away from the more expansive pools of their childhood and opting for smaller sized ones that fit seamlessly into outdoor areas without dominating the yard.

Some are limited by space constraints in small inner-city blocks and courtyards. Others just want a compact and affordable solution that adds value and enjoyment to their home without the hassle of having to install and maintain a full-size pool.

‘Small pools’ defined

“Spools”, cocktail pools, entertainer pools, plunge pools and swim spas – the terms used to describe smaller pools are varied, as are their designs. Made from concrete or fibreglass, in or above ground, they’re often up to just five metres in length or diameter. As well as using less water and being easier to heat and maintain, the prospect of a quick build or faster installation time is sealing the deal for a lot of people.

Small pools have become just as popular as larger ones when it comes to ‘delivering the backyard dream’. 

According to Lindsay McGrath, chief executive of Swimming Pool and Spa Association Australia, small pools and spas have become as popular as their larger counterparts as a way to “deliver the backyard dream”.

“Innovation in small pool design has been increasing for about a decade. With smaller and cost-effective options now on the market, almost every space can have a pool or spa,” McGrath says.

“And with travel options now limited, the industry has seen a large spike in consumers wanting to invest in their backyard as an alternative. The staycation becomes a reality when you look holistically at a space and design your backyard to enhance your time outdoors and make the most of what you have.”

The lifestyle benefits of small pools

Kate Lainson from Cronulla Pools says small pools are cost-effective and efficient. Cronulla Pools and Stone Lotus Landscapes. Photo: Capture Creative

Savvy pool companies have tapped into the trend and are catering to the growing number of home owners who are rejecting the “bigger is better” mantra.

As Kate Lainson, co-owner of Cronulla Pools says: “Blocks are getting smaller. We’ve seen the duplex boom take over a lot of Sydney, so there’s a space issue. Also in terms of maintenance, not having to look after a large body of water is more efficient and cost-effective.”

Lainson points out that as a lifestyle asset, a pool should integrate with, rather than overpower, its surroundings. She says, “Outdoor living is such an important part of Australian culture and people are creating entertaining areas with fire pits or trampolines for the kids. You don’t just have the standard ‘backyard with a pool’ set up anymore.”

Rachel Williams, marketing manager at Endless Spas, Pools and Lifestyle says that many customers go for their range of smaller plunge pools, spas and swim spas because “keeping it small means you can afford to heat it all year round.”

And then there are the exercise and hydrotherapy benefits. A common objection to small pools is that they don’t provide as much scope for a decent workout. This is where innovations like the “swim spa” come in with strong jets that create a “water treadmill” allowing you to swim continuously on the spot. “The demand for swim spas has always been strong in Melbourne but since COVID we’ve definitely had a surge in orders,” says Williams.

Williams has also noticed an increasing demand from downsizers who are prioritising practicality over size like a recent customer who decided against “going big”. “She’s having a five-metre pool installed in her holiday house as something she can enjoy and the grandkids can use when they visit,” says Williams.

Designing a pool for a smaller space

Plants, fences and screens need to be carefully considered when planning for a small pool. Courtyard pool and surrounds by Albatross Pools and Anthony Scott Landscape Design. 

Looking at the “big picture” can be even more important when going “small” with your pool according to landscape designer Anthony Scott. Based in St Kilda West, his firm specialises in optimising outdoor areas to achieve the right balance between pool and garden.

“With a smaller area you really have to prioritise and say, ‘OK, what are the deal-breakers, what are the things we really need to get in there?’ Having the pool positioned where it needs to be and having the right offset boundaries are crucial. And with safety compliance regulations getting ever-stricter, things like plants, fences and screens need to be carefully considered – even more so with a smaller yard,” says Scott.

Christian Leung, principal at Stone Real Estate in the inner Sydney suburb of Five Dock says home buyers are determined to keep a pool on their wish list when buying a smaller property, whether it’s there already or they need to build one themselves.

He insists that with a little imagination and some careful planning, small spaces can be brought to life with a pool or spa. “How can I put in a pool? Will a pool fit? We’re having a lot of those conversations. Families with kids always want pools, no matter the size of the yard.”

From the seller’s perspective, Leung says, “while it’s always hard to determine the dollar value a pool adds to a property, it most definitely enhances its broader resale appeal. And this applies just as much to a small pool.”


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