What Is a Pool House?

Timber Clad Summer House next to Swimming Pool, Belgium

Francois De Heel / Getty Images

When movie stars started building private pools at their Hollywood estates in the 1930s, the pool area usually included a small structure just a few feet from the water. These buildings were often known as pool cabanas, but they included many similar elements to modern pool houses. Many were even built to echo the architecture of the main residence.

The primary purpose of a pool house was—and still is—to provide a private space near the pool in which to change in and out of swimsuits, use the bathroom, shower, take a nap, enjoy a beverage, and entertain friends or family. While pool houses may seem like a summertime space reserved for luxury pools, these structures can actually be designed for many different budgets and with various amenities.

Types of Pool Houses

Pool houses make pool ownership and swimming more enjoyable by placing everything you need within reach (or at least a few steps from the pool). Ideas may range from a well-appointed shed to a sizable guest house. The size of your pool house will depend on the space, budget, and amenities you desire, but average sizes run from 100 square feet to 800 square feet or larger. These common types of pool houses can help you determine which style suits your space and needs best:

Guest House

A pool house that functions as a guest house will typically have standard home amenities that can be used by guests, such as a kitchen, bathroom, living area, and even bedrooms. Many homeowners turn a guest pool house into an entertainment area with an open patio area in the front, perhaps with a solid roof, pergola, or a shade cover. Adding an outdoor kitchen or a lounge surrounding a fireplace makes this type of guest house feel more like the main residence.

Storage

You may have outgrown the space in the deck box, shed, or garage for your pool accessories and equipment. Pool houses can be attractive ways of storing the necessities, which need protection from outdoor elements but can look unsightly in the backyard. Larger pool houses include enclosed space for storing pool toys and maintenance supplies. If it's large enough, your pool shed can be the perfect place to house pumps, filters, and other essential pool equipment. With smaller structures, a simple storage closet off to the side or back of the pool house may suffice.

Recreational Room

A pool house can also be an all-purpose hangout space that also includes a bathroom with a shower and changing room. The purpose of having a separate recreational-style pool house is ideal if you want to avoid tracking water into your main home. You might even add a small or stackable washer and dryer to your pool house rec room to keep wet clothes and sopping towels out of your home as well.

How to Design a Pool House

While considered a luxury, pool houses are often designed to be more functional. Before you begin planning out your space, it's best to consider your household's needs. For example, not all pool houses need to be constructed with plumbing and electricity, but those that serve as recreational rooms or guest houses will require these additions. Some pool houses can even be purchased prefabricated for easy installation. On the other hand, you may decide to work with a licensed builder to design a custom space for your pool area.

When you first start to design your pool house, consider these questions to ensure it meets your needs:

  • Do you want to run utilities in your pool house?
  • Do you want your pool house to be insulated?
  • What size pool house can fit on your property?
  • How many people will need to use the pool house?
  • What style of pool house do you envision?
  • Do you have the budget for a custom or prefabricated pool house?

Once you've completed the basic blueprint for your pool house, it's time to seek builders (if applicable) and determine the next steps for construction to begin.

Construction Plans

In most regions, a pool house project will require a building permit. This can be obtained at your local city or county government office, usually from the planning department or planning commissioner. The new outdoor structure must conform to local zoning ordinances and codes. In some areas, small structures that measure 120 square feet or less don't need to be permitted, provided they don't require utility hookups. An outbuilding with electricity and plumbing is considered a "habitable" structure. This is typically subject to many of the same requirements as other residential buildings, which will increase the overall cost and timeline for building your pool house to obtain the proper permits.

Zoning Laws

Zoning laws govern the use of permanent structures on a property. In the case of a pool house, local zoning rules may dictate how close the house can be to the pool's edge—an important consideration for the safety and usability of both the pool and the pool house. Just imagine stepping out of the pool house door, looking across the yard, and accidentally ending up in the pool. These are important reasons to follow the necessary ordinances and building codes. Your local government can provide you with codes specific to your area, while the builder you choose to work with should closely follow these laws.

Choosing a Builder

Like many other home upgrades, building a pool house is a considerable project that is best completed with a licensed builder. For smaller designs like pool sheds, some homeowners may be handy enough to take the project on themselves; just keep in mind that local building codes still must be followed.

For larger designs like pool guest houses and recreational rooms, builders in your area can help you get started. Choose a contractor or builder (depending on the scope of the project) who is licensed in your area and readily provides plenty of good references from past clients.

Once you've found the perfect team, it's time to begin construction—and soon enough, you'll be enjoying your new pool house after a swim!

Other Names for Pool Houses

Depending on the region (or sometimes to make the building sound more intriguing), a pool house can be referred to by many other names, including:

  • Cabana
  • Casita
  • Detached guest house
  • Guest cottage
  • Pavilion
  • Villa