What Is a Pool House?

Timber Clad Summer House next to Swimming Pool, Belgium

Francois De Heel / Getty Images

When movie stars started having private pools built at their Hollywood estates back in the 1930s, the pool area usually included a small structure just a few feet from the water that was typically called a cabana. Many of these pool houses were 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, go to the bathroom, shower, take a nap, enjoy a beverage, and entertain friends or family.

Types of Pool Houses

Above all else, a pool house makes pool ownership and swimming more enjoyable by having 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 a pool house depends on space, budget, and amenities you desire, but average sizes run from 100 square feet to 800 square feet or larger.

A 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 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 that much more of a destination. 

Storage

You may have outgrown the space in the deck box, shed, or garage for your pool paraphernalia. Pool houses can be attractive ways of harboring pool and spa equipment, which need protection and can look unsightly in the backyard. Larger pool houses include enclosed space for storing assorted pool toys and all sorts of maintenance supplies. If big enough, it 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 might be helpful.

Playroom

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 playroom-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 playroom to keep wet clothes and sopping towels out of your main home, as well.

How to Decide on a Type of Pool House

A pool house, though considered a luxury, is often a more functional space. But how do you know if you need a pool house and what type you should have built? Here are a few questions to think about:

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

Construction Plans

In most regions, a pool house project will require a building permit, which 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 and typically is subject to many of the same requirements as any other residential building.

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! There are good reasons why ordinances and building commissioners exist.

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