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Stock Tank Pools Are a Massive Pain in the Ass But Worth the Trouble

The artificial watering holes have taken on new life as instagram-famous backyard pools. Here's what to know about the trend — and how to do it.

mslaurenash/Instagram

Stock tanks, traditionally used as artificial watering holes for livestock, are suddenly being shipped to the suburbs. The reasons for this detour are complicated and multivariate but can be more or less boiled down to one word: Instagram. Images of kids chilling in backyard stock tank pools have become increasingly common over the last two years, increasing non-farm demand. That’s great. Pools are great. Splashing around in them is great. And stock tanks definitely look great. Still, there’s a truth hidden beneath all that chromed-up joy. Installing a stock tank pool is a massive pain in the ass.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. If you’re up for the challenge, however, the benefits are pretty real.

Pool retailers still do not install non-farm stock tanks. In fact, they don’t even sell the tubs. In order to get started, you’ll have to go a farm store or visit Tractor Supply, where they sell various sizes of tanks. The tanks, which range from $150-$400, aren’t an over-the-counter solution to the backyard swimming problem. In order to create a usable tank, you must have holes cut into the side of the tank to install — with quite a lot of epoxy — a water filter pump.

Since this is a DIY project there’s no universal way to custom fit the tank for personal needs. That means tankers can cut holes to include water hoses, water removal pumps, or tank heaters as they see fit. Or they can skip it and be filthy, mosquito-bitten messes.

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Customization aside, there are best practices and Stacey Maaser, a mother of five children, and blogger at Embracing Motherhood has cracked the stock tank tub code. Last year, she installed a stock tank tub and wrote about it. This year, people (us included) are pestering her for advice because, you know, the whole tank thing is trending.

“It was a lot of trial and error,” Maaser laughs. “The kids love it. It’s amazing. We love it. It’s wonderful. Our oldest is seven and we all fit in it and I don’t see us outgrowing it.”

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The biggest challenge, Maaser says, is keeping the DIY stock tank clean. Maaser says she dumps the tank water about two-to-three times every summer and tries to avoid algae build up with bleach or a strong natural cleanser. She dumps the water by tipping over the tank and it swamps up the yard. She could have bought an inexpensive above-ground pool pump but she’s not worried about it. That’s easy stuff. The harder stuff is making sure the leaks are unintentional. Maaser warns that cutting the holes into the tank is the most critical and excruciating step.

“It’s getting the right cut, the right fit with the attachment pieces and using plumber’s tape and epoxy,” she says with some weariness in her voice.

If all this measure twice, cut once, DIY work sounds like a big hassle for a summertime tub, it’s worth mentioning that stock tanks can actually be used year round with a little more work. Frazer Mann is a soaking tub expert. Since the 1970s, Mann’s company, Island Hot Tub, which specializes in building heaters to convert soaking tubs into onsen-style hot tubs, has been helping people create DIY jacuzzis. Mann’s attributes the surging rise in stock tank popularity is due to the tub’s practicality.

“If you buy expensive equipment like fishing gear or golf clubs, it’s made for an expensive market,” says Mann. “Stock tanks are sold in farm stores which are made for farmers. They’re in the business of having very durable, practical, no frills product. They want something that’s going to work and that’s it. That’s what a stock tank is.”

Considering how stock tanks are made to withstand a 2,000-pound cow pressing up against it, you can bet it can take your splashing kids during pool time horseplay. And, no, jacuzzis don’t need jets. Mann is quick to make that point. Attach a heater to a stock tank and you’re good to go through the winter. He’s happy to ride that trend and sees the perks over a pool.

“It’s a lot less expensive,” he says. “It’s a massive DIY project at a fraction of the cost.”

That’s right. Also, it looks dope.