No pool? Stock tanks are the cool new alternative

Americans are making the modest steel tank a backyard tub for summer

Since the timing of public pool openings remains murky, Austin interior designer Terah Kelley plans to outmaneuver the abusive summer sun by plunging into a galvanized steel tub in her backyard, one more properly intended to hydrate livestock. Recently, she and her husband have even built a bar and cabana -- outfitted with a refrigerator, fan and teak benches -- alongside their 6-foot-wide "stock tank pool." No cattle have complained. "Since we're not going on vacation anytime soon, we're making vacation come to us," said Ms. Kelley.

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With fewer swimming pools open because of COVID-19, more Americans are getting creative with stock tank pools. 

Across the U.S., homebound Americans are making a modest stock tank the focus of a backyard oasis. Ryan Stanton, who runs stocktankpool.net to help DIYers purchase and convert tubs and to design outdoor setups, reported a 10-fold increase in traffic this spring. Some retailers are selling out, adjusting to urbane customers who seek vessels more durable -- and less gauche -- than the aboveground pools that come wrapped in polyester or resin and held together with PVC pipe. "It's funny to think that when we started selling stock tanks years ago, we assumed that our customers would have cows and horses and things like that," said Bill Vasel, president of Tank and Barrel.

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A uniquely American phenomenon, these tanks are traditionally paired across the high plains with a windmill or solar-powered water pump, more attractive to hardworking farmhands than design-minded influencers. But lately the plunge tubs have become trendy among the Instagram set and images of slender elbows dangling over their sides have flooded the internet.

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As a result, more coastal dwellers are investing: This summer, Hastings Equity Manufacturing has plans to ship tanks to customers hundreds of miles from any ranch supply store. Most bathers opt for tanks roughly 8 feet across and 2 feet deep (from $800, tankandbarrel.com) -- which hold about 700 gallons of water. Beyond the tank, you need only a flat patch of ground to get your feet wet.

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But to give these pools staying power, and avoid the need to regularly dump and refill the water, you'll want a filter. Many stock-tank acolytes use a 2,500 gallon-per-hour model from Intex ($125, intexcorp.com) . Also recommended: a floating plastic chlorine dispenser to counter algae buildup; and a skimmer to collect debris -- bugs, rose petals, peeled-off beer bottle labels -- off the surface to keep your pool Instagram ready.

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