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Do You Need A Pool Sun Shelf? The Good, Bad + Relaxing (2024)

A bird's eye view of a modern pool with wood decking and a pool sun shelf

If you’re considering adding a pool sun shelf to your backyard oasis, you’re not alone. A thoughtfully designed tanning ledge can transform your swimming pool area, but not everyone agrees this feature is worth it.

Decisions about pool features can feel like an overwhelming maze of endless options. And the considerable price tag adds even more pressure!

So, let’s dive deep (but not in the shallow end!) and weigh the good, the bad, and the downright relaxing aspects of adding a tanning shelf to your pool design.

Now, grab a frosty beverage, kick back, and let’s learn everything you need to know about tanning ledges.

Let’s go!

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What is a Sun Shelf in Pool Design?

A tropical pool has a curved sun shelf with fun green lounge chairs.

Picture this: you step into your backyard on a glorious summer day, greeted by the glistening waters of your pool and the sun’s warm embrace. And there it is – the sun shelf beckoning you to unwind and bask in its inviting waters. 

Think of a sun shelf as the pool’s VIP section. It allows people to lounge or sunbathe partially underwater, providing the perfect, refreshing way to enjoy the pool when you don’t feel like swimming.

You might also see a sun shelf called a tanning ledge or Baja shelf. This shallow, flat area is typically at the entrance or on one side of a swimming pool, creating a nice transition into deeper water.

Tanning ledges are usually built with a depth ranging from a few inches to about a foot, making them ideal for maximum relaxation. This design feature is also a fantastic place to add a shaded design feature or even for children to play safely under adult supervision.

The Pros and Cons of a Tanning Ledge

Are tanning ledges worth it?

Depending on your ideal family’s pool experience, possibly so! Here’s what you can look forward to:

Enhanced Relaxation

Baja shelves are perfect for sipping your favorite summer drink, making your home feel like a luxury hotel. Add a few in-pool lounge chairs, and there will be no better place to relax in your home.

Versatility

A tanning ledge is incredibly versatile and can accommodate many activities and types of people. Not everyone loves to swim or be fully submerged in water, so a Baja ledge is the ideal place to take a break and relax from the deep end. 

And who doesn’t want a little oasis to stay cool and have pool parties with friends and family?

A mom and her young child are splashing around on a sun ledge in the pool.
Tanning ledges are a great place for kids to play.
Safety

The shallow area of a Baja shelf is a wonderful place for young kids to splash around. The gradual entry makes it easier for little ones to get in and out of the pool independently, which is fantastic for water confidence. The same is true for elderly swimmers.

Aesthetic Appeal

Tanning ledges also enhance a pool’s overall design by adding visual interest. Creating different depth zones will make your swimming pool more inviting and luxurious.

Typically, a larger pool is needed to accommodate a sun shelf, but if you have the space, this little slice of paradise just might become your favorite spot in your pool. I’ll discuss the ideal space requirements and dimensions below.

Sometimes a bench is all you need.

What are the Cons of Adding a Sun Shelf?

While sun shelves can offer many benefits, also consider some of these drawbacks:

Cost

Adding a sun shelf to a pool design can increase the project’s overall cost. Depending on your pool, constructing a tanning ledge can cost upwards of $5000 (or much more). In-pool furniture and other additional features can also be very costly, so this design can add up quickly.

Maintenance

Tanning ledges require regular maintenance to keep them clean and hygienic. Pool robots often have trouble cleaning this shallow location, so regular upkeep with a manual vacuum may be necessary.

You can also sweep any debris into the deeper part of the pool before your robot runs, but consider if a Baja shelf is worth another chore.

Limited Use

Before investing in a tanning ledge, really consider your family’s personal swimming preferences. Some people love lounging poolside, but you may not want to sacrifice swimming space if you would rather enjoy swimming in the deep end.

A Baja shelf is an excellent place for kids to play, but you may want to reconsider adding one to your pool if this is your main reason. Kids grow up quickly, and the shallow end may not be their favorite place to play when they are older. If you don’t also love lounging in this space, then your pool sun shelf may be less used than you hoped.

Freezing

If you live in a region with cold weather, ground freezing can cause issues with the shallow shelf. Warmer climates don’t need to be as concerned with this issue. 

Designing The Perfect Tanning Ledge

Water Depth Of Your Sun Shelf

The depth of your sun shelf will determine how you use this space. Most ledges have a 6″—12″ water depth, but some can even go up to 18″.

You will find that the depth of your sun shelf is a very personal decision, and people have many opinions on what’s correct. The correct depth should be according to your and your family’s preference, as well as how you will use your pool.

Try not to let others make you doubt your decision.

Ideally, visit a few pools and give their tanning ledges a trial run before deciding on a depth for your swimming pool project. If your neighbors are pool owners, this is a great place to start, but you can also visit hotel pools. Knowing how different water depths feel will give you the knowledge to choose the ideal option for your swimming pool.

Most pool furniture is designed for water depths of 0″—9″ or 10″—15″. Anything deeper than this may make finding the correct pool furniture more difficult.

Keep in mind that the depth of your tanning ledge is not the same as the depth of the water. The depth of the water will be about 3″ less than the depth of the ledge. For example, if your tanning ledge is 12″, the water will be about 9″ deep.

Make sure that you and your pool builder are on the same page when talking about these dimensions. Miscommunications can easily happen, and your swimming pool is too expensive to risk errors.

Selecting the furniture you want to use on your tanning ledge before you build your pool will ensure no sizing mistakes are made. If the water is too deep for your chosen furniture, you risk your lounge chairs floating—and no one wants that.

Overall Square Footage

Swimming pools are expensive, and every inch is valuable real estate. Your sun shelf should be large enough to easily accommodate your needs, but this can be a delicate balance, especially if your pool is smaller.

Your sun shelf should be proportionate to the rest of the pool so it doesn’t overcrowd. You’ll want to ensure the ledge doesn’t obstruct circulation flow or limit the swimming area. No one wants to regret not having enough deep water!

If you envision using your tanning ledge for furniture such as lounge chairs or side tables, you’ll need a larger ledge to comfortably accommodate these activities.

A 7′ depth is the minimum space for most lounge chairs to fit adequately. You can go smaller than this if you prefer chairs over lounges, but I don’t recommend less than 6′, or the ledge will feel tight.

Material Of Your Pool

The material of your swimming pool will affect your sun shelf’s overall design, as well as the furniture you select. All materials have pros and cons, and each option will give you different things to consider for your tanning ledge:

Concrete Construction

Concrete construction gives you more say in your design’s shape and size, allowing your pool to be completely custom. Everything, including the tanning ledges, can be exactly to your specifications, but this option is more expensive and will take longer to build. 

Fiberglass Pools

Fiberglass pools are prefabricated shells that are durable, low-maintenance, and available in various shapes and sizes. They can be installed much faster than concrete pools, and some people prefer the smooth texture compared to concrete.

Since fiberglass pools are ready-made, your size and shape options are limited depending on your selected pool builder. This also means that fiberglass tanning ledges are a set size, and you can choose a specific water depth.

Vinyl Liner Pool

Vinyl liner pools are often the cheapest upfront option and can be customized to fit your family’s needs. However, they are more finicky than other material options. 

They are susceptible to punctures and fading over time, which may require periodic vinyl liner replacement. Some tanning ledge furniture may damage the vinyl surface, so double-check anything before you put it in your pool.

Water Features And Accessories

Thoughtfully planning your tanning ledge accessories can take your pool to the next level of relaxation. Customization options include special lighting, built-in sleeves for umbrellas, and unique water features like bubblers.

The more carefully you plan these features during the design stage, the better the pool will be in the long run. Consider the ideal placement for umbrellas and furniture so your accessories will highlight, not detract from, your new poolside oasis.

Tanning ledges look great even without furniture.

Furniture For Your Pool Sun Shelf

The right pool furniture is like the cherry on top when it comes to designing your sun shelf. The perfect lounge chairs can take your sun shelf from a nice place to hang out to an absolute dream pool.

Selecting the furniture you want for your pool tanning ledge during the design phase is best. You don’t want to build your perfect custom pool only to find that the furniture you want doesn’t fit.

Consider these options when shopping for in-pool furniture:

In-Pool Chairs

This pool feature isn’t called a tanning shelf for nothing. Adding in-pool chairs or a chaise lounge is practically a necessity when designing your tanning ledge.

If you aren’t entirely sure about adding in-pool furniture, a few outdoor furniture brands also make options that work in and out of the water.

Check out a few of my favorites:

Tables

Side tables are the perfect companion to an in-pool lounge chair. Many companies make tables to match their lounge chairs. Some even have built-in coolers so you can enjoy endless lounging. 

Sun Shade

It’s a great idea to add a place to relax in the shade in your pool. Whether you want to add built-in umbrella sleeves to your tanning shelf or prefer a shade canopy, it’s a better idea to plan your solar shading before your pool is built. 

If you don’t add an umbrella sleeve upfront, you can keep cool with a cantilevered umbrella or shade sails. I have had this exact set of sail shades in my yard for years, and they have held up amazingly.

Can You Add A Sun Shelf To An Existing Swimming Pool?

Yes! You don’t have to build a new pool to add a sun shelf, but retrofitting your inground pool will likely not be cheap.

This construction process involves excavating a portion of your pool’s perimeter to create space for the sun shelf. Your pool may also require modifications to the plumbing and filtration systems.

You must also consider the materials needed to match the rest of the pool’s aesthetic. Finding the proper tiling, plastering, or other finishing material to match or complement your current pool may require additional work.

I recommend working with a licensed pool contractor who will ensure that the process goes smoothly. This is definitely not a DIY job!

Final Thoughts

Whew, that was a lot of information. Hopefully, you found some valuable insights into whether adding a sun shelf to your pool is the right choice. 

There’s no denying that tanning ledges offer much to those seeking to elevate their pool experience, but don’t feel like this is an absolute necessity for the perfect pool. 

There is no wrong decision here, and the true essence of poolside living lies in creating a space that brings you joy, relaxation, and countless memories with loved ones. 

So, as you envision your perfect poolside retreat, remember that the beauty of pool design lies in its versatility and endless possibilities. Whether you embrace the serenity of a sun shelf or want more deep end space for laps, the most important thing is to create a space that reflects your unique style and brings you endless enjoyment for years to come.

Please reach out if you have any questions or feel like I left anything out of this guide – no question or comment is too small. Happy swimming!

Cheers!

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