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Shipping Container Chic: Recycled Swimming Pools by Modpools

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Shipping Container Chic: Recycled Swimming Pools by Modpools

June 7, 2017

A Canadian couple is making waves with their new modular swimming pool. After several years of design work, Paul and Denise Rathnam, of Abbotsford, British Columbia, launched Modpools at a Vancouver trade show in February 2017. Each Modpool starts with a steel shipping container—but becomes much more than that, with a hot tub compartment, interior bench seating, and even a viewing window so you can see what’s going on underwater.

Photography courtesy of Modpools.

The Modpool prototype at the Ranthams’ home in Abbotsford, not far from Vancouver, has been thoroughly tested by their three children. “Sometimes,” says Paul, “the kids will be playing in the pool while I relax in the hot tub.”
Above: The Modpool prototype at the Ranthams’ home in Abbotsford, not far from Vancouver, has been thoroughly tested by their three children. “Sometimes,” says Paul, “the kids will be playing in the pool while I relax in the hot tub.”

The shipping containers, which arrive in North America filled with cargo, are all made in China (which now supplies pretty much all the containers used in the world, Paul says). Repurposing used shipping containers comes naturally to the Rathnams: For the past 12 years, they’ve been modifying containers to create off-the-grid offices and labs for the oil and gas industry in places like northern B.C. and Alberta.

It takes from six to eight weeks to build each Modpool at the factory in Abbotsford. After delivery, if the ground prep is all done, the pool can be up and running in minutes.
Above: It takes from six to eight weeks to build each Modpool at the factory in Abbotsford. After delivery, if the ground prep is all done, the pool can be up and running in minutes.

How’d they get the idea for the Modpool? During a family vacation in Palm Springs, CA, Paul and Denise were struck by the way swimming pools are getting smaller and shallower.

“Most people don’t even use the deep end,” says Paul. “So we decided to make our Modpools just 4 and a half feet deep—which means kids can splash around while adults stand up in them.”

A clear polyethylene wall separates the swimming area from the hot tub portion—which has eight body jets and steps that double as seating.
Above: A clear polyethylene wall separates the swimming area from the hot tub portion—which has eight body jets and steps that double as seating.

Water in the two sections can be heated to different temperatures. The divider wall lifts out so you can use the entire pool for swimming, perhaps adding more jets for an “endless swim” option. In cool weather, you can slide the wall back in and only heat the hot tub portion of the pool.

Heavy-duty steel tubing is welded to the top rim—“that’s the belt that holds it all together and keeps the walls from flopping out,” says Paul. After more welding and leak-testing, the exterior gets a few coats of paint and a spray-on liner is applied inside.
Above: Heavy-duty steel tubing is welded to the top rim—“that’s the belt that holds it all together and keeps the walls from flopping out,” says Paul. After more welding and leak-testing, the exterior gets a few coats of paint and a spray-on liner is applied inside.

The Rathnams sort through available containers to select those that are pristine, with no dents. Then they slice off the roof and cut down the walls to five feet, so the container will be structurally sound when filled with water.

The Rathnams worked with a local company to develop their liner, devising a formula that resembles the dense, heavy-duty rubber lining used for oil tanks, which is chemical-resistant and UV-resistant.

The heating system, pump, and filtration equipment all come with the pool, along with color-changing LED lights and the hot-tub jets. All these features can be controlled via smartphone or tablet.
Above: The heating system, pump, and filtration equipment all come with the pool, along with color-changing LED lights and the hot-tub jets. All these features can be controlled via smartphone or tablet.

While the heaters generally operate on natural gas or propane, some buyers choose to integrate their existing solar energy set-up.

“The Modpool can be installed on a lot where you couldn’t think of putting an in-ground pool,” says Paul, because the land is either too rocky, uneven, or steeply sloped.
Above: “The Modpool can be installed on a lot where you couldn’t think of putting an in-ground pool,” says Paul, because the land is either too rocky, uneven, or steeply sloped.

The pool can also be partially in-ground, or sunk into the ground—which works in areas where zoning restrictions don’t allow above-ground pools. “Right now we’re consulting with an architect-designer in Marfa, Texas, who has this vision to install a pool that’s half in the ground,” says Rathnam.

However a Modpool is installed, portability is a big plus. After a concrete pool is in place, you can’t decide on a whim to move it elsewhere on your property, nor can you sell it or take it with you when you move.

The pools can be delivered anywhere. So far, most orders have come from the U.S.—largely California, Nevada, Texas, and Florida. To set up a Modpool above ground, you just need a concrete pad or 8 inches of compacted gravel.

Why the viewing window? Paul Rathnam admits that they struggled with the design—but “it’s why people are talking about our pools.” (The window is omitted in pools destined for in-ground installation.)
Above: Why the viewing window? Paul Rathnam admits that they struggled with the design—but “it’s why people are talking about our pools.” (The window is omitted in pools destined for in-ground installation.)

The Modpool’s diminutive footprint is another asset, as lot sizes get smaller around the country. The pools come in three sizes, including 8 by 20 feet (which sells for $26,900 US) and 8 by 40 feet ($35,000). (For comparison, Rathnam points out that the average pool in L.A. can cost from $80,000 to $100,000.) The smaller Modpool holds 4,800 gallons, and in many areas a pool under 5,000 gallons doesn’t require a pool permit, just permits for electrical and gas.

And if you’re short on space, there’s the 10-foot ModSpa ($9,700). “It’s like a hot tub, but it still has the depth of our other pools, and the window,” says Paul. It’s made from the leftover roof of a 40-foot container, “and I like that we’re finding a way to recycle those big containers twice.”

As each pool is built to order, buyers can customize such things as the window location (depending on the installation site), the exterior paint, and the liner color. The pools have a modern look, so it’s no surprise that many buyers live in modern houses—and ask for a gray liner that creates a mirror effect on the water surface.

And to anyone who says ”What’s the big deal? I’ll just make one myself by getting a container and filling it with water,” Paul replies: “Good luck with that.” The Rathnams developed their expertise after a dozen-odd years of modifying containers, plus two years of fine-tuning the design and solving a multitude of problems along the way. “When we set out to build a pool, we underestimated how difficult it would be to make it simple and make it great,” says Paul. That’s a good definition of the Modpool.

For more inspired uses for recycled shipping containers, see:

Finally, get more ideas on how to integrate a swimming pool into your landscape or exterior home project with our Hardscaping 101: Swimming Pools guide.

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