What Is A Sun Shelf In A Pool? How To Design Them

What is a sun shelf in a pool example of two seater sun shelf

If you’re researching features for your new swimming pool, you’ve probably heard about adding a sun shelf. You may find yourself wondering, what is a sun shelf in a pool?  A sun shelf is a common feature in pool designs these days as they grow in popularity every year. It’s usually incorporated into the steps or entryway of a pool. Other words for a sun shelf in a pool are ‘baja shelf’, ‘tanning ledge’, or simply ‘extended step’.  These are all the same feature, so don’t be confused if your pool builder uses different terminology.

What Is A Sun Shelf In A Pool?

In broad terms, the sun shelf is a larger step in the pool. Most commonly, a sun shelf is between 6” deep and 18” deep varying by design. This depends on how the design intends the shelf to be used. Many times these are a compromise in design for people who desire a beach entry to their pool. There are two main reasons homeowners shy away from a full beach entry. First, you might not have the space it takes for the gentle sloping beach entry. Second, you don’t want to absorb the additional expense.

Pool with sun shelf, spa and two water features showing what is a sun shelf in a pool example
Courtesy of Precision Pools and Spas

Sometimes it makes sense to install these as separate areas in the pool.  For example, if you want to have space for children to play in the pool. Oftentimes it makes sense to incorporate a sun shelf in the shallow end adjacent to the steps.  Perhaps you also wish to have a place for an adult to sunbathe in a chaise lounge or a ledge lounger. In that case, you may wish to design a stand alone sun shelf in a different portion of the pool.  This would keep the splashing and children’s play away from the sunbathers.  

How Deep Should My Sun Shelf Be?

Depth wise it’s important to consider what your sun shelf will be used for.  If you plan on sunbathing, keeping the depth at 6” makes for a great depth for a ledge lounger or for you to place a chaise into the pool.  If your intent is children’s play, you may consider going to 12” or 18” depth.  

Pool and spa combo with long sun shelf showing what is a sun shelf in a pool

Add Features To Your Sun Shelf

Often a sun shelf also becomes a place for you to incorporate some water features into the pool design.  If your pool is an organic shape or free formed, you may consider placing a boulder arrangement onto the sun shelf, with a fountain bubbling up between them. 

Or if boulders don’t fit into the project, you may consider some flush cut bubblers. Flush cut bubblers are a great feature for a 6” depth sun shelf).  These are usually 1/2” or 3/4” pipes cut flush with the finish of the pool.  One trick to blending the interior finish color with the flush cut bubblers is to use schedule 80 PVC if you are planning on a gray interior finish.  Also, you may want to consider more advanced bubbler systems like the ‘Brilliant Wonders’ from CMP with an LED light built in.

Pool spa combo with decking and sun shelf in design
Courtesy of All Aqua Pools

Can You Add A Sun Shelf To An Existing Pool?

If you have an existing gunite or concrete pool and you don’t like the step configuration, and wish you had a sun shelf, don’t worry. Adding a sun shelf is one of the most common pool renovation options built today.  It isn’t easy to do, but nothing related to renovating gunite pools is easy or uncomplicated.  

What Is A Sun Shelf In A Pool + How To Design Summary

A sun shelf used to be a relatively uncommon feature of swimming pools. The days of needing an experienced sun shelf-specific designer when choosing a pool builder are over. Sun shelves are becoming much more common and are a great addition to your pool. By adding this luxury to your pool, you can help make your pool a part of your very own backyard resort.