Last Updated: August 16, 2021

Pool Tanning Ledges (Are They Worth It?)

Written By: Pool Care Guide

The early summer months can be frustrating. The weather is too warm for comfortable poolside tanning. Still, the pool is not yet quite warm enough for relaxing. The perfect median is a tanning ledge (also called a sun shelf, Baja shelf, or tanning shelf). In its most basic form, a tanning ledge can be described as an extremely shallow body of water inside or near your pool, allowing you to soak up the sun in comfort. But do they live up to their hype? This guide includes everything you should know before deciding if a tanning ledge is worth it. 

What Is a Tanning Ledge? 

A tanning ledge is a shelf submerged in shallow water, inside or beside your pool. You can wade on the tanning shelf instead of fully immersing yourself in the water. The ledge is typically five feet long and six to eighteen inches deep. 

Depending on preference, the shelf can include water features, umbrella holders, and even pool furniture. A professional can assist you in deciding what is best for your home. Most installers will customize the ledge to your liking so you can reap the benefits! 

Benefits of a Tanning Ledge

Regardless of how you use your pool, a tanning ledge will enhance your experience. 

For instance, the combination of young children and pools typically brings about nervous parents. Fortunately, a tanning ledge can double as a kiddie pool. If the ledge has water features, it is a fun space for kids to play. 

Tanning ledges are great for pets as well! No person can deny that the cute factor of a dog carelessly leaping into the water. If you have older pets, you don’t have to worry about your dog struggling to find a safe exit, and they can enjoy being in the water without tiring too quickly. Another plus is that your family can enjoy being in the pool with your furry friends without too much water being kicked around while getting to relax in each other’s company.

If your pool is primarily for tanning, ledges make it much more enjoyable. Pool floats are fun but climbing on and off is a hassle. Similarly, tanning outside of the water is an endless battle between hot and cold. A tanning ledge, however, keeps you from frequently jumping in and out of the water. 

Shelves improve pool time for guests too. They are a relaxing place to hang out without actually being in the water. Let’s face it—pruney skin and the endless swimming to keep ourselves afloat can get old after a while. 

If you are still not convinced, a tanning ledge may not be for you. 

Is a Tanning Ledge Right For Me? 

Tanning ledges are not worth the expense for everyone. People that use their pool for exercise will not find much use for the ledge. Besides, a protruding shelf restricts lap swimming. 

Some homeowners do not use their swimming pools at all. Purchasing a tanning ledge will not change that, so instead, save yourself the time and money and skip it. 

If you exercise and relax in your pool, ask your installer about an enclosed ledge. Professionals are great at meeting unique needs when they are communicated. 

We think the pros outweigh the cons, but let’s take a look at potential drawbacks. 

  • Difficult to clean: Pool vacuums cannot jump ledges. Placing the vacuum on the sun shelf seems like a quick fix. However, the vacuum will not run because the water is not deep enough. Manually brushing the ledge every week is a simple solution. 
  • Can compromise safety: Vinyl liner tanning ledges are slippery and difficult to see. Ask your contractor about ways you can make the ledge more noticeable. 

Adding your touch to a tanning ledge may lessen these minor disadvantages.

Customizing a Tanning Ledge 

A well-equipped company will address your worries and simplify customization. Let’s go over how you can design a tanning ledge that meets your needs. 

Length and Depth 

A tanning ledge’s standard length is five feet. Five feet leaves enough room for tanning, playing, and attractive furniture. If you want your shelf shorter or longer than five feet, advise your contractor. 

A shorter shelf leaves room for swimming. A more extended shelf creates space for playtime and decor like lounge chairs, tables, and umbrellas. 

Ledge depth also varies by preference. As previously mentioned, shelves typically range from six to eighteen inches deep. Allow three inches between the patio and water surface when selecting depth. For example, a six-inch depth provides three inches of water to wade in.

Young children can play and splash on a deeper shelf. Adults into tanning can find their zen on a shallow one. If you would like a combination of deep and shallow waters, consider including stairs.

Full or Partial

Full tanning shelves span the entire width of your pool. Partial ones only require a part of the width. You can fill the empty area with a lively fountain or stairs. On the contrary, you can use it for swimming.  

Decide on a full or partial ledge by contemplating how you will use your pool. Do you plan on swimming, socializing, or tanning? Are additional features like stairs and a fountain valuable to you? 

Additional Features 

Features can add atmosphere to your pool and bring your vision to life. For instance, tanning ledge lights add a resort-like ambiance. Lights also promote safety as tanning ledges get tricky at night. Proper lighting prevents embarrassing and potentially dangerous falls. 

Varying colors and tile patterns also promote safety while lustering up the pool. Bring attention to the shelf by covering it with varied colors or tiles. 

Steps are another great feature. Establish the ledge as the first step or opt for a partial shelf with side stairs. This tactic promotes safety and allows gradual entrance into the pool. 

Lights and patterns are great, but water features enhance pool time. They are perfect for children and adults alike. Not only are water features captivating—they are productive. Here are a few of our favorites: 

  • Spillways are common on tanning ledges located beside the pool rather than within it. Tanning shelves beside the pool typically have a boundary separating the two. Also known as an artificial waterfall, they dump water from the ledge into the pool. The features double as a filtration system. The frequent flow prevents algae build-up from motionless water. 
  • Bubblers shoot out of the water like a small fountain. They provide a vacation feel for grown-ups, and a waterpark feel for kids! Bubblers are especially useful in the heat of summer because they cool down the water. 

You can also cool water (and yourself) by asking your installer for an umbrella holder. The construction team will pre-equip your shelf with one. 

Before selecting features, consider the type of tanning ledge you have. 

Types of Tanning Ledges 

There are two types of tanning ledges: open and enclosed. 

Open tanning ledges sit inside the pool and double as an entryway. Sometimes open shelves are combined with stairs for a more subtle entry. They are also a good option for hosts because they provide ample space for guests. 

Enclosed tanning shelves sit beside your pool. Enclosed shelves are compared to a kiddie pool because they are perfect for young children. A barrier separates the tanning ledge from deep water, preventing kids from wandering into the pool. They are also valuable for anyone that enjoys both swimming and tanning. The shelf is off to the side, so it will not obstruct you from swimming laps. You can also ditch sunbathing on the hot pool deck. 

Tanning Ledge Materials 

Tanning ledges come in three materials: vinyl liner, concrete, and fiberglass. The material you choose is dependent on preference and budget. 

Vinyl Liner 

Vinyl liner tanning ledges are the most inexpensive. They are also slightly more customizable than fiberglass, with a short construction time. 

Vinyl ledges are not nearly as sturdy as concrete or fiberglass, though. The material cannot crack like concrete but is puncturable by pets, sticks, furniture, etc. You will have the cost of a leak repair or liner replacement if the vinyl ruptures. These repairs range from one thousand to four thousand dollars.  

With that said, a vinyl tanning ledge is best for tanners and relaxers. Stick with concrete or fiberglass if you cannot keep pets out or must-have lounge chairs. 

Concrete 

Concrete ledges are prominent because they are highly customizable. Construction is time-consuming, but the lengthier process delivers durability. When done correctly, concrete pools last a lifetime. 

It is worth noting that concrete’s strong structure does not equate to a perfect finish. The plaster cannot endure like fiberglass gel coats—be prepared to budget for a fresh finish every ten to fifteen years. 

Day-to-day upkeep is also more time-consuming because the naturally porous material attracts algae. As mentioned above, cleaning a tanning ledge is difficult. If you choose concrete, brush the tanning ledge often and stick to regular maintenance. 

Fiberglass 

Fiberglass ledges are advantageous for their aesthetic gel coat finish and strength. Gel coat is non-porous, less likely to stain, and much easier to clean than concrete. The sleek gel coat is also naturally extravagant in appearance. Water features and lighting further enhance the look. 

Perhaps most appealing, fiberglass lasts thirty years without a recoat. The gel coat is also smooth. On the contrary, concrete is rough and causes irritating scrapes. Be sure to carefully weigh your options between the two if you have playful children. 

However, unlike concrete, the material is not easily shaped. You are out of luck if personalization is your priority. Let’s be honest—how intricate can a pool shelf get? 

How Long Does Construction Take? 

Tanning ledges typically come with a new pool. Therefore, your tanning ledge is ready when the pool is complete. 

Vinyl liner pools take two to three weeks to construct. A tanning ledge adds one to two days.

Concrete pools need a month of curing and far more time than vinyl liner or fiberglass. Set aside three to six months for construction. Like vinyl liner pools, a concrete tanning ledge requires an extra one to two days. 

Factories mold fiberglass pools. Once complete, a crane lowers them into your yard’s broken ground. Hence, the reason they are not customizable like concrete. Although, they are prepared for use in a short two to three days. Unless you choose an external fiberglass shelf, it will not call for additional building time. 

How Much Does a Tanning Ledge Cost? 

Your swimming pool’s material affects the tanning ledge's price. 

Opting to include a vinyl liner in your pool necessitates more material and labor time. A vinyl liner tanning shelf costs a couple of thousand dollars more to construct. 

Concrete pools cost per square foot, so a concrete tanning ledge is the most expensive. Figure out how large you want your shelf so you can request a quote. 

Fiberglass ledges are the least expensive because manufacturing reduces labor costs. A built-in fiberglass ledge costs approximately four hundred dollars more. However, an enclosed fiberglass ledge can cost from six to fifteen thousand dollars more. 

Should I Add a Tanning Ledge To My Existing Pool? 

Adding a tanning ledge to an existing pool is pricier than including one with a new pool. Altering or expanding the shape of your pool may include tearing up the deck, replastering the entire pool, and running more plumbing. The project demands extensive time and money. Unless you are planning on renovations, a tanning shelf may not be worth it. 

Is a Tanning Ledge Worth It? 

Our best advice is to include a tanning ledge in the plan of your new pool. The ledge's price is worth the benefits, especially for frequent visitors, children, and water-loving pets. 

While we love the perks of a ledge, they are not cost-effective or easy to build into an existing pool. If you cannot shake the idea, we suggest sharing your thoughts with an established professional. They will help you create the pool of your dreams in the most reasonable manner possible. 

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