Small Backyard Swim Spa Installation | Pool Design Idea

Not sure you have room for a swim spa? You might be surprised how little space is needed for a full-size swim spa. To see what can be achieved – read this article about an incredible swim spa installation in a compact courtyard.

Swim spa in a small backyard

In this article, we'll share the story of the backyard oasis desiged and built by Matt Cowdell, a Spa World customer and Mental Health Nurse from Perth, Australia.

Keep reading to learn how he single-handedly turned a pile of dirt in his backyard to a Bali-inspired haven that would rival any tropical retreat, complete with a Vortex™ Aquagym™ Swim Spa.

Watch: Swim spa in a small space

One man's labour of love

For Perth couple Matt and Amy, there really is no place like home.

The busy health professionals live in Scarborough, Western Australia. She’s a dental nurse, and he’s a mental health nurse in the police crisis unit.

“It’s good work. I love it”, Matt says of his mental health role. “It feels good to be making a difference for people, but it can be tough – we deal with quite a lot of distressing stuff.”

At the end of a long, stressful day, the couple loves nothing more than relaxing by their swim spa in the backyard oasis Matt built by hand.

"After a hard day’s work, it’s really nice to come home, open a bottle of wine, come out here and just enjoy it."
Matt Cowdell
Vortex™ Aquagym™ swim spa owner
Aquagym Swim Spa in a small backyard

Matt and Amy enjoy relaxing and hanging out by their Vortex™ Aquagym™ swim spa

“After a hard day’s work, it’s really nice to come home, open a bottle of wine, come out here and just enjoy it. I find that aspect fantastic.”

You wouldn’t know from looking at it, but what is now a Bali-inspired outdoor haven complete with an inbuilt swim spa, BBQ, dining area and lush plantings, was once just a pile of dirt.

In fact, in the lead up to Christmas last year, Matt was literally shifting that dirt, one wheelbarrow load at a time, often after work and late into the night.

There were even a few shifts that went on into the wee small hours. It was a true labour of love.

“I dug out 30 tonnes of sand by hand and wheelbarrow, which took a week in the height of summer. A whole week of just digging out in 40 degrees. I was doing it in between work and was even shovelling sand on Christmas Day. It was full-on," says Matt.

"The whole area definitely has the wow factor. No one expects a swim spa to be in this garden."
Matt Cowdell
Vortex™ Aquagym™ swim spa owner

"The whole time I was conscious I needed it within 20mm to make sure the spa would sit level."

The only aspect Matt didn’t do himself was the concrete.

“I got somebody to come in and do that bit. It all went pretty quickly from that point on.”

"Ultimately, Matt wanted a space where he could just be in the moment, relax, forget about the day and feel transported to a holiday destination."

In the early days of the build process, Amy had just met Matt. This was her first introduction to his DIY skills, dedication and incredible work ethic.

As it was, it was a pretty good way to suss out if her new bloke was worth it.

“I didn’t see her that often when we first met. When we did catch up, I was covered in sand or dirt!” Matt laughs.

“She walked into this crazy house with sand everywhere and me with my crazy plans – I’m not sure what she thought, to be honest. But she’s still here!”

Sitting outside and relaxing couple

Matt and Amy enjoy relaxing evenings outdoors in their Bali-inspired oasis

When he was planning and designing his outdoor area, Matt had three main goals he wanted to achieve. It had to be low maintenance, private, and have a holiday feel.

“I’m pretty pleased with how it’s turned out. I wanted it to have a kind of oasis or retreat feel to it. So that’s the basis of it,” says Matt.

Ultimately, Matt wanted a space where he could just be in the moment, relax, forget about the day and feel transported to a holiday destination – in this case, Bali.

“The idea for the Bali theme came to me while I was on holiday there. I was having a few beers, and I saw some bamboo, and I thought, 'I could use that. Put a seam in the middle, drill some holes, put lights in it, put it on the wall.' When I have a few beers, I tend to have these crazy ideas!”

Crazy idea or not, when Matt came back from his holiday he couldn’t shake it. Soon enough, the idea became a plan, and that plan turned into action. Deciding which swim spa to buy was his first step.

“I did a lot of research on products and cost and what’s the best option for the Australian climate in regards to UV rays – lots of stuff like that,” says Matt.

“I also had to work with my backyard and the space I had. The research helped me work out what size spa to get and if I could fit it in. I also checked a lot of reviews – productreview.com, for example, was excellent.”

"It’s much nicer looking than a pool, there are no noisy pumps, and they’re all hidden. I have friends with pools who wish they went with a swim spa."
Matt Cowdell
Vortex™ Aquagym™ swim spa owner

“I’m a firm believer that you get what you pay for. You don’t have to pay top dollar for everything, but it pays to look for a good brand with good backing from the retailer,” says Matt.

Another option would have been a pool, “but you don’t have the nice lights or the bubbles, and a pool is not technically year-round, where this spa is."

"It’s also much nicer looking than a pool – there are no noisy pumps, and they’re all hidden. I have friends with pools who are wishing now they went with a swim spa instead.”

With the swim spa locked in, it was time to bring his dream to life – which meant a lot more research.

Matt says there was a lot of preparation work required before he started digging and planning the decking. He needed to know exactly what he could fit into his space and be sure he was complying with his local council’s regulations.

“Swim spas are high, and there are regulations that come with sinking them into the ground. I wanted to get mine within a spec that meant I didn’t have to have engineering approvals. I also wanted the spa to be at a height where you could comfortably sit on the side and talk to somebody in it.”

As with any DIY project, not everything went as planned.

“There were a few surprises - like stormwater pipes which I had to remove and refit. Yeah, lots of little issues like that along the way.”

Another hiccup involved the swim spa installation itself when the spa was craned into position. Matt soon realised it was in the wrong position.

“No fault of the crane guys, it was just on the wrong line. I’d set so many site lines!” he says.

“When I got home from work about one in the morning, I went straight out with a four-wheel-drive high lift jack, jacked up the spa and pushed it over to the right line. It was empty, and I can tell you – it weighed a tonne.

“I was dripping in sweat by the time I’d finished but at least it meant I could actually get some sleep.”

In the end, Matt’s perseverance and attention to detail paid off because simply put, Matt’s project is a DIY marvel – no easy feat for a one-man operation.

It’s finished to an exceptionally high standard, using quality stainless steel fittings, durable and water-resistant composite decking, a stylish glass safety barrier and in-built lighting.

"Matt’s swim spa is incredibly energy efficient – thanks mainly to having the water heated by a SpaNet™ heat pump. "

Sections of the decking can be lifted to provide clear access to the swim spa's control system for service. While all external components, such as wiring and heat pump, are discreetly hidden for safety and aesthetics.

While the space is small (it’s only 25m2), it doesn’t feel cramped. Through careful planning, Matt created three different zones in the small space while still making everything feel integrated and connected. There’s a dining and BBQ area to one side, the lounge on the other and out in front as the star attraction is the Vortex™ Aquagym™ Max Pro Plus Avanté swim spa.

“The whole area definitely has the wow factor. No one expects a swim spa to be in this garden,” says Matt.

Matt’s swim spa is incredibly energy efficient – thanks mainly to having the water heated by a SpaNet™ heat pump that’s powered by solar panels on the roof of his house.

“Having a spa heat pump is really the only way to go. My solar panels power the entire home, including the heat pump and swim spa. In summer, the whole house is totally self-sufficient with the spa on as well.

“Because I have solar panels, I can monitor the consumption. It’s actually 1.9 kilowatts more efficient than my old spa pool when it’s heating and circulating.

“We’re talking about a swim spa which is 7,800 litres compared to a spa with 1,000 litres. It’s 75 per cent more efficient than my last spa with seven times more water, which is really good.

"I thought the price of the swim spa was fantastic, that’s with the heat pump. The quality is excellent, as are all the extra features."
Matt Cowdell
Vortex™ Aquagym™ swim spa owner

“It chews through the power a bit more when the swim jets are on, but that’s only for a short period.”

Even when his spa isn’t in use, Matt says it’s lovely to look at.

“It’s so nice when the cover is off, and the lights and jet that spouts water are on, especially at night with the changing colours.”

The total cost of the renovation, including materials and swim spa, was less than $50,000. That’s not a bad price for a 24/7 holiday retreat.

“The decking was around $11k, and the swim spa was about $30k. So all up, I’d say it cost me around $45k.

"It would have cost a lot more if I’d paid someone else to do it. I thought the price of the swim spa was fantastic, that’s with the heat pump. The quality is excellent, as are all the extra features, I thought it was really reasonable.

"I still get in the spa some nights, and I can't believe it. It’s pretty much exactly how I imagined it."
Matt Cowdell
Vortex™ Aquagym™ swim spa owner

Amy is understandably proud of what Matt has achieved. Knowing he crafted almost every inch of the build – including landscaping, decking, fencing and spa installation himself – is the cherry on top.

“I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when he first told me about the project,” Amy says. “When he was busy working on it, I was trying to figure out how it would look. He just had this vision and belief that he could do it, and that it would look amazing. He was right!”

Without taking anything away from Matt’s achievement, Amy has a few words of advice to anyone thinking about doing something similar.

“Don’t dig the hole yourself! Get a digger.” It’s advice Matt reluctantly agrees with.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t know that I could’ve gotten a little mini digger in there. Of course, if I had, then that’s what I would’ve done. Aside from that, I wouldn’t change a thing. I enjoyed the challenge and the fact that I did it myself,” he says.

“I’m really happy. I still get in the spa some nights, and I can’t believe it. It’s pretty much exactly how I imagined it.”

Learn more

Find out more about the Vortex™ Aquagym™ swim spa including prices, pros, cons and more. Contact us today or visit your local Spa World showroom and test out this swim spa for yourself.

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