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Above Ground Pools

See also: Categories: Pools, Terminology

Above ground pools are usually less expensive than in-ground pools and come in a variety of sizes from a choice of 3 shapes: round, oval, and rectangular.


Above ground pools are constructed steel or polymer structures installed above the ground with waterproofing PVC membrane overlaying the walls and floor, creating an impenetrable surface to hold water. Above ground pools are designed, intended, and/or used for swimming, wading, or other recreational use.


Before buying and installing an above ground pool, consider these key factors: pool size (which will be largely determined by how much space is available), the materials the pool is made of and, of course, the budget. The important ins and outs of purchasing, constructing, and maintaining an above ground pool are listed below.

Location & Placement

Where is the above ground pool going to be installed? Even though it's installed above the ground, it is still going to be a permanent installation, so choose carefully. Many above ground pools carry warranties of 20, 30, even 50 years, so consider that it may last that long. Deciding where to put the above ground pool should be based on the space available, accessibility, and obstacles.

Consider a location that provides easy access from the home to the pool and also allows easy entry to get in and out of the pool without obstruction. Pay attention to obstacles such as gardens, fences, trees, and sheds.

Allow adequate space (usually at least three feet) between the pool and anything else permanently installed in the yard. Otherwise, digging up the ground and displacing the earth could cause nearby structures to lean, sink, or even collapse. Trees are especially important to avoid building near. Their roots can sometimes span the length of hundreds of feet and have the ability to push up through the above ground pool liner. It's usually best to move any trees that may be a threat to the new above ground pool.

Ideally, select as level ground as possible to minimize the need for leveling. Above ground pools should not be placed over any underground lines, septic tanks, cesspools, dry wells, tree roots or stumps, or any buried debris. Never place above ground pools under any overhead electrical lines.


Once knowing where the above ground pool will be placed, measure the area to determine what size above ground pool will be purchased. When measuring, allow an extra three feet if buying an above ground pool that uses buttresses. A buttress is an angled support beam that extends from the wall of the above ground pool to the surface of the ground. Its purpose is to keep the above ground pool stable. Many newer above ground pools now have upright support systems that do not require buttresses.

Keep in mind that getting an above ground pool the exact size wanted may be difficult: usually settling for the next closest size is the answer.

Above ground pools come in three shapes: round, oval, and rectangular. Once decided on the length and width or the radius, decide on the height. Above ground pools usually come in two heights: 48 inches or 52 inches, but taller walls are becoming more common. This measurement references the height of the above ground pool wall from the ground. Many people like the deeper 52" above ground pool better because more water usually offers better swimming. However, some prefer the smaller height of the 48" above ground pools because they have a tendency to be more affordable and the lower depth may be safer for young children.

Steel vs. Resin Structure

A steel above ground pool refers to one that has walls, uprights, a bottom track and a top rail made of steel.

A resin above ground pool also has steel walls but the other structural components are made of resin, which is a heavy-duty plastic. Because the steel is covered with multiple layers of protective coatings, it is considered very resistant to corrosion. However, since it is plastic, resin is corrosion proof. Resin above ground pools tend to be a bit more expensive but could well be worth it, especially if living in a damp area where rust might be more prevalent.

Grades of Pools

There are several grades of above ground pools: economy, mid-grade and high-end. The main difference between these grades will be the size of the top rail and verticals (these get larger going up in grade), the length of the warranty, and for oval models, whether or not there are buttresses. The higher-end above ground pools usually do not have buttresses which looks more attractive and takes up less yard space.

Above Ground Pool Installation

Preparing the Foundation

  • Pad clearance: Remove any sod that would be beneath the above ground pool. Do not underestimate the persistence of grass - nut grass, bamboo grass and Bermuda grass can all grow right through an above ground pool liner. Remove sod all the way around the above ground pool wall. Before starting this process, check with the local government for any local code related to above ground pool installation. Some areas of the country require as much as six feet of sod removed from around the entire above ground pool - this would mean a 6-foot wide "dirt road" around the above ground pool.

  • Elevation & ground leveling: Once the sod has been properly removed, most likely the ground will not be level. The higher ground within the sod-cleared area will need to be dug out to match the lowest ground. The ground must be measured using a level or a transit; level ground cannot be determined just by looking at it. It is not recommended to try and build up low ground due to the immense weight of the water in the above ground pool which will simply compress it back down. If the ground is not leveled, there is the potential for serious damage to the above ground pool and injury to anyone in or around the above ground pool. There is an increased risk of the above ground pool wall collapsing or at the very least, sinking into the ground, leaving an unattractive sloped above ground pool. If conditions require to raise ground instead of leveling it, consult professional above ground pool installers.

  • Drainage: The above ground pool could cause water to gather in the yard where it never had before. This is due to the above ground pool blocking the normal flow of drainage. Often when water gathers around an above ground pool, the owner assumes the above ground pool liner has a leak and then goes through the trouble of trying to patch or replace the liner. This is tedious and expensive so it pays to make sure there will be adequate drainage before installing the above ground pool. Again, the advice of a professional is recommended, especially if the yard forms a natural valley.

  • Ground pad: Clean sand is the traditional base material for above ground pools. The sand acts as a barrier between the ground and the liner and helps to protect the liner from any rocks, roots or other hard objects. It also provides some cushioning for the floor of the above ground pool, making it more comfortable underfoot. There are also floor padding products designed to provide cushioning and protection such as Gorilla floor padding. Some manufacturers say their padding can be used instead of sand. It is recommended to always use sand and add the floor padding for additional protection. It is worth the investment to protect the above ground pool liner as replacing a liner involves both the cost of a new liner, installation and refilling the above ground pool. Typical instructions call for a uniform, 2-inch layer of sand (please follow the manufacturer's installation manual for the specific above ground pool). Beware of using any high alkaline substance such as peat moss as a base because it will cause corrosion of metal parts.

  • Support preparation: The foundation for the above ground pool frame is typically patio stones or blocks which are sunk until flush with the ground. These blocks are placed beneath the above ground pool posts and buttresses in order to support them. Each block must be level in all directions (both from side to side and front to back). Then, make sure the blocks are level with one another. From one block to the next block, there can be no more than 1/16" out of level. As with leveling the ground, use a transit to be sure each block is level. Unlevel supports can cause the above ground pool wall to buckle, even with a variation of only 1/8" between the blocks. The above ground pool will come with the manufacturer's specific instructions for placement of stones or blocks.


The consumer should always follow the manufacturer's instructions, as assembly will vary from model to model.

An above ground pool will typically include the following parts:

  • Bottom rails
  • Bottom plates
  • Uprights
  • Above ground pool wall
  • Top rails
  • Caps for uprights
  • Coping
  • Liner
  • Assembly hardware
  • The skimmer and return fitting is often also included

Above Ground Pool Cove

The above ground pool cove is typically a wedge of sand built all the way around the inside edge of the above ground pool wall. Creating the cove is mandatory. The 6 to 8 inch cove will keep the liner from slipping under the above ground pool wall and provide a protective layer between the liner and the metal frame of above ground pools.

The sand is beveled to form a 45 degree wedge along the entire inner circumference of above ground pool walls. The sand should be uniform all the way around and tamped down. Pre-manufactured above ground pool coves are available in two forms, Peel & Stick, which has adhesive backing, and Clip & Stick, which snaps onto the track of the above ground pool wall. These coves come in 4-foot sections. When the cove is complete, tamp down the sand in the entire above ground pool area. This will help to even out the ground and reduce divots in the floor of the above ground pool. Any sand on the above ground pool wall above the cove should be removed to prevent it from rubbing against the liner and possibly causing pinholes to form.

Installing the Liner

Open the box containing the liner very carefully

Refer to the manufacturer's instructions regarding preparing the liner. The owner's manual should give details about punching out the skimmer and return holes in the above ground pool and installing the liner. Remember that the liner is not meant to bear any of the weight of the water so it must rest on the ground in all areas. Properly installed, there should be no air space between the liner and the ground, and no downward pressure on the liner. How to hang the liner on the above ground pool wall will depend on the style of liner (overlap, beaded, or j-hook): refer to the instruction manual for the above ground pool.

Since there is extra material to compensate for any shrinkage of the liner, having some wrinkles in the liner material is normal and unavoidable. To smooth out the floor of the liner, gently push it toward the wall. To avoid damage, do not pull, drag or stretch the liner. Air between the liner and the above ground pool wall can contribute to wrinkles. To decrease this, use a vacuum hose, inserting it through the skimmer hole in the above ground pool wall behind the liner. Use masking tape and cardboard to seal any gaps around the skimmer hole and vacuum hose. Turn on the vacuum and gently adjust the liner while the vacuum is running. Turn the vacuum off periodically if reaching any areas where the liner becomes difficult to adjust. The vacuum can continue to run while filling the above ground pool but be sure to keep the hose above water level at all times.

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