Above Ground Pools: Which Option is Best?

Discover HouseLogic’s tips for choosing the right above-ground pool for your home.

Frame pools, which have a metal frame and an interior pool liner, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most popular option is a 24-foot round pool. Image: Trendium Pool Products

A swimming pool may not add value to your home and property, but if you’re wanting that backyard cooling-off spot, an above-ground swimming pool costs far less than an in-ground pool. At around $6,000 for a basic above-ground model versus $30,000 for in-ground, you’ll spend 80% less, and you avoid the disruption of heavy equipment digging up your backyard.

Of course, if you select upgrades like patterned or textured liners, fancy stairs, and custom decking, you could up the price for an above-ground pool to $15,000 or more. At that point, it makes sense to consider an in-ground investment, which you may be able to list as a selling amenity someday.

Ring pools: the least expensive option

Above-ground pools come in two basic types: ring and frame. Ring pools, also known as “float to fill,” are commonly around 12 feet in diameter and 3 feet high. Made of heavy-duty vinyl, they get their name from an inflatable ring at the top of the pool, which rises as the pool fills with water and lifts the sidewalls into place. The filled pool is flask-shaped, wider at the bottom than the top for greater stability.

A 12-foot ring pool holds approximately 1,400 gallons of water, enough to require chlorine tablets for chemical balance and a filtration pump. You can buy one for these for around $300, load it into the back of the SUV, and get it ready for filling the same day. Many families see this as an inexpensive way to test the waters on pool ownership and maintenance.

Frame pools: more costly and more permanent

A frame pool has a sturdy metal frame and an interior pool liner. One of these can stay up year-round, although it can be disassembled in a matter of hours. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes; the most popular size is a 24-foot round, which gives plenty of room for laps or a rowdy game of water polo. Most frame pools come with a lifetime warranty that translates into 25 to 30 years of practical use, even with kids pushing off the sides and jumping off the deck area.

The typical frame pool has walls that are 48 inches to 54 inches high, which means you’ll need a ladder to get in and out. Depending on the size and shape of your yard, installers may be able to bury one end of the steel framework deeper in the ground to create different water levels, but even with this trick, 6.5 feet is the depth limit. Once the pool is set up, you can add decking or landscaping to make it look like a more permanent feature of the yard.

A bare-bones frame pool costs around $4,000, and as much as double that if you add niceties like a high-end patterned liner or a wood frame to blend in better with the landscape. As with a ring pool, you use the backyard hose to fill these with the requisite 3,000 to 6,000 gallons.

Depending on size, plan on two to five days for installation, which includes leveling the site and laying a sand bed. The best time to get on a dealer’s installation list is in the winter or early spring. The impulse-buying nature of an above-ground pool means dealers can be backed up several weeks once summer turns hot.

Maintenance and safety issues

Above-ground frame pools need many of the same working parts as inground versions, such as filters and automatic pool cleaners. They can definitely support a heater, although to keep costs proportionate, many people just spread a solar blanket over the pool when not in use. It’s also possible to hook up automatic cleaners on the circulation line to avoid manually cleaning the sides.

Chemicals are required, but in smaller quantities. Plan on spending an average of $400 a season on chlorine, compared with $600 for an inground pool. Homeowners also need to be aware of local safety ordinances and erect the appropriate fencing. In many jurisdictions, fencing can be attached to the top of the pool itself instead of around the perimeter of the yard.

Because it isn’t permanent, an above-ground pool doesn’t require a permit, and it won’t impact the resale value of your home. Note that some homeowners associations or developers don’t allow them, and they’re not suited for diving. It’s always a good idea to notify your insurance agent that you’ve added an above-ground pool, as coverage policies vary.