Above Ground Pool Installation Tips

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Get in the water faster with these tips for installing an above ground pool. Should you DIY it or call in the pros?

If you were hoping to install an above ground pool in 2020, you may well have found it impossible.

Across the U.S., people stuck at home during the pandemic turned to swimming pools, as families put a lot of the money they didn’t spend on vacations into their backyards. Whether that meant an inflatable kiddie pool, a more substantial above ground pool or the in-ground pool of their dreams, the result was the same — a pool shortage. Manufacturers couldn’t keep up with demand, and pool installers found themselves booked into 2021.

While inventories have improved for 2021, it’s still a good idea to plan ahead if you want to install an above ground pool this year. Let’s take a look at the practical aspects of above ground pool installation, and whether it’s a realistic DIY project.

Pro or DIY Above Ground Pool Installation

Though demand has eased since the height of the pandemic, pool contractors are still busy. So if you’re planning to install an above ground pool this year, you might have to do it yourself if you want to be swimming by summertime. Whether you install the pool yourself depends on the type of pool and your DIY skills.

  • Inflatable pools. Installing an inflatable pool is usually as simple as finding a level spot on your patio or lawn, pumping up the pool, filling it with water and plugging it in.
  • Temporary above ground pools. Putting in a seasonal above ground pool is doable for most people with a few tools, basic DIY skills and a reasonably level backyard.
  • Permanent above ground pools. Installing a pool that’s a permanent backyard fixture is an involved process requiring greater site prep and mechanics. You’ll probably want a deck area surrounding the pool as well. The job can be done by an experienced DIYer, or you can pay for professional installation.

Electrical Needs

Before you start your installation, make sure you have the proper electrical hookups for your new pool. According to Florida-based INYO Pools, “a typical above ground pool pump will require a 20-amp breaker and use #12 gauge wire to deliver the electricity.” Like most pool companies we consulted, they recommend hiring a professional electrician to do this piece of the installation, even if you do everything else yourself.

Choosing a Site

This isn’t just about finding a level spot in the backyard. You need to check for overhead or shallow underground utility lines, and make sure you’re not installing over a septic tank or a septic tank drain field. You’ll also need to ensure that level spot isn’t above tree roots and stumps that can’t be removed.

According to above ground pool specialists Leslie’s Pools, avoid any area with a sudden slope within six feet of where the pool will sit. Choose a spot with full sun or at least partial sun/shade for most of the day so your pool water warms up quickly and stays warm for swimming.

Prepping the Site

The following steps are necessary for temporary and permanent above ground pools, and recommended for inflatable pools.

First, mark out the area where the pool will go.

  • Start at what will be the center of the pool.
  • With a string attached to a large nail or stake, measure the circumference of the pool plus six inches.
  • Use spray paint or tape to mark the perimeter.

Then, make the area completely level. Most importantly, bring the entire area down to the level of the lowest point. Trying to fill in low areas rather than digging out high areas can lead to damage to the pool liner, according to swimming pool and spa supplier Pool Supply World.

To create a level surface, use a straight 1×6 board that’s longer than the diameter of the pool.

  • Anchor the board at the center point of the pool so it can rotate.
  • Tape a level to the top of the board.
  • Rotate the board, digging out areas where the board is not flush with the ground.
  • Repeat this process until the board is flush everywhere and the level is balanced.

Assembly Steps

Once the area is level, assembly and base prep can begin.

  • Assemble the bottom wall rim (for all but inflatable pools) along the circumference of the pool area.
  • Inside the ring, lay a level three-to-four-inch layer of mason sand or playground sand.
  • Attach the pool walls.
  • Create a sand cove, or angled area of sand, that rests against the pool wall. You can also buy a foam cove, eliminating the work to get the sand cove uniform. For additional protection, add a pool liner floor pad.
  • Install the liner, starting in the center of the pool with the bottom piece.
  • Install and anchor side-wall liners and attach the top rail.

Leslie’s Pools recommends filling the pool halfway with water at this point, then concentrating on installing the skimmer and return fittings. Then connect the filter and pump before you finish filling the pool.

Cost Considerations

According to River Pools in Virginia, above ground pool installation costs between $1,000 and $3,000, depending on the size and shape of the pool. Installing decking around a permanent pool will add thousands of dollars to the cost.

So DIY installation can save you a bundle. But only attempt it if you’re confident you’ve got the skills and patience to achieve an error-free installation. The longevity of your pool depends on it!

Elizabeth Heath
Elizabeth Heath is a travel, culinary and lifestyle writer based in rural Umbria, Italy. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, HuffPost, Frommers.com, TripSavvy and many other publications. Her guidebook, An Architecture Lover's Guide to Rome, was released in 2019. Liz's husband is a stonemason and together they are passionate about the great outdoors, endless home improvement projects, dogs, their unruly garden and their slightly less unruly 8-year-old.