The first, boldest warning in any above-ground pool’s user manual should be:
If you do, you’re likely to find them watching you, all decked out in snorkels and sunscreen, while you’re still struggling to fit the last pieces together.
Modern DIY pools are pretty easy to assemble thanks to innovations like snap-on clips, but each is still a major structure. You should know what you’re getting into and budget your time accordingly.
Don’t Wait with the First Setup
To tell the truth, there are actually multiple reasons to give yourself plenty of time for the task of installing an above-ground pool. For one thing, it’s an excellent idea to set it up early in the season to give the sun time to heat it up before summer starts in earnest – this also gives you time to get used to maintaining the right water chemistry.
On another level, even the best above-ground pools sometimes leak from day one. If you need to return yours, you don’t want the warranty period to slip past with it still in its box.
How big a factor this is depends on which kind of pool you buy. The pool liners of the Intex Metal Frame and Bestway Power Steel are typically covered for only 90 days. That of the more expensive Intex Prism series, by contrast, can be sent back at any time during the 12 months following purchase, assuming that the cause of the leak is a manufacturing defect.
The Importance of Getting Off on the Right Foot
Do you remember the story of the three little pigs? In case your preschool didn’t share that important piece of engineering wisdom with you, the moral is that doing a little bit of extra work in advance pays huge dividends in the long run. (Also, it’s a bad idea to taunt large carnivores if you’re made of bacon.)
In the case of above-ground pools, it is essential to ensure that you have a firm, smooth, level, and flat-footing for it. If not, the following is on your horizon:
- Your pool liner’s lifespan may be reduced by resting on rocks, stretching into hollows, and so on.
- One end of your pool will be noticeably shallower than the other – a slope of only 2° will tilt a 12′ pool by five inches overall.
- The uneven weight distribution places excessive strain on one side of the pool wall, making it more likely to buckle and fail.
However, the flattest part of your yard may not be the most suitable in other ways. For one thing, you’ll need a lower point to drain the pool water to at the end of summer: almost all above-ground pools have a drain plug to which you can connect a standard garden hose, but this will be of little help if your pool is right at the bottom of a hollow.
You’ll also need an electrical outlet to power the filter pump. You really don’t want to mess around with extension cords, using one may void the pump’s warranty and carries an increased risk of electrical shock.
Trees are to be avoided, too. Not only do they drop leaves in the water, but their shade prevents the sun from heating up the water as it should.
Finally, check any local homeowners’ association and construction regulations. In most cases, you’ll have to site your pool some distance away from all property lines and building foundations. Rectangular and oval-shaped pools often have supports that add another two feet to their footprint on either side, so take this into account as well.
Somewhat ironically, good site preparation is important no matter what kind of pool you buy. An entry-level model like the Bestway Fast pool tends to be very, very sensitive to inclines and may even collapse totally if installed on a slope, while the extra cost of something like the Ultra XTR pool from Intex justifies doing a little extra to preserve your investment.
Ways of Leveling Your Pool’s Base
It’s not something you think about on a regular basis (unless you’re a civil engineer), but each cubic yard of dirt weighs about 2,300 pounds. That same cubic yard, spread out over the area occupied by a 15-foot round pool, is less than half an inch deep – yikes! That’s a lot of shoveling.
If your backyard is far from level, your best bet may be to hire some equipment, like a Bobcat with a dozer blade, or even pay professionals to do the necessary earthmoving. This adds to your total cost, so may make it worth looking at either a larger or a more durable pool than what you first had in mind.
Should you choose to do the job yourself, you first have to decide between The Hard Way and The Easy Way.
The Hard Way starts by using a sod cutter or rototiller to hack out a chunk of your lawn. After that, you’ll use a shovel and rake to smooth and level what remains, removing all rocks and roots as you go, finally tamping down the soil with a lawn roller.
The Easy Way produces nearly as good a result, with much less sweat and no risk of damaging a buried cable or sewer line. It does require a patch of ground that’s at least “eyeball level”, though, so you may still have to do some digging.
Instead of using brute force to change the contours of your yard, simply phone up your local hardware store or building supply place and order a bunch of sand. A volume calculator may come in handy in determining how much you need. As you will generally fill in a wedge, you should use the average, not maximum, drop of the site as the height (still get plenty, though).
Sand takes much less effort to rake flat. It’s recommended that you tape a spirit level to a straight board. As you drag it around the site of your future pool, any hollows and dips will be easy to spot and deal with.
The video below explains the idea. It’s a little chaotic and doesn’t go over the entire procedure, but I’m showing this one because his trick of using side blocks is the only video I found that ensures a level ground over the entire 360 degrees of a round above-ground pool:
Once your ground is level, you can lay down bottom plates, a base protector, and a tarp, and you’re good to go.
In addition, you may want to stick some paving stones around the pool to support the pool’s ladder and legs, and shore up the sand base so it keeps its shape over time.
Actually Setting up Your Pool
Above-ground pools are notorious for coming with lousy instructions. We shouldn’t be too hard on the manufacturers for this, though, as it doesn’t require an abundance of common sense to figure things out for yourself.
That having been said, do read through the manual the night before you assemble your pool and perhaps watch a couple of Youtube videos so you’ll know what to expect.
This Bestway Power Steel installation video gives you an idea what to expect (this is a pool without a bottom rail):
Inflatable pools, like the Intex Easy, require hardly any assembly at all. This is a major point in their favor if you already have a suitable plot of ground or you just need something quickly when temperatures are pushing triple digits. Simply unfold and spread out the pool liner, inflate the donut on the rim, and start filling it with a garden hose.
As with other above-ground swimming pools, it’s important to smooth as many wrinkles out of the liner as you can – a toilet plunger works well for gripping this smooth surface.
With framed pools, the most important thing is to work methodically, so take a break when you get confused or frustrated and come back to the task with fresh eyes. Before you start, identify each piece of the frame and lay them out near where you’ll use them. Also lay out some blocks or patio stones for under the pool frame posts, as the posts will otherwise sink in the ground.
You will generally not need any tools to assemble the frame, although pools with bottom rails sometimes do. Other pools are held together with pins that fit through holes in the pipes that make up the structure. Others, like the Bestway Steel Pro Max, have connector clips inside the joints themselves.
In either case, as long as you have a helper to hold things in place, you will soon see your swimming pool taking shape. When that’s ready, make sure to step inside the pool and smooth out any wrinkles in the pool floor before you fill it.
It’s a good idea to keep an eye on it as the water level rises, though, just in case you have to tug or shove any part of the frame into place.
Filter and Pump
The one part that may puzzle you is getting the filter and pump assembly to work. This varies from pool to pool. Most pools come with one or two outlets that go to the filter pump, which leads the water via one inlet back into the pool. More expensive pools come with a sand filter pump or even a saltwater system.
It all doesn’t matter much for installation, though – all of them are designed to be put together by amateurs. Just follow the installation instructions from the pool manufacturer and you’ll be fine. In most cases, everything properly matches up in only one way, so at least you’ll know when you’re making progress.
Installing Your Own Pool: The Budget-Friendly Alternative
Yep, installing your own above-ground pool costs more than the sticker price once you add in the expense of preparing a home for it. The happy people pictured on the box assembling it with ease are models, too. Depending on which kind you buy, your experience will probably take longer and involve more frustration.
Even so, once you make peace with these facts of life, it’s really worth it.
Even at double the price you see on the box, a decently sized above-ground pool works out much cheaper than a permanent installation, never mind frequent trips to the local water park for your kids and their friends. It basically starts to pay for itself as soon as it’s standing.