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Published Aug. 12, 2021

Taking a dip in your own pool is the dream of many homeowners, and thanks to affordable, easy-to-install above-ground pools, it’s never been easier to attain. In-ground pools require industrial construction equipment and cost more than some cars. However, an above-ground pool is a simple way to add fun to just about any backyard. Today’s above-ground models come in a wide variety of styles, materials, and sizes. A large rectangular above-ground pool is great for summer parties. Smaller, inflatable, oval above-ground pools are perfect for young children. If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to stay cool, the best above-ground pool turns your property into an at-home vacation destination.

What to consider when shopping for the best above-ground pool

Choosing an above-ground pool is easier than you may think. These swimming pools are designed for simple installation and minimal maintenance. Your biggest decision will be size and style. But before taking the plunge, know the do’s and don’ts of choosing an above-ground pool.

Picking the right pool size

Above-ground pool sizes are the first thing to look at when shopping for the best pool. Small, inflatable above-ground pools that hold less than 1,000 gallons of water are the easiest to use. Just inflate it when it’s time to swim and drain it when the party’s over. You don’t have to worry about any filters or chemicals. It’s basically a backyard bathtub, which is ideal for small kids. 

Large above-ground pools that hold more than 1,000 gallons of water will require more maintenance. These pools remain filled with water all season, so a filter and chemicals are needed to keep the water crystal clear and algae-free. There is more upkeep involved with the larger models than the inflatable above-ground swimming pools. However, with that said, the daily and weekly maintenance of these large above-ground models is very easy. And compared with the upkeep of a costly in-ground pool, above-ground pool maintenance is a breeze. Large above-ground pools can hold anywhere from 8,000 to 15,000 gallons of water, and they may stretch over 30 feet long. 

Reminder: Don’t forget to check the depth. While above-ground models are typically shallower than in-ground pools, they can still be too deep for small children or unsure swimmers. (Children can drown in as little as one inch of water.) The larger swimming pools can reach depths of about 4.5 feet. Smaller pools can be a mere three inches deep. 

Types of above-ground swimming pools

After you decide on a size, it’s time to think about what kind of above-ground pool you want: Inflatable, steel frame, resin frame, aluminum frame, hybrid or semi-inground. Don’t worry. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. 

Inflatable pools are self-explanatory: Blow it up, fill with water, and you’re good to go. 

Steel frame above-ground models are held together with vertical steel supports. The walls and floor of the pool can be plastic, vinyl, or resin. These swimming pools are strong, but they’re also heavy and may rust. Steel also gets hot in the sun. Aluminum-frame pools are lighter than steel frame pools, but to prevent oxidation, the aluminum needs some love and care—and a protective coating. 

Resin above-ground pools are made of strong plastic. They are lighter than steel frame pools, and they won’t rust. They can also take a heavy beating without getting a dent, but they do cost more.

Hybrid pools use multiple materials to create a strong pool that will last. Resin is used to keep things light and cool. Steel supports keep everything in place. These hybrid models offer the best of both worlds, and they are less expensive than resin pools. 

Semi-inground pools are a more permanent solution. Also known as radiant pools, these pools are built with a strong wall of stone or vinyl that matches the outdoor decor. They are designed to fit your specific home, so you have customizable options you don’t get with off-the-shelf pools. However, they are expensive and permanent. The upside: Radiant pools look like stylish in-ground swimming pools.

Where will the pool live?

While above-ground pools are versatile, they can’t be placed just anywhere. Inclines are a no-no, as even the slightest hill can push water against the walls of the pool, causing uneven pressure on the sides and liner. Spreading a few bags of sand across the area can help even things out. 

When installing an above-ground model, you must comply with local building codes and regulations. This usually means you can’t place a pool near power lines or too close to property lines. 

You will also need to factor in two to three feet of perimeter space for unobstructed access to the pool. You want a large, flat, open area of grass, sand, or dirt. Don’t put it on concrete or brick. Stay away from trees. And only install it on a deck if the deck is pool-ready and designed for the job.

Saltwater pools

Most above-ground pools use harsh chemicals like chlorine to keep the water clear. But a saltwater above-ground pool is the safer alternative. While saltwater pools still need cleaning chemicals, they don’t use nearly as much of the stuff. Saltwater pools are becoming popular for those who want to use fewer chemicals and don’t want to be burdened with maintenance. Swimming in saltwater also feels better. The lower chemical content means the water is not as harsh on your eyes and skin. 

Saltwater above-ground pools are just as easy to set up as other types of pools. And you can also buy a conversion kit that turns standard chlorine pools into saltwater pools.

How complicated is the installation?

Once again, inflatable above-ground pools are the easiest to install. Use a pump to fill the pool with air, then add water. The installation is a bit more involved when using a pool made of vertical supports. While each pool will have its own set of instructions, they can usually be set up within an afternoon and don’t require extra power tools if everything snaps in place snugly. But you will need a helping hand or two to avoid frustration. Make sure the spot is level, lay out the various parts, and understand how the liner attaches to the swimming pool. Take your time, and you should have no trouble installing the pool. 

Related: Check out the best pool floats for a summer of splashy fun in the sun.

The best above-ground pools

Ordering an above-ground pool online may sound like trying to get a haircut via email. But today’s pools are user-friendly, and the product descriptions clearly state the sizes and dimensions to give you a good idea of what the final product looks like. Find the swimming pool that fits your backyard and has the style and features you want in a warm-weather oasis.

The best pool for lap swimmers: Intex Above-Ground 32-Foot by 16-Foot by 52-Inch Pool

Healthy Saltwater Pool

A huge saltwater pool for big gatherings and swim practice. Intex

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As above-ground saltwater pools go, the Intex pool is a backyard beast, measuring 36 feet in length and just over four feet deep. That’s long enough to accomplish a genuine swimming workout in your own private lap pool. The steel frame safely holds 14,364 gallons of saltwater. You will need to supply your own salt, though. The included sand filter pumps out 2,650 gallons an hour and makes maintenance simple. If you have the space and want an above-ground model with the feel of an in-ground one, the Intex saltwater pool is your best bet.  

The best pool for small parties: Bestway Power Above-Ground Pool Set

Sturdy Construction

An oval above-ground pool that’s the perfect size if a few friends stop by for a dip. Bestway

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This 14-foot-by-8-foot-by-39-inch Bestway Power Above-Ground Pool Set is a small, yet comfortable way to add warm-weather fun to the lawn. Four adults will have plenty of room to take a dip in the pool. Set up is relatively easy, but you will need two people to get the job done. The walls and supports are strong. The biggest drawback is the inadequate pump. But you can always upgrade the pump and get a more efficient and effective filtration system. For a mid-sized, mid-priced pool, this is a solid solution.

The best above-ground pool for families: Intex 28211EH 12-Foot by 30-Inch Above-Ground Pool

Simple Design

A basic oval-shaped backyard pool for kids and parents. Intex

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The circular Intex 28211EH 12-Foot by 30-Inch Above-Ground Pool holds 1,718 gallons of water. That makes this a great choice for kids who want a fun, safe place to splash. You can set it up in less than an hour, and the included filter pump works well enough to keep the pool clean. The lining and walls feel strong, and the supports are tough enough to handle a kid’s birthday party. That said, this pool may not hold up after five years of heavy use. Luckily, the price point is low enough so even if you get a few seasons of swimming in, it’s worth the money.  This model is a bit undersized for adults, but your kids and their friends will have a blast in this simple Intex pool.

The best pool for relaxation: Intex Swimming Pool, Easy Set, 8 Feet by 30 Inches

Quick Set Up

The best inflatable pool adds an instant cool factor to your backyard. Intex

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Inflatable pools are the easiest to set up and maintain. As far as small above-ground pools go, this Intex swimming pool is the best of the blow-ups. The small, eight-foot diameter pool holds 646 gallons of water—not enough for a pool party, but plenty of room for one or two people. This pool is great for impromptu soaks after a hard day. There are no chemicals to change or filters to clean. You don’t need to snap support rods together or unfold pool covers. When you want to take a dip, inflate and go. There are holes for optional pumps, but this pool is best enjoyed as simply as possible. No need to add electricity and filtration to this solo backyard pool party. (For best results, use it in conjunction with a cocktail and ukulele.) 

The best pool for babies and pets: YAHEETECH Foldable Swimming Pool

Affordable Option

An inexpensive way to keep dogs and preschoolers cool. YAHEETECH

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You can’t get an Olympic workout in the YAHEETECH Foldable Swimming Pool. In fact, it’s less of a pool than a very large puddle. But for toddlers and dogs, this affordable pool is a lot of fun. The material is strong enough to handle a rowdy Schnauzer and soft enough for your young kids to bump into. The shallow one-foot depth is safe for wobbly kids just learning to walk, though parent supervision is ALWAYS required. As an added bonus, you can use the pool as a sandbox or ball pit. (Or to soak your weary feet.) If you’re looking for the cheapest and easiest way to add summer fun to your outdoor space, this dog pool/baby pool is a fantastic and versatile option. 

FAQs

Q: What’s the deepest above-ground pool available?

The deepest above-ground pool available is the Intex 36-Foot by 16-Foot by 52-Inch Above-Ground Pool. The four-foot depth may not seem like a lot, but in the world of above-ground pools, it’s tough to find deeper floors. You can buy specially made above-ground pools with a depth up to six feet, but these are only available from pool-installation companies. And when you go that deep, you must make sure the walls, liner, and supports can handle the water pressure. Even for standard above-ground pools, manufacturers will recommend you only fill the pool to 90 percent capacity. This gives you enough room to get in and swim without dumping gallons of water off the sides.

Q: Are above-ground pools expensive to maintain?

Above-ground pools are not too expensive to maintain. The biggest cost is cleaning chemicals and filter replacements. There are also a few up-front costs you must think about, such as getting a ladder, a pool cover, pool skimmer and net, and other essential pool accessories. You will also need an inflatable hot dog raft, because swimming without one causes chronic summer sadness. Saltwater pools are cheaper to maintain, but you’ll still need to pay for salt. And some above-ground models come with filter pumps that are underpowered, so upgrading to a more efficient pump is recommended. All said, it’s still cheaper than an in-ground pool or country club membership.  

Q: How long do above-ground pools last?

Above-ground pools do not last forever. They are temporary warm-weather fun. The liners of even the best above-ground pool will not last much longer than five years. The liners can be replaced, but the pool structure itself—the supports and walls—are only meant to last 15 years at the most. That’s a good reason to keep a close eye on your budget. If a $700 pool lasts 15 years, that’s still only $50 a year. You can get more life out of the permanent, radiant above-ground pools that have a strong wall built around the perimeter, but these pools are costly to install. 

The final word on the best above-ground pool

With the best above-ground pool, your backyard becomes a fun zone. From large rectangle above-ground pools for swimming laps to small oval above-ground pools for parties, you can find a great new way to stay cool this season. With an eye on size and shape, zoom in on the model that fits your needs. Whatever style you choose, swim safe and always supervise children. Also, consider making the jump to a saltwater above-ground pool for a more natural, soothing swim. Whatever you choose, one of these pools will transform your home into the neighborhood oasis.

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