A Guide to Above-Ground Pool Installation

above ground pool with water

Getty Images / Lineas 1703

So you decided to finally take the plunge and purchase an above ground pool but you don’t know the first thing on how to install one. Fortunately, it is not so difficult and with proper planning and some hard work you’ll be swimming in no time.

While it is not an extremely complicated process to install an above ground pool, it does help to have a few people to help out with the heavier components. Doing it yourself can save money on installation costs. Here's an overview of the above-ground pool installation process so you know what to expect.

Prepare the Ground

First you must get the ground ready for the pool to rest on top of. This step consists of leveling the ground and removing all sharp objects on the ground. Start by removing all vegetation, digging out high spots, and filling in low spots. Vegetation must be removed so that no roots or foreign objects develop over time and puncture the liner.

Assemble Pool Frame and Sand Base

Now that the ground is flat, it is time to install the bottom track of the pool. It is very important that the track is 100% level otherwise the pool will be at risk of collapse. Mark out where the pool supports will go and put down blocks for them to rest on. The blocks should be level with the track so everything lines up once the wall and top rail are installed. It is ok to elevate the bottom track with sand if needed.

Once the blocks are down, put sand down where the liner will rest. Ideally you will want a 2” to 4” layer of sand to form a soft bed so that in the event the liner does get pushed (think heels kicking into the bottom of the pool or the weight of the water), it will only go into sand and not any potential twig or foreign object in the dirt. It is also a good idea to invest in some angled foam to install at the inside edge of the bottom rail. This will help disperse the weight of the water in the pool where the liner meets the wall and limit stretching over time.

Install Body of Pool

This part will require the help of one or two other people. With the body of the pool still rolled up, place it inside the center of the pool. You want to have the area that has the square cutout (for the skimmer) and the round cutout (for the return) start where you would like your pool equipment, such as the pump and filter, to be. If you do not see it at the beginning of the pool body roll, this area will be at the end of the roll, so position the roll accordingly.

Start by having one person keeping the metal roll upright and another person holding the outside end and placing it inside the bottom track. Carefully unroll it and continue to place inside the bottom track. Avoid getting any sand in the track so the metal will be completely in the track channel. As you unravel and install the body, install the top track at the same time to help the pool wall from collapsing in. If necessary place something on either end of the of the pool wall to keep it upright as you install.

When the entire wall is installed you will likely be a little short at the end. Don't worry; this is perfectly normal. Take a screw driver and put it through both holes and with a combination of shaking, shimmying, and muscle, the wall will line up. Do this carefully, paying close attention that the rest of the body remains inside the bottom track. After this step, install all the necessary bolts at the seam and tape over them with duct tape to prevent the bolts from puncturing the liner.

Prepare Floor and Install Supports

Now that the wall is up, next is to install the wall supports and level the sand floor. Install the wall supports where needed on the wall, making sure that the bottom fits directly on top of the blocks you previously placed. Make sure there is no settling or movement of the stone during the install and the top cap on the support fits snugly on top of the pool wall. This is what will keep the pool from collapsing.

Then it's time to level the sand in preparation for installing the liner. Make sure that there is enough sand inside the pool area to form a bed of 2” to 4”. Use a large rake to level the sand starting in the center of the pool and pushing out towards the wall. Make an embankment of 6” against the wall to help disperse the pressure created from the water pushing against the pool. To help this you can also purchase angled foam pieces that fit snugly in the corner of the pool wall for the liner to rest on.

The last step before installing the liner is to double check your measurements. Check that the pool is assembled in the proper shape and has the proper dimensions before going any further. Make any necessary adjustments and use sand to raise, lower or fill in areas if needed. Once the liner is installed it will be much more difficult to adjust and may cause the liner to not go on at all.

Install the Liner

Now it’s starting to look like a pool! Before going further, gently wet the sand to help it stay in place during liner installation. Then, take your liner and throw it inside the pool. Unfold it as much as possible. You can start anywhere as long as the liner seam is not near the filter area. Depending on your type of liner and pool it may be as simple as dragging the liner over and around the pool wall or just on top. It is strongly recommended to have at least one or two other people helping for this step as the liner is extremely heavy and it is normal for the pool wall to move while installing the liner. It is best to have at least one person inside the pool passing the liner to another person outside of the pool to make the final hook.

Once hooked in place, install the coping strip to secure the liner from falling down. Slowly work your way around the pool, making sure that the liner is not tangled or crooked and straightening out any creases as they appear. The liner should look uniform on the hook the entire way around the pool, otherwise it is at risk of wrinkling and unhooking. If there are still wrinkles in the liner, kick the liner out towards the pool wall until they are gone. Use a vacuum at the return hole in the pool body to vacuum out as much air as possible to ensure there are no wrinkles once the water is added.

Install Skimmer Mouth

Once the wrinkles are out it is time to add some water in preparation to install the skimmer mouth. Put your hose inside the pool and fill it up a few inches to settle the liner. This will force it to adhere to the shape of the pool wall and the sand underneath. While the pool is filling, create the filter and pump bed. It is most common to use a few cinder blocks (CMUs) as a bed on top of a level piece of ground near the cutouts at the pool body.

Once the wrinkles have vanished and the liner feels tight, it is time to install the skimmer mouth. Using the inside frame of the mouth, line it up over the hole in the pool body. With someone holding the pool body from the outside, drives screws through the frame while it’s on top of the liner. It is very important that you are lined up to the holes through the pool body or you will have a leak. Then, take your skimmer body and have someone hold it up on the outside of the pool at the gasket and screw it together, sandwiching the liner in between. (You can add some silicone on top of the gasket on the outside for a little extra insurance.) Install the return fitting in the same manner and then cut out the remaining liner in the skimmer mouth to create the opening. Make sure to tighten the return fitting with the nut on the back to sandwich the liner, a big channel lock works best.

Install the Filter, Pump, and Return

The filter is next. Pool filters work by forcing high pressure water through a media, or sand. For a sand filter it is best to follow the factory instructions on how to layer the sand or selected media inside the filter body. This gets loaded through the top hole where the multiport will be installed (if it is not already). Once loaded simply screw on the multiport making sure it is nice and tight.

After the filter is set up, you can start connecting everything together. Install a hose going from the skimmer to the pump inlet first. This will be the front of the pump that goes into the basket. Then install another hose going from the pump outlet to the filter intake on the multiport on the top. Finally, install the last hose going from the filter output to the return fitting and plug in the pump, making sure the multiport is set to “filter." It is a good idea to invest in some hose clamps for each end of each hose. The water will be a higher pressure and if they blow out when no one is looking they can lower a pool in seconds. Also, a pool pump is cooled by the pool water and if run dry for too long it can melt itself, resulting in a costly repair.

Completing the Pool Body

The final step to installing the pool body is to install the top rail. Go around and add the top rail to the top plates of the support posts. This will make sure the pool body does not flex and help lock it in place as the pool fills. After the top rail has been installed you can add your steps that will be used to get in and out of the pool. Make sure that the steps do not touch the top rail, otherwise you run the risk of collapsing the pool wall.

Fill the Pool and Check for Leaks

Continue filling the pool to halfway up the skimmer mouth. At that point, make sure that there is water inside the pump basket, the multiport is still set to “filter," and all valves if any are in the open position. Then turn the pool on and watch for any leaks. If your hoses leak, tighten your hose clamps or replace the hose. If a leak is coming out of a fitting, shut down the pool, use your channel locks to remove the fitting, add Teflon tape to the threads, wrapping in the same direction as the threads and install.

Add Chemicals

Once you get everything watertight it is time to add chemicals. Use your test strips to determine how much of what you will need, and add accordingly. Most chemicals have approximations on the packaging. If not, add a few handfuls at a time. Start slowly, adding the chemicals in front of the return to help mix them in and limit the risk of bleaching (when you start a fresh pool you will be using chlorine shock instead of tablets, which are highly concentrated). Then add your pH (soda ash), alkalinity increaser (sodium bicarbonate) and calcium. Leave the pool on overnight and recheck and adjust in the morning.