How to Choose an Above-Ground Pool

how to choose an Above Ground Pool

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A pool is an expensive purchase that should last for many years, so putting the time in now to properly research the options will ensure that you get the best choice for you and your chosen location.

For example, you wouldn’t want to get a vinyl pool if you plan to install a pool on the side of the hill because the structure of a vinyl pool will not be rigid enough to keep the water in.

Different shapes of pools give you different options on what you can do. Do you want an oval pool or one shaped like a kidney? That will limit your choices in material significantly. Does the proposed pool location have a hill or is it flat? Does the area get significant water runoff during rainstorms? Do you get tornadoes? There are many things to consider when choosing what type of pool to get.

This buying guide will give you all the information you need to make an informed, educated decision on what type of pool to buy based on your specific set of circumstances and desires.

What Is an Above-Ground Pool?

An above-ground pool is a pool that has exposed sides above the ground. Above-ground pools come in many shapes and sizes that fit a variety of uses and situations. This includes semi-submerged, fiberglass, steel, and vinyl. Each type has its own pros and cons based on your specific location where the pool will be installed.

Before Buying a New Above-Ground Pool

A pool is something that should not be bought very often. Therefore, it is important to take into consideration every variable when deciding on what type of pool to get to ensure that the purchase made is the correct one. This includes location limitations, material preference, shape, usage, and of course budget.

Buying Considerations for an Above-Ground Pool


Where you plan to put a pool is one of the most influential factors on choosing what type of pool to purchase. This can affect not only your material choices but also affect how your pool operates, and cleaning and maintenance cost.

Ideally you will want to place your pool on a cleared, flat piece of land without many trees nearby to limit the amount of chemical-robbing leaves that fall into the pool. Also, it’s likely you would want a location that would get lots of sun to keep the pool warm and extend the pool season for as long as possible.

You can also have a pool installed on a hill (to a point) but this will increase costs and limit your options on what types of pools that will be suited for that environment.


Would you like a rectangular, circular, oval, or a freeform above-ground pool? Both plastic and steel frame pools allow for rectangle, circular, and oval shapes. If you desire an irregular shape pool such as a kidney then the most common above-ground pool option is a fiberglass pool due to the fact that you “form” the fiberglass to the shape instead of building the pool to the shape of a vinyl liner.

Pool Features

There are many features that you can purchase to trick out your pool, including fountains, lights, automatic cleanersheaters and any number of high-end pool toys. Narrow your options down to the best pool for you by taking your preferred features into account.

If you would like pool lights, for example, that would eliminate the possibility of a plastic frame pool and most steel frame pools (based on type of installation) due to the sidewalls being vinyl and thus not a solid mounting surface for a pool light.

A desire for automatic cleaners will also limit your choices due to the added machinery needed to run them; and, although you could install an automatic cleaner in any of these pool options, it is generally not recommended.

A pool heater could extend your swimming season but will also narrow down your pool choices. Pool water coming out of a
heater is very hot and if used with a vinyl-walled pool will melt and warp your pool over time.

Pool Machinery Options

Your pool filter choices will be based on your budget and preferred type of pool. The main types of pool filter are sand and D.E. filters with some key differences between the two.

Sand filters are the more common type for most pool installations and are affordable and easy to maintain. D.E. filters are another option that, instead of using sand particles and high pressure water to filter your pool, uses a screen that catches D.E. powder to catch even the smallest particles before returning the water to the pool.

This type of filter is, however, more expensive because of the needed addition of a separation tank and the additional cost of keeping the powder level at an adequate amount to maintain its filtering ability.

Chlorine or Salt-Based

Chlorine is the tried-and-true method to keep your pool crystal clear. Chlorine is cheap, effective, and easy to measure and maintain. However, chlorine can irritate some people’s skin and eyes if used excessively, which is why saltwater pools have recently surged in popularity.

Before jumping on the saltwater pool bandwagon, it is important to understand how they operate. Saltwater pools still use chlorine but do so differently. The type of chlorine that they use is slightly gentler and comes from the addition of a salt generator. The salt generator (which increases the cost) generates only the chlorine needed to keep your pool clean when the pool is running, unlike chlorine which is always in your pool until it either evaporates or gets eaten up by bacteria or sunlight.

This means that for a saltwater pool to maintain its cleanliness, it must run every day. Additionally, it is more difficult to maintain a saltwater pool due to more complicated testing and the addition of another piece of machinery (the salt generator) that must be functioning correctly in order to transform the salt into chlorine to keep your pool clean. Saltwater pools are, however, gentler on skin and eyes and would allow someone who is allergic to chlorine to enjoy the pool.

Above-Ground Pool Types

Plastic Frame

Vinyl pools with a plastic frame offer the smallest number of install options because they need to be installed on a completely flat surface. These are generally square or rectangle in shape and are easiest type of above-ground pool to assemble and disassemble.

Steel Frame

Steel frame pools, although very similar to plastic frame pools, offer slightly more customization because of the more rigid frame. These pools must also be installed on a completely flat surface, though in some cases they can be installed semi-submerged.

Semi-Submerged (Hybrid)

A semi-submerged pool can either be a specially designed steel frame pool or a fiberglass pool. This type of pool is able to be installed in hilly locations or semi-submerged on a flat piece of land to allow for more landscaping options around the pool.


Fiberglass offers the most options in terms of above-ground pool customization, but it has to be installed against a rigid backing because the fiberglass itself is not strong enough to support the force of the pool water. Fiberglass is a good choice if your install location is not a traditional flat surface (such as a side of a pool or against a rockface wall).


It is best to allocate as much of your budget as possible to the actual pool install and not to groundwork. There is an old construction saying, “money spent on the ground, stays in the ground.” This means that once you spend money on moving the dirt, you end up with only moved dirt, and that leaves less money to spend on the actual pool.

The most affordable above-ground pool is one that has a plastic frame and vinyl liner. The next step up would be a metal frame pool, which offers more stability and has a slightly longer lifespan than a plastic frame option.

There are also fiberglass pools that can be installed semi-submerged in the ground or on the side of the hill. These generally are more expensive because of the need to encase the fiberglass portion of the pool in a box. (Fiberglass is not rigid enough to hold the water in without a bracing support like a steel or plastic frame pool is.)

The approximate cost of an above-ground pool can vary wildly based on your geographic location and the type of pool chosen. Price could start at $1,000 for a vinyl pool with plastic frame installed on flat land and go all the way up to $20,000 and above for a semi-submerged fiberglass pool with lights, fountains, automatic cleaners, etc.

When choosing what pool to get it is very important to shop around at several pool companies to understand your specific market and get the most value for your money.

No matter what you do, do not purchase a pool during spring or summer, as these are the most expensive times to buy anything pool related. Instead, start visiting showrooms in spring and summer (without an intent to purchase) an see all the options they have. Prices will be highest, but you can start to see what’s available and ask questions.

Continue shopping around through the summer, and towards the end of the season (July and August) prices should start to drop so the showrooms can clear out the old stock in advance of the upcoming year. 

How to Choose an Above-Ground Pool

The first step to choosing a pool is to decide on the installation location. Then consider your budget and from there go through the options available to you in terms of material, filter, and other features.


Is the location flat or hilly? If flat, this allows you more options and a cheaper install. Hills will limit your options to either a semi-submerged steel frame pool or a fiberglass pool.


Once you know the money you have to spend based on location, you know that you can spend most of the rest on the actual pool. You could get a plastic-framed pool, steel pool, or fiberglass, depending on your budget.

Now is also the time to consider what accessories you would like (which would also narrow down your options), such as an automatic cleaner or pool lights.

When talking to salespeople in your local pool showroom, be sure to ask them about the cost of adding these features and if possible ask for a “break out” for the specific item based on the type of pool being considered to more easily see the cost difference and compare the features.

Filter Type and Chemicals

If you plan to maintain the pool yourself and want to keep costs as low as possible, it is best to go with a sand filter and chlorine pool. If you are worried about a chlorine allergy or want the absolute clearest water possible, then a D.E. filter and salt generator might be a better option. (This option will increase cost and complexity of your system and any money saved year-over-year on chlorine will be negated once the salt generator needs to be replaced.)

Where to Shop

It is highly recommended to see the pool in person before you buy it, regardless of cost. Once you see the type of pool that you would like, feel free to shop online and compare prices. Even if you choose not to purchase online you can use that information to help negotiate a better price at your local pool warehouse.

Buying In-Store

When buying in a store you have the option to talk to a local salesperson that is familiar with your specific geographic area. Someone can answer any questions you have while you're viewing the pools as if you had them in your own backyard. Some questions to ask are life expectancy, warranty, installation cost and what other people in the area have purchased in the past.

Another added benefit of buying a pool in store is that they will have an installer that they trust, which could also possibly come with an installation warranty.

Buying Online

Most of the time purchasing a pool can save you money due to the fact that the overhead on a website is significantly less than running a storefront. The downside to this is that they most likely will not have a trusted local installer in your area, and purchasing online makes warranty claims more difficult than going directly to the store with a receipt. However, if you plan to install a pool yourself and/or have someone that has done it for you in the past, this can be an excellent way to save money.

  • What do I need to know before purchasing a pool?

    Before purchasing a pool you should know what it takes to maintain a pool properly along with your cost of the pool (installation and general chemical cost). It is also important to understand how to properly test pool water for each chemical and how to adjust levels when needed. Another aspect that is often overlooked is how to clean a pool and take care. Once you understand these basic items you will be able to make the correct choice if pool ownership is right for you.

  • Is it difficult to maintain a pool?

    This difficulty level of maintaining a pool depends largely on the type of pool system you have. The easiest and most trouble-free are chlorine pools with sand filters. The chemical levels for these are easiest to test and adjust, and the sand filter only needs to be cleaned out once a season. If a pool has a D.E. filter and uses salt, it will be more complicated to maintain. It's generally not recommended to get a D.E. filter unless you have mastered a chlorine pool first to understand the basics.

  • What is the most popular pool size?

    The most popular pool size is a 16’x32’ rectangle. This size allows for adequate space for many people to enjoy while also fitting into an average size backyard.


Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Water Treatment and Testing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention