Anyone who loves to laze in the sun, swim a few laps or just cool off when summer’s hottest rays are on full display has likely dreamed of installing an in-ground pool in the backyard. But expense, maintenance and having the actual space to do it also likely prevent that dream from coming true. So why not invest in the next best thing: an above-ground pool.
From shallow, inflatable options to those with built-in benches to large metal-framed models that can fit the whole family, plus a few neighborhood pals, above-ground pools are not as complicated as their in-ground siblings, but considerations should still be made before deciding if they’re right for your property, says Dan DiClerico, home expert at HomeAdvisor, a site that sources local professionals for home projects.
To assess whether your home is ready for a splash zone any bigger than a blow-up baby pool, we looked to DiClerico for advice, and rounded up some top picks from top-rated brands and bestsellers.
First and foremost, DiClerico says, survey your space. “Make sure the pool will fit in the yard without violating any zoning regulations,” he says. These will vary by community, but according to him, pools generally need to be at least 5 feet from property lines and a certain distance from the main house, maybe 12 or 15 feet. Plus, proximity to power lines and underground utilities is a factor, and many communities require permits for installing a pool.
“You need to do all the due diligence, checking with your local zoning board and building department, before making any kind of purchase decision,” DiClerico advises.
Once you’ve figured out the municipal logistics, you also must consider whether your landscape is suited for a pool. “Does your ground slope or are there large trees or rocks in the way?” DiClerico says. “You may have to pay to have these removed or relocated.”
And remember, some communities have codes regarding tree removal. Soil stability may also be a factor, depending on the size of the pool you’re considering. “If the soil is very soft and sandy, you may need to amend it before putting in the pool,” he says.
We’re just being thorough here, but the installation of a pool — even an above-ground one — may affect your homeowner’s insurance. Check with your carrier about coverage, restrictions and rates. “In general, houseguests are covered for injuries that may occur while using the pool, but the pool itself is not covered by any damage that might occur,” DiClerico says. “Many providers will require you to put up a protective fence or childproof gate before they’ll even consider coverage.”
The cost of a pool
“The obvious advantage of above-ground over in-ground pools is cost,” says DiClerico. According to HomeAdvisor’s True Cost Guide, most people spend between $1,000 and $4,000 on above-ground pools — $2,500 on average — compared with an average of $50,000 for an in-ground pool, the costs of which can easily run into the six figures if you add luxury features like a hot tub and waterfall.
For an above-ground pool, the lower end, budget-wise — up to about $1,000 — will limit your size and shape. “For $1,000, you’re not going to get more than a basic 12-foot round with zero add-ons or accessories,” DiClerico says. “As you go up in price, pools get larger and more diverse in shape, including rectangular, oval and hexagonal.” The largest, higher-end above-ground options, measuring in the neighborhood of 20 feet by 40 feet, will ring up at around $4,500.
And just how much do you need to spend? Think about how you want to use the pool, DiClerico recommends. “If you just want a personal place to relax and cool down, a basic round will do,” he says. “If you want it for entertaining or for the kids to play in, you’ll need a larger pool with a surrounding deck for lounging and additional safety features, including a fence and removable ladder to keep unattended children from accessing the pool.”
As you’re figuring out your budget, factor in some of the add-ons — pool kits, liner, sides, edging, pump and ladder — that may bump up the total price.
The above costs don’t include installation, which, if you hire a professional to do it for you, may run you upward of $1,000, DiClerico advises. An experienced DIYer may be able to handle installation with the help of a few handy friends, possibly in a few hours or a day, depending on the size and scope of the pool.
Decide beforehand if you want someone else to do the install, and ask up front about terms and costs. If you’re having the pool installed, be sure the work as well as the pool is warranted, and make sure you’re clear on the terms.
Your above-ground pump and filter will need electricity to run. DiClerico says you’ll need a 110/20 amp dedicated line, and the pool must be bonded and grounded — check with the pool manufacturer, and consult an electrician if needed, to make sure all your connections are safe and up to code.
Bells and whistles
If you’re going for a larger, more expensive pool, and if you have more budget to play with, you may want to invest in some additional features. “Lighting is a very worthwhile upgrade, allowing you to enjoy the pool on hot summer nights,” DiClerico notes.
There are underwater and floating lighting options now that add a bit of whimsy. A heater is another upgrade DeClerico likes, as it extends your pool time in four-season climates. “If you want some serious flair, you can add fountains and waterfalls to your above-ground pool,” DiClerico says.
Standalone fountains will be the most affordable, he says, or you can add built-ins with some landscaping assistance.
Pools by price
“At this price point, you’re dealing with inflatables — think kiddie pools for grown-ups,” DiClerico says. “They’re affordable and very DIY-friendly but not meant as a permanent solution.”
That means at the end of swim season, you will need to deflate and store the pool. And watch out for sharp objects, including small rocks kicked out by your lawn mower, that could cause permanent damage to a less pricey option.
Sun Squad 10-Foot-by-22-Inch Deluxe Rectangular Inflatable Above-Ground Pool ($30; target.com)
If your basic need is a personal place to relax and cool down, a simple inflatable pool is a good option. From Target’s super-cute summer line Sun Squad, this is also one of the few blow-up pools out there that doesn’t resemble a kiddie pool. Ideal if you have a tiny backyard or are in desperate need of lying in a few inches (it’s 22 inches deep) of water every day.
Sun Squad 7.5-Foot-by-27-Inch Family Above-Ground Pool With Bench ($40; target.com)
Ready to settle in for some quality time in the sun? The two-tier construction of Sun Squad’s inflatable above-ground pool features a large cushioned seat with a backrest for comfort and two cup holders to keep your drinks close at hand. Recommended for ages 6 and older, this model is on the shallower side, at 27 inches deep and 7 feet wide, and the perfect size for a family of three.
Funboy Tie-Dye Mini Inflatable Pool ($59; urbanoutfitters.com)
Feel like you missed out on the Summer of Love? Crank the “Woodstock” soundtrack up on Spotify and take a refreshing dip in this round, dual-tie-dye print inflatable pool available at Urban Outfitters. Made of 100% PVC vinyl and measuring 5.5 feet across and 14 inches high, it’s big enough for you and a friend to cool off in all season long. Groovy!
Sable Inflatable Pool ($99.99; amazon.com)
Perfect for adults and kids alike, here’s another inflatable pool that comes with a comfy built-in bench. Made using durable PVC materials that are also nontoxic, it’s safe for the kiddos, and at 7.3 feet across and 21 inches deep, it’s just the size for a small family. Oh, and one more feature we love? When you’re ready to pack the pool away, two drain outlets in the pool’s bottom make the chore go by quickly.
Intex Metal-Frame Pool Set ($378.99, originally $424.99; amazon.com)
Want to kick things up a notch from a kiddie pool but lack the space for a full-size above-ground model? Consider this metal-frame set from Intex your happy medium. Easy to assemble, it comes with a 530-gallon-per-hour filter pump to keep water clean, along with one filter cartridge. Made using PVC material, it’s durable, measures 12 feet by 30 inches and gets thousands of rave Amazon reviews for its size, price and simple install. For added safety, invest in a pool ladder as well.
Homech Family Inflatable Swimming Pool, 120 Inches by 72 Inches by 22 Inches ($89.99; amazon.com)
With triple-decked air chambers, this inflatable swimming pool holds up to two adults and three to five kids and can be inflated in under five minutes when using an electric pump. Measuring just under 10 feet by 6 feet and 22 inches deep, you can also rest easy knowing it’s made using lead- and BPA-free materials.
“Spending up to $1,000 gets you into the category of structured above-ground pools,” says DiClerico. “They’re more durable than an inflated pool but might show signs of wear and tear after a few years.”
Steel Pro Above-Ground Swimming Pool ($643.99; overstock.com)
Ready to get a little wild this summer? Snag this safari print above-ground pool that comes with a corrosion-resistant steel frame, durable three-ply liner and built-in flow control valve. Super easy to set up, it measures 10 feet by 26 inches and comes with one repair patch.
Summer Waves Elite Above-Ground Swimming Pool With Filter Pump and Deluxe Accessory Set ($763; amazon.com)
Who needs a pricey pool membership when you can set this highly rated baby up in your own backyard? At 14 feet across and 42 inches deep, there’s plenty of room for the family to cool off when the temps get red hot. The model also comes with a pool cover, filter pump, chlorinator filter cartridge and ladder.
Summer Waves Herringbone Print Above-Ground Pool With Filter Pump and Ladder ($799.99; walmart.com)
If space is a consideration when shopping for an above-ground pool, you may want to take a closer look at this rectangular pool that measures 10 feet by 5 feet and is 32 inches deep and fits up to five people. In a chic dark herringbone print with a pretty blue mosaic design on the interior, it uses strong metal tubes in its sturdy metal frame and comes with a filter pump, filter cartridge, stepladder and repair patch.
Intex 18-Foot-by-48-Inch Inflatable Round Outdoor Above-Ground Swimming Pool Set ($999.99, originally $1,121.99; target.com)
Your backyard is about to become the most popular spot on the block. Intex’s large, round, above-ground inflatable pool measures 18 feet by 4 feet, can be set up tool-free in about 30 minutes and fits up to eight people. The set includes a three-ply pool liner, filter pump, filter cartridge, ladder, ground cloth and debris cover — in other words, everything you need to make a big splash.
“As you move into this range, you see more hard-sided pools, with frames made from durable, weather-resistant materials, like stainless steel or heavy-gauge, rigid PVC,” DiClerico says. “Pools in this range can easily provide a decade of service, though you may need to replace the liner at some point.”
And once you get to $2,000, besides maximum size — 25-foot diameters or more — DiClerico says pools in this price range will “feature top-quality design and construction, so they will look better in the backyard and last a lot longer, a few decades even, with proper care and maintenance.”
Intex Ultra Frame Pool Set ($2,299.99; amazon.com)
When you’re not messing around with your pool game, consider this large 24-foot-by-12 foot-by-4.3-foot steel-frame rectangular pool. Able to hold 8,403 gallons, it comes with a sand filter pump, ground cloth, debris cover and ladder, and, with high ratings and more than 1,200 reviews, earns raves for its durability, shape that allows for better swimming area and easy setup.
Once you’ve got your pool set up, let the games begin.
Sun Squad Hydro Spring Hoops Basketball ($20; target.com)
Calling all amateur basketball stars: Play a game of water pickup with this floating net that comes with a floating ball and carry case. Swish!
GoSports Floating Water Polo Game Portable Goal ($44.99; wayfair.com)
And what about a game of water polo too? A floating goal made with durable PVC and netting will keep the kids — and the grown-ups — well occupied during your next pool party.
Uneede 26-Piece Diving Pool Toys ($12.99, originally $13.99; amazon.com)
What’s a pool without diving toys? All made of 100% nontoxic materials, this set includes 26 toys, including four diving pool rings, four diving torpedoes, three stringy octopi, three diving fish and 12 “treasures.”
GoFloats Flamingo Pool Float ($17.79, originally $19.88; amazon.com)
An Amazon top seller with more than 2,300 mostly 5-star reviews, this whimsical pink flamingo pool float, at 3 feet tall and 45 inches wide, is great for kids but also fits adults. Perfect for Instagram photo ops or just hanging out on lazy summer afternoons, reviewers give it kudos for being easy to inflate and deflate.
Sun Squad Fashion Pool Lounger ($10; target.com)
If we had to pick one spot to spend our time this summer, it would be atop this pretty silver and pastel-striped inflatable raft. With an air pillow, armrests and a cup holder, it can hold up to 220 pounds and, at a mere $10, is the stuff pool dreams are made of.
Swimline FrogLog Animal Saving Escape Ramp for Pool ($14.99, originally $34.95; amazon.com)
Not exactly a toy but definitely an essential, this sweet little ramp can help save any critters that find their way into your new pool.