Getting and having an above-ground swimming pool for the first time can be overwhelming for many. Some first time pool owners do a ton of research before getting one while others just get one and deal with the learning later.
We live in an advanced stage of the information age. The internet gives us so much access to information and that’s cool. Unfortunately, the vast majority of info about above-ground pools online is grossly inaccurate.
This leaves many new pool owners in a condition worse than ignorance. And that is they have learned some things that are just wrong but are convinced that they are right.
As a pool installer for 36 years, I’ve noticed a lot of new pool owners on the other extreme. They buy a pool and have absolutely no idea what they are getting themselves into.
I’m not sure if it matters what a new pool owner knows about pools. Whether they have the correct info, incorrect info, or no information at all, the learning curve will happen in reality and in the backyard.
The following is a list of VERY BASIC tips related to having an above-ground pool.
19 PROFESSIONAL TIPS FOR FIRST TIME ABOVE GROUND POOL OWNERS
1. In the Beginning, Take a Water Sample to a Pool Store.
If you are brand new to having and maintaining a swimming pool, then you will have to learn how to treat and maintain it chemically. The best way to get started is to take a sample of the pool’s water to a pool store.
As your new pool fills with water for the first time, take a sample of the water in a small bottle of some kind and bring it to a pool store close to you.
They will take the sample, analyze the levels concerning pool water chemistry, then tell you (and sell you) what you need. They will know how much of what to put in your pool based on the pool size you tell them.
Don’t worry about knowing how many gallons of water your pool holds. The pool store will figure how many gallons based on the size of above-ground you have.
During the warm and hot months, your new pool needs to be tested and chemical levels adjusted weekly. As each week passes, you will learn more and more about what your pool needs chemically. Eventually (hopefully sooner than later), you won’t need to take a sample to the store anymore.
Before long, you’ll be testing the water on your own and knowing what and how much to add.
2. Learn how to vacuum, brush, and skim the pool.
Like most things in life, clean and organized is better than dirty and messy. With swimming pools, keeping it clean makes it nicer when using it, easier to maintain, and the chemical cost will be less.
When you get your new pool package, it will (most likely) come with a maintenance kit. The kit will have a hose, vacuum head, brush, skimmer, and a pole. The vacuum uses the suction of the pool pump, so you will have to learn how to set it up through the skimmer so you can have the suction needed to vacuum.
You will also be cleaning the surface of the pool often and brushing the walls periodically. Skimming and brushing are easy to figure out, but setting up the vacuum will take a little practice.
Learn to do these things well so you can clean your pool with less stress.
Another option for cleaning your pool is using an auto-cleaner. Traditional auto(matic) pool cleaners will attach to the skimmer just like the way a manual vacuum does.
Auto-cleaners are nice, but most won’t vacuum the entire pool and some will get stuck around the ladder/steps. Also, most traditional auto-cleaners for above grounds will only work well the first year. Then they start acting up.
The latest trend with cleaners – Rechargeable robotic auto-cleaners are now very popular. They are cool because they are entirely independent (don’t need to be connected to the skimmer) and don’t have a cord. You throw them in the pool and they do their thing. When done, you pull them out and recharge them for the next cleaning session.
3. Wait Until the Pool is at Least Half-full before Installing the Ladder/Steps.
Regardless of what was used to make your above-ground pool’s bottom, it’s best to not walk on it until the pool is filled with water. This is because the weight of the water presses down on the pool bottom and keeps it from moving or getting footprints.
Also, the pool’s liner is designed to be smaller than the size of the pool and the water stretches it in perfect place. This means that the liner is not completely set until the pool is at least half full of water.
This is why you want to wait before installing your ladder or steps. And I say “you install the ladder” because installers (like me) never assemble or install any ladder or steps.
Most ladder/steps have to be weighed down, so it’s easier to set them in place when the pool is half full instead of all the way. A half-full pool should have enough downward water weight for the bottom, so you won’t have to be as concerned with making heel prints.
4. Learn the best way to weigh down your steps/ladder.
There are many types and models of steps and ladders for above-ground pools. Almost all of them need to be weighted down in the water. If not weighted, they float up some and the ladder/steps move and don’t feel stable.
Unfortunately, there is no standard way to weigh down steps. Some instructions will tell you to fill them with sand and have an opening for filling. Others will tell you to fill with water (which doesn’t work well).
Some will use things like sandbags, large rocks, small boat anchors, and plastic dumbbell/barbell weights just to name a few.
Whatever you need to do, take your time and figure out the best way, what’s the best, heavy material, and how much weight you need to get the steps feeling solid and perfect. It’ll take some effort, but will be worth it.
5. Maintain the outside bottom around the pool.
Most new pool owners are already planning on this. You want to have some rocks or mulch or something on the ground around the outside of your pool.
This will make the pool look a lot better in the yard, but the biggest reason is to protect the pool wall from excessive moisture and/or damage from a weed eater/whacker.
Learn “What people typically put around the outside of their pool” here
6. When running and setting up electricity for the pump, add a timer.
Most metal-walled above-ground pools come with decent to good equipment(pump/filter pack). These pumps don’t have to run continuously(24 hours per day).
Most set-ups will need to operate only eight hours per day, and that means the pump will turn on and turn off each day. Having a timer do this instead of someone having to go out twice every single day and do it is almost a must.
Consistency is one of the keys to good and easier pool maintenance. Having the pump turn on and off at the same times every day is part of the consistency.
7. Do not get in the pool until full (unless/if installing ladder)
The liner isn’t completely set and the pool bottom isn’t hard until the pool is full of water.
A pool installer’s tale
A good friend of mine who was an installer for 28 years once had a customer call him the day after he installed her pool. She was upset.
“There are a bunch of footprints in the bottom of my pool” she complained. My friend went back out to investigate and did discover footprints in the pool. “I told you so”, the angry pool owner snapped at my buddy.
“Well yes, you do have a bunch of footprints” my friend answered. “But there’s a problem with them. “They are all only about six inches long. Did you but chance allow your kids to go in the pool before it filled”?
“Umm, they did go in the pool yesterday. I didn’t think it would be a problem”.
“OK, Do you remember me recommending no one get in until it was full”?
“Yes, but my kids are so small. I didn’t think it would hurt anything”, she answered dejectedly.
Knowitall tip: Don’t be so quick to blame the pool installer for any problem that arises. It may not be his fault.
A brand new pool with a few inches of water in it can look and be super fun to go in, but don’t do it. And don’t let your kids go in either. Or your dog.
Allow the weight of the water to press down on the pool bottom. This will make the liner firmer and much less able to move around or get dented by bodyweight.
EXCEPTION: If you are installing your pool steps that are weighted down heavily, it may be easier to set it in place with the pool only half full. Just be careful when moving the steps along the pool bottom.
8. Keep an eye out for any moisture.
When installed properly, an above-ground pool won’t leak. I mean, it will eventually leak when the liner gets old or if something happens out of the norm, but don’t just think it will leak and that you’ll have to live with it. You don’t want to live with a leak in an above-ground pool.
If there was a problem with the install or a defective product that will cause a leak, it will usually happen within the first few days of the pool being installed.
For the first week or so pay some attention around the perimeter of the pool, at the skimmer and return wall fitting, and around the equipment (pump/filter). Look for any moisture or wetness. There shouldn’t be, so if you see any wetness, address this immediately.
It’s also a good idea to periodically inspect these areas for wetness, especially the area of the pool wall underneath the skimmer box and return fitting.
It’s not a good idea to let a leak continue in an above-ground pool. Long-term leaks (even very small ones) will eventually cause corrosion and can kill the pool. If you suspect a leak, investigate and fix it right away.
9. Be consistent about regular maintenance.
Pools like consistency. This is something I discovered while running a pool service business for sixteen years.
We are all busy in our lives for sure. Sometimes you can service your pool on a Monday, sometimes on a Thursday. This is not ideal.
Your pool will use less chemicals and give you less hassle if you service it (clean and adjust the chemicals) on the same day each week. This is especially important in the hottest months when algae populate more aggressively.
10. Set up a storage area for your chemicals.
Some pool chemicals can be toxic and chlorine is corrosive. It’s best to have a storage area for your pool chemicals that is separate from anything else.
Getting a plastic storage box that is weather-proof and keeping it outside is ideal. Keep all of your chemicals in that box. It’s best to keep this chemical holder clean and organized.
Note: Some pool chemicals don’t like to mix. Keep pool chemicals safe by making sure their containers and lids are in good shape and that they are safely separated.
If you decide to use the liquid chlorine (which I recommend) that comes in the reusable yellow 2.5-gallon plastic jugs, keep those stored outside in a well-ventilated area and away from kids.
11. Spray regularly for wasps and/or spiders.
More than likely, you will have spiders and wasps wanting to move in and live within the frame of your above-ground pool. They like to make nests under the top rails and under the top caps and connectors.
This can suck as bees and spiders are living where some swimmers will be interacting. And it’s never fun to get stung by a wasp when your enjoying your pool.
Spraying a wasp killer under each top cap/connector and anywhere underneath the top rails on a regular basis does a lot for keeping them from moving into what they consider prime waterfront real estate.
Also, if you have a deck of any kind, it’s good to regularly spray up underneath it as well. The critters aren’t as much an issue living under the pool deck, but why not keep that area safe from getting stung too.
12. Keep any o-rings lubricated.
Your pool equipment will have at least a couple of o-rings. There will be one at the pump basket lid and usually one where the filter comes apart for maintenance.
Get a small tube of pool lubricant and keep these o-rings well lubed. You don’t want them getting too dry. If so, they will crack and start causing air or water leaks.
Anything that is within the pool equipment that has a lid or has to be removed for maintenance will have an o-ring or rubber gasket of some kind. And they will need to be kept lubricated. Two or three times a year should be as often as you need to do this.
13. Learn basic pool chemistry.
It’s become fairly common for people to have pools for years and never really learn basic swimming pool water chemistry.
Pool owners survive not knowing basic chemistry because they do things like always take water samples to their pool store or relying on add-ons like ionizers or salt chlorine generators.
Some just get lucky by living in a more northern colder region and just do a routine of shock and floating tablets and have no issues for years.
There are two kinds of swimming pools – Those that have turned green and those that are going to turn green.
Dealing with a green pool is just something that all pool owners will go through at some point. This is when it’s good to know the fundamentals when this happens.
I have a large above-ground pool ground on Facebook with currently over 150k members. Every day over the summer, people are posting issues that they are having with pool chemistry, mainly in the form of a green pool.
Often, the stories begin with “I didn’t have any issues for a long time and now I can’t get my pool to look good no matter what I do”. These are people who have gotten lucky with a well-behaved pool. But when something happened(the pool got cloudy or green), they have no clue how to fix it because they really know nothing about pool chemistry.
Taking the time to learn basic pool chemistry will be worth it when things go bad. And believe me, things will go bad at some point. It won’t be the end of the world, but you will have issues.
Learn about how chlorine works here and here are some basic chemicals defined to get you started.
Also, don’t try to modify your pool’s equipment from something you read on the internet like adding D.E. powder to a sand filter or something. Allow your pump and filter to operate the way it was designed and manufactured.
14. If building a deck, be aware of future liner changes.
It’s sad when I have to cut a really nice deck in order to change the liner in the pool! Yeah, you don’t want that.
Each above-ground swimming pool model is different. They have different top rails, top caps, and top connectors that all come apart slightly differently.
When you build a deck directly next to the top of the pool, there may not be room to take the top of the pool apart for when liner change-out time comes. And if the deck is completely OVER the top rails, then that’s a worst-case scenario.
Design and build your pool deck with future liner changes in mind. See how the top caps come off and make accommodations for that. You can make the deck level lower than the top rails, which is a great option.
You can also design the deck in a way that only a couple of boards will have to come off to get to the top rails.
NOTE: When building a pool deck, use stainless or high-quality deck screws. Most deck screws corrode and/or the heads break off when trying to unscrew even after just a couple of years. And a broken or stripped deck screw means the boards will not come up.
Learn more about building a deck for an above ground pool here
15. Do not allow anything not “pool approved” to go in the pool.
Kids love swimming in pools. They also love to bring things into the pool to play with. Some of these things can be sharp or can rust.
An above-ground pool has a vinyl liner. And Although these liners are more durable than people think, they(like our skin) are proven to easily puncture if poked or rubbed by something sharp.
Also, water is extremely corrosive and will cause any unprotected metal to rust almost immediately. Avoid allowing anything metal in the pool that’s not pool approved.
Rust spots in the liner usually don’t cause any holes or reduce the life of the liner in any way. But they don’t look good and most cannot be removed.
Make it a rule that nothing goes in the pool that’s not made to go in a swimming pool and you’ll be good.
16. Know that swimming dogs can tear the liner.
Most dogs are excellent swimmers and most love being in the water. For some, dogs are a huge part of the family, so they will be going in the pool along with everyone else.
That’s cool. Just keep in mind that the dog’s paws can cause small tears in the liner at the water level from “dog paddling” too close to the wall.
The good part here is that most dogs can be trained to not hit the pool sides with their paws. I don’t know how to do this, but Cesar Millan might.
Learn more about above ground pools and dogs here.
17. Pool covers are a pain to remove.
Many new pool owners will have high hopes of using a cover to help maintain their pool. Most will find that it’s not worth it to use them.
There are three types of pool covers, and they are all hard to manage. Solid covers are the most common and also the most difficult to work with.
Right now, lower your expectations about using a pool cover. Solid covers will get rainwater on them and will be hard to remove. Mesh covers will only trap bigger debris(like leaves) which is great but rainwater and smaller debris go right through it.
Lastly, solar covers are tough to remove too. And they don’t heat the water in any way, so don’t expect your water to get warmer using one.
18. Pool pumps require a lot of electricity.
Unless you have a super cheap pump that comes with a soft-sided pool(Intex), a legit pool pump will require a decent amount of electricity.
What this means is that your pump should be on what is called a “dedicated” circuit. And a dedicated circuit is an electric line that runs directly from your electric box to your pool pump.
If you run your pump off of the receptacle in your backyard or from your patio, it may be sharing the power with something else. And the pump may not like sharing its power source, so the breaker will trip at the electric box.
There are many ways that pool owners choose to run electricity for their pumps. Just keep in mind that a good pool pump will require a good amount of electricity.
A cheaper thin extension cord or an undedicated power source may not be good enough and your pump will not run or the breaker will keep tripping.
19. Creating a whirlpool makes for better circulation and cleaning.
Most above-ground pools are round-shaped. This is great for circulation as a whirlpool effect can take place.
Your pool’s return jet is directionally adjustable for the water going back to the pool from the pump/filter. Turning the jet parallel with the pool’s wall will allow the returning water to move along the wall eventually causing a whirlpool for the entire pool.
The end result of a whirlpool in a round pool is that most of the debris will end up gathering in the bottom center of the pool. This will make it much easier to keep the pool clean.
A whirlpool effect will also create excellent circulation as the water in all areas of the pool will have movement.