As long as I’ve been in the pool business, above-ground and in-ground swimming pools have been compared. In truth, there are some really big differences. Both hold water, have a pump and filter, and need chemicals, but that could be all that’s the same.
By far, the biggest difference between an in-ground pool and an above-ground pool is the price. Currently, the average cost for an in-ground concrete is about 50k while the average above-ground pool with a decent-sized wood deck is about 15k. Other differences include how long it takes to have each built, what they add to the property value, and how permanent they are.
ALL THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF SWIMMING POOLS
Before we start comparing in-ground swimming pools with above-grounds, it’s important to cover the different kinds of each.
THE THREE TYPES OF IN-GROUND POOLS
1. Concrete in-ground pool
This is the most common type of in-ground swimming pool. They are all custom constructed and the walls are made of concrete that is sprayed or laid on to form a shell.
A concrete pool can be any shape or size that you want. This is the most versatile swimming pool of them all.
2. Fiberglass in-ground pool
I’m old enough to remember when fiberglass pools became popular. In the early years, my brother and I installed a couple of them.
This pool is made of fiberglass at a factory. It is then shipped and set in a dug hole by a crane. Because they are pre-manufactured, these pools can be installed a little faster than concrete ingrounds.
Also, fiberglass pools are considered to cost less than their concrete competition. The cost difference isn’t much though.
3. In-ground vinyl liner pools
These pools come as kits and are designed to go all the way in the ground. The walls can be made of steel or plastic and are reinforced with concrete. In-ground vinyl pools can either have an earth bottom or a concrete bottom. A high-quality custom vinyl liner is placed inside and is what holds the water.
Out of the three types of in-ground pools, the vinyl one is the least expensive. Don’t expect it to be a lot cheaper though. This pool still needs in-ground plumbing, electrical, and a deck just like the other in-grounds.
THE THREE TYPES OF ABOVE-GROUND POOLS
1. Soft-sided above-ground pools
These are the very popular and very inexpensive pools sold mainly by Walmart. Most are made by Intex and Coleman.
Although some people are able to limp these throw-away pools along for years, the vast majority of them will only last a season or two before helping to fill up a landfill.
2. Metal-walled above-ground pool
This is the quintessential above-ground pool. They are the ones that professional installers mostly build.
When comparing in-ground pools to above-grounds, this is the one to compare. Metal-walled pools can have quality equipment and last for between ten and twenty years on average.
Traditional above-grounds can go in the ground about halfway with no issues and many choose to do that. They can also go all the way in the ground, but extra steps should be taken to ensure it doesn’t cave in when draining for a liner replacement.
3. True semi-inground pools
Not to be confused with traditional metal-walled pools being placed in the ground, these pools are designed to go in the ground some or all the way. And they are considerably more expensive.
Pools in this category can just be above-ground pools with special walls that are more sturdy (to take the inward pressure of the earth), or they can be more like the design of an in-ground vinyl pool and requires concrete to be poured around it.
The price of true semi-inground pools is a lot. And by the time you have one installed partially in the ground and add a permanent deck around it, you can easily approach the cost in the 20k – 30k range.
WHICH POOLS WILL BE COMPARED IN THIS ARTICLE?
For the sake of keeping things simple, I will compare the concrete in-ground type swimming pool with the traditional metal-walled above ground. I’m also only focusing on comparing these two because these are by far the most common two compared.
To compare a $400 Intex pool that only lasts a year with a fifty thousand dollar permanent concrete pool would be ridiculous. And comparing an in-ground vinyl pool with a true semi-inground doesn’t make much sense either. They are too close.
Here then is a comparison of above-ground and in-ground swimming pools.
10 WAYS TO COMPARE A CONCRETE IN-GROUND POOL TO AN ABOVE-GROUND POOL
This is by far the biggest consideration when comparing an above-ground pool to an in-ground. The price difference is considerable!
As stated above and in the current year that I am writing this, the average concrete swimming pool costs in the area of fifty thousand dollars. That’s a lot of money for most.
You can get a good quality above-ground pool decent sized (24’ round) for about 4k – 6k installed. This isn’t a proper comparison though as a 50k concrete pool will have a deck around it.
So if you add a nice wood deck (the most common above-ground pool deck), professional electrical to the pool, and maybe some things to complete the project(like a light or lighting), then the average for that is currently about 15k total.
These are, of course, averages. There are some concrete pools that are small and simple enough to cost only about 35k while there are some above-ground projects that are big and optioned out enough to cost about 35k total. These are two extremes though. We are talking here about the average pools.
The cost of an in-ground can be a lot more than just the price difference too if it is financed and the above-ground project isn’t.
Many who decide on an above-ground pool have either come into a chunk of money or have been saving for a while and they pay cash for their pool. This means that if they paid 15k for everything in cash, then that is all they paid.
For most getting a concrete in-ground pool, they will finance it either by a simple loan or a second mortgage against the home. This will incur more costs in the long term. A lot more.
Currently, the average home equity loan rate is about 5%. So, if you borrow the money for a 50k inground pool at a rate of 5% for ten years, then by the time you make all the payments, the cost will almost 14k more in interest. You now have paid almost $64k for that concrete pool.
When you say it real fast, the difference between 50k and 64k doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is. And don’t forget you’ll be making payments of over $500 per month every month for that pool whether it’s warm enough to swim in or not.
2. Value of the property
While I’m on the topic of money, it’s important to note that an in-ground concrete swimming pool will add value to your house. An above-ground pool will not!
This is a big financial consideration as one thing adds value while the other doesn’t. But just how much value does an in-ground concrete pool add to a home?
HOW MUCH DOES A CONCRETE SWIMMING POOL ADD TO THE VALUE OF A HOME?
A concrete swimming pool adds somewhere between five and ten percent of the value of the home.
This means that if your home is worth 300k, then the concrete pool will add between 15k and 30k to the overall home value. This puts you in a financial deficit when you have just spent 50k on your home and its value only raised 15k – 30k.
You can recover the full fifty thousand dollar concrete pool investment, but you’ll have to wait a while. You’ll have to wait until the value of your house raises high enough to where the cost of the pool (50K) becomes between five and ten percent of the overall property value.
Confused? Me too. This is what I mean.
Depending on where you live, the value of property goes up. Here in Florida, home values go up an average of just over five percent each year. This means your 300K house in Florida will be worth about 500k in ten years (based on a 5% yearly value gain).
Now ten years from when you had the pool put in, your pool is now adding between 25k and 50K to the value of the home. You may now have recovered half or all of your investment.
Stay in the house for another ten years (twenty total) and your pool now may be worth more than you paid for it.
Conversely, an above-ground swimming pool adds no value to a home property, so you probably won’t recover any of the cost of that type of pool (unless you take down the pool and sell it).
The financial moral of this story is – If you want a concrete swimming pool and you are good with investing, buy a home that already has one built with it.
I don’t think anyone would disagree that in-ground concrete pools are nicer looking than above-ground pools. The biggest reason for this is the most obvious – one is in the ground and one is not.
In nature, water is usually at your feet or ground level. This is a big aesthetic advantage in-grounds have over above-ground pools. With an above-ground pool, you are looking at a structure holding water above the ground. This isn’t as pleasant looking or as inviting as water that looks like only the ground is holding it.
IN-GROUND CONCRETE POOLS ARE CUSTOM MADE. ABOVE-GROUNDS ARE NOT
Because concrete pools are custom made, you can really dial in the aesthetics of a backyard by having the pool in the shape you want. Of course, the fancier you get, the most it’s gonna cost you.
Although above-ground pools come in a lot of sizes and three shapes (round, oval, and rectangle), they are mass-produced, so you can only get what they make.
This is not to say that you can’t make a backyard with an above-ground swimming pool beautiful. You certainly can. Over the years, I have seen some exceptionally beautiful above-ground pool areas.
4. Where you are located
In a warmer flatter state like Florida, you can really have any type of swimming pool. Other colder, rocky, or mountainous regions may limit which type of pool you can get.
This is where above-ground pools may have an advantage. They can go up anywhere. Concrete pools can go up anywhere too, but there are some severe disadvantages.
FIVE AREAS WHERE A CONCRETE POOL MAY NOT BE WORTH HAVING
A friend of mine built an in-ground concrete pool in Nevada. The earth was mostly rock, so they had to make the hole for the pool using jack-hammers. This is not a good area for building an inground pool.
Some areas have earth that is so hard, it’s not worth the cost to dig the hole. It’s much easier to add soft earth over what is there and install an above-ground pool instead.
Very short swim season – Here in Central Florida, it may be worth having a concrete swimming pool as it can be enjoyed year-round. It can be hard to justify spending 50k for a concrete pool somewhere in the extreme North where the swim season is only 8 -10 weeks long.
Above ground pools are much more popular in the North for this reason. You’d have to be rich to justify such a big expense for such a short amount of time each year.
Frost heaving – In some colder areas, the ground freezes in the winter, then it thaws, then freezes, then thaws again. When this happens, really big and heavy things in the ground can move around.
This is not good for swimming pools. Now. I’m sure there some talented and knowledgeable concrete pool builders in the north who know how to build a pool that won’t be affected by frost heaving. If you have an in-ground built in an area prone to frost heaving, then find the right guy to build it.
Area prone to flooding – With a couple of extra steps, a concrete swimming pool can be built in an area with a high water table. Areas prone to flooding though is a different story.
Some people live in flood zones that actually flood on a yearly or regular basis. These spots should not have an in-ground pool. When floodwater engulfs a swimming pool, it’s an absolute mess. I have experienced this a few times back in my pool service days resulting from hurricanes. Yeah, you don’t want that.
Above-grounds can sit in water for long periods of time without issue. This is OK because the flood water never gets high enough to get into the pool.
Too much land grade – Some homes butt up against a hill or mountain. With this, the grade of the yard is extreme. Since a swimming pool needs to be level, that extreme pitch will have to be leveled out.
Some yards aren’t worth what it would take to level it enough and in a big enough area to put an in-ground pool in. Now you can put a concrete in-ground pool anywhere, but if you have to excavate an entire yard and tier it to prevent future erosion and provide good drainage, it can cost a whole lot more.
5. How is the yard?
Backyard factors like small size, unusual shape, extreme grade, nature easements, what the ground is made of, big trees, and visibility to surrounding neighbors can be factors in deciding on whether to get a concrete in-ground or an above-ground pool.
Some yards cannot accommodate an in-ground pool for various reasons and some cannot have an above-ground for other reasons.
It’s good to assess your yard for a swimming pool. You may find out that you don’t have room for an above ground and need a custom-shaped concrete one instead. Or you may discover that your yard has too much grade for an in-ground and/or it would kill the giant tree you love.
6. How long will it take to get the swimming pool
Are you in a hurry to get your swimming pool? Then know that there’s usually a big time difference between when you can get an above-ground pool installed and when you can have an in-ground concrete pool built.
As an above-ground pool installer of 35 years, I can get backed up as much as six weeks during the summer season. In most cases though, I can get to jobs within a couple of weeks. During the off-seasons, I can usually install an above-ground within a couple of days of the pool owner receiving it.
In-ground concrete swimming pools take a long time to get built. There have been some lean construction years when concrete pool builders don’t get too backed up. As a general rule though, it will take you six months or longer to get a concrete swimming pool built.
This usually means that when you decide to get a concrete pool, it will be the following swim season before you have it.
From deciding to get one to swimming, an above-ground pool can take a week or less. And in the summer, expect a few weeks.
With a concrete in-ground pool, figure six to twelve months from deciding to swimming. This is a big time difference.
NOTE: During the years of 2020, 2021, and beyond, it will take much longer to get any type of pool installed. Still though, it will take considerably loner to have a concrete pool built over an above-ground.
7. Status symbol
In the north, it’s cool to have a swimming pool regardless of how nice it is or how much it costs. In the south, concrete swimming pools hold a much higher status than an above-ground.
Kids don’t care at all about how much a pool costs or how nice it looks. Give them some water and they are smiling. Adults are a different story.
It’s very common for me (as an above-ground pool installer) to hear the excuses from my customers as to why they are getting an above-ground instead of an in-ground. I have heard all the reasons a hundred times.
It’s interesting to note that those who have recently moved here (Central Florida) from the north don’t look at getting an above-ground pool with any negative status. They are from the north where a pool is a pool.
I have no judgment either way, but the status symbol of having an in-ground concrete pool is much higher than having an above-ground. So, if that is important to you, get a concrete one.
8. Above ground pools can be taken down
Some will get an above-ground pool for their kids. And when they grow up, the pool owners will happily take their pool down and no longer have one in the yard.
I hear this plan more than it actually happens, but it does happen and with an above-ground pool, it’s fairly easily done. For any reason, when you are done having a swimming pool, you can just get rid of your above-ground.
This is not an option when having a concrete pool. Once you put a concrete in-ground in the yard, you’ll have a pool there as long as you live there whether you want a pool or not.
There have been some people in the past that would just fill up their concrete pools and put grass over them to have a normal yard. This is a very rare occurrence now though as concrete pools cost so much and by burying one, you decrease the value of the home by 5% – 10% (see above).
9. Cost of repairs/maintenance
You may be surprised to learn that there’s not a huge difference with the maintenance and repair with concrete in-ground pools and metal-walled above-grounds.
Of course, you have to fairly compare the two. You can’t expect a 40k gallon custom in-ground pool with sand bottom swim-out and other fancy options to cost the same in chemicals as a 6k gallon simple 15’ round above ground.
As a guy who has serviced both types for years, the yearly cost for maintenance and repairs will even out. The components for concrete pools like the pump/filter, auto-cleaner, and the surface will cost more to repair and replace. But they will last a lot longer than the less expensive above-ground pool components.
This biggest maintenance/repair issue both types will have is in re-surfacing. The in-ground will need a new exposed aggregate/cement finish in 10 -15 years while an above-ground pool will need a new liner in 5 -8 years.
In a general and average timeline then, the above-ground liner will have to be replaced twice as much as the concrete finish will need to be re-done. This will come out to be almost the same cost over the span of 15 years for both types of pools.
Another good example of the long-term maintenance cost being close is with automatic pool cleaners. In-ground concrete auto-cleaners cost about three times as much as the cheaper above-ground cleaners, but the in-ground ones last three times as long.
Again, you have to compare apples with apples here. Concrete pools are a lot more prone to have more “bells and whistles” than above grounds. And each bell and whistle will add to the long-term maintenance/repair cost.
10. Concrete in-ground swimming pools can have hot tubs attached to them
This isn’t a huge consideration, but if you like hot tubs (like me) and you don’t want to have one separate from the pool, a concrete in-ground is your only option for having one incorporated with the pool.
Portable hot tubs are super popular now and are easy to place. They are above the ground though so you have to step up to get in the water. They also don’t have as good of equipment because everything has to fit in the unit.
Hot tubs built into the concrete pool has some nice advantages. They can have good equipment, share the pool water(which reduces maintenance), and looks nice connected and overflowing into the pool.