Probably the biggest AND most common problem with above-ground pool installations is that it’s installed off level.
For most metal-walled pools, it will be ok and doesn’t really have to be corrected. Many off-level soft-sided pools must be re-leveled better or they will eventually come down.
WHY AN ABOVE GROUND POOL HAS TO BE LEVEL
Although off to the eye, most things in a yard can be a little off-level and it doesn’t matter. Things like a shed, fire pit, dog house, fencing, a statue, privacy wall, etc. can all be somewhat off-level and it usually only matters aesthetically.
A swimming pool has to be level. This is because a body of water will be level no matter what. If you fill a glass halfway with water, it doesn’t matter how much you tilt the glass. The water inside will stay level regardless of how “off-level” the glass is.
If you think of an above-ground pool as a giant glass of water, then tilting it (like when it’s installed off-level) will have the pool at an angle while the water inside will remain perfectly level. This is because water is liquid and the gravitational pull of the planet pulls it downward equally.
An above-ground pool isn’t as rigid or as strong as a glass holding water though. The wall of a soft-sided above-ground pool will move some. This means that if the wall is too off-level, then the water weight of the pool pushing outward will be more stressful to the lower part of the off-level wall.
If the wall is too off-level, then the added pressure to the lower part of the off-level wall will pull outward. And if the wall is able to move a lot (as a soft-sided type can) then that added pressure will cause the wall to misshape and the wall will become more and more off-level until it can’t hold the water in that area any longer and the pool will come down.
HOW MUCH CAN AN ABOVE-GROUND POOL BE OFF-LEVEL AND STILL BE OK?
Most above-ground pools can be off one full inch and still be ok. Many install manuals will suggest that the pool be installed to within one inch, so that tells that one inch off is ok.
At one inch off-level though is where the human eye starts to catch it. Most pools off less than an inch aren’t noticed by the pool owner/user and that is fine as that amount doesn’t affect anything.
So, other than it getting noticed by the naked eye, one inch off level is fine. Two inches off is usually ok too and won’t cause any long-term damage. At two inches off though, everyone will be able to tell the pool is off.
Three inches off level is bad. When a soft-sided pool is off three inches from one side to the other, then that can cause long-term issues and should be corrected.
OFF-LEVEL SOFT-SIDED POOLS VERSUS OFF-LEVEL METAL-WALLED POOLS
A soft-sided above-ground pool that is off-level is more of a concern than a metal-walled type.
This is because soft-sided(Intex type) pools have less rigid walls and less rigid frames. What that means is that, when off-level, the added pressure to the lower side of the wall can cause it to move out of shape more.
And the more out of shape an off-level pool wall gets, the more outward water pressure it will have. So a non-rigid, soft-sided pool will get more and more pressure from the water at the lower (weak spot) part of the off-level wall and continue to move out of shape until it starts spilling the water out.
A soft-sided pool off three inches or more will come down soon. At that point, the pool owners have no choice but to take it down, level the earth better, then re-install. Metal-walled pools can stay up for years like this.
Metal-walled above-ground pools have more rigid walls and a more rigid frame. This means that the wall cannot move out of shape as much and as fast by the added pressure of it being off-level.
I have seen metal-walled pools that were three inches off and still standing and operating well as a pool for years. It may look terribly off, but it’s still standing.
At three inches off level, I recommend any type of above-ground to be fixed. Even though a metal-walled pool isn’t at nearly as much risk of coming down, it still adds extra outward pressure to the wall of the pool can cause some issues in the long term like moving the pool out of shape and causing gaps in the tops rails at the connectors.
Generally, soft-sided pools that are three inches off-level or more will come down by themselves within a week or two.
And a metal-walled pool may stay up, but just won’t last as long before needing replacing. This has been my observation. A severely off-level metal-walled pool may stay up, but it probably won’t live its full life because of it.
You can compare this to obese people. They don’t all die early for the same reason, but it’s rare to see an old obese person. I rarely see a metal-walled above-ground pool that was installed three inches off that made it past ten years of life.
HOW TO TELL IF YOUR ABOVE GROUND POOL IS OFF-LEVEL
It can be hard to tell if an above-ground pool is off level by less than an inch. There are no real references in the yard to help determine the level, so referencing off of the pool’s water level is the best way. There is also another way. Here are five ways to kind of tell.
1 Lining up the top rails with your eye
A Stand far from the pool in the yard but where you can see the pool.
B Depending on whether your yard is higher or lower where you are standing, bend down so you can line your eyes up to the top rails of the pool.
C With your eyes at the same level as the top rails of the pool, reference the top rails closest to you to the top rails farthest from you(across the pool).
The top rails closest to you(foreground) should line up in a straight line with the top rails farthest from you(background).
If any of the top rails aren’t lining up(either higher or lower than the rest), then the pool is off-level some.
NOTE: This is a hard method to explain. If you don’t get what I’m saying here, just go out and look at the top of your pool from a distance. Doing that may help you to understand this method.
2 Using a line level
This is the least expensive level that you can buy and works pretty well at determining if and how off-level an above-ground pool is.
A line level attaches to a string, so you will run a string line on top of a top rail and stretch it tightly across the pool to the opposing top rail. This will give you a straight line running along the top of the pool directly through the middle.
Attach the line level to the line close to the middle of the run and read it to see how level (or off-level) this tight string is.
If the line is off-level, raise one end of the string until the level says the line is level. Once the line is level, you can measure how high from the top rail you had to raise the string. This will be how off-level the pool is.
It’s best if two people are doing this as one person can keep one side of the string tight to the top rail. It’s also best to run the string line across a couple of different angles to determine where the pool is off level.
NOTE: This method may not be perfectly accurate as the top rails may not be seated consistently or have a warp(if made of resin)
3 Measuring from the top rail to the waterline
The water in the pool will be absolutely level, so you can use the waterline as a gauge of what is level.
Measure from spots in front of the top rails of the pool (that hang over the water) down to the waterline. The distance from the top of the water to the front of each top rail should be close to the same.
As an example, if the distance between the waterline and the top rail is five inches on one side of the pool and seven inches on the other side, then the pool is off-level somewhere around two inches.
This can be a deceiving measurement as some top rails may not have seated properly AND some rails may be misshaped or warped. Inspect the top rails to make sure they are straight and consistent.
4 Using a builder’s level
If using a builder’s level, you will have to set it higher than the top of the pool. This may be a challenge if your above-ground pool is completely out of the ground and you don’t have anything else in the yard.
With the level set higher than the top of the pool, take a measurement of the top of the top rails. If some are lower than others by more than an inch, then the pool is off-level.
Keep in mind with this method as well that the top rails may be inconsistent, so inspect the top rails and check in several areas.
5 Compare the waterline to the liner pattern
Out of all the methods for determining if a pool is off-level, this one can be the least accurate.
Most all soft-sided pools have a pattern on the liner, and that pattern should be consistent with the waterline of the pool.
As an example, if you have the liner pattern made of squares, then the same squares will consistently be shown at the same level all the way around the liner. The pool’s waterline should touch the same row of squares in the same place all the way around the pool within a quarter of an inch or so.
If the squares in the pattern are above the waterline on one side of the pool and then under the water on the other side of the pool, then the pool may be off-level.
This is usually a relatively good way to tell if an above-ground pool is off-level, but not always. Soft-sided pools can be set a little out of shape, so depending on how the liner was set in place, it may be riding up higher on one side than the other. This will affect the consistency of the pattern at the waterline.
Also, if the pool was installed completely out of shape ( a round pool being more egg-shaped) then that will affect the pattern being consistent at the waterline.
HOW TO FIX AN OFF-LEVEL SOFT-SIDED ABOVE GROUND POOL
I want to start this out by saying that it’s not easy fixing a pool that is off-level. If you have to do it, then go in knowing that it won’t be easy. This may prevent you from trying to do something easy that won’t work.
IF YOUR ABOVE GROUND POOL IS LESS THAN THREE INCHES OFF, THEN YOU MAY NOT HAVE TO FIX IT
As stated earlier, I have seen many metal-walled above-ground pools off-level by two and three inches and have stayed up and worked well as a swimming pool for years.
If you have a soft-sided (Intex,Coleman,Bestway) type above-ground pool that is off level by more than two inches, then you should fix it.
Soft-sided pools don’t have bottom tracks(frames). They only have a top frame that attaches to the uprights that each sits on the earth independently. This, along with the wall being less rigid (non-metal) can cause it to move and become even more off-level to eventual failure.
If your soft-sided pool is off some but not enough to have to fix it AND you didn’t put support blocks under each upright, then add support blocks. This will help prevent the pool from getting further off-level.
TWO WAYS TO FIX AN OFF-LEVEL SOFT-SIDED ABOVE GROUND POOL
If your soft-sided pool is off level by three inches or more, then there is only one way to fix it. You will have the drain the pool and take it down. Period.
If off that much, then trying the easier method of leveling while it is still up won’t work. I mean, It might work for a short while, but you will have issues a little later guaranteed.
For soft-sided pools, this is my recommended method:
2 Either disassemble the frame or pull the assembled pool away from its location.
3 Re-level the entire site
Now that you know that the pool site is way off and which side is the low spot, you can now do a much better job at making the earth level.
NOTE: If you didn’t remove the grass from your pool site, remove it this second time. If you don’t and try to just add sand or dirt, then you might be doing this a third time.
Obviously, the first attempt to level the earth failed. Don’t just do the same thing that you did the first time. Rent a builder’s level this time. Spend a bunch of time making sure the entire area (one foot bigger than the size of the pool) is perfectly level.
As an example of how much time you should spend, I just did a ground prep-only job for a 22’ round Intex pool. I use a skid-steer machine to remove the grass and level the earth to within a couple of inches. Then I level it the rest of the way manually with the three hand tools of a square-headed shovel, a regular metal rake, and an aluminum 4’ wide landscape rake using a laser level for a level reference.
The total time it took me to level and prep the earth for this 22’ round pool was about four hours. This is with me having 35 years of experience, a Bobcat-type machine, and a fancy laser level. Imagine then, how long you should take to make your ground level.
Use the builder’s level and check areas of the site to find out the high and low spots. Shave down the high areas and fill in the lower areas. Smooth the ground out with a rake (preferably a 4’ wide landscape rake) and run it upside down.
Water down the ground to remove air in the earth, then re-check in spots for level(using the builder’s level). Again, shave down the higher spots and transfer the dirt to the lower spots, repeat.
Continue with this leveling process until you get the entire area perfectly level. It should take longer than you think it will.
4 After you have the ground perfectly level, re-install the pool.
When I say “perfectly level” I don’t really mean that. In truth, you won’t get an area of the earth perfectly level without applying something that gradually hardens like concrete.
If you try to get the ground perfectly level though, then this will get you to within an inch in reality, which will be level enough.
Now that the site is level, you can re-install the soft-sided pool on your hard-worked level ground.
5 Start filling the pool.
While the pool is filling with water, kick and pull the liner in shape and try to make sure you don’t have any wrinkles as the bottom covers with water.
As the pool continues to fill, pull and kick the liner and try to get the uprights straight and the pool in good shape(round).
6 When the pool has a few inches of water in it, place a patio block under each upright
Did you use support blocks under the uprights the first time you installed the pool? If yes, then cool. Use what you have.
NOTE: Most soft-sided above-ground pools don’t have support blocks under their uprights and the pool stays up with no issues. Since your pool had an issue with being off-level though, I recommend using blocks/paver stones under the uprights to ensure that the wall of the pool doesn’t eventually move downward.
The reason that I wait until the pool has some water in it before setting the blocks under the pool’s uprights is because of the design of soft-sided pools.
Soft-sided pools don’t have bottom tracks that connect the uprights at the base of the pool. They only have top rails that connect to the uprights. This means that as the pool fills with water, the uprights can move inward or outward depending on where the water weight pushes them.
This also means that you don’t really know exactly where your soft-sided pool’s uprights will be sitting on the earth until some water gets in the pool.
After the pool gets a few inches of water in it, you can start to know where each upright will sit on the earth. Now you can place a patio stone under each one.
The professional way to do this is to use a builder’s level to set the blocks under each upright at the same level. Set up your rented or borrowed builder’s level and set your first patio stone under the first upright at the same level as the earth.
Record that level and then make sure every patio stone under each upright is the same level as the first one. Your pool’s frame will now have no choice but to be perfectly level all the way around.
The area under the pool may not be perfectly level everywhere, but since the frame of the pool is sitting on patio stones that are the exact same level, then the pool wall will be level.
And now that you have patio stones under each upright, the pool frame cannot sink down into the dirt.
EASIER METHOD FOR FIXING AN OFF-LEVEL SOFT-SIDED POOL (ATTEMPT ONLY IF POOL IS OFF LEVEL LESS THAN TWO INCHES)
If your soft-sided pool is off less than two inches, then you may be able to level it better with the pool still up.
This method will absolutely require you to use patio stones under each upright, so if you didn’t use them the first time, then you will need to buy some patio stones.
1 Drain pool down
You are about to attempt to jack the frame and wall of the pool up on the low side. It’s best to not have a lot of water in the pool for this as water creates some downward and outward pressure on the pool.
Drain the pool down leaving between 12- 6 inches of water in it. You don’t want to completely drain it as that may make the uprights move.
2 Determine how off-level the pool is and where the low side of the off-level pool is. This will be the area where you will be raising the pool’s frame and wall some.
3 Find the higher side of the pool and place a patio stone under an upright at ground level.
If you didn’t use patio stones originally, purchase as many patio stones as you have uprights for your pool. 6”x6” square blocks are ideal for this as they are smaller.
NOTE: Placing patio stones under each upright offers very little downward support to the pool. You are using these to ensure that the pool is level and that each upright cannot move downward into the earth over time. Using larger patio stones makes the job of leveling harder and offers no added benefit.
If your pool already has patio stones under the uprights, then you will be re-leveling most or some of them.
Your pool is off-level, which means it is sitting on ground that has a high side and a low side. Find a spot on the high side and place a patio stone under an upright at ground level. This will require you to dig down some to get the block under the upright.
Using a builder’s level, record the level of this block that you just placed under the upright. Rent or borrow a builder’s or laser level and learn how to use one.
NOTE: There are less accurate ways to fix the pool by NOT using a builder’s/laser level. I don’t recommend them. Since you weren’t able to get the pool level the first time, then you will need to have something very accurate that has only one point of reference this time to get the pool level. For that, only a builder’s/laser level will do.
4 Place a block under each upright at the same level as the first block
Using the builder’s level, set a block under each upright of the pool at the same level as the first one you did. As you make your way around to the lower side of the (off-level) pool, the blocks for each upright will ride up out of the ground.
When you get to the low side of the pool, the blocks may be completely on top of the ground. You will have to push up each upright in order to fit the block under it at the same level as the original one. You may need two people for this.
When you have blocks under each upright all the way around the pool and at the same level, your pool’s frame and wall will now be level.
What you will notice here is that the pool will be out of the ground on the low side. This is fine as long as it’s not more than two inches.
5 Pack dirt around the low side of the pool
Now that the frame of the pool is the same level all the way around and the earth isn’t, you will have to pack some dirt around the pool with the blocks are high.
Doing this will give support to the low side of the pool when the pool is full of water. You won’t be able to get dirt too far under the pool, but you will be able to get dirt around where the uprights are which is the outside edge of the pool.
To help, you can pack some of the earth under the pool on the low side by using the handle of a shovel and packing some earth under the wall of the pool. Place some earth just outside of the pool and thrust the handle of the shovel to force some earth under the pool. Do NOT use the metal end of the shovel or anything that can slice the pool’s wall/liner.
6 Fill the pool back up
The low side of your off-level pool is now the same level as the high side because you leveled each upright with a patio stone at the same height.
You then packed dirt around the pool where the earth was low to re-enforce it so the water won’t pull the liner/wall down.
Your pool will now be level and won’t move as you have patio stones under each upright that are all the same level. Congratulations. You are done.