Above ground swimming pools are most synonymously described as something not permanent. This is different from inground pools. When people think of ingrounds, they think of a pool that will last forever. Not so with above grounds.
So just how long does an above ground pool last? The answer of course is the same as everything else now in the world – It depends.
Typically, the much less expensive soft-sided type (Intex/Coleman) above ground pools last 1 – 3 seasons on average. The more traditional metal-walled above ground pools last between 10 – 20 years. The much more expensive true semi-inground extruded aluminum walled pools can last decades.
MY THREE CATEGORIES OF ABOVE GROUND POOLS
There is a huge difference between a cheap $300 one-box-fits-all Walmart above ground pool and two pallets, $12,000 semi-inground pool package. I know, DUH, right?
Since above ground swimming pools are considered the two above extremes and everything between, I have to now separate above ground pool types into three categories. This way, you’ll know better how long what you buy will last.
Soft-sided Above Ground Pool
Pools sold by big-box discounters are usually soft-sided and are extremely inexpensive and extremely cheaply made. The big manufacturers of these are Intex, Coleman, and Summer Waves.
This type of above ground pool usually comes with everything in one big box. They are also much easier for the do-it-yourselfer to assemble including the pump and filter hook-ups.
Traditional Metal-walled Above Ground Pool
Above ground pools with metal walls are considered more traditional and legitimate. This is because they have been manufactured for more than half a century and are designed to go up and stay up.
When someone like me thinks of an above ground pool, this is the type that I think of. This is also the type of pool that I mostly install. Metal-walled above ground pools have a large product range.
Some are just 42” tall, have plain frames, solid blue walls, and cost under $1000. Others are 54” tall, have fancy multi-pieced frames, stylish wall patterns, and can cost approaching $10,000.
Semi-Inground Above Ground Pools
This is a stupid sounding name, but it’s as close as I can get to describing the category.
Most above ground pools that are partially in the ground are just metal-walled above grounds (see above) that have been installed in a hole and then backfilled around it. This is not what I am describing here.
A true semi-inground above ground pool is its own thing. It has a much thicker aluminum wall that hooks together in slats and is designed to take the inward pressure the earth can give it when in the ground.
With the exception of the wall, this type of above-ground is close to the same as the traditional metal-walled pool. Many models will have frames made to last longer though. These pools are very expensive. I’m talking maybe double of what a comparable traditional metal-walled pool costs.
Note: Many will opt out of getting one of these more expensive pools. This is because they can have essentially the same result by partially burying a metal-walled above ground (Type #2 above) for much less the cost.
AVERAGE LIFESPAN OF THE DIFFERENT ABOVE GROUND POOLS
ABOVE GROUND POOL TYPE
Intex/Coleman type soft-sided pool
1 - 3 seasons (years)
Metal-walled traditional above ground pool with separate liner.
10 - 20 years
Aluminum Slatted-walled semi-inground pool
20 - 40 years
NOTE: Don’t expect your pool to last even close to how long it’s under warranty for. Learn about above ground pool warranties here
WHAT KILLS ABOVE GROUND POOLS?
According to the World Health Organization, Ischemic heart disease is the number one killer of people and has been for the last fifteen years. For above-ground swimming pools, it’s rust.
Most above ground pools don’t make it to their real life span before they are cut down by a very persistent and nasty disease. And this disease is called corrosion or rust.
Soft-sided above grounds don’t live long (on average) at all. They mostly are taken down and retired due to their frames rusting and/or continuously leak from the canvass shell.
These pools are made in China and the steel used for their frames is super cheap. If you’re not from a steel town, you may not know that “not all steel is the same”.
If you look at the above chart showing the lifespan of a traditional above ground pool, you’ll see a really long timeframe of 10 to 20 years. In truth, these pools would all last closer to the 20-year range or longer if they didn’t get rust or corrosion.
Many of the nicer models of metal-walled above grounds will have a lot of resin parts to their frames instead of metal. This is great, but it’s rust in the wall that is most concerning. And with these pools, they all have metal walls.
NOTE: Most traditional above ground pools will rust out at the skimmer and/or return openings of the wall. To prevent this, learn about and consider getting a pool with a stainless steel service panel
Semi-inground above ground pools last a really long time. When I see them taken down, it’s usually because the people are tired of having a pool or someone bought a house with one and doesn’t want it. Although these pools can last decades, they are still not considered “permanent”, so they don’t add any home value.
Some of these will be replaced because the top rails are very old and need replacing, but there are no parts available.
THE LIFESPAN OF AN ABOVE GROUND POOL CAN DEPEND ON WHERE YOU LIVE
I have lived in and installed the vast majority of my pools in Central Florida. Here, the summer is brutally long and the sun is quite hot.
Above ground pools won’t last as long in an environment like Central Florida as opposed to someplace like south Minnesota. It may get just as hot in St. Paul, but only for two weeks. This makes a big difference when talking lifespans of pools.
As a moderator of a large Facebook group of above ground pool owners (46k +), I have read of many people living in the North and getting several years out of their inexpensive Intex soft-side pools. This matters when you are talking about a 2-3 month swim season versus a 6-8 month season somewhere in Texas.
If you’re the type of person that can milk every minute of life out of a tube of toothpaste, an old lawnmower, or a used mattress, then good for you. I’m sure your back feels great pulling on the mower to start it every time and then sleeping in an old soft bowl every night.
For those not planning on trying to set duration records, the above lifespan chart for above ground pools will be fairly accurate.
THE LIFESPAN CAN BE SHORTENED IF THE POOL IS OFF-LEVEL
Above ground pools that are installed well will generally last longer than ones installed off-level or poorly. Water is extremely corrosive and heavy, so installing a pool poorly creates weaknesses and those weak spots can make for long term issues that can take the overall life out of the pool.
Decks usually last longer than the pool that they are adjacent to
Decks (especially made of wood) built next to above ground pools is very common. Keep in mind that you will most likely one day have to replace the pool next to your deck as the decks will outlast the pools.