Above-ground swimming pools have become quite diverse over the last thirty years now there are several different types of above-ground pools. The term above-ground pool now can mean anything from a cheap $300 complete Walmart pool that lasts one or two seasons all the way to 15k semi-inground types that last for decades.
When I started installing pools in the eighties, there weren’t many choices. There was only one wall height option, you could only get a super crappy sand-type filter, and there were only two colors and just a few sizes to choose from. There also weren’t many places to get one.
Today, saying that you are getting or have an above-ground swimming pool can mean just about anything.
It could mean that you have some cheap small structure that you just put up by yourself on top of your grass that looks horrible and won’t last but is holding water and your household is enjoying swimming in it.
It can also mean it’s the centerpiece of your backyard oasis that took a month to install, is fully in the ground with a deck all around it, and includes lighting, landscaping, and sound.
6 DIFFERENT TYPES OF ABOVE GROUND POOLS (FROM CHEAPEST TO MOST EXPENSIVE)
1. Inexpensive soft-sided above ground pool
These are the entry-level type pools that mostly come from Walmart and are made by Intex, Coleman, and Bestway
Cheap soft-sided pools usually come complete in one big box with very few option choices. They come with a very basic ladder and extremely poor and undersized equipment(pump and filter).
In addition to these pools having the advantage of being very inexpensive, they are also the easiest to assemble and install for the DIYer.
The major drawback to this type of above-ground is that they are very cheaply made and usually don’t last longer than a season or two. Also, their poor equipment can make it much harder to maintain and keep the pool clean.
Soft-sided pools come with three choices
- Round shape with inflatable top – These are the easiest and least expensive type. With this type, expect the blow-up top to get holes in it that you will have to find and patch.
- Round shape – A little harder to assemble, but will last longer.
- Rectangle shape – Rectangle shape soft-sided pools take more to get level and install properly. They last about as long as the round-shaped ones but can be considerably more expensive.
2. Expensive soft-sided above ground pool
At the time that I wrote this (Septmber, 2021), this type of pool is very hard to find. I spent some time looking for one online and couldn’t find one for sale.
These pools are just like the cheap Intex/Coleman type and look a lot the same, but they are made with much more durable materials and will last for many years.
These pools gained in popularity about 15-20 years ago and I installed a few of them then. I haven’t seen or installed one in at least ten years, so maybe they aren’t available anymore.
These soft-side pools are good in that they last a long time and can be taken down easily, but I think the main reason that they didn’t continue to be an option for most is that they were just as expensive (if not more so) than the metal-walled above grounds AND they were not very attractive looking.
3. Expensive inflatable above ground pool
These pools (made mainly by Zodiac) are not pretty to look at and aren’t great if you are looking for something permanent. But if you want a pool for special events only and/or want to put it away every winter season, check out this pool type.
You may also find a cheaper inflatable swimming pool out there. If you do, don’t expect much from them. They will only be good for one event or two.
4. Metal-walled above ground pool
When people talk about above-ground pools, this is most likely the type of pool. These pools have metal walls (either steel or aluminum) and a separate liner on the inside to hold the water.
This is the type of above-ground pool that a guy like me installs mostly. They are medium-priced, long-lasting, and durable. These pools have been made for more than 60 years.
Metal-walled above-ground pools have some options. You can choose different liner’s qualities and patterns, different types and sizes of filters and pumps, and different ladders/steps. You can also choose to get 48”, 52” or 54” height walls.
This type of above-ground pool also has the most size options.
Round shaped metal-walled pool– Round pools are the most popular shape. They are less expensive and much easier to install than the ovals and rectangle shapes.
Round metal-walled AG pools come in many sizes including the standard sizes of 12’, 15’, 16’, 18’, 21’, 24’(most common), 26’, 27’, 30’, and 33’ round.
Oval-shaped metal-walled pool – Ovals are very popular, but there are some negatives to them.
Oval metal-walled AGs are very difficult to assemble and are considerably more expensive than their round-shaped counterparts. Some will decide on an oval because their yard can’t hold the round pool they want.
NOTE: Different oval models will have different designs. Each design will need a different amount of space in the yard for the buttress structure. If you are installing an oval in a limited space, check the actual footprint of the models that you are considering buying. Check the different oval designs here
Salt-water friendly above-ground pool – With the increased popularity of salt-chlorine generators (salt pools) for above grounds, the term “salt friendly” has become a term.
Some think that saltwater is corrosive to the metal parts of an above-ground pool. So, metal-walled above grounds now come with some or all of the pool’s frame made of plastic/resin instead of metal.
5. Semi-inground above ground pool
This is where it gets tricky. Any above-ground swimming pool can be partially buried in the ground. Actually, any above-ground pool can be fully sunk in the ground.
There are some pool models that are designed to go partially in the ground and then there are some (regular) models that are marketed and sold as “semi-inground”, “semi-onground”, and “recessed”.
Because the term “semi-inground” is so loosely used, I will have to break this type of AG pool into three types.
A) traditional metal-walled above-ground pool marketed as “semi-inground” (same as #4) -This is the most common above-ground pool that people put partially in the ground.
As stated earlier, any above-ground pool can be partially buried in the ground with few issues. Some models are sold to better go in the ground though. For me, one model isn’t any more suitable to be semi-inground than another.
I do have two recommendations though when buying a regular metal-walled above ground to sink some in the ground –
Make sure your pool wall is made of steel instead of aluminum. Aluminum walls are lighter and more “flimsy” than steel walls. The heavier, more rigid steel wall is better for pools going in the ground.
Use a J-hook/uni-bead type liner. Overlap type liners require you to have to move the top of the pool’s wall more when replacing them. And you may not want to move the wall(inward) much if the pool is buried and empty. J-hook liners don’t require the wall to move much at all during the liner change.
B) Extruded aluminum-walled above-ground pool – These pools are designed specifically to go partially in the ground. They have walls made of super thick aluminum and come in sections that have to be interconnected.
Traditional metal-walled above grounds(#4, #5a) come with walls that are thin and one continuous roll. And with those, the walls made of aluminum are way too thin and flimsy.
This type of design has a very thick and very rigid wall. And it’s made of aluminum because(if thick enough) aluminum will form a protective coating as it begins to corrode. This coating or patina will actually protect the wall from deteriorating any further, so the wall will last for decades.
Extruded aluminum-walled pools are considerably more expensive. Expect this type of pool to cost between two and three times more than their comparable regular metal-walled version. This is why most won’t opt for this design and will instead just put a regular above ground in the ground some.
This type of above-ground pool is made by the big manufacturers. They include the Oasis or Intrepid by Wilbar, or the very tried and true Aquasport 52.
C) Resin paneled above ground pool – This is the newest design for sinking an above-ground pool in the ground. These pools have panels that are bolted together to make up the wall.
Made to go anywhere from completely on top of the ground to all the way inground, these pools are versatile and very long-lasting. They might last as long as the extruded aluminum walled pools or even longer.
The main issue with this type of pool is the cost. These pools are really, really expensive. And with putting a traditional metal-walled above-ground pool partially in the ground and it lasting for between 10 and 20 years at a fraction of the cost, it’s hard to justify.
The other drawback to these is that when going in the ground some, they require a concrete footer poured all the way around the outside of the wall. This adds a big, messy, and expensive step to the installation which can prevent a guy like me from even wanting to install one.
Examples of this type of pool are the Doughboy Hydrosphere series and pools made by Radiant.
6. Steel or resin paneled, concrete supported pool (inground vinyl-liner pool)
I can’t say when the first one was made, but for more than 40 years, there has existed a thing called an “inground vinyl liner” pool. These pools are basically inground pools but have a vinyl liner holding the water instead of a cement or fiberglass surface.
In the last ten years or so, I started seeing retailers start selling these pools as “semi-inground”. In truth, they can be only partially buried, so technically, they are semi-inground. But a concrete shelled pool can stick out of the ground too.
These pools absolutely need a deck installed to complete their look. Above-ground pools shouldn’t need anything and come as a complete structure. It’s always nice to build a deck, but you don’t need one.
Personally, I don’t consider this type of pool a “semi-inground”. It’s an inground pool with a vinyl liner. Period. Unfortunately though, in most cases, these pools are still considered “permanent” and therefore don’t add any real estate value to the property