For many, an aboveground swimming pool is the best choice . . . and not just because they are cheaper. I had to learn this: like many in the pool business, for years I thought of above ground pools as 'toy' pools, to be avoided at all costs.
But I was wrong. Above ground swimming pools are the BEST option for many. Above ground (or "on ground" as some dealers like to call them) swimming pools:
What's more, they offer prospective pool owners a chance to 'try' a pool inexpensively before they spend thousands on a pool they don't use and can't remove. One of my PoolForum moderators, who now has an elaborate and expensive above-ground pool installation with decks and more, started off with an under $500 Intex pool. He reports he never would have gotten the larger pools, if he hadn't discovered how much he and his family enjoyed the smaller one!
That's not to say there are no drawbacks, with above ground pools:
The problems fall into several categories:
Let me start with the last problem, first.
Poor Quality Pools
The lowest priced above ground pools, which includes many pools costing less than $2,500 and most pools costing less than $1,000, are likely to have EVERY problem listed above. These pools are built to be cheap, not to work.
If yours happens to work, great. But, if it doesn't, don't be surprised. And don't waste money trying to 'fix' it: it was built 'broken'! Cars costing less than $9,000 new aren't built anymore (I think!), but if someone did build such a car, you probably wouldn't want it. Think a $1,000 pool as being a kissing cousin to a new car that costs $5,000: they are both junk when they are brand new.
The solution is to buy a better pool. Sorry . . .
But even with pools costing $2,500 or more, the first five problems above are common.
[ The section above was written before the Intex type pool became common, and needs revision. Intex pools seem to have a life of 2 - 5 years, depending on care and type. The steel tube units last longer than then inflatable ones, which seem to get 'popped' rather often. But, within their limitations, the Intex pools are a good value for the price. However, the filters are inadequate, so if there's a problem, it's often easier and cheaper to drain and refill, than to clean it up. ]
Mismatched pumps and filters
The most common problem, by far, is mismatched and mis-sized pumps and filters. On nearly 100% of above ground pools, the filter is too small, and the pump is too big. There's a reason for this: bigger filters cost more, wholesale, and don't sound impressive in a sales pitch. Bigger pumps DO NOT cost more -- the wholesale difference between a 3/4HP and a 2 HP aboveground pump may be $10 -- and impress the heck out of buyers. The result is a mismatched combo that blows dirt right on through the filter and back into the pool. Oversized pumps also result in many (most?) of the reported problems with sand filters.
The only solution is to replace your existing pump and filter with a properly sized and matched set. In theory, it would sometimes be possible to make adjustments that work things out, but in practice there are many reasons why this is almost never practical, starting with the fact that less than 10% of builders and dealers understand hydraulics well enough to make the proper corrections on their own.
There are many combinations that will work, but it's really tricky. The simple fact is that most manufacturers have pandered to the sales people who want high horsepower pumps which impress buyers. As a result, much of the available product is NOT designed to operate properly with above ground pool piping. For many pools, the ideal size pump would be 1/3 or even 1/4 horsepower, but such pumps are not available. The smallest durable and serviceable pool pump available is a 1/2 HP; as a result, the smallest sand filter that can be used, without installing a throttling valve and flowmeter, is a 21" filter.
A combination that will work fairly well for almost ALL above ground pools -- regardless of pool size -- is a 1/2 HP Hayward "Super" pump (mfg. model #SP2600X5), a 22" Hayward "PRO" sand filter (mfg. model #SP220T), a Hayward 1.5" "Vari-Flo" multiport valve (mfg. model #SP071113), and a cord set (#SPX1550WA [25 ft long] or #SPX1250 [6 ft long]). 1999 list price on this combo is $764.00. Any pool dealer in the US or Canada can sell this combination to you. You'll also need hoses, connectors and . . . 250 pounds of filter sand. Make absolutely certain that the sand comes in bags that are factory labeled as filter sand, and make sure that the pump and filter have exactly the model numbers shown above. This combination can be used either as original equipment, or to replace what you've got now.
Some of you may think, that since you have a larger aboveground pool, you need a larger pump and filter. This might be true, but unless you have a maindrain or two skimmers AND have two return inlets, there is little point. Most above ground components, particularly skimmers, aren't designed to handle more than about 40 GPM. Putting a larger pump and filter on will simply waste more electricity: there's no where for the extra flow to go.
There are many, many, complications I haven't gone into here. Most of them result either from 'fudged' ratings or engineered products being 'bastardized' to meet demands from the marketing departments. But, it's a mess that's not likely to be soon cleaned up. Eventually, I'd like to be able to offer a complete and (almost) perfectly matched set of components for sale. But assembling, testing, and stocking such a combo -- including replacement parts -- is not something I can find room for in my schedule at present.
Another extremely common problem results from the use of cheaper sandblast sand, instead of filter sand. Dealers do it because they can make $2 to $4 more per 100# selling the cheap stuff. But, it doesn't filter as well. Using the correct sand can make a BIG difference.
"Mickey-Mouse" Grade Accessories
Above ground pools are commonly sold with 'disposable' quality cleaning tools. The solution is simple. Buy inground pool tools.
Also, some of the above ground automatic pool cleaners are very finicky. One popular model only works properly if the pool floor is properly installed, and is both very smooth and level. Since many (most?) above ground pools installed in the fastest possible way, under-liner grading is often at a minimum, leaving a rough and irregular surface. The manufacturer knows this, but continues to market this cleaner to all above ground pool owners, and leaves the "level and smooth pool bottom" warnings buried in the owner's manual.
The solution? Purchase aboveground cleaners with a "you can bring it back within 10 days, if it won't work on your pool" guarantee.
Surprisingly, this seems to be less of a problem than I would have suspected. And, apparently, many installers would be more than happy to install the pool correctly, if you are willing to pay more than the dealer negotiated lowball price.
The Bottom Line?
Aboveground pools are a good choice for many homeowners, and a much lower risk way to experience your first pool. In fact, many potential pool owners would help themselves a lot by purchasing and using something like an 18' round steel tube frame Intex pool (like this: Intex metal frame pools) during the summer BEFORE they install an inground or expensive above ground pool. If you love your Intex, you'll probably like it's replacement even better. If not? Maybe you should think twice!
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