The weather's starting to warm up, and you need an escape from the house. But public pools, beaches and lakes may not be opening, or reopening, anytime soon, or you may not want to risk the crowds when they do. If you're fortunate enough to have a backyard or some open space, this may be just the time to consider an above-ground pool.
While they're not as complicated as in-ground pools, there are a lot of considerations that come with putting an above-ground pool on your property, according to Dan DiClerico, home expert at HomeAdvisor, a site that sources local professionals for home projects. To assess whether your home is ready for a splash zone any bigger than a blow-up baby pool, we looked to DiClerico for advice, and rounded up some top picks from top-rated brands and best-sellers.
First and foremost, DiClerico says, survey your space. "Make sure the pool will fit in the yard without violating any zoning regulations," he says. These will vary by community, but according to him, pools generally need to be at least 5 feet from property lines and a certain distance from the main house, maybe 12 or 15 feet. Plus, proximity to power lines and underground utilities is a factor, and many communities require permits for installing a pool.
"You need to do all the due diligence, checking with your local zoning board and building department, before making any kind of purchase decision," DiClerico advises.
Once you've figured out the municipal logistics, you also must consider whether your landscape is suited for a pool. "Does your ground slope or are there large trees or rocks in the way?" DiClerico says. "You may have to pay to have these removed or relocated."
And remember, some communities have codes regarding tree removal. Soil stability may also be a factor, depending on the size of pool you're considering. "If the soil is very soft and sandy, you may need to amend it before putting in the pool," he says.
We're just being thorough here, but: The installation of a pool — even an above-ground one — may affect your homeowners insurance. Check with your carrier about coverage, restrictions and rates. "In general, house guests are covered for injuries that may occur while using the pool, but the pool itself is not covered by any damage that might occur," DiClerico says. "Many providers will require you to put up a protective fence or child-proof gate before they'll even consider coverage."
The cost of a pool
"The obvious advantage of above-ground over in-ground pools is cost," says DiClerico. According to HomeAdvisor's True Cost Guide, most people spend between $1,000 and $4,000 on above-ground pools — $2,500 on average — compared with an average of $50,000 for an in-ground pool, whose costs can easily run into the six figures if you add luxury features like a hot tub and waterfall.
For an above-ground pool, the lower end, budget-wise — up to about $1,000 — will limit your size and shape. "For $1,000, you're not going to get more than a basic 12-foot round with zero add-ons or accessories," DiClerico says. "As you go up in price, pools get larger and more diverse in shape, including rectangular, oval and hexagonal." The largest, higher-end above-ground options, measuring in the neighborhood of 20 by 40 feet, will ring up at around $4,500.
And just how much do you need to spend? Think about how you want to use the pool, DiClerico recommends. "If you just want a personal place to relax and cool down, a basic round will do," he says. "If you want it for entertaining or for the kids to play in, you'll need a larger pool with a surrounding deck for lounging and additional safety features, including a fence and removable ladder to keep unattended children from accessing the pool."
As you're figuring your budget, factor in some of the add-ons — pool kits, liner, sides, edging, pump and ladder — that may bump up the total price.
The above costs don't include installation, which, if you hire a professional to do it for you, may run you upward of $1,000, DiClerico advises. An experienced DIYer may be able to handle installation with the help of a few handy friends, possibly in a few hours or a day, depending on the size and scope of the pool.
Decide beforehand if you want someone else to do the install, and ask up front about terms and costs. If you're having the pool installed, be sure the work as well as the pool is warranted, and make sure you're clear on the terms.
Your above-ground pump and filter will need electricity to run. DiClerico says you'll need a 110/20 amp dedicated line, and the pool must be bonded and grounded — check with the pool manufacturer, and consult an electrician if needed, to make sure all your connections are safe and up to code.
Bells and whistles
If you're going for a larger, more expensive pool, and if you have more budget to play with, you may want to invest in some additional features. "Lighting is a very worthwhile upgrade, allowing you to enjoy the pool on hot summer nights," DiClerico notes.
There are underwater and floating lighting options now that add a bit of whimsy. A heater is another upgrade DeClerico likes, as it extends your pool time in four-season climates. "If you want some serious flair, you can add fountains and waterfalls to your above-ground pool," DiClerico says.
Standalone fountains will be the most affordable, he says, or you can add built-ins with some landscaping assistance.
Pools by price
"At this price point, you're dealing with inflatables — think kiddie pools for grown-ups," DiClerico says. "They're affordable and very DIY-friendly, but not meant as a permanent solution."
That means at the end of swim season, you will need to deflate and store the pool. And watch out for sharp objects, including small rocks kicked out by your lawn mower, which could cause permanent damage to a less pricey option.
These are also the pools that have been selling out the fastest, so we'll be sure to update this list regularly.
Sun Squad 10' x 22" Deluxe Rectangular Inflatable Above Ground Pool ($34; target.com)
From Target's uber-cute summer line Sun Squad, this is one of the few inflatable pools out there that doesn't resemble a kiddie pool. Ideal if you have a tiny backyard, or are in desperate need of lying in a few inches of water every day.
Sun Squad 7.5' x 27" Family Above Ground Pool with Bench ($45; target.com)
If you have kids, this inflatable pool comes with a built-in bench.
Funboy Mini Inflatable Pool ($59; urbanoutfitters.com)
Sable Inflatable Pool ($119.99; amazon.com)
Perfect for adults and kids alike, this inflatable pool comes with a built-in bench, too.
Intex Soft Side Pool ($28.67; lowes.com)
Measuring 74 inches by 18 inches, this is another solid option if you're working with a small backyard.
Intex 8' x 30" Easy Set Round Inflatable Above Ground Pool ($55.99; target.com)
An inflatable pool that doesn't look too childish, this one from Intex is ideal for two people.
Homech Family Inflatable Swimming Pool, 120" x 72" x 22" ($109.99; amazon.com)
Also great for kids, this can hold up to two adults, plus three to five kids at a time.
"Spending up to $1,000 gets you into the category of structured above-ground pools," says DiClerico. "They're more durable than an inflated pool, but might show signs of wear and tear after a few years."
Summer Waves Elite Metal Frame Swimming Pool Package - 15-ft x 48-in ($658.99; overstock.com)
Featuring a metal frame and heavy duty PVC and polyester mesh, this is a pool that can definitely fit the whole family.
Intex 48in x 18ft Inflatable Above Ground Swimming Pool with Ladder, Pump & Cover ($914.98, originally $1,029.99; target.com)
At 4 feet deep and 18 feet across, this pool comes with a ladder, pump and cover, too. You can also get the same pool in a set with a pump and lots of different filters.
Intex 18' x 48" Inflatable Round Outdoor Above Ground Swimming Pool Set ($849.99, originally $959.99; target.com)
For a slightly cheaper option, this pool set comes with the inflatable pool, pump and water filter.
"As you move into this range, you see more hard-sided pools, with frames made from durable, weather-resistant materials, like stainless steel or heavy-gauge, rigid PVC," DiClerico says. "Pools in this range can easily provide a decade of service, though you may need to replace the liner at some point."
And once you get to $2,000, besides maximum size — 25-foot diameters or more — DiClerico says pools in this price range will "feature top-quality design and construction, so they will look better in the backyard and last a lot longer, a few decades even, with proper care and maintenance."
Blue Wave Cambrian 24-ft Round Above-Ground Pool ($2,474.95, originally $2,749.95; overstock.com)
For the person or family looking for the not-at-all temporary pool solution, this features steel sides, a complete ladder, a pump, and a one-year warranty. It needs at least three people for installation.
Once you've got your pool set up, let the games begin.
Hydro Spring Hoops Basketball - Sun Squad ($18; target.com)
You can play a game of basketball with this floating basket.
GoSports Floating Water Polo Game Portable Goal ($35.99; wayfair.com)
And what about a game of water polo, too?
Uneede 26 Piece Diving Pool Toys ($20.99, originally $21.99; amazon.com)
You can get a whopping 26 toys in this pack, including diving rings and a few hidden treasures.
SwimWays Spring Float ($14.99; target.com)
Sit back, relax and be thankful you sprung for your own pool this summer.
Giant Llama Pool Float White - Sun Squad ($15; target.com)
You can never go wrong with a giant floating pink llama.
Swimline FrogLog Animal Saving Escape Ramp for Pool ($17.05; amazon.com)
Not exactly a toy but definitely an essential, this sweet little ramp can help save any critters that find their way into your new pool.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.