Must Have Items For Above Ground Pools
Above ground pools are the red headed step child of the pool and spa industry. Just because your pool is not as expensive, or as permanent, as an in ground pool does not make it any less fun. In fact, I would possibly argue the opposite is true. Most people will never be able to own an in ground swimming pool. With prices ranging from $30,000 to $100,000 for the average backyard in ground pool installation it is no wonder why above ground pools are so popular. When you consider that the number one reason why people get a pool is to provide fun, entertainment and exercise for kids you can easily see how above ground pools fill that need. If you are only three feet tall an above ground pool might as well be an ocean of water.
So what are you sacrificing with an above ground pool versus an in ground pool installation? Size, commonly, is one of the things. Depth, usually, is another. Grade or elevation of the waterline in relation to the grade of the surrounding area is the biggest disadvantage of an above ground pool - but even this does not need to be a disadvantage. The world of above ground pool offerings has exploded in the last 15 years or so with many size, shape, and materials being available now to suit any style and budget. Before we "dive" into the different types of above ground pools first I would like to make sure that you are aware there are actually three types of pool (elevation) and not two as people commonly think:
Inground Pools - An in ground pool is a pool where the water line is recessed below the grade of the surrounding area
Onground Pools - A pool which is partially buried in the ground with a waterline one to three feet above the surrounding grade elevation
Aboveground Pools - A pool where the entire wall section sits on grade typically three feet to 52 inches above the surrounding grade
Many pool owners over the years have attempted to bury or partially bury an above ground pool in the ground. Since an above ground pool is not made for this purpose it should be of little surprise that they will fail early if you try to do this. An on ground pool kit is much more robust than an above ground pool kit. Usually on ground pool kits actually resemble the quality of in ground kits and I consider on ground pools to be a "hidden gem" of the entry level pool industry. I think that more pool owners should consider on ground pools. They are high quality like an in ground pool, require very little excavation by comparison to in ground pools, and can easily be landscaped to create a functional backyard pool scape for usually a lot less money than a full in ground pool installation.
What I do not recommend is for anyone to attempt to bury or partially bury an above ground pool kit. If you want the benefit of being able to recess your pool somewhat into the earth then you need to spend more for a higher quality pool kit.
So do you need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new pool installation? No, you don't, and your kids certainly won't notice the difference. You can have a lot of fun, with a minimal budget, with an above ground pool. Just because you do not have a more expensive in ground pool does not mean you will have less fun - you just need to put more consideration into where you do spend your hard earned dollars. The following is a list of items that I would suggest picking up if you have an above ground pool but you want to squeeze the most possible enjoyment out of it.
Above Ground Pool Steps
There are two main ways in which an above ground pool will be built. Either it will be standing above the grade of the ground around the pool - or you will build up the area around the pool (usually with a wood deck) so that the deck and the top of the pool wall are the same height. One of the big disadvantages of above ground pools is the fact that access in and out of the pool is not as comfortable and easy an an in ground pool with steps that you simply walk down like a set of stairs to get into the pool.
Even with the best possible above ground pool steps you will still have steps that are sitting on top of the pool floor. Despite that you are supposed to weigh the steps down, usually with bags of salt or sand, they still move around a bit when you are getting in or out of the pool. For kids this is not really a big deal - but anyone who needs help with access in and out of the pool may find above ground pool steps to be a little shaky for their liking. Now, to add some perspective, a set of in-wall steps in an in ground vinyl liner pool will be bolted to the wall panels and cemented into place with a yard or more of concrete. Sure they are rock solid and do not move around when you use them - but for this you will pay in excess of $5000. Regular in-wall steps in an in ground pool cost as much or more than an entire above ground pool package kit in most cases. If you are looking for steps to make entry and exiting your above ground pool easier then it is important to temper your expectations. There are a lot of options available for steps for above ground pools but even in the best possible case they will still have a little movement in them.
The Confer above ground pool steps are available in light gray, dark gray or blue and are suitable for above ground pools where you have built a deck around the pool.
Height 47 inches
Width 31 inches
Pool wall height 48" to 52" (or deck height of 60")
Maximum weight 400 lbs
If you have a pool with a sharp corner like a rectangle pool or an open, flat wall in your pool, then you could potentially use these curved above ground pool steps. Different than the regular wedding cake style of steps these combine a straight entry step with a rounding wedding cake step. Due to the shape these steps are more stable than most above ground pool steps.
Height 47 inches
Width 58 inches
Pool wall height 48" to 52" (or deck height of 60")
Maximum weight 400 lbs
If you can't get steps for your pool you should at least get an above ground pool ladder for easy access in and out. Even if your pool came with a ladder they do not last forever and having easy access in and out of the pool is important.
Height 47 plus handrails inches
Width 18 inches
Pool wall height 48" to 54"
Maximum weight 250 lbs
If you have a more entry level above ground pool where the pool wall is elevated from the surrounding area then the ladders and steps shown above will not be ideal. In this instance you would be better looking an an A-frame style pool ladder designed to go over the wall on both sides. Fortunately there are many more options for this style of ladder than even 10 or 15 years ago and you can buy higher quality steps which are stable, secure, load bearing, and with the ability to lock out access to the pool.
An A-Frame above ground pool ladder is an entry level pool ladder for above ground pools that are fully above the surrounding deck grade elevation. This ladder has a slide and lock feature of the deck side of the steps to limit access to the pool.
Width 18.5 inches
Pool wall height 48" to 56"
Maximum weight 300 lbs
The above ground smart step ladder system is a versatile pool step that is somewhere between a step and a ladder and even includes a mount for an optional pool light you can add. For the price these steps are hard to beat if you have an above ground pool and want to upgrade your access point. This ladder system is self supporting and does not need to sit on the pool deck making it ideal for soft-sided above ground pools.
Width 24 inches
Pool wall height 48" to 54"
Maximum weight 350 lbs
This is another A-frame above ground pool ladder that has been designed to be sturdy with a weight rating of up to 300 lbs, while taking up minimal space both inside and outside the pool.
Width 22 inches
Pool wall height 48" to 56"
Maximum weight 300 lbs
In my experience I believe that access in and out of an above ground pool is the only real limiting factor of how much fun you can have with your pool. If you don't have the money to spend on an in ground pool, or simply do not want one, an above ground pool is an economical way to get swimming in your backyard. If you are going to break the bank anywhere, so to speak, you should consider buying (or building) an easy, convenient, safe and stable entry and exit point for your pool. Now that we have that out of the way we can start to talk about the fun stuff for your pool.
Above Ground Salt Water Chlorine
Salt water is the only thing that pool owners seem to care about these days. It is no secret that I speak openly about the concerns of salt water in swimming pools and I prefer to not install electronic chlorine generators for my clients - but the reality is that pool owners love this stuff...or at least love the idea of salt water. I am not here to change the world, but I might actually be changing how people perceive salt water in swimming pools, and I think that before anyone buys a salt chlorine generator for their pool they need to get informed about salt water in order to make an informed purchase decision. However, if you have read all of the concerns in the articles linked above, and you would still like to get salt water for your above ground pool, then you have my blessing. Not that you need it.
In most of my writing about salt water in swimming pools I am talking specifically about electronic chlorine generators as a sanitizer delivery system installed on permanent, in ground structures. Adding salt water to your above ground pool has all of the same concerns, in theory, as an in ground pool, but the way problems manifest themselves are quite different. For example, an in ground pool is a permanent structure. If increased water salinity can cause early failure of permanent and integral components of an in ground pool...well, that is a problem. But with an above ground pool you can see the entire back side of the pool structure, and in theory, you can inspect it for any signs of wear, damage, corrosion or other deficiency. That, right there, is a definitive advantage of above ground pools when it comes to damage from salt water - you can at least see what is going on and inspect for damage that may be developing.
So what are the concerns? As with any body of salt water you will encounter concerns with metals that are part of the pool system. When you shop for above ground pool kits this will be one of the most defining features of the kit - whether the manufacturer has rated it for salt water or not. What this usually boils down to is how much metal is in the pool kit (versus resin, for example) and if there is metal, perhaps the metal components are upgraded to a more noble metal or protected with some kind of topical protectant to help resist the potential damage for corrosion. Failing any other way to tell usually you can tell whether an above ground pool is salt water rated simply by the price. Salt water rated above ground pool kits are typically about twice as much money as the regular steel framed "regular chlorine" above ground pool counterpart.
When an in ground pool has advanced rusting from galvanic corrosion it is expensive to fix. An above ground pool with advanced rusting from galvanic corrosion is flat out dangerous. An above ground pool has to hold a tremendous amount of forces from the weight of the water in the pool. The concern with adding salt water to an above ground pool is that if your structure starts to fail then the pool needs to be scrapped - ASAP. So what if you are OK with throwing out your above ground pool when it starts to rust, or what if your above ground pool really has no metal components at all? In that case I would say by all means go ahead and add salt water to your pool...why not? With no permanent structure to cause failure to there is less concern for a ruined investment or extensive repairs from converting to salt water. You should note however that your pump will also be exposed to salt and if you have any kind of gas or electric pool heater then the conversation takes a turn to discussing how to properly install a salt chlorine generator to limit reducing the service life of these pool components.
Again, if you are willing to assume the liability for potentially having these items fail early to get the benefits of salt water then go for it. Honestly I much prefer salt water chlorine systems on above ground pools more than in ground pools where the damage from salt is usually most aggressive on the things that happen to be the most expensive to replace or repair. An above ground pool is already essentially a throw away item with a total service life of between 3 to 12 years on average. Sure there are above ground pools out there that can last much longer than this, but this is more a reflection of how deep the above ground pool market goes ranging from tiny, inflatable pools all the way up to on ground pools kits which are as sturdy as most professional grade in ground pool kits. For a full and comprehensive write up of every brand, make and model of electronic chlorine generator on the market you can read my ultimate salt water system comparison. In short, there are only a few salt water systems for above ground pools that I would consider:
The Intex Krystal Clear Saltwater System is the most entry level salt water chlorine system for above ground pools on the market. If you have a tiny or entry level above ground pool but you still want to try out salt water then this is the system you are looking for.
Pool Size: 7000 gallons or 15,000 gallons
24 hour maximum chlorine output: 0.27 lbs / 0.63 lbs
The Hayward AquaTrol is what I would consider an entry level professional grade salt water chlorinator. The Intex brand is suitable for the most entry level of above ground pools but if you are looking to buy a better, name brand, professional grade chlorinator for your pool then I prefer the Aqua Trol. It comes in different styles depending on how you need to connect it to your pool. Return jet (RJ) mounts directly onto the back side of your pool return and has a built in flow switch where the hard pipe (HP) installation is similar to how you install a salt water cell on an in ground pool system.
Pool Size: 18,000 gallons
24 hour maximum chlorine output: 0.65 lbs
The Pentair IntelliChlor IC15 is what i would consider a high end electronic chlorine generator for an above ground pool. The quality of the Hayward systems versus the Pentair systems are actually very comparable but with above ground electronic chlorine generators I lean towards Pentair. Both are good choices in my opinion for above ground pools.
Pool Size: 15,000 gallons
24 hour maximum chlorine output: 0.60 lbs
Salt water is not so much fun really, but more an enhancement to make your above ground pool altogether more enjoyable. Salt water pools are easier on the eyes typically and feel softer on the skin. Not having to buy and store as much chlorine is nice also. When considering the cost of adding salt to your pool remember that you are going to save money on your chlorine. I would not go so far as to say that a salt water system will pay for itself in chlorine savings, but it will save you something, which is worth noting if you are trying to justify the purchase.
Solar Heaters For Above Ground Pools
The relative small size of an above ground pool is usually one of its inherent disadvantages. When it comes time to heating your pool water the tables turn and the small volume of water in your pool actually becomes an advantage. Unless you are a kid, or some kind of maniac, you probably don't like swimming in cold water. Paying to heat pool water is an awfully expensive proposition when you are talking about burning natural gas or propane, or using electricity to heat your pool (like with an element style heater or an electric heat pump). If you don't have money to burn, literally, then a gas or electric heater will not likely fit within your budget.
On the bright side solar heaters are very effective at warming above ground pools. Similar to in ground pools, solar heaters are not designed to so much extend your swimming season, as they are designed to improve your in-season water temperatures. The smaller your pool is, the more impact a solar heater will have on your water - especially if you remember to use a solar blanket on your pool every night. For even a modestly priced solar heater installation you will likely be able to increase your swimming temperatures noticeably. Just be sure to size your solar heaters appropriately for what your pump can handle.
These are large pool solar heating grids. If you are going to buy a solar heater for your swimming pool then do not waste your money on tiny, novelty sized solar heaters that claim huge results. In any conventional sense you need, at minimum, 60% to 75% of the surface area of your pool in solar panels. If you want to realize actual heating results, over and above a degree or two difference, then you will need to have some space near your pool where you can install solar heating grids like these.
Remember that any time, money or effort spent buying and installing a solar heater for your above ground pool will be completely wasted if you do not take the time to preserve the heat that you already have with a solar blanket at night. Heat conservation is the most important part of solar pool heating that most people do not realize.
Vacuums For Above Ground Pools
In the world of above ground pool vacuums there are suction side cleaners, pressure side cleaners, and the newer robotic pool vacuums which run independently from your pool system. Suction side vacuums are the most popular for above ground pools simply because they are effective and affordable. Pressure side cleaners also work well but often require minimum pump capabilities which are higher than suction based cleaners. By far robotic pool vacuums are better than both, as they can run without the need to have your circulation system running. This saves electricity costs on your pool pump as well as the wear and tear of placing strain on your plumbing system.
The Intex auto pool cleaner is the cheapest pool vacuum on the market. If you have a very entry level above ground pool but want to do less manual vacuuming of the water then this is a very cost effective option. For anything other than the most entry level pools I recommend spending a little more to get a better vacuum but if cost is your biggest concern then this model will be your cheapest option.
The Kreepy Krauly Pool Cleaner is a flapper / diaphragm style suction based cleaner. These are the original style of suction based pool cleaner which uses a flapper to create both suction and self propelled movement. If you don't mind your pool sounding like it has a heartbeat then this is the cheapest effective pool vacuum on the market.
If you took a look at the robotic vacuums for above ground pools and could not justify the price, then I consider the Hayward Aqua Bug the best from the world of entry level, non diaphragm style, pool vacuums. It's cute, it works, it's fairly simple and built on the same technology as the Hayward Navigator which is one of the best selling pool vacuums of all time. If you don't know what you need except that you know you are tired of manually vacuuming the pool, then consider this vacuum as a great option.
The Pool Rover S2 is a robotic pool vac for above ground pools that runs independently of your pump and circulation system. This will save you money on the electricity used to your pump as well as wear and tear that suction or pressure based cleaners usually put on relatively light duty above ground pool pumps. This is an entry level robotic vacuum in that it cleans the floor and the bottom of the walls but does not climb up to the waterline like some more advanced (and expensive) robotic cleaners.
If you are interested in seeing more information and comparisons of pool vacuums you can read this article on pool vacuum reviews which helps to clarify which models come with which features. Additionally there is another type of pool vacuum which you might be less familiar with...think along the lines of a cordless dust buster vacuum for your pool. If you would like more information on these you can read this article about cordless pool vacuums.
Above Ground Pool Lights
In most areas when you build and install an in ground pool you are require by law to include at least one pool light. This is considered a safety issue so that you can clearly see the bottom, sides and slopes in the pool, as well as being able to see anyone or anything that might be floating in the water. It is a surprise to me that above ground pools most often do not come with lights.
These are Magnetic LED pool lights. If you have an existing above ground pool and you do not have lights in it then you will have very limited options available to you. If you have a vinyl liner above ground pool with metal walls then the best option I have found, other than renovating the pool and installing a light, is this magnetic stick-on LED light. While they do not put out a ton of light, they are better than ones that install on the return fittings - so at least you can install more than one of these magnetic lights in you want the maximum light and color effect in your pool. Just be sure that you manage your expectations since an in ground pool light could easily be $750 to $1000 where this magnetic pool LED light is only about $20. Still, they are much better than a dark pool.
The Smart Pool NA410 Nitelighter (also available in multicolored light) is a much better option than battery powered lights if you want real illumination of your pool. These lights install onto the deck surrounding your pool and run on a 12 volt power supply that you plug into any standard 120 volt GFI protected outlet. One of these lights is enough to light up most above ground pools however your pool will need a deck around it or rigid top rail or something to mount the light to.
Please remember that water and electricity do not mix so if you are not 100% sure about if what you are doing is safe then stop and bring in someone who can safely install a pool light for you. In most cases this simply amounts to being able to verify if your power supply is GFI protected. Any electrical source in your pool, even if it is only low voltage (12 volts) must be provided from a ground fault protected circuit.
Pool Toys For Above Ground Pools
Pool toys for above ground pools need to be designed just a little differently than toys for in ground pools. For example, the classic diving games to pick up items on the floor of the pool is a lot less fun when you can just walk around picking them all up with your feet. Also since above ground pools are typically much smaller than in ground pools you need to choose pool toys that will let you have the maximum amount of fun in the minimum amount of space.
This inflatable net would actually be suitable for in ground pools or above ground pools. This net is not all that big so it should fit nicely into small above ground pools - but the net is still fun enough to use and to settle some arguments about whether a return volley was over the imaginary net or not. This set comes with a volleyball but you can also pick up some waterproof rackets for pool badminton as well.
Watermelon ball is probably the best pool toy on the market and if you have not heard of it before then be sure to read the reviews on Amazon. Basically the watermelon ball, since it is partially filled with water, can be passed and thrown, at speed, while underwater. Too cool.
Get a couple of these log flume joust sets...what could possibly go wrong with that?
What self respecting kid does not want a set of 12 emoji inflatable beach balls. You can use these beach balls like some sort of crude communication method and try to reach your kids somehow. Or just play volleyball with them...up to you. Best of all this is a set of 12 so when then inevitably get lost or broken you have lots more still.
Just because your pool is not a permanent structure in your yard does not mean it has to be any less fun or functional than a much more expensive in ground pool. If you address these main areas of concern and make the access in and out of your pool as good as possible, and add lights and potentially a few frills like salt water and some pool toys, then your above ground pool can be the center for a lot of fun this summer. Just remember to check your chemistry often since smaller bodies of water can change very quickly with a heavy bather load.
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