With social distancing guidelines in effect and many public swimming pools shuttered, you may be trying to figure out how to build a cheap swimming pool in your backyard. In which case, you may be thinking of buying and installing that old classic: the above-ground swimming pool.
Why not an in-ground swimming pool? Well, you could certainly do that, but it’s generally less expensive if the pool is above ground. The home improvement website HomeAdvisor.com suggests that an above-ground pool will cost between $727 and $3,815, although on the high end you could spend as much as $12,000.
By comparison, the cost of an in-ground pool can range from $36,694 to $66,546, according to HomeAdvisor.
While an above-ground pool may be less expensive and easier to set up, it probably won’t be an easy do-it-yourself project. And it may be a more expensive endeavor than you’re anticipating.
“As a home improvement expert, I understand a lot of people dream of having a pool and think the cheapest option is an above-ground one. At first glance, it appears like a good plan but can really turn into a money pit,” says Jen Stark, founder of the website Happy DIY Home.
That’s probably not what you want to hear.
“The hidden costs can be high — chemicals, cleaner, water and electric bills, insurance, repairs and decking to mention a few,” Stark says. “That is not to mention the hours spent each week maintaining it.”
Yes, Stark mentioned insurance. If you have an above-ground pool, you should mention it to your insurance agent, and, yes, it could cause your homeowners insurance rates to rise.
Still, if you’re undaunted, here are the general steps you’ll have to take before you’re able to splash around.
— Decide where to put the swimming pool.
— Buy the swimming pool.
— Start prepping the location.
— Hook up the electricity.
— Assemble the pool.
— Install the filter.
— Fill up the pool.
1. Decide Where to Put the Swimming Pool
This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ll want to check with your municipality before you start setting up a pool; there may be regulations governing how close the pool can be to your house. You also may need to get a permit to have a pool.
Beyond that, you want to avoid placing your pool underneath or too close to any trees, unless your idea of a good time is to swim among soggy leaves and bird droppings.
You also probably don’t want the pool too far from your house. There will be a cord stretching from the house, albeit one that’s preferably buried in the ground, going from what’s called a GFCI outlet to your swimming pool pump.
You also, for obvious reasons, don’t want your swimming pool to be located under power lines.
2. Buy the Swimming Pool
Sure, you could do this first, but it’s probably best to scout out a location and see if you think you’ve got a good spot for a pool before you invest in one. You’ll also want to think about whether you want to build a raised deck around the pool, so that it looks a little like an in-ground pool, or if it’s just going to be a swimming pool in the middle of the grass. Should you have a fence around the pool, to keep neighborhood kids out — and animals? Will the pool be made of vinyl, metal or fiberglass? Round or oval shape? How deep will it be? Do you want a liner to protect the walls and floor of the pool?
For comparison shopping, you can find above-ground swimming pools at home improvement chains like Home Depot and Lowes but also local swimming pool supply stores. There are a lot of options out there, in terms of where you can find an above-ground pool.
You can also go for the cheaper route. Stock tank pools are made of galvanized metal and are trendy. They’re generally about two feet deep and are more for lounging in water (you can still add a filter and a pump to keep it clean). You could get an inflatable above-ground pool. Many nice ones can be found for under $100. If you really want to do it right, you still may want to purchase an inflatable pool filter pump system, which will likely cost about the same as the inflatable pool.
[See: 35 Ways to Save Money.]
3. Start Prepping the Location
That is, get the ground ready for what’s coming. After all, you don’t want to place this swimming pool on some rocks or sticks. The ground ideally needs to be flat.
“The base needs to be level or there will be integrity issues with the pool,” Stark says.
That’s because gravity will bring the water to the lowest level, and if the pool is titled just a bit, eventually, you could see the water overflowing over one of the sides of the pool, with your swimmers tumbling out.
“Another common mistake is to use sand to level the base. Sand will shift and should only be used as a buffer between the base of the pool and the soil below,” Stark says.
4. Hook Up the Electricity
You’ll want to turn off the power at the circuit breaker, and ideally, you will bury the cord two feet deep — as opposed to having it loose in the yard, where you might trip over it. But most people should hire a licensed professional electrician to do all of this. Sure, some people really know what they’re doing and may be able to manage this. But for the rest of us, call the electrician.
Yes, you can find a lot of articles and YouTube videos teaching you how to wire an above-ground pool — but even many of those will suggest hiring a licensed electrician. You’re going to be doing things like wiring in GFCI circuit breakers to an electrical panel and connecting an 8-gauge wire to metal posts of the pool, the pump and the metal plate on the skimmer (a contraption on the edge of the pool that collects floating debris, like leaves and bugs).
Stark also counsels hiring a professional — for pretty much everything.
“Unless you have had experience with ground management or been involved in a successful setup previously, I would always recommend bringing in a professional from the start. In the long run, this can save a significant amount of money,” Stark says.
5. Assemble the Pool
Ah, good. A step in which you probably won’t accidentally electrocute yourself. Still, you may want a professional for this as well.
That said, Derek Lenze has some advice if you do handle this yourself. Lenze, based out of Surrey, British Columbia, runs Floating Authority, an education website that offers advice on gear for the water, such as kayaks, scuba gear and swimming pool floats. He also is the former owner of an above-ground pool.
“How you build your pool will differ from one manufacturer to the other, but typically you want to build your base first, which starts with the bottom ring that acts as the support base,” Lenze says. “From there you install the wall, the liner, and then the rails, covers, and plates before filling the pool.”
He advises that people doing this themselves pay special attention to the instructions and not be afraid to ask for help.
“There are many online communities and forums of experienced above-ground pool experts that can help you out,” Lenze says.
6. Install the Filter
You’ll be connecting the pool pump to your filter. Generally, you’ll have to decide between a sand filter, cartridge filter or a D.E. filter, a diatomaceous earth filter. While the chlorine or the salt content in the swimming pool will kill the bacteria in the pool, it’s the filter that actually removes bacteria and other bits of waste from the water.
7. Fill Up the Pool
This is the easy part. Grab a hose. Still, you probably won’t want to just stand there while it fills. It will likely take a few hours or the better part of the day, depending how big the pool is. While that water is filling, though, you can think about how glorious it’ll be when you and your family get in. It’ll all be worth it.
Of course, before everybody jumps in, you still will need to turn on the filter and make sure it’s working correctly, and you’ll want to vacuum the bottom of the pool (while you were putting together the pool, chances are, debris has already gotten in). You’ll want to check the chlorine, too, and make sure there’s enough in it to kill the germs but not so much that your swimmers’ eyes are burning.
So, yes, there’s a lot to owning an above-ground pool, but some detail-oriented, pool-loving people may not mind the maintenance in the least.
But if you’re not somebody who is a do-it-yourselfer, rarely spend that much time outdoors and you hate the idea of maintaining a swimming pool, it may be occurring to you right about now that you don’t have to actually get into the water to recognize that you’re already in way too deep.
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