What to know before jumping into that aboveground pool purchase

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Aboveground pools are so popular during the pandemic that they’re hard to find. But you can do your homework to have one ready for next summer. (Photo courtesy of Royal Swimming Pools)

With temperatures soaring, vacations canceled and most community swimming pools limiting access or closed, a backyard pool seems like a good idea. No, not one of those blowup kiddie pools or cheap plastic ones that your dog would love, but a real, aboveground pool large enough for the entire family.

“It’s no mystery why aboveground pools are so popular. They provide homeowners with all the joys of having a backyard pool without having to take on the cost, commitment and full-on construction project that an in-ground pool entails,” says Michael Dean of Asheville, N.C., who has designed and installed pools for more than 25 years.

Unfortunately, you may not be able to get one. Demand is up fourfold over last year, according to Laci Carnes, a spokesperson for Royal Swimming Pools, one of the country’s largest distributors of aboveground pools. Since March, the bulk of manufacturers, vendors and distributors have been shuttered. Between social distancing restrictions for employees and supply-chain issues, those manufacturers that reopened production can produce only a fraction of their orders. Many have stopped taking new orders altogether.

Still, with some sleuthing and a bit of creativity, you may find a pool that suits your needs. Here’s what to know before you dive in.

– Map out your space.

Consider how much room you have. Aboveground pools typically start at 10 to 12 feet in diameter, but the buttresses that hold up the sides can add an additional three feet. Some municipalities or homeowners associations have size restrictions regarding backyard pools. Keep in mind that you should leave even more space than the minimum regulation, just to be safe, Dean says. Also, pools need to sit on a flat surface. If your yard is hilly or sloped, you may have to excavate to create a level spot. And a pool needs to be within six to 10 feet of a GFCI-protected electrical outlet to power the pump.

– Learn the local laws.

Do you need any building permits? Are there easements or other rules for backyard pools? Some municipalities require fencing, so children can’t easily gain access. Others insist on an alarm that goes off if the water is disturbed in an unattended pool. Although the walls of an aboveground pool do provide a barricade for children, remember that nothing replaces a vigilant adult when kids are around.

– Consider who will use the pool.

To calculate your pool’s optimum size and depth, think about who will be using it. Will it be holding adults lounging while sipping mai tais or your child’s rambunctious soccer team? If kids will be using the pool, how old and tall are they?

– Choose a frame.

The most important component is the frame, which will hold up the walls and the water. Frames are either steel, resin or a hybrid made from both. Steel frames are aluminum or galvanized steel, which has been dipped into a zinc coating to prevent rust. They are sturdy, yet lightweight, though they can get hot in the sun. Resin (hard plastic) doesn’t rust, resists warping and stays cool to the touch, but it is vulnerable to cracking in extreme temperatures.

– Size up your pool.

Round pools start at 12 feet in diameter, with 24-foot-diameter pools, which can fit four to five people, being the most popular choice, Carnes says. The most popular oval pools are 15 feet by 30 feet. The depth of your pool depends on the wall height. Aboveground pools come in three basic wall heights: 48 inches, 52 inches (most popular) and 54 inches. The higher the wall, the more water the pool will hold.

– Oval or round?

The shape you choose will depend on the size of your yard and local ordinances. Don’t be fooled. Although oval pools appear larger, that is not necessarily the case. A 24-foot round pool actually holds more water than a 15-by-30-foot oval pool. However, a round pool is still less expensive, as it has fewer parts.

– Don’t skimp on the liner.

What most people forget is that an aboveground pool is simply a bottomless frame. The liner is the component that’s most important and most overlooked, says Bethanie Britton, vice president of Country Leisure, a Moore, Okla., retailer specializing in aboveground pools. “The liner is what holds in the water, so don’t cheap out on it. You want one that is a decent thickness of 20 to 25 mils.” Expect to pay about $200 for a good one.

– What’s your budget?

Expect to pay $1,000 to $3,000 for a “pool kit,” which includes the exterior wall, posts, top cap and track. Resin frames will be more expensive than steel. Larger pools can run $2,500 or more. A deck, safety fence or additional landscaping may add thousands of dollars. Still, the total cost should be far less than an in-ground pool, which starts at about $15,000.

– Are you hiring an installer?

Carnes says many customers install their own pools. “If you like to assemble things yourself, you can DIY, but it can be frustrating, because the instructions that come with pools are very generic.” Adds Britton, “Those who are handy can do it, but it definitely takes more than one set of hands.” A professional crew can install an aboveground pool in three to five hours and, depending on pool size, will charge $1,000 to $3,000.

– Factor in extras.

Besides the pool frame and liner, you need a pump and filter system to keep your pool clean and free of debris, algae or other harmful substances. The pump circulates the water, and the filter screens out any debris. A pump and filter average $400 to $650. Britton suggests a two-speed pump, which can run 24/7 on its low setting without using too much electricity. Or consider a timer (about $40) so the pump can operate eight to 12 hours a day instead of continuously. Typically, you’ll choose between a sand or cartridge filter. Sand filters are the most popular and must be replaced every five years. With a cartridge system, you remove and rinse as warranted. Pool covers run another $100 to $300.

– Check with local dealers.

Though many pool retailers have stopped taking orders, you may want to call local stores and ask what they have in stock or when they anticipate delivery. Or you may find some components at one store and the rest at another. If you are flexible and lucky, there may be a pool available. If not, ask about preorder discounts. Many retailers are offering 2020 prices for pools that will be delivered in 2021.

– Think outside the box.

Still desperate for an aboveground pool and willing to take a nontraditional route? Check out stock-tank pools, which have been Instagram darlings for a few years. Stay-at-home mom Carolyn Silliman bought a seven-foot one in May for her Omaha home. Only two feet deep, the pool is perfect for Silliman’s toddler to splash in or for her and her husband, Cort, to cool off in when temperatures climb.

The tank, which Silliman painted a bright yellow, arrived on a semi and was dropped in the driveway. The couple installed it themselves on a small concrete pad. “If I wanted a bigger pool, I’d need a permit, but because this was so small, I didn’t,” she says. Total cost, including the pump, filter and delivery, was about $1,000. “It’s a semi-permanent, low-risk option. We use it daily, and I love it,” she says. Silliman’s go-to site for tips is stocktankpool.net.

– Inflatables may be your best option right now.

With the scarcity of aboveground pools, you might want to consider an inflatable pool. These typically run $100 to $200 and are easy to install. They aren’t kiddie pools, but self-standing, aboveground pools with thick plastic walls large enough for several adults. Try searching online for “inflatable aboveground swimming pool” or check Craigslist.

“Inflatables are absolutely an alternative,” says Britton, who suggests buying a better filter and pump than what comes standard, as she finds them insufficient at really keeping the pool clean. Inflatables are also a good way to decide whether you are pool people before upgrading to a more permanent item. Just be sure to place your order now, so you can have it in time for summer 2021.

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Denver-based writer Laura Daily specializes in consumer advocacy and travel strategies.

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