Above Ground Pool Reviews & Advice

By reading our above ground pool reviews you should be able to make a more informed choice when it comes time for you to pick the best pool for your family. All pools are not created equal! There are huge differences in materials, design, and overall quality from one manufacturer to another.

In an effort to be competitive and compete on price, pool stores may package together a decent pool kit with a sub-par pump, filter, vinyl pool liner, or ladder. Everyone of these elements determine your future maintenance costs, and how long your pool will last.

Consider this: I am frequently called on to replace pool liners for pools that are only 1 to 3 years old. With the average pool liner installation costing a minimum of $800.00 you can see where it may be beneficial to spend an extra $100 or $200 upfront for a quality liner.

Aside from considering construction and design of the pool kit, it is important to get a heavy / thick mil pool liner, a solid pool ladder with an extra wide base, and a quality pool motor and filter. If you go for a package, make sure you are getting all quality accessories. You know the weakest link in the chain story, and it really applies with above ground pool components.

Round Pool Vs. Oval Pools

Lets compare a 24′ round to a 15′ x 30′ oval pool. First thing you should know is the 24 is bigger by 100 square feet. It actually holds about three thousand gallons more water than the 15 x 30. 100 square feet will accommodate more people in the pool if that is important.

The 24 is also easier to maintain, round pools naturally have better circulation. This leaves less dead spots for algae to form. If you put your deck on the end of a 15 x 30, like so many do, you will not be able to skim or vacuum the entire pool without getting in the pool, or trying to work over the side, service poles are not long enough.

By design, the 24 is much stronger and will last longer. The weaker oval pools require buried straps or buttresses to support the side walls. Often you find these side walls leaning out as the straps or buttress supports begin to settle.

A 15 x 30 cost about $800.00 more to install, and $1000.00 more for the pool package. This is $1800.00 more for a smaller, weaker pool. When you compare the differences, you begin to understand why the 24 round is the most popular of all the above ground pool choices.

Above Ground Pool Brands Versus Pool Models

There are several great above ground pool brand names to choose from. Most of these brands, or manufacturers have been around for 30- 70 years with good track records. All of these brands each sell 6-10 different models or types of above ground pool.

The reason each of these brands sell different models, are so that they can fit the budget of anyone. If you bought the top of the line model from any of the brands I’m going to list shortly, you would get a decent pool.

However, Some of these great pool brands sell some real garbage when you get down to there less expensive offerings. If you are in the market for a decent pool with a small budget, I will mention a couple models would serve you well.

I will list which of them sell the best pool, the second best, the best value, then I will select the best model for tighter budgets. The brands I have selected in no particular order are: Wilbar Group, Swim & Play, Wilkes, and Hoffinger Industries.

Best Pool On The Planet

Doughboy Saratoga StepsHoffinger Industries is a great company, and they make fantastic swimming pools and equipment. Hoffinger is the manufacturer of Doughboy and Embassy. Doughboy’s Tuscany model makes the top of the list, as the best of the best. A cool feature available on Doughboy pools is their bolt in the wall staircase. These are permanent steps, just like an inground pool. The Tuscany is considered a resin pool, but that really only describes the uprights and the top rails. Their steel wall and frame is the best in the whole industry.

You can step down several levels and still get one heck of a pool from Doughboy. The Saratoga, Dessert Spring and the Sapphire are extremely sturdy resin pools, and the Palm Shore is the best of the steel pools, better than any other steel pool on the market. The Copper Canyon is another great steel pool. Doughboy has their own line of premium liners, filters, pumps and skimmers. These accessories are not just rebranded, they are all original and of the highest quality.

Hoffinger Industries is here in America, where americans build everything from scratch, out of raw materials right down in Arkansas. They have a 660,000 square foot facility, and  have been in business since the 1940’s.

Embassy Above Ground Pools

If you don’t want to fork out all the cash for a Doughboy Pool, but want a good pool, consider the Embassy line, also from Hoffinger Industries. Embassy pool walls are good, and the inexpensive accessories they include, make their packages better than the entry level junk you find around here.

The walls are thick, and oddly enough the filters look like Doughboy filters??? They also have the same skimmer design that is completely unique to Doughboy??? This might have something to do with the fact they are made by the same manufacturer. Despite my sarcasm, make no mistake, Embassy is not Doughboy! There is no coil stock pool wall thicker, stronger, or treated like a Doughboy!

Best Value Above Ground Pools

I have settled on the Paragon for the most bang for your buck. I have priced it out with installation and premium accessories. You can learn more about it in our post on above ground pool packages.

The Paragon is also branded under the name Serenity, though both are made by Swim ‘N Play. There are minor differences, but they are essentially the same pool. This is a steel pool, with a good wall, massive uprights, and wide top rails for added strength.

I was torn about which pool to make my best value. It really comes down to best total package. There is a Doughboy pool I would have chosen, even though it is a few hundred more dollars. But with Doughboy, you also have to include shipping fees of 2-3 hundred. Pushing the cost just to high.

I am able to package some better elements with the Paragon, like a two speed pool motor from Pentair, and a 200 lb Pentair Sand Dollar filter, 20 mil liner, and a really high end A-frame ladder from Lathem. But, because of the cost difference, I am also able to offer the Frog in my Paragon Package. I love the frog!

Great Pool For Smaller Budgets

Swim’N Play, Inc.

Swim’N Play have been around for almost 40 years and I have chosen one of their models for best value (Paragon). They are a trusted brand with great reviews around the web and have over 8 models to choose from. They offer steel, aluminum and resin pool models. They’re also made in America.

While their Paragon is the strongest of the line, the deluxe 8000, and Galveston are also solid options.

Low Cost Asian Metal Pools

I find the metal of the imported pools to thin, and more prone to rotting out. I suspect it is because they use cheap recycled metals, though I can’t say for sure. But, cheap asian pools sure are more prone to rotting for some reason.

It pisses me off when I find people have been sold a tin can for a swimming pool, with a trash bag for a liner, for the same money they could have bought something decent. Swim’N Play have an inexpensive model called the Galveston, that is far and away the best pool you can buy at its price point. Also, it is one of the most popular models I sell and install. Or you can upgrade from the Galveston to the Deluxe 8000 for only a hundred bucks more.  And as previously mentioned Embassy’s Century model is another great inexpensive alternative to imports.

Wilbar Pools

This company has been buying up a lot of pool companies / brands, but has itself only been around since 1986. They carry many different brands now: Sharkline, Fantasy, Navigator, and Atlantis to name a few. There are a lot of different models for each brand. I have no use for the Atlantic line, or the Sharkline, but I do love the Fantasy and the Navigator. I would urge you to read the mostly 1 and 2 star reviews around the web (Manta & Merchant Circle) before purchasing an Atlantic or Sharkline pool or any Wilbar pool for that matter.

Like I said, I love the Fantasy and the Navigator pools. However, If this company keeps buying and riding good brands into the ground. I may have to revise my opinion. As of 2014 I still like their aluminum models.

History Of The Best Above Ground Pools

#1 Johnny Weissmuller / Esther Williams Best Above Ground Pools On The Planet!

My opinion and that of every installer I have ever talked with agrees that the best above ground pool on the planet, were the old Johnny Weissmuller (JW) or Esther Williams (EW) pools (Slat walled pools no longer made). These two are actually the same pool but were branded with different aquatic celebrities. The pool is no longer made under the JW or EW brands. It is now called the Fantasy or Navigator. When the Wilbar Group bought this company out, they did not purchase licensing for the JW or EW names, So they had to call the pool something different. The Navigator is the same as the Fantasy, but has  a 54″ wall.

I have personally worked on, repaired, assembled, and disassembled thousands of above ground pools over my career. There was no better pool kit for the money.

Fantasy Aluminum Pools – Reviews

The new Fantasy and Navigator pools come in all popular dimensions, but are a step down in grade from the formerly best built JW/EW pools. Fantasy pools are still a great value, but not the superior pool they once were.  They have an aluminum bead channel that never bends, gets stretched out, gets damaged by the sun or pool chemicals. These kits also have all aluminum walls, all aluminum support tracks (upper and lower) with extruded aluminum walls.

Fantasy Above Ground Pools
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Specs Above Ground Pool Reviews
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Namco Above-Ground Pool Reviews

Keep in mind that the pool industry is not regulated. What one company calls a 25 gauge pool liner may not even be 15 gauge in reality. My personal experience with Namco pools is that the majority of their pool kits and liners are garbage.

I can not explain how cheap and thin their pool liners are. Often customers go buy their own liner at Namco and ask me to install it (I install them). I know a heavy gauge pool liner when I have one in my hands, when I have it heating up in the sun, getting ready to install it. I can tell you right now, I’ve been afraid that one of my fingernails might cut through a Namco liner. Although it says 25 gauge on the box, I often felt like I was working with a garbage bag not a pool liner!

My experience with Namco above ground pool kits is limited to installing liners. In order to replace a pool liner you have to disassemble the upper rails and support bars. All I can say is that the pool walls are much thinner than the ones I usually deal with, and where most other pool manufacturer use metal upper support rails, NAMCO often has a cheap plastic piece, and the walls flop around like a piece of bologna.

It may be that I have only worked on their cheaper models, but I am not familiar enough with their products to say which I have had the displeasure of working with. All I can tell you is I am not a fan of their pools or their liners. But people here in Massachusetts keep buying this stuff. They have a new pool in 2013 that looks like a spaceship, really ultra modern, I have actually heard that it is a sturdy pool.

I have been told by someone who used to work for Namco, they buy their pools from Asia, and they are not sized well. There 24 round is in fact only 23 feet 7 inches. So if you try to install a thick USA liner, it will not fit as well as it should.

If you know anyone in the market for an above ground pool I hope you share this information with them. Also please check out the pools we have begun selling. I think you will be impressed with the pool packages I have assembled for you. Please ask any technical questions in the comments section below, and call (978) 710-8667 or visit our contact page for service inquiries.

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One Response to Above Ground Pool Reviews & Advice

  1. Pingback: Five Great Reasons To Choose Aboveground Pools | Spas Billiards Pools - Myrtle Beach 843-294-3556

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