Anatomy Of An Above Ground Swimming Pool
All above ground pools consist of: a wall, a track the wall sits in (top & bottom), connector plates (they connect the tracks), uprights (vertical columns), top-rails (self-explanatory), caps (cover where the top-rails come together), and hardware (screws)… That’s it! The thing that makes one pool better than another, is the quality or thickness of these items, specifically the wall, and the materials they are made from.
I prefer an all aluminum above ground pool versus any other. A close second would be a complete resin pool, with an aluminum wall. People get hung up on steel being stronger than aluminum. Steel is the last thing you want on an above ground pool.
I have worked on pools for over 30 years, and I am working closely with a manufacturer to brand my own line of pools. My manufacturer is the maker of Buster Crabbe and Aquasport pools. They make all my “MGK Pools” (formally Mighty Pools) models for me. They know the pool manufacturing industry as good as anyone.
In an attempt to bring the best swimming pools to market, I have worked closely with Buster Crabbe, and have learned what goes into the manufacturing process, where materials come from, whats best, etc… I have put together this article, to quickly and easily bring you up to speed.
Above Ground Pool Walls
No matter what swimming pool you buy, all above ground pool walls are made of Steel or Aluminum. “Resin Pools” do not have Resin walls, Resin pools have either a Steel, or Aluminum wall. I wrote an article reviewing above ground pools, my ratings are based on the strength, and durability of the wall.
There is no dodging the fact, Steel will rot, and Aluminum will oxidize. As long as there is oxygen on the planet, these are the facts. So your pool wall is going to deteriorate eventually. What you need to know is, how to pick a pool wall that doesn’t do it as quickly. Aluminum oxidizes much much slower than steel rots out. If you get a thick aluminum wall the pool will outlast you!
Aluminum cost a little more but you get twice the pool life over steel.
There are three important factors:
- Thickness of the metal
- Quality of the metal
- Coating and painting that is used to seal the metal
Above Ground Pool Wall Thickness
A thicker wall is stronger and heavier. Steel and Aluminum are commodities that are sold by the pound. More weight equals more cost. So larger pools will naturally weight more, and cost more. Your job is to get as much weight as you can for your money.
Quality Of The Metal
You want a pool wall made of US Steel and or Aluminum. China and Canada ship over hundreds of thousands of pools every year, made of cheap recycled steel. Pool companies over here, like big box stores (*cough Namco), and pop up pool companies, slap a name on them and sell them to people who don’t know any better.
Coating On Above Ground Pool Walls
Even the best metal will oxidize and rot out if it is left untreated. There is a lot of marketing talk when it comes to these coatings and paint jobs. Pool manufacturers trademark names to use for these coatings, so they can differentiate themselves from their competition. Attempt to increase margins.
All Steel walls should be hot dip galvanized coated, and then painted. The thicker the coating and paint, the better. If you should ever chip the coating, be sure to seal it with an enamel based paint. Lawnmowers are famous for kicking rocks at the pool wall and chipping the protection (most important for steel walls).
Pro Tip* Make sure the two holes that are cut into your pool wall. The hole for the pool skimmer and the other hole for the return of filtered water are treated with enamel paint, or that a butterfly gasket is used to keep the pool water off the untreated metal. The needed holes are cut after the wall has been treated and painted, exposing the inner core of the wall. Salty and or chlorinated water will quickly begin the oxidation process (rotting) of untreated steel. This is why you often see rust by these openings in the pool wall.
Aluminum Pool Walls
Nobody sells a thicker aluminum wall than Buster Crabbe / Aquasport Pools. It’s just a fact, I couldn’t say it if it weren’t true. Since I use their walls for my pools too, nobody sells a thicker Aluminum wall than us. Pay more if you want, but you won’t get a better pool.
If you couldn’t tell, I am a huge fan of aluminum walls for obvious reasons (no rust = value). But never decorate an aluminum pool with limestone, or build a pool in an area rich in limestone. Limestone is very aggressive towards aluminum. People love to decorate pools with white limestone rocks.
Conclusion On Pool Walls
It might not surprise you to find out, that many pool manufacturers buy their pool walls from the same suppliers right here in the US. Think about that for a second. While some of these guys use cheaper coatings and paints, Like G60 instead of the better G90. Or some manufacturers buy a lighter less expensive iron. At the end of the day, they are all buying the same product and selling it at different prices.
Their premium walls are just as thick and treated the same as mine. The only difference being the pattern printed on the wall, and the price you are charged. Well, that, and all the marketing talk. People are literally paying thousands more for the same weight of steel, treated the same way. However, I only use the best no matter the pool model I sell, they use cheaper and cheaper materials for their less expensive models.
You may want to pay a little more if you like the overall look of a pool. That makes sense, there is no accounting for taste. But why pay thousands more for something that is not better?
Resin Above Ground Pools
Resin or Composite resin is just another way of saying plastic. The good thing about plastic is it doesn’t rot or oxidize. Many old Steel pools were replaced because the top-rails or caps rotted out. Someone chipped the paint with a service pole or something while cleaning the pool, and before you knew it, a perfectly good pool needed to be replaced because the top-rails rotted out, and were no longer available.
Some resin pools just have resin top-rails and uprights. These pools could better be called hybrids. While some pools are completely made of resin with the exception of the wall and the hardware of course.
If I am not going to buy an all aluminum pool, then I prefer resin top-rails and uprights with an aluminum wall. This is why you see longer warranties with resin pools and aluminum swimming pools.
Aluminum Above Ground Pools
These pools are typically made of all aluminum but may have a few, or many resin components. While these pools don’t rust, they do oxidize. The thicker the aluminum, the longer it will take for oxidation to cause a hole. Tiny pinholes form due to acidic materials like limestone rocks. Avoid these with aluminum pools if possible.
Aluminum pools carry a slightly higher price tag. Materials cost more, and also they last longer than steel.
There are two types of aluminum wall. One comes on a roll and is rolled out on the job, with the ends being mechanically fastened with hardware. The other is made of interconnecting extruded aluminum panels (slat wall).
Pools made of extruded aluminum panels are best. That’s why on my pool reviews page I claim the Aquasport 52 the best above ground pool on the planet. The panels are thicker than any other pool.
Steel Above Ground Pools
Steel pools are made completely of……. you guessed it, Steel. The Wall, Top-rails, Uprights, Track, Connector plates, Hardware, Etc… Steel pools are the most popular (also cheapest). While Steel will rust, it can last a long time if it is thick, properly maintained and installed.
All steel wall pools, except for the one exception mentioned below, come on a roll and are mechanically fastened with a bar and hardware. Steel pools are the cheapest and offer the worst warranty, as they are prone to rotting.
One example and probably the strongest steel wall pool is made by Wilkes, Also called Gibraltar on the East coast. This pool is the only “steel panel” pool I know of. This pool cost roughly $15,000.00 more than the steel pools you see anywhere else.
Cost Of The Three Types
Steel is usually the cheapest of all above ground pools. Resin pools are in the middle of the price range, with aluminum usually the most expensive. Steel is more common as you would expect with the lower materials cost. There is nothing wrong with steel as an option if your only looking to get 10-15 years from the pool, the problem is many are so cheap you are lucky to get 3-5 years.
Salt Above Ground Pools
There is no such thing as a salt above ground pool. There are chlorine generators, commonly referred to as salt systems. These salt systems can be applied to any pool. Some pool sellers disregard manufactures who warn that the use of a system will void the warranty. Some manufacturers condone it, and charge more for the pool, as though the pool were made of some special corrosion resistant metal.
Corrosion proof metal does not exist. However, what they are banking on is that the pool will last for two years. See, your 35 or 50-year warranty becomes prorated after just two years… Yes, two years. So they will gladly send you a new wall because you paid for it when you paid extra for the “salt pool”. But after two years you are responsible for around 50% of the cost of that wall.
Also, you still have to install the wall because labor is not included in the warranty. They may even charge for shipping that 300-pound wall to you. Then you have to buy a new liner (cant reuse the old one), get someone to basically disassemble your pool and install the new wall. This is the same cost as having a new pool installed, and you still need to pay for water.
And guess what… It all starts again in 3-5 years… So please oh please, don’t buy a salt system for your above ground pool. No matter what they tell you. Don’t just take my word for it, check out the science. If your old enough to remember the original Toyota’s, made of cheap Asian Steel??? The cars ran forever, but the bodies rotted right out from under you. In New England, because we SALT the roads, and the fenders turned to Swiss Cheese.
If you are going to disrgaurd this waring, buy aluminum and resin. Make sure there is no steel excapt for the hardware.
Buying An Above Ground Pool Online
You might think it will cost more to buy a pool online because of shipping. Know this… All pools are shipped. I could pay to ship it to me, so I can sell it in my store. Or I can pay to ship it to you. The sweet thing is this… If you live outside of Massachusetts, I won’t collect tax!
Also, If you by a pool from a local pool store, you actually pay the shipping twice. All the cost of getting the pool to you goes into the price set at the store. So you pay for the store to get it delivered to them, and then for them to get it to you. Don’t fall for the marketing. FREE SHIPPING means the cost is already in the price.
Now you know what an above ground pool is made of, and have some additional tips to get you in the right direction.
You may like to read our thoughts on above ground pool liners.
Here is a page where I have put together some swimming pool packages you may appreciate.