Above Ground Pools & Equipment Reviews
For the best above ground pool; Covers, Vacuums /Cleaners, Heaters, Filters, Pumps, and Pool Liners, please follow the links above.
Which is the Best Swimming Pool?
Many other “pool reviews” articles on the internet are not honest opinions. In this article, I will offer you a lot of information such as:
- Recommend pools for every budget
- Explain the difference between an entry-level pool and the best above ground pool
- Discuss size and shape as it relates to value and building
- List the top-rated pools and manufacturers for any budget.
I can do all this because over the past 30 years I have been a dealer for all the different manufacturers. Plus I worked on the above ground pools that were here before me, so I know better than anyone what to look for.
Quality Above Ground Pool Traits – Video
The majority of above ground pools are a single sheet of steel or aluminum. These pool walls are rolled out and then the two ends are mechanically connected together with screws. Thus giving this wall type the name “rolled wall.
All above ground pool manufacturers vary the quality and thickness of the wall materials to offer lower price points.
The best above ground pool walls are constructed of thicker materials. Many elite pool walls are formed by joining together small panels. This is why they are often called slat wall or panel pools.
The pool wall is the most important part of your pool. My top ten list below of the best above ground pools is based primarily on wall strength.
In the real estate market it is location location location… With Above ground swimming pools it’s wall, wall wall.
All above ground pool stores buy pools from distributors or direct from the manufacturer. Then they add accessories to make up their above ground pool package offerings.
Package Accessories Include
- The Pool Liner
- The Skimmer
- Pump – For Circulation
- Pool Filter
- Lastly A Ladder or Steps
With above ground pool accessories like the ones listed above, they have the option to package good, better, or best from each category.
In a race to have the most competitive price (lowest price), many above ground pool packages have a weak link or two.
Intex Pools Are Only The Best For Small Budgets
While Intex above ground pools are a great value, and I included them in my video. They don’t have a place in an article called best above ground pools. They are soft sided pools with small filters and weak ladders that only last 1-5 years.
The thing I like about them is you know what you are getting for your money. I am not knocking them, just this is not the place to discuss splash pools
Review & Rating Factor – #1. The Pool Wall!
The Basis For My Pool Reviews & Ratings – What Makes An Above-Ground Pool Good? The Pool Wall…
Nine times out of ten, when an above ground swimming pool needs replacing, it is because the wall rotted/rusted out!
Aluminum Versus Steel Above Ground Pool Wall Comparison
Many very knowledgeable customers I speak to on the phone point out that steel is stronger than aluminum. They are right! However, what they don’t realize is that an aluminum above ground pool wall is thicker than steel pool walls.
In some cases as with premium aluminum above ground pools, the wall is almost twice as thick making the aluminum just as strong if not stronger than the thinner steel models.
Add to this argument that steel rusts and rots out faster than aluminum oxidizes and you see why aluminum pool walls are superior.
Above Ground Pool Framing – Top Rails and Verticles
The frame of the pool is nowhere near as important as the wall. Manufacturers have taken to making huge resin top rails and vertical posts, when they would be way better off putting the extra money into thicker pool walls made of superior American steel or even better, aluminum.
Once a pool gets built, you could remove all the top-rails and vertical uprights, it would stand just fine!
They build pools with over-sized top rails to make them “look” stronger, and so China can’t compete. China suppliers need to ship via containers across the ocean. Bulky resin upright and top rails that don’t pack easy cost way to much to ship.
15′ X 30′ Oval Pool Versus. The 24′ Round Pool
If you want the best value, you should know, you will always get more pool for your money if you buy a round pool. A 24 round is larger than a 15 x 30 oval by 55 square feet. A 24-round swimming pool holds one thousand five hundred gallons more water than a 15 x 30.
A 15 x 30 is harder to install, and as such installation cost about $800.00 more, the 15 x 30 pool package usually cost $800.00 – $1200.00 more (buttress vs. non-buttress), so that is $1600.00 – $2000.00 more for a smaller, pool. When you compare the differences, you begin to understand why the 24 round is the most popular and the best above ground pool choice.
The 24 is also easier to maintain. Round pools naturally have better circulation. Better water flow provides less dead spots for algae to form and allows the skimmer to catch more debris.
Negatives Of Oval Swimming Pools
Oval pools require buried straps or buttresses to support the straight side walls. Often you find these side walls leaning out as the straps or buttress supports begin to settle. Usually, as the side supports sink just a little, the connecting-strap that runs from one side to the other across the bottom of the pool starts to raise up, causing the somewhat sharp metal strap to contact your pool liner.
Best Above Ground Pool Reviews
- Buster Crabbe – Aquasport 52 (Aluminum) Slat Wall (Most Versitile)
- Buster Crabbe – Admiral’s Walk Pool (Aluminum) Slat Wall with Deck
- Wilkes / Gibraltar Rectangle (Steel) Slat Wall with Deck
- Kayak Pools (Aluminum) Panels with Deck
- Wilbar – Optimum Aluminum Panel Pool
- Radiant – Radiant Aluminum Insulated Panels
- Intrepid / Oasis by Wilbar (Aluminum) Slat Wall
- MGK Pool’s – (Aluminum) Rolled Wall Three Models
- Doughboy – Saratoga or Tuscany (Steel) Rolled Wall
- MGK Pools Atlas (Steel) Rolled Wall
There are literately several hundred pool models you could choose. Each of these manufacturers makes 12 to 20 models alone, combining for hundreds of pools. These are my top ten favorites based on strength and durability.
My opinion and that of every installer I have ever talked with agree, the best above ground pool is the Buster Crabbe / Aquasports Pools LLC Aluminum Slat wall pools (#1 and #2).
The main thing that separates these pools from all other pools is their wall. Made of thickest extruded aluminum. They really should not be classed with traditional above ground swimming pools. The strength and durability of these models are in a class by themselves.
The Aquasport 52 is an above ground pool / semi-inground pool / inground pool Aquasport 52 Brochure
I have personally worked on, repaired, assembled, and disassembled thousands of above ground pools over my career. There has never been a better swimming pool kit.
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Reviews Of Above Ground Pool Companies
I will now review each of the above ground pool manufacturers whos pools are in my top-10 list. Also, I will discuss some popular pool brands and offer my opinions and insights.
I hope you will forgive that I have ranked many of the pools I sell as the best. I certainly have a conflict of interest but I am hoping you know enough now to decide for yourself.
So, the first pool company I will review is my own manufacturer Buster Crabbe Pools.
Buster Crabbe Swimming Pool Reviews
Buster Crabbe Pools, aka Aquasport Pools LLC out of New Brunswick NJ is the oldest above ground pool company still owned and operated by the original founding family.
I can not speak highly enough about the second and third generation of this company. They are of the highest character. All I can say is that this is a pool company that has never lost its identity. It is run by the owners… If you call one of three people will answer the phone Andrew or Steve (The founder’s sons), or Greg, Andrews Son.
If your not a distributor of above ground pools, I would urge you not to call them as they are usually swamped and do not sell to the public. I personally love that they have never sold out and are personally invested in their brand.
While most other swimming pool companies have different quality pool walls, Buster Crabbe only sells one. The steel wall on their least expensive pool is just as good as their most expensive. They decided a long time ago not to sell garbage. Another important distinction is that their aluminum walls are thicker than any other manufacturers.
- Integrity & Pride
- All Buster Crabbe rolled wall pools are of the same great quality steel
- All models have an upgrade option to an aluminum wall which is the thickest in the industry
- Buy Steel from US Steel Mills
- Have pool liners made to fit the exact dimensions of their pools
- 95% of pool liners are premium grade
- The Aquasport 52 Slat wall Pool can get installed on-ground semi-inground or completely inground
- No in-wall step option
- Lack of dealer/installers around the country
This company is very well known and may be older than Buster Crabbe Pools. The truth is that Hoffinger enterprises now own Doughboy Pools. Few people know who Hoffinger is, so that is why I am calling this a Doughboy pool review and not leading with Hoffinger.
I used to be a dealer of Doughboy Pools, so I know a few things. I often suggest to people who call me to buy a pool but cannot find an installer, to look for a Doughboy Dealer near them.
- Doughboy Pools higher end resin pools have very robust framing
- They have beautiful decorative wall prints
- There is optional an in-pool wall step that is like an inground pool
- They buy steel from US steel mills
- They have a lot of dealers, especially in the South West United States
They only sell rolled steel wall pools, and while their best above ground pool walls get reserved for the Tuscany and Saratoga models, their less expensive pool models have lesser pool walls.
- Big disappointment that they do not have a slat wall model or even an aluminum option.
- For the price of their premium above ground pools, you could buy a slat wall/panel pool from Wilbar or Aquasport Pools.
Wilbar Pool Company Reviews
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, Optimum, Intrepid and Atlantic to name a few.
This company just bought all the above ground pool manufacturing equipment from the now 2019 defunct Swim n’ Play pool company. They did this to prevent another player from getting into the above ground pool manufacturing business. The equipment is just sitting in their parking lot rotting away as I
Largest Supplier Of Above Ground Swimming Pools
Wilbar is now the largest supplier of cheap steel wall pools in the country. They provide pools to SCP Distributors, Baystate Pools Distributors, Namco, Leslie’s and a many many big box stores, as well as too little mom and pop pool shops. If not for articles like this and educated shoppers like you they would crush the rest of the above ground pool industry.
There are many different models under the Sharkline and Atlantic Brands. These are mostly entry-level cheap above ground pools with steel walls made for the unsuspecting masses.
I have no use for the Atlantic or Sharkline models. But, I think their Intrepid /Oasis slat wall pool is good quality. I also like the Optimum above ground pool; they are just a bit over-priced when you compare them to the Aquasport 52 which I consider being far superior.
- Widely available all over the country
- Aluminum panel pool
- The Optimum can be installed on ground semi-inground or completely as an inground
- Has an in-wall step system like an inground
- The Intrepid is an aluminum slat wall pool
- Intrepid can be buried up to 3 feet in the ground
- Wilbar sells mostly cheap steel wall pools
- Most models packages with thin pool liners
- Their premium models cost more than other better pool models
- Customer Support is below average and that is saying something because all pool companies customer support is weak at best due to high demand and limited supply
Namco Above Ground Pool Reviews
Namco filed chapter 11 a few years back. They primarily screwed over Wilbar, which was their largest supplier of swimming pools to the tune of millions of dollars.
Flash forward to 2019 – Namco sold out to a Canadian company last year and I do not know anything about the outfit that bought them.
In my eyes, the old brand was a dealer of trashcans for pools that they lined with garbage bags for pool liners. They sold the lowest quality Waterway filters, and pool pumps to unsuspecting, ignorant consumers.
Leslie’s Pools Reviews
While we are talking about pool companies that are selling out we should note that a Chinese company bought out Leslie’s Pools in 2018.
I believe the good name of Leslie’s Pools will be used to sell Chinese above ground pool garbage until the Leslie’s Pool name is no longer good.
I have always found them to be overpriced sellers of Wilbar pools and did not see them lasting in the age of internet disruption. Good for you Leslie’s for selling out while the getting was good and buyer beware now.
Wilkes / Gibraltar Above Ground Pool Reviews
If you own a Gibraltar above ground pool, you probably already know it is a Wilkes pool that has been re-branded. Wilkes gave Gibraltar the whole New England territory. Rumor is, the Gibraltar family bailed out Wilkes when they were going out of business back in the 70’s.
Anyway, what that means for people in Massachusetts is that the Gibraltar family has a monopoly on the pool, as the Wilkes company protects the Gibraltar brand, by not selling parts or pools to anyone in New England :(.
Gibraltar Improved Quality & Design
Their pool is high-end and lasts a long time, especially now that they have gotten away from their wood decks. The new aluminum decks are a real improvement on the pool. Also, the slat walls make it a billion times stronger than other regular steel above ground pools.
- Long lasting strong swimming pool
- New Aluminum Deck
- Steel slats that rot out most significantly at the skimmer and return jet openings is a big negative.
- Lack of customer support, If you ever have to call for parts or repairs down in Hopkinton MA it is apparent they know they have a monopoly.
- The wall height is just 48 inches, four inches below today’s standards. With a finished water hight of 44 inches, I find it very shallow
- Lastly cost, For the same or less money you could have bought an Admiral’s Walk – The best above ground pool money can buy.
Radiant pools are just coming back onto the market after a 20-30 year hiatus. The Radiant design used to be sold as Dover Pools back in the day, and they were sold only as an inground pool then.
Now they are being marketed as an above-ground pool you can bury. The Dover pools were awful, and sales competitors used to carry a section of their wall around with them to show how the super thin aluminum skins oxidized and turned to Swiss Cheese.
I looked Radiant Pools over at the 2014 Atlantic City Pool And Spa Show; The sales rep said the Dover pool got redesigned but my buddy Dave who spotted it right off as a Dover Pool says it looks just like the old one.
I did like the way they’re assembled and thought the idea was good. I can see where people could easily get duped because the wall panels look substantial.
Radiant Construction & Durability
Radiant Pools promotional message is that because of their insulated wall pools are less expensive to heat and keep warm. But most people know heat rises, and most heat is lost out the top, not through the pool walls. Silly marketing people. Like a 1 or 2 degrees difference make them worth all the money.
I met with a Radiant Dealer at the 2016 pool and spa show in Atlantic City, who had several pools with ice damage. He was pissed that they did not cover the cost of labor or the vinyl liner. They only gave him replacement panels, ouch. He sent me the pictures above.
The walls are like 2 1/2 inches thick. However, they sandwich Styrofoam between two thin pieces of aluminum. Since when has styrofoam been a structural component? They don’t even make good coolers.
I believe Radiant Pools would be okay in warmer climates like West Virginia or Kentucky and points further South. However, they are more expensive than the Aquasport 52, which I consider a better pool.
Best Above Ground Pool For Your Budget $5500.00 – ish
You can buy a very good 24 round above ground pool package for between $2700.00 and $4000.00. With excavation, installation, and setup you will have to add $1600.ish depending on your part of the country. Add a couple hundred ($200.00) for the cost of water and another $600.00 to $1000.00 for electrical services and you are all in for $5300.00 to $6600.00
You could save $500.00 buying a cheaper pool with a thinner pool liner, and maybe a sand filter with a one-speed energy hog pump. But you would end up having to replace the whole thing in 1-5 years. Just realize you end up losing $4000.00 to save $500.00.
Above Ground Pools For Bigger Budgets 15k-ish
Believe it or not, even the best above ground pool is half the price of a cheap inground pool. If you bought the Admirals Walk 16×24 for $9350.00 and spent 5k on adding accessories, installation, and setup, you would have the pool, the deck, the security fence, the whole sha-bang!
Want a 16×32? Add about another 2k. Still half the price on that cheap inground with cement patio. Plus its a lot harder for leaves to blow into an above ground pool.
Maybe your not a fan of prefab aluminum decks? No problem, the Aquasport 52 pool is the most design-friendly most robust pool you can buy. A 24 round is just about 9k all in with installation. That leaves you quite a bit of cash to build a deck and do some landscaping.
There is no dodging the conclusion that the best pools have panel or slat walls, and are superior to those made of rolled coil stock. I am not knocking rolled wall pools. Doughboy’s high-end models and those of my manufacturer Buster Crabbe last over 30 years, much longer if they are aluminum.
The long and short of it is that the best above ground pool will have the best pool wall. Also, your package will have a great pool liner, energy efficient pool pump, a large filter, and other great accessories. I hope I have helped you. Please click the Like button below with the blue star next to it.