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In-ground vs. above-ground: Which pool type is right for you?

A deep dive into two popular backyard swimming pool options.

A family plays together in a swimming pool. Credit: Getty Images

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Swimming pools have skyrocketed in popularity since the start of the pandemic. With temperatures heating up across the U.S., backyard swimming pools continue to be in high demand.

If last summer’s inflatable pool no longer meets your needs, you may be considering alternative options like installing an in-ground or an above-ground pool in your backyard. While both are viable ways to stay cool this summer, there are some major differences between in-ground pools and above-ground pools that you need to know. Let’s dive in.

Is your backyard big enough?

An in-ground pool under construction in a residential backyard.
Credit: Getty Images

Make sure you have enough room in your backyard to accommodate a swimming pool.

The size of your backyard is one of the first places to start when deciding between an above-ground or in-ground pool. Do you have enough space to accommodate the heavy machinery an in-ground pool requires for installation? If not, you may want to consider an above-ground pool, which are available in a variety of sizes, including smaller options that you typically don’t find with in-ground pools.

Traditional in-ground swimming pools are better suited for large backyards that have more space to accommodate the barrage of new pipes and the heavy machinery needed during the installation process. Take into account any trees, shrubbery, rocks, and other things that may need to come out before your pool can go in.

Another factor to consider is the amount of space between your home, neighboring property lines, and where you plan to install the above-ground pool. The general rule of thumb is that any type of swimming pool should be installed at least 10 feet from your home and surrounding property lines. This is to help prevent damage to your property (and your neighbors’) in the event something goes wrong. However, code may vary depending on where you live, so be sure to review your local zoning laws or contact your permitting department before you get started.

What to know about installation and material types

Installing an in-ground swimming pool is a full-on construction project that involves digging up your backyard, installing new pipes and wires, and more. On average, it takes roughly 6 to 10 weeks for the design, permitting, excavation, and installation process. However, some pool companies are still experiencing pandemic-related delays and are behind schedule.

Before you sign any paperwork, inquire about the average installation time and any roadblocks that may hold things up. Delays are likely inevitable (as they are in any major home project), but at least you’ll be prepared to handle whatever comes your way.

You’ll also need to decide which type of in-ground pool you want. The three most popular types are concrete (gunite or shotcrete), vinyl, and fiberglass. Concrete is a durable option that should last a lifetime, but it’s typically more expensive and takes longer to install than vinyl or fiberglass. A licensed pool contractor can help you decide on the best type of pool for your backyard—and your budget.

For a quick and less involved installation, go with an above-ground pool made from durable resin, steel, or aluminum. Be strategic about where you place the pool. Avoid installing it over or near septic tanks and buried cable lines, and under overhead wires. The ground should be cleared and leveled before the pool is installed.

Above-ground pools can be purchased online from retailers like Amazon and Walmart and shipped right to your front door. While you can pay a professional to install an above-ground pool, it’s a completely doable DIY project for any eager homeowner to tackle over a few days.

Design and features differ

An in-ground Florida swimming pool pictured next to a home.
Credit: Getty Images

In-ground pools offer more stylish features and finishes than above-ground pools.

With an above-ground pool, you’re locked into choosing between preconfigured shapes and sizes. With an in-ground pool, you can work with the installation company to develop a custom design that’s unique to your backyard. You may opt to add features like a deck or patio, built-in bar, pool screen, underwater lighting, hot tub, or water features like fountains and waterfalls.

Of course, you can spruce up your above-ground pool with a wooden deck built around the exterior or additional outdoor lighting, but these types of pools don’t accommodate as many features and fun designs as in-ground pools.

In-ground pools also have more entry/exit points than an above-ground pool, including stairs in the shallow end that make it easy to wade into the water. Most above-ground pools come with one set of ladder-like stairs to help you climb in and out of the pool.

Additionally, above-ground pools and in-ground pools differ in how deep they can be. Pools installed above the ground are typically between 48-inches to 54-inches deep without any slope to the bottom. In-ground swimming pools offer multiple depths that start shallow (around 3 feet) and gradually get deeper with a slope of up to 9-feet deep (the deeper the better for diving).

Either way, there should still be plenty of space for your favorite pool float.

Do you want a pool for the short term or longterm?

An above ground swimming pool sits in a backyard.
Credit: Getty Images

An above ground pool is easier to break down and remove than an in-ground pool.

If you want a pool that will last you for decades to come, go with an in-ground pool. Expect to perform major maintenance projects on your pool every once in a while. For example, concrete pools will likely need to be refinished every 10 to 15 years and fiberglass pools every 20 years to remain in tip-top shape.

The lifespan of an above-ground pool is less than that of an in-ground pool and ranges from seven to 15 years before you’ll need to have the structure replaced or removed. The liner in your pool will also need to be replaced every five to nine years depending on wear and tear. This type of pool is a good temporary solution for homeowners who don’t want to invest in the permanence of an in-ground pool.

What’s it going to cost you?

As you might expect, an in-ground pool is considerably more expensive than purchasing an above-ground pool. It costs between $38,880 to $69,591 to install an inground pool in your backyard. This averages out to about $51,918, but the final price will vary depending on where you live.

Financing is usually available, and you can use this handy calculator to estimate your potential monthly pool loan payments. For comparison’s sake, it costs roughly $2,500 to buy and install an above-ground pool. Like in-ground pools, that price will fluctuate depending on where you live.

When making a major home investment, you should also consider what, if any, value it will add to your home. It’s long been thought that pools don’t add anything to a home’s value, but if you live in a hot weather climate like Texas or Florida, a pool may be an attractive selling point for potential buyers—and well worth the investment for you in the long run. This is also where an above-ground pool may be a better option for resale, as it’s much easier (and more affordable) for future buyers to remove than an in-ground pool.

If you’re ready to take the plunge into your backyard water oasis, contact a licensed, reputable swimming pool installation company who can help you determine the best pool type for your home and your budget.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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