Introduction: Level an Above-Ground Pool
When we priced summer activities for our kids, we were blown away by the expense. Tack onto that mileage/travel time and we had a conundrum. After a little price-shopping, calculation, and research, we opted to buy an above-ground pool. A big expense in purchasing from a pool store/service is the site preparation and leveling. We decided to save money and tackle it ourselves. Read on to see how me did it!
- Bubble Level - 2' or longer
- 2"x4"x8' - modify to fit your pool diameter
- Drill and Bits
- Tent stake
Step 1: Initial Site Preparation
We picked a spot in our yard that allowed egress on all sides, was close enough to our patio to reduce tracking grass into the pool, and kept our hose/cord length in mind to power the pump and chlorine generator. I used a tape measure straight across from the edge of my patio and added about 18" to the length of my pool for good measure. I marked this spot, then went back to center, marked this point, then marked the outside in each of the other directions.
I began prepping the ground by removing all of the grass with a regular shovel. You could relocate the sod to any bare spots in your yard, just be sure to water it in or the grass will dry out and burn up in the sun. I used a tarp to collect the bulk of the waste I removed, but if you do this, be sure you don't overload it. It's no fun to pull your tarp and have all the dirt spill out as it rips.
Step 2: Leveling Plan
There are lots of options for figuring out level - water levels, plumb bobs, line levels, etc. We opted to use materials on hand and I believe came up with a very time-effective method.
The idea was to set up the site like a clock face with a center pin that an arm could rotate on. The arm is an 8' length of 2"x4" (as straight as possible) with a 2' level taped to the top.
For the center pin, we took a spare tent stake and ground one end down to a point. This will help it drive further into the wooden stake. Take measurements - We'll drill a hole the same size through the end of the stake and add 1/16" to that measurement for drilling through the 8' arm. Our pool is 15' across, so a 16' site was about right. Adjust as necessary for your pool.
Step 3: Making the Stake
The stake is a scrap of 2x4. The pilot hole is drilled into the end grain, centered in both directions. The shape of the stake was created by making angled cuts on the table saw.
For the arm, we're going to drill a 3/8" (5/16+1/16=6/16=3/8) hole through the wide dimension. I don't have a way to support the 8' length and use the drill press, so I made a drill guide. It's just another scrap of 2x4, cut short, that I drilled the same sized hole through at the drill press. Now we can swap the bit over to a handheld drill and use the hole we just drilled to guide the bit perfectly straight through the arm piece. Once I got through the depth of the drill guide, it made a great sacrificial spacer beneath the arm piece.
Step 4: Setting the Stake and Leveling Arm
The stake was driven into the center mark with a sledge. We fine-tuned the surface with taps on the corners to bring it level. It's probably best to partially insert the center pin (tent stake) and check it for vertical level, since this is the point of rotation.
Place a washer above and below the arm while feeding in the pin. We tapped this in the last little bit with the sledge that was still handy. Somewhere around the middle of the arm, place the level and secure it in place. I used electrical tape since it was handy, but zip ties would be a good substitute. If yours has the option, place the level so that the bubble on the edge is facing up so that it's easier to view while standing.
Step 5: Final Leveling
If you've left any major debris or piles of dirt, move them now! Begin rotating the arm around the site. The area we started in was high on the outside. We used flat-bottomed and manure shovels to move soil until the bubble was no longer touching the lines. As you get closer to level, the arm will actually be enough to fix inconsistencies in the site. Bearing down ever so slightly, the arm can move earth like a small front-end loader. For gaps, we recovered dirt that we'd previously move, scattered it lightly around the depressions and used the arm to smooth it in.
This is tedious and can take a while. We ran into several roots, chunks of concrete, and shards of glass. Be sure if you're adding soil back that you tamp down the area several times. Settling will still occur, but we want to minimize this as much as possible now before the weight of the pool exacerbates this. You could use a tamping tool if you have one, but we didn't find it necessary.
Step 6: Finishing Up
Once the site is level, spread out the ground cloth. Any wrinkles here will transfer to the bottom of the pool. We found that weighing down each corner with bricks made it easier to pull the tarp tightly in the remaining directions until there were no hard creases or wrinkles. We next spread out the pool across the tarp. If you're just unpacking for the first time, it's best to unwrap it and spread the pool out somewhere else to be warmed by the sun for an hour or two. You'll have a much easier time handling and manipulating the wrinkles out of it. Position the inlet/outlet hose fittings in the direction you'll have your filter/pump and chlorine generator. This would be a great time to test fit the distance of your hoses -- it's much easier to rotate the pool now before needing to empty it.
Once water starts filling, you'll be able to get a really good sense of how level it is. Most of the do-it-yourself pools have block/tile patterns on the inside. Counting from the top, you can visually compare the depth of the water quite quickly and easily. Most instructions will tell you that the maximum tolerance is 1" of difference. We were able to get ours to about 1/4" overall.
That's it! I'd love to hear what methods you've used for leveling in the comments down below. If you liked this article, be sure to check out some of my other work and find me on social media!
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I use to install above ground pools for a living and wanted to add a couple of tips.
1. Never level up! Don’t take earth from one area and add to another because the digging is hard. It will settle down and you can have a lopsided and possibly a dangerous pool. Put in the extra work and always remove high spots and level to your lowest point.
2. Consider using grass killer even after you have removed all turf. Nutgrass and some other grasses can and will grow up through the bottom of a pool liner. I’ve seen it multiple times. Most people don’t believe it can happen. We used a powerful herbicide and kept the grass line 24 inches away from the bottom of the pool. Pool liners are expensive!
Do you leave it up all year? If not, what do you do with this spot the rest of the year?
I can see merit, if you are going to level the spot with this degree of accuracy, put down paving stones, or patio stones to a point beyond the pool, and extending to the existing patio. This gives you an extended patio during the non-pool season.
There may be liability issues with making your pool accessible to neighbour kids, especially of you are not supervising. This can be a concern if you are away for any period of time. A pool can be considered an 'attractive nuisance'. Some years ago, a chemical company was found at fault for having a pool of battery acid, behind a 6 foot fence, far from a residential area. Kids climbed the fence and were killed when they jumped into the acid. Court ruled that it "looked" like a pool. Fence needed to both opaque and kid proof.