How To Choose the Right Size Above Ground Pool

Above ground pools have made swimming and aquaventure accessible to middle-class income families all over the United States. It is understandable why you might be excited to get your very own backyard pool. But even before you can begin selecting the colors and material of your pool, you must figure out what size pool you need.

You should get a 20-foot by 40-foot above ground pool if you want to have fun with a few friends or your family. In case you want to swim for exercise, you’ll need a rectangular-shaped pool with at least a 30-foot length, so you have enough room for a lap.

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution with swimming pools which is why you will learn in this article the steps you must take to decide the best size for your swimming pool, including how to:

  • Figure out the purpose of your swimming pool
  • Determine the free space available
  • Decide your budget
  • Determine the size based on objective, space, and budget

Determine the Purpose of Your Above Ground Pool

Before you attempt to hit a target, you must know where the target is. Starting with your pool’s purpose in mind is advisable as it ensures that you’re not disappointed after investing time and money into your above ground pool.

 Too many people start with their budget and build a pool that isn’t exactly functional for the ends they had in mind. You can always save up for a few months to build the pool you will love. And, generally, that’s a better option than settling for a pool that you won’t really be happy in.

Broadly, there are two main reasons for getting an above ground pool: recreation and exercise. In some cases, people need a pool for physical therapy or pets/kids’ swimming lessons. Let’s explore the best sizes for each type of swimming pool.


Above ground pools for recreation have the lowest barrier to entry. You can start with anything barely above a bathtub’s volume capacity and call it a pool. Generally speaking, you’ll need to have two bathtubs’ worth of capacity per person to have enough room and righteously label your above ground pool a “swimming” pool. If you err on the side of less volume and have over six people in your family, you might end up with a soaking pool instead of a swimming pool. 

A typical bathtub has a 13 square feet surface area. Twice this much would be 26 square feet, and I would advise you to have that much capacity per person in your family. If you’re a bachelor, simply go by the maximum guests you plan to have on a semi-regular basis. 

In other words, if you might have a party with 20 people but only once a year, you might cut pool access. But if you have five to six guests every few weeks, you can go by the 6-people-limit and use our multiply-by-26 criteria to determine how much surface area your above ground pool should have.

Notes on budget and area: Your reasons for having a pool determine the size of your pool, but you might be constrained by area and budget (explored in-depth later). If your budget or space doesn’t allow for the ideal size mentioned above, you can lower the surface area per person to 15 square feet and still have a functional pool. When the pool is at maximum capacity, you will be able to all soak and dip without stepping on toes, and when fewer people use the pool, they’ll have room to swim.


If you’re in the market for an above ground pool so you can exercise, you’ll need a rectangular-shaped pool with enough length to allow you to spend more time swimming than switching directions while renewing laps. 

You have to consider the number of people who will swim simultaneously though most people on a budget will build a two-person pool and use it one at a time. You’ll need a pool to be 6 feet wide for one person and 30-feet long regardless of the number of people swimming simultaneously. Having a pool that’s 12-feet wide and 30-feet long is great for exercise. Two people can swim in it simultaneously without interrupting each other’s strokes.

Notes on budget and area: If you’re on a limited budget or have a smaller area, you can downsize your plans to a 6-feet by 30-feet pool. Unfortunately, you cannot have a pool smaller than 30-feet in length if you want an uninterrupted swimming experience. And if your living space doesn’t have room for that kind of length, you’re better off building a recreational pool instead and getting your exercise elsewhere.

Pets and Kids

In case you want a small pool for your kids or want to teach your dog to swim, you can get an above-ground pool on a budget. You should not put as much effort into the bespoke parts for this kind of pool and look for a button-click solution. 

Three bath tub’s worth of surface area is great for this kind of pool, which comes to an average of 39-square-feet. An entry-level resin pool on the market will be great for pets, and an inflatable above-ground pool will work well for toddlers. 

Notes on budget and area: This option is the cheapest and most area-friendly. It is advisable to get started with this if you’re on the fence about getting an above ground pool in the first place. Having some first-hand experience will put you in a better position when you decide to upgrade.

Determine the Free Space Available

If you need an 800 square-foot pool, you don’t just need 800 square feet of space; you need enough room around the pool to make sure its material is protected from erosion and that there’s enough space to replace filters, frames, and liners without getting stuck. You need at least six feet of space on all sides of your above ground pool.

So if your above ground pool will only be 10-feet long and 12-feet-wide, you must make sure you have at least 16 feet long space with a width of 18-feet. This way, you’ll be able to move freely around the pool and be able to drain the pool when necessary.

Other Factors to Consider

Even though this isn’t a buying guide, I would like to mention a few things broadly related to the area that you should keep in mind when buying your pool.

  • Make sure there’s enough shade to protect your pool from flooding during rain and keep it protected from harsh sunlight. A canopy or a sheet cover can both work. The cover can be used to protect the unused pool from the rain, while the canopy can cover it even when the pool is in use.
  • Avoid building your pool under the trees as it invites too much organic matter. From falling leaves to insects and vermin, your pool will always require cleaning. You need to make sure your space is free from overreaching branches.
  • Make sure you’re not going against HOA policies or the municipality regulations in your region. While most inflatable pools may not require a lot of paperwork, building your own pool might be something that you cannot do without a permit or a no-objection certificate, depending on where you live. This is something to consider, especially if you’re renting an apartment.

Decide Your Budget

The most crucial aspect of turning your vision for your above ground pool into reality is your budget. Knowing how much you afford to spend is going to save you a lot of pain and downgrades in the building process. In this section, we will look at what above ground pools can cost to build and maintain, for each size category.  

Recreational Pool Costs (Above Ground)

These pools are relatively cheaper than ones that accommodate uninterrupted swimming. That’s why, if you’re building a pool for your family or friends, you’re better off building a recreational one that can accommodate more people at a time. 

You can get started with a kit that costs around $800 for such a project. If you’re on a tighter budget, you can save up by installing it yourself. But make sure you follow the precautions and recommendations provided by the manufacturer.

I would resin pool for this variety because they will not come with as complicated an installation requirement as a steel pool. As long as your region doesn’t go through extreme winter, you’ll be able to maintain a resin pool with little maintenance.

While the lower-end costs of a recreational pool start at $800, you can expect to pay up to $2,000 for a high-quality pool building kit if your family is big enough to require a much larger pool. If you only have toddlers and your partner is the only other adult in the family, I would recommend getting a resin pool or a large inflatable one before swapping it for a steel version when the kids reach an active age.

Exercise Pools

If your main reason behind getting an above ground pool is to swim straight laps, you’ll need to avoid manufacturer-driven style pool kits. Nowadays, most above-ground pool building kits advertised online are recreational. You will hardly find designs that accommodate a sports pool above ground. However, all is not lost: there are several above ground options for uninterrupted swimming. It is just that you’ll need to hire a professional installer to help you build the pool.

Recreational pools can come pre-framed, and some, like inflatable ones, require a single button to be ready for a swim. The difference between those pools and the one you’re building is the same as unfolding a folded chair and building one from scratch.

I recommend using steel or aluminum when building such a pool because the material’s strength allows you to make errors and still build a relatively resilient pool. You might need to buy two to three sets of panels and frames which would bring the cost of your raw material to $2,000 (on the higher end), and you’ll have to pay an installer to help assemble everything. 

This cost can differ from state to state based on supply and demand. It might be tempting to find the cheapest option for installation, but saving money on installation professionals is going to have a higher cost in terms of your pool’s integrity. The last thing you want is for your pool to start leaking or sustaining water damage. 

I would rather you saved money on raw material than installation. If you order wooden raw material for your swimming pool, it will cost less depending on the type of wood used. In case you’re on a budget, this is the only place where you can afford to save money without compromising your pool’s longevity. I would set aside at least $3,500 before deciding to build an above ground pool for continuous swimming. 

Pets and Kids

Swimming is an excellent skill for your kids and positive recreation for some pets. Above ground pools for these purposes are not nearly as expensive as ones you may build for the entire family or for exercise. An inflatable pool for your kids will cost around $300, while a resin pool kit for your pets will cost $600, given that it is small enough. The reason you might want to rely on resin for your pet’s pool is that it can withstand scratches. 

Such scratches on a steel or aluminum pool’s exterior can sustain water damage. If you only have kids and no poets, an inflatable pool will last two years, after which your kids might be big enough for a resin pool that is a little more permanent. But if you can afford to build a pool once and for the long term, go with a metal option that costs around $2,000 and construct a pool for general recreation.

Final Thoughts

It is fun to have a swimming pool, but not every house comes with an in-built pool. If you’re fortunate enough to have spare space, whether in the backyard or even in a garage, you can build a pool above ground. While building such a pool, you can make many mistakes, but you must avoid the mistake of choosing the wrong size. Here’s a recap of the post covering steps to select the right size above ground pool.

  • Decide if you want the pool for recreation, exercise, or kids only.
  • Determine the free area in your house and subtract 6-feet from each side.
  • Figure out your budget and select the proper kit/material.
  • Determine the size of the pool by adding the surface area required per person.

Jed Arnold

Jed spent every year from the ages of 15 - 22 as a Lifeguard (Red Cross) and ages of 17 - 22 as a Certified Pool Operator (CPO). Between working for over a dozen facilities and owning a pool, he carries over a decade of pool experience.

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