What to Put Under an Above Ground Pool: The 8 Best and Worst

You have finally taken the plunge and purchased an above ground pool. All you see are long summer days, cool summer nights, and endless fun in between. Now for the installation, where to start? What are the best and worst materials to put under your above ground pool? 

Under your above ground pool, you can put an earth base, sand bottom, concrete pads, commercial pad, solid foam, flooring underlayment, and even carpet. Each offers a different type of protection, weight capacity, and ability to withstand piercing by sharp objects such as rocks or roots. 

When it comes to what you put under your above ground pool, of course you want to make sure that you choose an option that is going to protect your pool but is also going to last. Continue reading below to see the 8 different options for what can go under your above ground pool and find out the most essential points to consider before breaking ground on your pool’s base.  

8 Things You Can Put Under Your Above Ground Pool 

For years you have wanted a pool in your backyard. Envy finally ate away at you enough that you finally took the opportunity to make your dreams a reality and you are looking at having your pool up within a matter of no time. You may think that the liner, your pool walls, and even the deck require the most attention. But as quickly as things can come together, the base of your pool is the most important place to start.

Why do you think that is? When it comes to any structure, the foundation is the one point that is going to make or break the stability of that structure and thus, how long it remains in that exact spot. 

For your above ground pool, this is no different. There must be a solid, dependable, functional, and level base beneath your pool to ensure that your liner stays intact and that your pool, when installed, is well supported and level. 

Obviously, some types of materials are going to do this better than others. Because of this, it is important to consider a variety of factors. Still, here are 8 types of materials that you can put under your above ground pool as you begin your installation process- ranked in terms of what we found to be the best and the worst (yet all are still very commonly used).

1. Vermiculite 

The name vermiculite may feel a bit foreign coming off the tongue, but this is a material that works spectacularly well underneath your above ground pool. Vermiculite is actually a natural mineral that is processed under extreme heat in order to allow expansion. 

When mixed with concrete, it helps to create a material that is dense and level, but also one that is very absorptive to pressure. For all you pool owners, this means less pressure on your liner but still plenty of strength within the foundation. 

The flexibility of this material helps to keep concrete from cracking due to shifts in the earth. This material is essentially an added support to an already sturdy option for your pool’s base. It is inexpensive, is easy to combine with concrete, and the mixture can easily be set without the aid of professionals if you trust your own DIY abilities.

2. Commercial Pads 

An amazing (yet pricier) option for your above ground pool base is commercial pads. These come in a multitude of sizes and can even be cut down if you get yours in and it is a bit too big for your space. Commercial pads are made from durable materials and are extremely reliable when it comes to having a base that can withstand the wear and tear of people being in your pool, but also the beating that weather can have on it as well. 

A commercial pad is easy to install and is done within minutes once you have everything unpackaged. They serve their purpose of keeping your pool level and protected and are reliable over time. 

However, as many of you have likely already guessed, all of this good does come with quite a hefty price tag. Because of their quality, commercial pads are some of the most expensive options out there for your pool base. 

In this case, you will have to weigh the quality and price against one another. Are you looking for a solution that is going to work well with your liner, is not going to erode, and can last as long as your pool stays put? Or are you completely content to have a base that is a bit less reliable, but will work well and won’t cost you as much as a commercial pad? The choice here is completely yours.

3. Earth Bottom 

When it comes to using a natural product beneath your pool, there is nothing more organic than the Earth’s crust. Although this may seem too easy to be functional, many above ground pool owners simply use the dirt that the earth provides to put under due to the ease of this option, its affordability, and its ability to withstand corrosion and weathering well. 

This does not mean that you plant your pool on any spot straight on the grass though. To implement using the ground as the base beneath your pool you will want to completely remove any grass with about four extra inches bigger than your pool’s circumference. (This will allow for easier placement of the pool as well as giving the base room to settle.) 

You will then work to remove any debris within that area such as rocks or sticks as they can easily penetrate and rip your pool liner. To be extra thorough, rake the area to upset anything that might be right below the surface so that you can ensure no debris makes its way up. 

Then proceed to level the area with a large wooden board and a level (it will be very obvious with the board where you need to level more). Once you have things level, span the entirety of the area with and tamp down the dirt as tightly as possible. When you have the whole space compacted together, level, and free of any debris, you are ready to proceed with the installation of your above ground pool. 

Keep in mind though, that because this is organic, it does not allow you with the best protection against anything penetrable that comes under your above ground pool via the natural movement of the earth. So, if you plan to use the shade from your backyard tree to cover your pool, be mindful that this tree’s roots could eventually penetrate the surface of the ground and disrupt the pool’s base.

4. Sand Bottom 

The next most natural and most common option is a sand bottom. This is an extremely affordable option and one that can be completed within an hour or so from start to finish – which is why this is so appealing to so many above ground pool owners. 

This base would be set within a dirt bottom that is carved out and thus would act like a type of filler to the space. However, there are a few points that should be considered before going this route. Sand works well for many pool owners, but it is not as solid of a base as dirt is. 

Sand, even when tamped down, will move beneath your pool due to pressure put on the sand from the water as well as people standing within the pool. This can create small divots within the pool and will cause it to be bumpy rather than completely smooth and flat. This is not a huge problem for your pool, but simply a cosmetic inconvenience. 

Those divots can make it unpleasant to walk on and can also make it very difficult to clean and vacuum effectively. Many people are able to use a roller to smooth out the surface from time to time when things get a bit too rough. Still, it is important to be aware that this could be an extra step you have to take post-installation. 

Realistically, insects are also able to make more substantial tunnels within sand which can cause the base to be less stable, so this might be of more concern to you than the extra work should you live in an area prone to tunneling insects. 

5. Concrete Pads 

If you want to ensure that your base is unmovable, investing in a concrete pad is a smart option. Concrete pads are more costly than dirt (obviously) and sand bottoms, but they will afford you the peace of mind in knowing that the base of your pool is solid and unmoving. Even with them being costlier than more natural options, they are not outrageously priced and offer your pool a level base that will never divot or erode. 

This option is as solid as stone when it comes to its ability to weather, but even with concrete being a very level material, it is not one that is naturally smooth. Over time, the rough surface of the concrete could wear on your pool liner and cause it to then and eventually tear. If you want to be ultra-cautious, consider installing either a pad or foam over the base of your concrete slab in order to avoid any irritation to your pool liner. 

Another point when installing a type of material like this is that it could be much more difficult to remove if you were to decide to change to an underground pool or end up trying to put your piece of property up for sale. 

Essentially, you would have to remove the concrete pad, re-level the land, and fill it with dirt and grass for someone who preferred not to have it. If you are staying on your property for the long haul, then this is irrelevant, but it is a point to consider for those of you who are in more temporary or short-term homes.

6. Foam 

No, you will not be using the kind of foam that fills up stunt pits as the base of your above ground pool, but you could use a dense, durable foam pad. At the mention of this material, you may be thinking that it would be something that is thick and somewhat penetrable. 

However, foam pads are very thin, very dense, and very good at protecting your liner from any wear and tear that can come from concrete pads. This is where foam pads are used the most often – on top of a concrete base. 

If you want to protect your liner a bit more, purchasing a roll of foam padding is an affordable, manageable, and customizable option for any pool. You can also use this material on top of your earth base if you went the more natural route in order to protect your pool from any random rocks that may make their way up to the surface of the earth over time. 

This liner can be pricey, but there are many brands out there that can fit most budgets. The important thing to remember in this instance is that opting for the cheapest option may end up costing you in the long run. 

You want to purchase a foam liner that is a quality material that can withstand the general wear and tear that comes with the use of your pool. If you find something of low-quality, it is more prone to ripping and thus loses its purpose to protect the liner of your pool. 

7. Carpet Padding 

Carpet padding is certainly the more economical option when compared to commercial pads (listed above). This material is relatively thick and will wear relatively well over time. Carpet padding can be used for your above ground pool on its own or can even be used as a cover for your concrete pad. It is an affordable option that keeps the bottom of your pool flat, will not tear at the liner of your pool, and fairs relatively well to weathering. 

This material, as mentioned, is less expensive than commercial pads, but this must be taken with a grain of salt. Because of their affordability, they are a bit thinner than more expensive padding and may need to be doubled up when installed. 

They are also more susceptible to damage due to the nature of the material. This material is a bit more absorptive and thus, its structure can change over time and become a bit less dependable. 

8. Combination of Materials

If you are really serious about what lies beneath your above ground pool, then you might consider a combination of materials that have been listed above. Truly, if you do not get the base of your above ground pool right, then you could have some serious issues ranging from safety and structural soundness to simple aesthetic appeal. 

So, if you are looking to use a combination of materials to put under your above ground pool and for the added support, you could use a combination of a concrete pad and foam or carpet padding (as mentioned above). Further, you could include a well-leveled earth bottom complemented by a commercial pad added on top.

In using the combination of the above options, you are taking greater precautions for protecting your pool and ensuring a long-lasting backyard investment. So, while adding more than one “base material” could heighten your price tag upfront, it would do well for your long-term budget.

What to Consider Before Installing the Base of Your Above Ground Pool?

Buying a pool can be a calculated decision for some, but can be a very spur-of-the-moment decision for others. Regardless, each is going to end up with a pool that will change the dynamic of their summer days for as long as it remains at their home – and in the best way possible. 

With all of the excitement that comes with a new pool, there are two main things that you need to consider before you begin breaking ground for the pool’s base. Specifically, you need to know how close your pool is to a power source and your pool’s placement near or under any trees. 

Taking these components into consideration will help you to determine any necessary safety or other precautions that you should take regarding the base of your pool. Let’s take a closer look:

Proximity to a Power Source 

For those of you with a wide-open yard, you may have endless space for a pool. This could mean you can install the pool right near the back of your home, but it could also mean that it could wind up half of an acre away from the main house. Either of these locations is great, but if you are installing an above ground pool, you will have to have access to a power source in order to run your filter. 

This either means that you need to have the base of your pool closer to your home’s exterior, or you need to have a stand-alone power source installed by the area you plan to place your pool. Some people may be inclined to run extension cords from their pool to the main house, but this can be a huge risk. It could cause your filter to short, trip the power in your home, or even lead to a fire. Extension cords are not designed to run at such high voltages. 

Placement Under Trees 

This may seem like an irrelevant point to make, but consider the trees around your pool will be something that will either make or break your experience. If you are someone who wants your above ground pool to be as low-maintenance as possible, installing the base of your pool under a gaggle of trees is a sure-fire way to find yourself resenting your pool every single day due to the constant clean up of limbs, bugs, and leaves. 

However, if you are someone who wants your pool to have a decent amount of shade and enjoy the natural canopy that trees can afford you, installing your pool in an area under a few trees might be the perfect option for you in order to avoid the blazing rays of the sun constantly beating down on you. Trees are wonderful, but many pool owners feel either strongly for them or strongly against them. Choose your side before breaking ground. 

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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