Building the Pool
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When we first decided to get a pool, we started doing some research on the internet. We found the ideal pool on a website called Pro Pools. We compared their price to the price of similar pools at pool stores in the area. We found that we could save about $2000 by ordering our pool online. Great, now who would set up our pool for us? We called several contractors in our area and found that it would cost us about $1500 to have our pool installed. Well, that's just crazy, we thought. We'll set it up ourselves. Oh, how smug and confident we were back then.

The first thing we did was check our city codes and regulations for installing a backyard pool. We found out that we needed to install our pool at least 10 feet from the property line, without a fence. But, if we built a 6 foot high privacy fence around the pool area, we could position the pool only 6 feet from the lot line. Of course, we wanted the biggest pool our space would accommodate, so we decided to fence in the backyard. This meant we would be able to fit a 15' X 30' oval pool in our yard. We also found out we needed to have GFI (ground fault interrupt) circuit plug installed for the pump, so we hired an electrician to put that in. This is just a good idea anyway, even if your city doesn't require it.

This page isn't about building a fence, that's a discussion for another day. I just want to give a few words of wisdom to anyone thinking of building their own fence. One: Digging postholes is back-breaking work, even with a power auger. A posthole auger gets really heavy when it is mired down in solid clay. Make sure you have at least two strong people to do it. And two: untreated wood absorbs about twice as much stain as treated wood, so figure that in the cost difference.

Our entire pool was delivered for free, as promised, right to our front curb, in a big semi truck. The problem was that is was a total of 900 pounds of parts and pieces on a wooden pallet. The truck driver, who was in a big hurry, "doesn't load and unload the stuff. He just drives the truck". So, my dear husband borrowed the neighbor's furniture dolly and carted all the boxes, including a box with the pool wall that must have weighed at least 300 pounds alone, to our garage as fast as he could. There was absolutely no time to check to make sure everything was there. He signed the packing list and the truck driver left. We just had to hope all the pieces were accounted for. As it turns out they were - almost down to the last nut and bolt. I think we had to run to the hardware store once for some screws we couldn't find, while we were assembling the pool, but that's not too bad, in my opinion. If we had any complaints about our pool parts, it was with the instructions. They left an awful lot of room for interpretation, and some steps were entirely incomprehensible. There was a point in the assembly where we were ready to just set fire to the instructions for all the good they did us. But, there was also a nice instructional video included called "Assembling Your Seaspray Pool". I guess it didn't matter that we didn't have a Seaspray pool. Still, it was somewhat useful, in the sense that it did show people setting up an above ground pool, and sometimes we just pop it in the VCR and watch it for fun.

Supplies needed: There are several things you are going to need .
1) Cement blocks to go under your upright supports. Patio blocks (12" x 4" x 1 3/4") work well for this. The blocks give extra assurance that your uprights won't sink or lean as time passes and the ground shifts. 2) Mason's sand. This is a really fine sand that won't poke holes in your liner. Our pool used about 3 tons to make a 1 inch layer on the bottom of our pool. Tell the stone and gravel company your square footage and that you need it 1 inch deep. They will figure out how much you need. If you live in the Wisconsin Fox Valley area, I recommend Fox Valley Stone & Brick Co., Inc. in Neenah. They had by far the best delivery. We ordered 3 tons of sand and two tons of pea gravel (for the drainage trough), and they only charged us $35 to haul it, even though they had to bring two separate trucks. So, you need to figure out the square footage of your pool. Simply put, figure the area of the circle (both curved ends put together) and the rectangle (the area that falls within the straight sides) and add them together. For example, if you have a 15' x 30' pool, you can figure that the diameter of the circle must be 15'. The radius is half the diameter, or 7.5'. The area of a circle is pi (3.14) x radius squared. So the area of the two oval ends is 176.63'. The rectangle (or square in this case) is 15' x 15' = 225'. Added together, this gives you 401.63 square feet for the whole pool. If your pool was 18' X 40', your circle diameter would be 18', and your rectangle would be 22' x 18'. 3) Decorative stone, like pea gravel. 4) Tools. Wrenches, socket set, screwdrivers, rubber mallet, shovel, sod cutter, wheelbarrow, duct tape, work gloves, utility knife, level, 50' tape measure, wooden stakes, string, line level, and a transit (which you can rent ).

Very Important!  Please call Digger's Hotline and have them check for buried wires before you do any digging.

Step 1 in setting up your pool is to prepare the ground. Don't skimp on this step, because it lays the entire foundation for your pool, which will be the difference between having a level pool three years later, or a pool with one side three inches lower than the others. If you are working with only a shovel and a wheelbarrow, this is going to take many hours of hard labor. My husband did all the ground prep alone, and he estimates he spent a total of 30 hours. Before you start to dig, mark off the area with spraypaint. Add 18 inches to your pool's dimensions on all sides. This will create a drainage trough around the pool, which you can fill with decorative stone after the pool is complete. Now start removing the sod. We checked with the city and found that they would pick up the sod for free if cut into manageable chunks and left by the curb. After the sod has been removed, you can start digging. One suggestion to make the digging easier is to water the area well a couple days prior to digging, but after the sod has been removed, to soften the soil. Pound in stakes and string a line in several places across the area to be dug out. Use a line level (a tiny plastic tube with a bubble and two clips to attach it to the string) to make the string level. You can use a yardstick to measure down from the string to gauge your digging depth. Find the lowest point in your pool area and make that your depth to dig. It is very important that you only dig out, and don't try to build up any areas, because no matter how much you tamp the soil to compact it, those areas will sink over time. So, then you dig and you measure, and you dig and you measure, and so on, until you have the entire area level within an inch.

Step 2 is were you rent a transit (also known as a surveyor's level) to check your level more accurately. This step isn't absolutely critical, but you will use the transit for checking the level of your blocks later anyway, so you might as well get an accurate measure of your overall level. It's really very easy to use a transit and doesn't require special training. You position the transit in one location and adjust all three legs so that the transit is internally level. Then you have another person hold up a 6 foot measuring stick (provided with the transit). The stick is moved to every place you want to check the soil depth. You look through the veiwer on the transit to see where the crosshairs match on the stick. Then you dig down wherever you are still too high. If you find that you accidentally dug too deep in a spot, the best you can do is fill in the area and tamp the heck out of it, in hopes that it won't sink later. It won't be too critical as long as that low spot won't end up under an upright support on the pool.

In Step 3 you begin to assemble the pool. If you've chosen a round pool rather than an oval, your job will be a lot easier from here on out. We knew an oval was more difficult, but we really wanted an oval. We like the way an oval pool looks better, and my husband wanted to be able to swim laps. So, if you get an oval pool, you have to deal with straps, and possibly buttresses. Our pool is what's called a Yardmore, or buttress-free oval pool. An oval pool requires extra support along the straight sides, because of the uneven water pressure. A round pool has equal pressure on all sides. In an oval pool with buttresses, you have straps that stick out several feet beyond the straight sides of the pool, and then connect back to the pool sides at an angle. The buttresses serve as extra support to keep the walls from pushing out from the force of the water. A buttress-free pool uses the weight of the water to counter-act the pressure against the walls. It's pretty ingenious really. The straps are connected to the side uprights and are buried under the pool. Then heavy pressure plates (see them in the wheelbarrow in the picture below) are bolted to the straps, just inside each upright. When the pool is full of water the weight of the water will push down on the pressure plates to hold the upright supports in.

The base of the pool consists of: track pieces, base plates for the curved upright supports, channels, straps and side upright supports (if your pool is an oval). From here on out I am giving you instructions for assembling an oval, buttress-free pool only. You will of course want to use these tips as a supplement to the instructions that come with your pool, because they will be specific to your pool. First you need to assemble the straight side upright supports, channels and straps, like in the picture below. Your pool will have 6 to 10 straight side upright supports(and probably 10 curved side upright supports), depending on the size of your pool. The channels are the heavy steel "boxes" attached to the upright supports. The straps bolt to each inner end of the channels. They act as one more support to keep the pool wall from pushing out from the force of the water. Now, the oval track pieces should be assembled with the base plates, straight side upright supports, channels and straps to form the entire outline of your pool. The oval track is what the pool wall will fit into later. To square off the straight sides of the pool, stand facing the supports and measure from the far right support on one side to the far right support on the other side (diagonally). Then measure from the far left support on one side to the left one on the other side. Keep shifting the row of supports one way or the other, until the two measurements are the same. Now your sides are squared off. Unfortunately, you aren't done digging yet. You need to dig little trenches for each of the channels. The channels are about 2 inches deep, so they need to be buried that deep. While you are digging, don't forget about the holes for your cement blocks that go under every upright support. You can't dig the holes for the curved ends yet, because you will have to wait until you round them off before you can see where the uprights on the ends will be. The blocks under the straight side supports will be as deep as the channel plus the block, because the outer end of each channel rests on a block. Dig the holes for the channels as level as you can, the same for the blocks. You won't be able to get them completely level by hand, but a neat little trick is to dig them just a bit deeper than necessary and put a little sand in the bottom. Then you will be able to put the level on the block/channel and tap the high side with a rubber mallet until you have it level. Place and level the blocks under each channel/upright combination. Then bury everything up to the tops of your channels. Once your channels are buried, you can bolt the pressure plates to them. Now that you are committed to where your straight side uprights will be you need to "square off" your curved ends. Pick the center point of each of the end straps and measure out in a radius from there. Your distance should be the radius you determined when calculating your square footage. In our case it was 7.5'. Make sure the curved ends are that measurement from your center point along the entire curve of the track, and pull it out or push it in wherever necessary. Once this is done, carefully pound wooden stakes on either side of the track in many places, so that the track won't shift out of round while you are working. Now that you can see where your base plates for the round uprights will be, you can dig the holes for the patio blocks that go underneath them. Set each block in its hole and level it, front to back and side to side. If your block isn't level, your upright support won't be either. Now take some duct tape and put at least two layers of tape over every exposed bolt head and sharp point on the channels, straps and pressure plates. There will only be one inch of sand between these sharp metal objects and your liner. At this time you should bring all of your sand into the center with a wheelbarrow. Make a ramp over the track with a piece of plywood.

Step 4: Assemble all of the curved side upright supports. Now you are ready to install the pool wall. You should have a minimum of 3 people to help with this step, the more the better. It will help to put a piece of plywood under the roll of pool wall to give you a flat area on which to unroll. Start one end of the wall on a curved end of the pool, not on a straight side, because that would threaten the integrity of the wall. Also determine where you will want your skimmer opening, filter hoses and pool ladder to be, as these will also determine where your wall starts and ends. Lift the wall into the base track as you go, and temporarily attach the top plates, and inner stabilizer rails (These are long metal pieces that slip over the top of the liner after it has been installed. The ends slip together to make a kind of top track for the wall). You will remove them again before installing the liner, but for now they will help hold the pool wall in place. Once the wall is in place, you will most likely find that the two ends do not perfectly match up. This is a huge bummer. You will have to make tiny adjustments in every place where the track joins the base plates. Either move them out or in, depending on how you need to adjust the wall ends in order to match. Try to make an equal adjustment at each base plate to keep the base track "square". This is not an easy step. I have to say that, in my opinion, trying to get the wall end holes to match up in order to install the bolts was the most frustrating part of the entire installation process.

Yeah!! We finally got the wall ends together! You can really see our triumph over this accomplishment in the picture below. Make sure you put three layers of duct tape over all the wall bars and bolts, so they can't tear the liner.

Step 5: Place a ladder over the wall, or one ladder outside the wall, and one ladder inside the wall, so you can get inside the pool. At this point in the installation, I would highly recommend that you pay the extra money to get the styrofoam pre-formed coving for the wall base. You can try to form the coving yourself with sand, but I have heard that if water gets under your pool, it will wash out the sand coving, which is the number one cause of liner failure. Plus, the pre-formed coving is really easy to install. Just snap the pieces into the base track and use duct tape to secure them to the wall. You can cut the last piece to fit with a utility knife. Spread the rest of the sand evenly and smoothly over the floor of your pool.

Step 6: Now it's time to start unfolding your liner in the center of your pool. Remove the top plates and inner stabilizer rails again. The liner will fold directly over the top of the pool wall (unless you have a J bead liner, which I would also recommend, because it is a LOT easier to hang straight). Spread the liner out and pull the edges up over the wall. Snap pieces of the plastic coping over the top, and then re-attach the inner stabilizer rails and top plates to hold the liner in place. There is a seam between the bottom and sides of the liner. Use this as a straightening guide, by keeping the seam parallel with your base coving. Crawl around on your hands and knees to reduce footprints in the bottom of your pool, and try to get the bottom and sides as smooth and straight as possible before you start adding water. If the sides are crooked, you will have to remove each inner stabilizer rail, top plate and plastic coping piece, one at a time to shift the liner. This is frustrating too, because you feel like you are undoing what you have already done. We didn't take as much time on this step as we should have. We were starting to get impatient to finish the project. If you look at the last picture below, you can see on the far left, the resulting permanent wrinkles we have in our liner, due to our impatience. Take extra time if you don't want this.

Step 7: Start adding water to the pool. Smooth out any wrinkles with your hands, and make any final needed adjustment in your liner before you get an inch of water in the bottom. After that it is too late to remove the top plates and inner stabilizer bars. As the water fills you can now install the top rails. Our pool filled at the rate of about an inch per hour. That meant that it took about 48 hours to completely fill. We filled it with the hose. When my husband's parents filled their pool, they ordered water delivered by a milk truck. They have their own well, so they would have overworked their well pump trying to fill it themselves. When the water has filled a third of the way, it is time to intall the skimmer mouth. Don't try to do this earlier, because you will end up with a big wrinkle underneath your skimmer mouth opening. The liner stretches a lot more than you'd think as the water fills. Be very careful lining up all the holes in the skimmer mouth, rubber gaskets, and face plate. Hold your breath and push an ice pick through the liner to puncture the hole before your install each screw. Once you've made a hole in the liner, you are committed to it. Once the skimmer mouth is installed you can cut out the middle opening with a utility knife. Also install the water return fitting at this time. Consult the separate instructions for installing your pump and filter.

Step 8: Enjoy your new pool!

A few additional comments: The spring we built our pool (2002) we got a lot of rain, and our yard flooded. The ground got so soft that one corner of our pool sunk about an inch. This was very disheartening, after all our hard work. Luckily, the following spring the opposite corner of the pool sunk about a half inch, so now our pool is level within about a half inch. I'd say that's not too bad.

The liner seems to be holding up well so far. I don't know how we would know if there were any holes, except that I suppose the water level would be going down faster than usual. We have decided that if we ever do have to replace the liner, we would get a J-hook liner instead of an overlap liner. We installed a J-hook on my husband's parent's pool, and it was a lot easier. A J-hook liner has a rigid fold along the edges of the liner, which hooks right into a channel that attaches to the top of the pool wall.

Finally, a word about chemicals: Test them frequently and keep up on them. It costs a lot less to maintain pool chemicals, than to try to re-balance water that has gone badly out of whack. The people at the pool store didn't tell us how important Algaecide was the first year. We found out the hard way near the end of August, when, practically overnight, our pool walls and floor became covered in green slime! We had to add a huge dose of Algaecide and wipe all the surfaces down with a sponge to remove the existing algae. Once algae gets a foothold, it is really hard to get rid of, and takes several treatments. We use a Nature 2 brand mineral system cartridge on the return fitting. This allows you to keep the chlorine level lower in your pool (which is much easier on the eyes, skin and hair), and helps stabilize the PH and alkalinity. You will still need to add chlorine, algaecide, and chemicals to adjust the PH and alkalinity, but you will use a lot less. You should be able to buy the Nature 2 cartridge for around $80 at the pool store (less if you buy it online) and it lasts the whole season. August 26, 2009: I should update this to mention that we can no longer find these Nature 2 cartridges for above ground pools. We have continued to use our old "camera style" cartridge, and refill it with the mineral pellets from a spa Nature 2 cartridge. This seems to work well, so if you have an old Nature 2 mineral above ground cartridge, don't throw it out, just refill it and keep using it.

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We also helped my husband's parents install their round above ground pool, so I will attach the pictures and description of that project below. A round pool is really much easier to put up than an oval, but we are still glad that we got an oval pool for ourselves.

Spreading out the base sand.

After the pool wall has been installed, and the pre-formed coving is in place we climbed inside to spread the masons sand about an inch thick.

Wide skimmer mouth opening.

Tape the vinyl gasket for the skimmer opening in place before you hang the liner. This protects the liner from the sharp edges. A rubber gasket will go on either side of this vinyl gasket, sandwiched between the skimmer mouth and the face plate, to make a water-tight seal.

Water delivery

If you live out in the country - consider a milk truck as an option to have your pool water delivered.

Installing the skimmer mouth.

You will have to line up all the holes in the face plate, inner and outer rubber gaskets, and vinyl gasket with the outer skimmer mouth. Stick a small screwdriver or icepick through to line them up before putting in each screw.

Yikes! This water is cold!

Finish filling the water after the skimmer mouth and return fittings are installed.

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