Swimming pool buying guide

Swimming pool buying guide

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Above ground, inground, steel frame, inflatable... All swimming pools are designed to be filled with water but that's about where the similarities end! Hesitating between a round or rectangular pool? Stuck between wood and steel? From sloping land to safety features, read on to find the perfect swimming pool for you.

Important features

  • Above ground
  • Inflatable
  • Freestanding
  • Steel frame
  • Wooden
  • Steel
  • Semi inground
  • Inground
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How to choose a swimming pool


If you've decided to invest in a swimming pool, you're probably dying to get all the formalities out of the way so you can dive right in! But before you slip into your swimming costume, start by asking yourself a few questions:

  • What is your budget?

  • What kind of space do you have available?

  • What type of land do you have?

Setting a swimming pool budget 


If you're looking for a smaller, more budget-friendly pool, go for an above ground pool. Within this category, you'll have the choice between an inflatable pool and a steel frame pool. If you're looking at mid-range pools, go for an above ground pool but choose a wooden or steel model for a more attractive and sturdier structure.

Choosing a pool size


Measure the area where you want to set up the pool and compare the models on the market with your own requirements. It is essential to pick the right size among the options available. Here are some of the more common dimensions:

  • 4 x 2 m;

  • 3 x 3 m;

  • 4 x 4 m;

  • 3 x 5 m;  

  • 4 x 8 m.

Ground type 


If you are renting a property, an inground or semi-inground pool is out of the question. If you own your own home but have a sloping garden, go for a semi-inground pool. If you have a large piece of flat land, anything is possible!

Of course the ideal option will be to install an inground pool wherever possible. However, it's best to avoid installing any pool beneath a tree, in the shade or in a wind-exposed area. Just looking to relax? Go for a swim spa!

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Above ground vs. inground pools

Swimming pools can be divided into two main categories:

  • above ground pools include things like steel frame pools, wooden frame pools and inflatable pools. These pools can all be dismantled.

  • inground pools include semi-inground pools and pools installed fully inground.

Here's a quick round-up of the various pool types so you know what you're diving into!

Above ground pools


Above ground pools are accessible and often come in kit form so they can be assembled and dismantled as you like. They can be a more affordable option and most are round or oval in shape with sizes ranging from extra-small to family-sized! Generally speaking, you won't need planning permission for any type of pool but you do need to ensure that it is set up at least 5 metres from the house. In terms of setting up, never attempt to install an above ground pool on sloping land. Finally, remember that you will still have to maintain and filter all types of above ground pool – except if you go for a paddling pool, that is!

Paddling pools 


Most children aged over 10 years old will pointblank refuse to use a children's pool, but younger kids love them! Shallow and colourful, these pools can vary in terms of shape, size and most are inflatable. Paddling pools will go down particularly well with little ones if they're covered in their favourite cartoon characters! A kids' pool can also be a great way for you and baby to enjoy your first dip while older kids will have no end of fun with accessories such as inflatable slides.

Inflatable pools


Inflatable pools rarely measure over 1.25 metres in height and 6 metres in length. To set up, you simply need to blow up the top ring and fill the pool with water! These pools are inexpensive, easy and quick to set up and don't require a lot of upkeep. In short, they're perfect for taking a quick splash on a hot day.

Steel frame pools


Steel frame pools are more hardwearing but also more expensive than inflatable models. They comprise a metal frame and top ring which is slotted into a specially designed pouch. While these pools won't usually measure over 1.3 metres in height, they can stretch up to 10 feet in diameter for a pool that little ones and bigger ones can enjoy together!

Wooden frame pools


Wooden swimming pools are usually made of exotic wood or heat-treated pine and are durable, attractive and sturdy. Usually hexagonal or octagonal in shape, wood pools can be buried slightly for extra stability.

Steel wall pools


Steel wall pools are entirely freestanding and are often covered in wooden cladding. Made up of a steel structure with rust-resistant coated steel pool walls, these pools are held up by posts under the pool coping and steel braces. Usually delivered in a kit for home assembly, steel wall pools come in a range of designs.

Inground and semi-inground pools

Inground and semi-inground pools are long-lasting, stylish and customisable. They can be covered by a pool enclosure or a pool cover.

Semi inground pools


These wooden swimming pools are half above ground and half inground. They offer a range of attractive features including borders, coping or even a deck area. A semi inground pool can be adapted to your needs for ultimate bathing comfort. They come in a range of sizes and shapes, and are recommended for sloping land.

Inground pools


Comfortable and durable, inground pools comes in all manners of materials, sizes and designs. The most popular types of inground pools include:

  • one-piece pools;

  • concrete pools;

  • pool kits.

Inground pools can be covered by a pool enclosure or surrounded by a tiled or wooden deck. This is also the only option if you're after an infinity pool!

Swim spas


These mini swimming pools are designed for pure relaxation and well-being. The pool itself can be set up in most gardens and requires little maintenance while the pool water is heated to 28°.

Pay special attention when it comes to pool safety and double check that you don't need planning permission before installation.

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Inflatable pools

Comparing different pool types



Dimensions (metres)


Average price

Inflatable pool

Round, rectangular, oval

6 x 3 -

5 x 3 - 3 x 4

Diameter 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

Intex, Bestway


≈ £300 / round 14 m3 pool (4.5 x 1.2 m)

Freestanding pool

Round, oval

4 x 3 - 5 x 3 -

6 x 3

Diameter 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

Bestway, Intex, San Marina, Ubbink

≈ £450 / oval 19 m3 pool (6.5 x 3.5 x 1.2 m)

Steel frame pool

Round, rectangular, oval

2 x 4 - 2 x 5

2.5 x 1.5

7 x 3 - 5 x 3

4 x 2 - 4 x 3

Intex, Bestway, Vidaxl

≈ £250 / rectangular 9 m3 pool (4 x 2 x 1.2 m)

Wooden pool

Hexagonal, octagonal, rectangular

4 x 3

4 x 2

3 x 5

6 x 4

4 x 8

Water’clip, Cerland, Procopi, Sun kit, Viva pool, Ubbink

≈ £1800 € / octagonal 6m3 pool (2.75 x 1.2 m)

Steel wall pool



4 x 3 - 5 x 3 -

6 x 3

Diameter 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

Bestway, Intex, San Marina, Ubbink, Swim’n play

≈ £700 / round 16m3 pool (3.6 x 1.2 m)

Inflatable pool features

If you're looking to enjoy an easy-to-install pool without breaking the bank, an inflatable or freestanding pool is the ideal option.

Easy pool installation


Pools supplied in kits involve just a few steps for installation:

  • clear and level your land;

  • remove any rocks;

  • lay a layer of sand and smooth down;

  • cover the area with ground cloth.

Next, unfold the pool, inflate it and fill it with water before connecting your pipework and filtration pump. Take care to mix in the right products and all that's left to do is to pop on your swimming costume and hop in! But don't forget that your pool will still have to be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis.

Inflatable pool sizes


In terms of size, don't go looking for anything too big. Remember – your pool can't be bigger than your garden! If your kids aren't strong swimmers, pay close attention to the depth of the pool and cordon off the pool using a pool barrier and install a pool alarm. Teaching them how to swim properly is also strongly recommended!

Choosing and maintaining an inflatable pool liner


Inflatable pool liners can be made of reinforced PVC, polyester or a mixture of the two. The thicker the liner, the more hardwearing it will be.

In terms of pool maintenance, you'll need to use sanitising products and invest in pool accessories such as a pool water test kit (for pH, TH, etc.), a pool net to remove debris from the pool surface and a pool brush to clean along the water line.

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Inflatable pool

Advantages of a steel frame pool

A family-friendly pool


If you're looking for better quality and a larger pool that is still easy enough to install, a steel frame pool is the choice for you. These pools come in all shapes and sizes. When preparing to install, you will have to follow similar steps to setting up an inflatable pool – don't attempt to install your pool on any jagged objects nor on an incline of over 30%.

Pool safety and maintenance


Don't wait wait until your pool is filled with pond life to treat the water! Chlorine, bromine, algaecide and pH increaser or decreaser are just some of the essentials you'll need to care for your pool. To enhance security, fit your pool with an alarm, enclosure or pool cover. Remember – accidents can happen quickly and have serious consequences.

Steel frame pool features


Steel frame pools features a steel structure which can be secured to the ground. The structure is held within a PVC or polyester lining. These pools are sturdy, hardwearing and usually rectangular, round or oval in shape. The structure of these pools is less bulky meaning you'll have a more comfortable space for swimming.

Advantages of a wood or steel wall pool

Unlike inflatable or steel frame pools, wood and steel wall pools are solid structures.

They offer a longer service life and are set up in more or less the same way as a steel frame pool. However, the largest pools just be installed on a concrete slab base; this advice also applies to extra-large freestanding or inflatable pools.

Wood pools for flexible installation


Wooden pools provide a sturdier construction and are more attractive than steel frame models, but they're also more expensive. The type of installation, care and filtration they require depends on the pool volume (i.e. the size of the pool). However, to give you a rough idea, expect to spend about two days building a 30,000-litre pool between two people.

Oval and rectangular pools are generally easier to swim in. Some wooden pools can be semi inground which provides a workaround for sloping land.

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Steel frame pool

Advantages of inground and semi inground pools


Semi inground pools are usually made of wood. They are less expensive to buy than other pools, offer a high-quality finish and a long service life.

Ideal for sloping or uneven land (as they can be buried deeper on one side), semi inground pools may even incorporate a deck area. They also blend in nicely with wooden garden furniture.

This type of pool might also be categorised as an above ground pool and can be supplied in kit form. They come in modern designs and a range of sizes.

However, installing a semi inground pool does require some building work including digging out and backfilling a foundation, stabilising the ground, and so on.

Maintenance: treating and cleaning the water regularly is essential (using a pool vacuum, brushing the water line, checking pH, adding chlorine, etc.)

Safety: the same guidelines as above apply here. Even though the height of the pool wall may reduce the risk of accidents, a pool alarm and cover are still recommended.

Different types of inground pools

A significant building project and investment, an inground pool should last a lifetime. While this type of pool will set you back, it will also add value to your home.

Inground pools come in a range of different designs including concrete pools, one-piece and pool kits.

Concrete inground pools


Concrete pools are durable and high-quality structures. These pools require the most amount of work to install but they're also the most long-lasting option. Made of reinforced concrete with a concrete foundation, concrete pools are covered in plaster and pool liners to make the structure watertight.

One-piece pools


Often made of polyester, one-piece pools are strong and quick to install. However, the ground must be prepared with extreme care to prevent the pool shell becoming misshapen once it is filled.

Pool kits


Pool kits come with everything you need to install a pool. The structure of the pool comprises prefab supporting steel walls in the design of your choice. The pool structure is strong and covered by a liner.

These pools, along with any inground pool, can be topped with coping and a deck. Kit out the pool area with garden furniture, parasols and sun beds and you'll be the envy of all your neighbours!

Due to the layout and depth of these pools, you need to pay close attention to safety and that means a pool barrier, cover and/or a pool alarm. When it comes to cleaning, a pool robot will stop you from having to scour the pool in a snorkelling mask! But do bear in mind that you will still have to clean out larger debris with a pool net and tackle the water line with a pool brush.

Cleaning and treating your pool water is also essential if you want to make the most of your pool over the summer months.

Inground pools are all about comfort, durability and style.

Swim spas for relaxation on your doorstep


The key word here? Well-being.

Swim spas involve condensing more or less all types of hydrotherapy into one pool including hydromassage, heated water and lighting. What's more, a swim spa can be an attractive addition to a garden and requires less care than an inground or above ground pool.

Since the structure of the swim spa is buried in the ground, you will have to carry out some building work including digging out and levelling the land. Bear in mind that this can be a lot of work.

Different types of pool enclosure


When it comes to child safety, you can't do any better than a pool enclosure. There are a few criteria to consider before investing including height, ease of installation and use, and so on. You can choose from a few different types of pool enclosure:

  • pool canopies: for small pools or above ground pools;

  • sliding enclosures: made up of several sections;

  • retractable enclosures: allow you to open all or part of the pool;

  • fixed enclosures.

How to choose a pool liner

PVC pool liners


Polyvinyl chloride is the full name for what most of us know as PVC. Most pool liners are made from this material. Liners are used to ensure your pool is watertight. They are secured against to the walls of inground and semi inground pools and clipped around the top of above ground pools. A pool liner should be expected to last for about 5 to 20 years.

Most pool liners are made of PVC and some are reinforced by polyester which is an even more hardwearing material. Some liners will be treated to deal with UV rays and/or to make them non-slip. The thickness of a pool liner varies from 0.45 to 1.5 mm (this value will usually be indicated in hundredths; for example 45/100 for 0.45 mm).

Reinforced pool liners


Reinforced pool liners start at around the 85/100 mark and are advised for pools that are subject to heavy usage. Bear in mind that a minimum of 75/100 is recommended for inground pools whereas 50/100 will usually suffice for an above ground pool. It's also important to think about how the liner is installed (e.g. hung, unibead or overlap) and the colour of the liner.

How to treat and clean a pool

If you want to enjoy your pool, your water needs to be kept in top condition.

Pool water must be treated and to do so, it's important to analyse the water in terms of:

  • pH level;

  • alkalinity;

  • sanitiser level;

  • stabiliser.

Water test kits are used to analyse pool water. You can choose from a range of options including test strips and digital testers. You then simply have to interpret the results and treat the water as required.

Sanitising a pool


Sanitiser is used to keep your pool water clean. You need to decide on a product to disinfect the pool as several are available, including:

  • chlorine;

  • bromine;

  • PMHB.

It's also possible to disinfect your pool using an electrolyser which creates chlorine from salt. Installation can be costly but your pool water will be kept cleaner and the water will be more stable.

Green pool water


If your pool water is cloudy or you've noticed green stains on the liner, the chances are your pool does not contain enough disinfectant and your pH level is probably off balance. To clear green pool water, you will have to use an algaecide. Active oxygen or hydrogen peroxide are particularly effective at treating green water or just clearing pool water after the winter. These algaecides are powerful and effective.

It's important to treat your pool water on a regular basis and you may find yourself having to use a few other products such as shock treatments, limescale removers or pH increaser or decreaser. You need to test your pool water regularly to find out what types of treatments it requires.

Pool terminology


  • Pool pump and filter: pool pumps are designed to allow the water in your pool to circulate. For this process to happen, the water is sucked in by the pump then sent into the filtration system before being sent back out by the return inlets.  

  • Sand filters: these cylindrical filters are filled with very fine sand and are designed to filter and circulate the water released by the pool pump. This is the most popular type of filter.

  • Skimmer socks: these pre-filters work for above ground pools or pools used less often.

  • Diatomaceous earth filter: these cylindrical filters are filled with diatomaceous earth, filter down to 3 microns, and provide crystal clear water.

  • Cartridge filters: these cylinder-shaped filters are fairly small considering their performance. Made from synthetic or natural materials, cartridge filters look a bit like a spool of thread. They are designed to slot into a specially designed compartment to filter your pool water. However, they are best suited to small pools.

  • Ground mats: these mats are designed to lay between the ground and your pool. The role of a ground or base mat is to protect the bottom of the pool from any irregularities on the ground.

  • Liners: this component makes up the inside of your pool. Pool liners are generally made up of several strips of vinyl welded together to ensure your pool stays watertight. The thickness of a pool liner can vary depending on the type of pool you have. Most liners are blue in colour.

  • Skimmers: skimmers are rectangular openings installed in the wall of your pool. They are designed to draw in any dirt from the surface of your pool water. These impurities end up in a special basket that needs to be emptied by hand.

  • Return inlets: these openings are designed to return filtered water to the pool. They may vary in terms of pressure.  

  • Coping: the pool coping is the border that surrounds your pool – it's the bit you sit on to dangle your legs in the water!

  • Pool brush: a vacuum brush on wheels can be used to clean the bottom of the pool as well as the surface of the water. These brushes can be used to draw in leaves, insects and so on.

  • Vacuum points: these sockets are used to connect any vacuum cleaners that need to be linked to your pool pump.

  • Electric pool heater: an electric pool heater is fitted with a heating element and thermostat to control the temperature of the water.

  • Heat exchanger: designed to be connected to your home heating system (via a boiler), a heat exchanger is also designed to warm up your pool.

  • Heat pumps: a popular heating system that allows you to increase the temperature of your pool quickly.

  • Pool robots: these robots are designed to clean the pool. There are three main types of pool robot: hydraulic, electric and solar-powered.

More information

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Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

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