Aluminum vs Steel Above Ground Pools

Aluminum vs Steel Above Ground Pools

It’s not as big a question as it was six or eight years ago, but I still get a fair amount of people asking about aluminum above ground pools. The main reason anyone would consider an aluminum over a steel above ground pool is to avoid rust. This is definitely true as aluminum won’t rust. Rust is a term that is used only for the oxidation of iron and aluminum has no iron. It will corrode, though, so there’s not much to gain in getting an aluminum pool, but it’s worth going over the pros and cons just in case your heart is set on getting one.

If you don’t want to read this whole article just to get my opinion, then no worries. I’ll give it to you right now. In the general sense, aluminum pools are not worth the extra cost. Now, if you have the time to find out why, read on.

The Different Types of Aluminum and Steel Above Ground Pools

There are about six variations of aluminum and steel pools and they each have pluses and minuses. Let’s go over them. Shall we?

I. All aluminum pool

This is an above ground that has every part of it made of aluminum. The wall, top and bottom tracks, all the connectors, stabilizer bars, top rails, uprights, and top caps are 100% aluminum. These pools are usually nicer than average and are a lot more expensive.

II. All steel pool

all steel above ground pool
All Steel, All Fun

All steel pools aren’t as common as before, but there are still quite a few of these manufactured. They have steel walls, tracks, connector plates, uprights, stabilizer bars, top rails, and top caps. These are mostly the lower-end models of above grounds.

III. Part aluminum, part steel pool

There are some variations here, but mostly these pools will have aluminum top rails and caps and the rest is steel. These aren’t too bad, because they have steel walls. They can still be quite a bit more expensive, though.

IV. Part steel, part resin (aka hybrid above ground pools)

resin above ground pool
Hybrid Steel-Resin Above Ground Pool

This is the most popular type of above ground today. Almost all of them will have steel walls, but there are various combinations of resin and steel parts. Some will have resin bottom tracks and/or resin connector plates. Some will have resin uprights with steel bottom tracks. Most of these, though, come with resin top rails and caps with everything else being made of steel. Overall, this is my favorite combination.

V. Part aluminum, part resin

This isn’t a super common type, but I do see these. They mostly have aluminum walls, top connectors, and stabilizer bars combined with resin top rails. These are not my favorite as they have aluminum walls and are still pricey for what you get.

Resin Above Ground Poo
Welcome to the Matrix, Resin Above Ground Pool

VI. All resin pool

I hear this term a lot and it’s not accurate. Resin material is plastic and is in no way strong enough to hold the pool water. So, an all resin pool still has to have a wall made of metal. And they almost all have steel walls. So, an all resin pool really is a pool that has every part of it made of resin, except the wall.

Also, some pools that are called “all resin” will still have some steel parts like connector plates and steel screws. The only model that comes to mind that is truly all resin (except of course the wall) is one called the Matrix by Wilbar.

VII Extruded aluminum wall pool

This type of above ground has quite a different wall from the others. The other pool walls are one continuous piece while this one comes in sections that interlock together.  The wall sections are made of extruded aluminum which makes them stronger and thicker. The extra thickness is very important in that this wall could never corrode enough to make the wall fail and not hold the water of the pool.

This pool is considerably more expensive than the others and the only real difference is the wall. Manufacturers sell this as a semi in-ground pool and that’s why it has that fancy wall system. The wall is strong enough not to cave in when the pool is empty and in the ground. This is nice and true, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the extra cost as a regular walled above ground pool goes in the ground too and usually with few issues.

VIII. Semi in-ground pool

I hear this term more and more and it’s slightly misused. First off, there really is a thing called a semi in-ground pool and that’s not at all what I’m talking about here. A real semi in-ground pool is closer to an in-ground vinyl liner pool than an above ground in price and structure. A more accurate term for what I’m discussing is a “semi in-ground above ground pool”.

The term semi in-ground is used for above ground pools that can go partially in the ground. I say this is a misused term, because all above ground pools can go partially in the ground. The fact is the only real “semi in-ground above ground” pool that I know of is the above-mentioned extruded aluminum wall pool. Interestingly, I have installed the extruded aluminum pool above the ground as much as I have installed it semi in the ground.

Nice List, Dude, but Should I Get Aluminum or Steel?

The above-mentioned types of pools have three kinds of walls – steel, aluminum, and extruded aluminum. If I’m strictly speaking of the wall itself, then I don’t see any advantage to getting the regular aluminum wall for your above ground pool. They are flimsy and are too thin to stop corrosion from eventually compromising the wall’s integrity. Regular aluminum walls are bad for installing the pool halfway in the ground too as they are not at all rigid and thus have a greater capability for a cave-in when the pool is empty.

Extruded aluminum walls are really strong and will last forever, but the price difference is really big. Unless you have enough money for it not to matter, I don’t recommend the extruded wall pool. Steel walls is my choice. Most above grounds have steel walls so you’re good there.

So, now that I have established that I prefer the wall of the pool to be steel, what about the other parts? I have had good luck with other parts of the pool being aluminum. Uprights and top rails made of aluminum seem to hold up better than steel ones for sure. I do prefer resin top rails over all others as they usually hold up better than the metal ones. I also prefer the bottom track and connectors to be made of steel too as aluminum can be too light and flimsy and resin connectors can crack.

When buying a hybrid above ground, there is almost no way to find out which parts are made of what and it may not matter much anyway. For me the best combination is for a pool to have a steel wall, steel bottom track, steel or aluminum bottom connectors, steel or aluminum top connectors, steel top stabilizer bars, steel or aluminum uprights, and resin top rails and caps.

79 thoughts on “Aluminum vs Steel Above Ground Pools

  1. we have a sunsation pool by wilbur and need top rail replacement pieces for a 24′ x 48″ pool. Could you help me with this, thanks for your time.

    1. We may carry parts for the pool, but we do not have that model listed. If you want us to identify the parts submit a picture of the wall pattern, upright and top cap through this email address so we may search for the parts: upload@inyopools.com. Our parts department will reply as soon they have an answer.

    1. Hey Robert,
      Here is dan’s professional opinion:

      If you are pouring concrete for an above ground pool bottom, it only has to be about two inches deep. You may think you need it to be a more standard four inches deep with wire mesh to avoid cracking but I haven’t noticed much bad cracking regardless of the concrete thickness.

      1. I had no idea that an above ground pool could have a concrete slab in the bottom. Is this true for all climates? In the Northeast with the cold temperatures in the winter, wouldn’t the slab crack? I am going to replace my above ground pool in the spring and I am looking at all options. I am even thinking about building my own custom pool but I keep worrying about the the deep freeze in the winter.

    1. Sean, here is an answer from Dan: “I don’t know if you should stay away from Radiant pools or not. They weren’t very responsive to me when I approached them at the international pool show a few years ago. I would know more otherwise(their loss).”

      They did seem to be ok though when I looked at them. Maybe a little pricey for what they are but good. I would do the math on one against a concrete pool and see if its cost effective. Please add up everything though. Everything!

  2. I just bought an all aluminum slat pool it is a bermuda pool made by wilbar. It seems that the top plates won’t fit correctly because the aluminum is to thick. The direction say the top brackets go in between the uprights then later in the directions it seems to say to lock the top plate over the curved section but the top rail won’t snap over. Any help please????????

    1. Have you tried calling the dealer from where it was purchased to make sure you were provided the correct parts? Above ground pool kits come in several boxes and can sometimes get mixed up in the warehouse during packing.

    1. Until now, I have never heard of a dauntless pool. I looked it up and it looks like they are sold from some local guy who is either just starting out, or only sells a few above grounds a year. By the pics I saw, I can’t tell much about it other than the design looks old and outdated and the models lean toward the lower end. And what’s with the name? Really? What would make this pool void of “daunt”?

      1. Pool is made by Buster Crabbe… AKA Aquasports Pools out of Jersey, and is better than any rolled wall pool I have ever seen. MGK Pools (me) sells hundreds of pools a year… The only pool better would have slat wall panels as described in the article.
        There are different thickness of pool walls, steel or aluminum. Nobody sells a thicker aluminum rolled wall pool than Buster Crabbe, and they are not flimsy! I would put it up against and rolled steel wall pool, and does not cost way more.

        1. All continuous roll aluminum above ground pool walls are flimsy. Period. And how do you know Buster Crabbe makes the thickest continuous aluminum wall? Have you weighed walls from different manufacturers? I have and I don’t know this so please back this statement up with something. I don’t know how much extra the cost of what you are talking about, but I do know it’s more and in most cases not worth the extra cost regardless.

    1. I suggest either getting an aluminum or better yet Resin pool like the Matrix. I say better yet, because resin is less expensive than your average Aluminum pool, but you keep the none-rusting properties.

  3. Whats your thoughts on the Girbarator pool? Its obviously pricey for above ground but its slated insteas of rolled and can provide 2 different depths eith a built on deck

    1. I have never built one as rectangle shaped above grounds are not at all popular in Florida. They look like quality to me. My only comment is with these pools that come with decks and rails. The will last almost forever but have that look and feel of an above ground pool. Getting an above ground pool only and then building a custom deck to it using wood, composite, or pavers can give you a better look and feel.

  4. Hello Dan, I am about to purchase a “semi above ground” steel/resin pool from the pool factory (the signature RTL, basically what you suggested). I had the installer come and estimate the dig. He is claiming that the steel pool will last 10 years at most and that once the liner goes, the entire pool will need to be replaced. And that I should drop the extra $3K now for an aluminum slat pool that will last 30yrs+ . Can you confirm if he is making sense ?

    Also, what pool do you guys sell that would be most comparable and able to be dug down half way?
    Thank you for the awesome post.

    1. What the guy is saying is mostly true although in thirty-one years, I have noticed the average good above ground goes through two or three liners in it’s life and not just one. I have noticed pools lasting on average between 10 and 20 years so is it worth it to spend the extra money? I guess it depends on how long you plan to live there.

  5. Hi 🙂 Our 27′ steel-walled 17 yr old pool (bought it at 7 yrs; owned it for 10) collapsed in a most dramatic way at a pool party last weekend, and I miss it desperately already :-/. We don’t have the money to buy a new one, but found a used 13 yr old fully aluminum one on Craigslist for $500/obo. Went to see it and it appears to be in perfect shape. Seller cut away some of the cracked liner to let us see a sample of the interior wall, which looks fine.

    One minute we’re excited to have found such a great deal–but the next we’re asking ourselves, “What–are we crazy to put money and sweat equity into such an old pool??!” I’d love to hear your opinion/suggestions.
    Thanks,
    Barbara

    1. That’s easy. Save your money and wait to buy a new pool. It’s $500 plus you’ll need a new liner and probably at least a new skimmer/return. You’re about halfway there already. And don’t forget the “most dramatic way” your old pool collapsed.

  6. Hi Dan, I’m thinking about getting an above ground pool but I want to sink it half way down into the ground. Should I go with galvanized or aluminum? Also what brands do you recommend?

  7. Hey Dan, have you ever heard of the Medallion St. Croix Freedom Series pool. It is an aluminum bolt together panel pool. All the panels are 2′ wide and 48″ high. They clam it can be fully recessed into the ground. The aluminum is .063″ thick (14gauge). And they state that the dirt backfill can go up against the pool. What are your thought on this pool? Basically the same price as a nice above ground pool.

    1. “Basically the same price as a nice above ground”? Yea very basic. Like they are both cost five figures. Make no mistake, those panel pools are considerably more expensive than a continuous wall above ground. As far as that particular make/model, I don’t know. I’ve never built one. They are not very common. Too expensive.

  8. Hello,
    I am looking to purchase an above ground 12 x 24 or a little larger oval saltwater pool. I was wondering what the best pool would be Structurally, I have been learning that most pool builder/ installers have their opinions of what’s best and there is a ton of differences I just want an all around awesome pool that will last. Price is not a factor I want the best so as not to have the headaches. I live in the Arizona Mountains so it is extreme hot then winter freeze we also get high winds. If you have some suggestions I would be grateful.

    Thank You,

    Evie

    1. Hi Evie, I have some general guidelines on what to purchase but it would be too much to write here. Please visit centralfloridaabovegroundpools.com. I wrote every word and it should help.

  9. Hi,
    I’m looking at 12×20 oval Torino (aquasport) with extruded aluminum and resin top rail. Price is more than I expected. Other option is SwimMor steel with resin. Came in about 1k cheaper. I don’t want it to be an eye sore. Any suggestions on if the extra money is worth it for aesthetics?

  10. Hi Dan
    Thank you for the great info. I have a 30 feet oval saltwater pool . The walls, top and bottom tracks are steel. It has lasted now 11 Year’s and now it is time to be replaced. I live in Richmond Virginia,so We do get some cold weather but not too bad. Because of the salt water the pool really rusted bad the last two years. We can get a steel pool for around $1700 and an aluminum pool for around $2400 . What pool would you suggest?

  11. Hi, Dan. I’m looking into buying a steel aboveground. Is this a good material for saltwater or would chlorine be better for longevity. In case size makes a difference, it will be a 15′ round.
    Thanks.

  12. IM LOOKING TO BUY A POOL THAT IS SALT WATER ,,I WAS TOLD YOU BETTER GO WITH ALUMINUM THAN STEEL HE SUGGESTED A SWIM N PLAY OXFORD,,,,,,,ANY INPUT ON THAT BRAND

    1. Swim-n-Play makes an ok pool. There is at least one oval model they have that I won’t build because it’s engineered wrong but other than that, they are American made and not bad.

      1. Hi Dan – just curious as to what swim n play pool you would not recommend. We are looking into buying a 15×30 steel swim n play Cat2000. Thank you!

        1. I’m sorry that I can’t tell which Swim-n-Play oval model I don’t like. (Cat2000 has no meaning for me) Model names can change or be different depending on who is selling them. The only indicator I can give is if the instruction manual requires a ridiculously large cove (something like 12″ high and 12″ outward) along the straight sides of the inside of the pool, then that’s the one. I know that doesn’t help much as you’ll have to get access to the assembly manual before you buy. But, it may be worth the hassle as the pool model I’m talking about will most likely lift.

    1. A “Mirage” named pool could be anything as any retailer can call any pool any name they like. If you mean the Mirage pool made by Mighty Sun, then my thoughts are negative. Mighty Sun is a Japanese manufacturer that’s been making above ground pools for a really long time. I guess Japan has long run out of recycled steel from 57 Chevys because their pool walls are super flimsy. Also, Japanese resin (plastic) parts are more brittle than US made injection molded products. Buy a pool made in North America(US or Canada). It’s worth the slightly higher price.

  13. Dan,

    After 20 years we have decided to replace our above ground pool. We live in Iowa so we have the freeze thaw cycle going on. In all, it was a great pool (Out Back pools). I am now on the search for a new 15 x 30 AG pool. I want to pour a concrete slab for the pool. I have been in the concrete trade for 40 years and have that covered. I would like to eliminate all the frame work under the pool making my concrete pour an easy task with just a flat slab. I would like to bolt the side wall support posts to the concrete slab thus eliminating the under pool frame work. Does sound feasible to you? Do you know of any pools that would lend itself to this type of design?

  14. I read the article but still overwhelmed. I would like to install a 12x24x52 (or about…just can’t go wider than 12) above ground oval pool. Is there a certain brand you recommend that model? I don’t even know what to google.

    I would like to buy one online? Any suggestions on good pool companies to buy a pool from?

    Thanks,
    Kati

  15. Hey Dan, 30×54 round pool saltwater, I would like a variable DE filter, or 2 hp 2speed cartridge. What salt generator ? I’ve come down to 2 pools 1-Deluxe 8000 Steel wall & uprights, Stanless steel panel . 2- ClearWater has a Aluminum wall & Steel upright cost more. I need Help 8 Grandkids on my back.

  16. When you say an aluminum pool with extruded walls last forever. What do you mean by forever. Mine is 33 years old but deck is sinking and walk a round is starting to give. Your thoughts.

    1. I don’t know of a extruded aluminum walled pool that came with an attached aluminum deck so I’m not sure what you mean there. If you have a deck that was made of wood and or wasn’t manufactured by the pool maker, then it’s sinking probably has little to do with the lasting of the pool. The “why” your deck is sinking has to be physically looked at in trying to figure it out.

  17. Actually aluminum pools are quite superior to steel pools. My father bought a pool in 81. The guy sold him on the aluminum frame vs steel one. He went with aluminum. Steel was estimated life span of 10 to 15 years. The aluminum was for 15 to 20 years. Difference in price in 81 was 300 dollars. Well it is 2018 and I still swim in that pool. No rust and very little oxidation. My advice is always by aluminum pools. They will last forever if you maintain them. As a matter of fact I am moving and would like to sell this indestructible pool. Someone could get a really nice pool set up for a fraction of what it will cost from a store. I just don’t want to see this very well made pool vet destroyed by the new owners because they do not want the pool. Plus it will be easier to sell the house without the pool. Anyway figured I’d share the story about my aluminum pool.

    1. I also own an above ground aluminum pool. It is an Ester Williams brand that was installed in 1976. Still in great shape!

  18. We are i the process of buying a pool. We are looking at the Doughboy Palm Shore 52″ 8 1/2 steel top rails , 7″ Steel Verticals. The cost is about 11k that includes install. I am afraid I am out of my league when it comes to a purchase such as this and want to make sure that I am not being taken advantage of. Please let me know your thoughts. The pool comes with all the bells and whistles from what I can tell. The only thing that I am not seeing on the list they game me was the ladder. What are your thoughts this is through a company called A-TEX

    1. The price seems high but I don’t know what you are getting in the package or what size pool or shape, and I don’t know anything about the install. Also, you typically pay more when the install is done by the retailer. Plus, Doughboys are expensive for what you get. Because of all these unknowns, The price may be ok.

    1. Any retailer can call any pool any name they want so I need more info on who makes it to know which one it is. It looks like Namco sells one with that name but their pages on it don’t exist when I looked.

    1. Any retailer can call any pool any name they want, so I don’t know which pool you are asking about. I am OK with Wilbar pools so if that’s what they are, then you’re most likely good.

  19. Looked at the Ultimate Pool by Fox – seems to be the best of the best in above ground pools, but there is very little online presence…can’t find anyone posting comments about their experience with a Fox – any thoughts on this pool?
    Thank you.

      1. Dan, we want to put in a 24’ round above ground . Thinking aluminum/resin. Any suggestions and order from whom? Price, under 3500.00.

        Thanks

        Ken

  20. Do u carry the outter shell of above ground 27″ pool ours is thin around where the skimmer is. Looking on price

  21. Hello, we just bought online Doughboy Oval 12×20 pool. We are having hard time locating the installers. They said nobody wants to touch Doughboy 🙁 Is that something you ever heard? I am so confused 🙁 Thank you!

    1. Yes. I’ve heard it from my own mouth. Old school Doughboys are a challenge to build but what “they” are talking about here is about the fact that the Doughboy oval doesn’t have straps running underneath it so the buttresses have to be secured by burying concrete blocks filled with concrete. And that’s a pain when you don’t do that too often.

  22. We just purchased a new steel walled sharkline Summerfield pool and had it installed. My son was the first one in and he is only 9 and i noticed the pool creaking in spots where the braces are. Installer said that’s normal in a new pool and will stop. I don’t see anyone else having this problem. Thoughts?

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