off level above ground pools

“Off Level” Above Ground Pools

With the invention of YouTube, I have seen a lot of above ground pool installations done by do-it-yourselfers. I have also seen a lot of installation attempts as people call me halfway through for help. Some of these self-installations are done well, but most are not. I have occasionally been amazed at the ability of some to do a nice job on the not so easy job of building an above ground pool. Though, most really struggled with the project and barely got it together, lost friends and destroyed marriages.

So What Then Makes for a Poor Above Ground Pool Installation?

There are a number of ways an above ground can come out badly installed. The most common one is having wrinkles in the liner. Another is when the pool is misshapen or the uprights are not vertical. There is also equipment that leak and/or the skimmer and return fitting that is not tightly installed.unsafe above ground pool

Another fairly common shortcoming do-it-yourselfers make is the groundwork. Pool bottoms can be “off level”, lumpy, “foot printy” (official term), rocky, and rough. Some bypass the very physically demanding, but necessary, step of removing the sod. They just lay down some sand on top of the grass for leveling and then build the pool. Big mistake!

All of the above mistakes in building an above ground pool are annoying and shouldn’t be accepted, if you are paying for an installation. However, to me the biggest indicator of a poorly built pool is when it is “off level”. Getting an above ground at least fairly level can be difficult, but it’s worth the effort. Here’s why:

Water Has to Be Level – It Has to Be!

Take a half-full (or half-empty depending on your life outlook) glass of water and tilt it. Notice that the glass becomes “off level”, but the water does not. Now take the glass and shake and swirl the water. Try to disrupt the water in any creative way you want and then tilt the glass again. That’s right. The water stays level regardless. This is because it is liquid and has a weight so the water will always distribute evenly against the pull of the earth or gravity. Did I overexplain? Sorry.

Now think of an above ground swimming pool as a giant glass of water. Tilt the pool and the water stays level. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s not to some. Many things that are built can be “off level” and some wouldn’t notice but something that holds water can’t get away with being too “off level”. This is why it’s kind of important to build a pool so that it is level.

How Level Does an Above Ground Pool Have to Be?

As a quality installer, I go through a lot to make my pools as level as I can. Above ground pools are not Swiss watches. There is nothing precise about them so it can be a challenge to get them close to perfectly level. Despite my high level of knowledge, fancy equipment, and strong desire to get the thing level, I’m happy to get my pools to within an eighth of an inch level. With oval shapes, I’m happy with a quarter of an inch off as they suck to install.

Most instruction manuals for above grounds are poor. If they do manage to tell you, they usually say to level the pool to within an inch. A pool being off by a full inch is OK and won’t cause any structural issues, but you may notice it is “off level” at its waterline. Remembering that water will always be level (see over-explanation above), your eye may pick up the difference between the perfectly level waterline against the “off level” liner that has a tile print.

Above Grounds That Are Too “Off Level”

Pools that are “off level” by more than an inch start to look tilted. If it’s two inches off, you can start to notice from the outside of the pool. It can be tough to tell sometimes if the yard is “off level”, but at two inches, the mind picks up the difference and you’ll know something is not right. Two inches off usually won’t cause any structural issues so you can (and a lot do) just live with your “off level” pool for years. If it’s off more than that though, there can be a problem.

Above grounds that are three inches off or more often don’t last. Not only does the thing look bad and sometimes it can be dangerous, the uneven wall creates extra outward pressure on one side. This extra pressure will eventually push the pool out of shape more and more and in extreme cases will cause the water to spill over and collapse the pool. Done.

Just to be clear, if your above ground pool is off by three inches or more, it needs to be taken down, leveled and reinstalled.

Can You Fix an “Off Level” Pool?

can you fix an off level above groiund pool


Usually severely “off level” pools have to be taken completely down, leveled properly, and then reinstalled. When this is done, you’ll have to spring for a new liner as they don’t like to be reused. Some of you will reuse the liner because you are cheap and stubborn, but it’s not the right way to do the fix. And that’s what probably got you to have to rebuild your pool in the first place. Just sayin’!

If the pool is off just a little more than it should be, you can level the wall without taking down the pool, but it’s not easy. Most seasoned pool installers don’t even know how to do this so keep that in mind.

Drain the pool (but not so that it is completely empty). Pull out the leveling blocks from under the uprights on the low side of the “off level” pool. Using a shovel, pry up the wall from each bottom connector to the desired level and reinstall the blocks. Repeat around the low side of the pool. Add and pack earth under where you have jacked up the wall. Refill the pool and hope you packed the earth well. Do not try to lower the high side of the pool. It’s too technical. Good luck!

35 thoughts on ““Off Level” Above Ground Pools

  1. My pool installer just finish installing my pool. During the process I notice he lay sand on ground with grass sticking up. He state to me that the earth below is very hard and that he will not have to dig down and just put sand down for leveling. Sure enough got in pool for first time vey lumpy bottom but very hard. What can I do know to correct this water is already in

    1. You can only take the liner out, remove the sod, re-smooth, and re-install(probably) a new liner. The grass will die and continue to decompose and you pool’s bottom will always be terrible.

      1. I have a question. We just put up an 18′ Intex (not hard sides). We tilled and leveled the area up to 2 feet extra width…I know now we shouldn’t have used a tiller, and we probably didnt pack it down well. We got the pool filled 50% and there was a 2.5″ difference in level. We are attempting to level it ourselves, so we have emptied it down to about an inch or so. If we dug out from where the poles/feet are about 2″ on the high side (shallow end) should that work? Or would be need to dig out underneath where the liner sits as well?

        1. The only correct way to level an existing Intex soft sided pool is to take it down and move it out of the way. Then do a good job of leveling the entire area, then re-install the pool. It’s not easy to do since those pools don’t have bottom tracks. I use a fancy laser level and still can’t get it perfect but can get it within an inch. Maybe try renting a laser level when you redo it. Take you time and go over it again and again to get the whole area as level as possible.

  2. Hi we just put up our above ground intel pool, it’s 52 inches deep and 18ft round. My concern is we live in a hill had to pack up dirt in one side to level it as best we could. There is about a foot from the pool and the wall of dirt. We also put landscaping rocks against the wall of dirt and plan to put smaller rocks around the pool. We are worried about the pool collapsing . Do you think we took enough precautions ?

  3. Hello,

    Oval pool is about 2 inches out of level from the oval ends. I heard not to raise the pool because it could cause the liner to blow out. Is this true?

  4. Just got an above ground pool 18ft (atlantic brand) aluminum wall installed last week-end. The ground was fairly level to start with, and instead if digging, the installer filled the lower end with top soil and compact it. The installer put a layer of styrofoam at the bottom and all looked great. After filling with water, it appears there is one side lower than the other by around 1 1/2 inch, maybe 1 3/4 inches (The side where the fill was brought and compacted is lower). There’s no deformation and the pool is round but looking at the liner, you can tell there’s a slight difference from one side to the other. Seems like 1 or 2 posts may need to be re-levelled. This is my first pool and I certainly don’t want to flood the neighbour. Is the pool in danger of collapsing? Should I be pro-active, and ask the installer to re-set the pool? I have only paid 1/2 with the rest payable soon. Is there an industry “tolerance” that the contractor may justify for the off level? No one has been in the pool yet.

    1. Hope someone answers this question. Interested in industry tolerance, our pool filled today 24×13 is about 2″ out and not sure whether to insist on being rebuilt or if it’s acceptable. We are in the UK.

  5. We just installed a 14’x42″ summer waves elite.. What I thought would be a day of ground leveling, turned into 3 truck loads of dirt to even come close to level the area & 3 days. Made ground perfectly leveled & used a large thick piece of plywood over the whole thing to pound down the dirt. After a day n half of filling the pool, it has sunk a bit on the dirt side & I’ve had to dig dirt out on the high part of the poles to level it more. Water is at the gray liner on one side & just above the first line of the filter on the other side.. freaking out because we haven’t gotten in it, afraid the kids will spill the water out, making the dirt come out & not really wanting to empty a almost 3200 gallons of water.. what do we do???

  6. We bought the 14×42 pool a few weeks ago. The only way to ensure level is right is to dig down, not build up. No amount of compression will match the weight of the water. Our pool dig has been exhausting. We were working on a slopes yard so we knew it would be challenging but it’s been so much worse than expected. Today we finally hope to be done and fill the pool. There are no shortcuts unfortunately. We tried. We failed. Digging the dirt to level is the only safe bet.

    1. Ya we are in a nightmare with a 18×48 Intex. The ground not level. Landscaper built up low side with high side dirt and sand ….then the legs sank and pool very unlevel. Then, we also noticed a big hole in our new pool! Drained pool and took down. Got new replacement pool. Had landscaper back, now wants same amount to remove high side to match low side (which is the correct and only way to do it). I think summer will be over and we will be broke before the pool is up!

    1. We were thinking about using pavers (pressure treated wood better we heard), but I think removing all the dirt to the low point is the best, long term, safest bet. It will cost ….but I heard blocks/pavers can crack, pool legs can slip off them if get any washing away of dirt and sand that is packed around them (like from slot of rain)? So, my conclusion….a cheap pool not cheap because to do it right….be prepared to pay triple the cost of the pool on leveling and supplies! It is so annoying how many suggestions and different opinions you see! Pay money and remove high side level to low side then 1-2 inch sand base, tarp, a pad then pool. Then pray that works or begin again! Why did I want a pool?

  7. My 15 ft round pool is now unlevel after being in my yard for 5 years. Water level off gradually by 1 inch on the side of the skimmer so when it evaporates out, the skimmer side is too low for the pump to prime……I add water about every third day to maintain the skimmer and pump…….It leaks about 1 inch every 3 days and in Texas heat is that ok or do I possible have a leak.? If I find and repair the leak can I level out my pool.?..All sides are dry, no water outside pool. There is some rust deposits around the screws of the skimmer faceplate. Need help

  8. I am awesome. But not as awesome as this article is written. As my grand pappy used to say… if you didn’t do it right the first time, keep doing it until you get it right, otherwise you will never enjoy it… of course, he was a sniper… but I think it is still applicable. 😉

  9. I have an 18′ x 33′ AG oval built on gravel and I yes agree, ovals suck to build. After filling, I noticed one “corner” is about 2 inches too high (at it’s highest). It’s quite an eyesore – especially considering I plan to build a deck around it, so it will be even more noticeable. I’d be curious to hear about the technical method of lowering the high part of the wall. I’d rather not raise the rest of the pool wall, mainly due to the trouble of back-filling those stupid pressure plates.

    I’m thinking I could very carefully and slowly excavate under the rails and blocks. First an inch or so, then do it again another inch after the initial pass – just so it’s not a sudden drop. I have foam coves in place under the liner.

    1. By you describing the raised area as “the corner”, I’m thinking the pool lifted due to a poor design. There is an oval model by Swim n Play that does this unless you build a ridiculous amount of coving up the straight sides of the pool. I refuse to build that model for that reason.

      f your corner did lift for this reason, chances are the other corners could lift as well. The problem is, how do you repair this? Because it’s an oval, you can’t just jack up or lower an upright or two and you’re done. The only real way I know of fixing this is to drain the pool, peel back the liner, dig up and re-level the buttresses on the raised side. Now, if you do all of this and put the pool back together and re-fill, guess what? It will lift again and you would’ve done it all for nothing. That’s what happened to me and it sucked, but I learned.

      You could do the above repair, and then add a lot of extra coving on top of the bottom metal plates and it will stay down. But your pool will have a huge cove(12″ high tapered down and out at least 12″) in your pool which can cause some wrinkles. AND, I would suggest you do the other straight side because it can happen over there too. My advice is, if you can, live with it. This repair is too extensive to be worth it.

  10. The side of my pool is 30inches in the ground and the other half is level. I was told to back fill with dirt. I’m worried about corrosion or having to damage landscape to make a repair over a few years. Or am I overthinking it.

    1. Our pool company won’t guarantee our pool if we back fill anything against it. We put 2X6’s against the pool walls. Ours is a rectangle. Well, 1 month after installation, the liner has indents all over the place under the liner, on top of sand. Read the warranty carefully. We have to empty 14,000 gallons of water to fix the problem.

    2. I have found no relationship between corrosion and a pool being in the ground so you are good to go. Corrosion conditions can exist whether a pool is in the ground or not.

  11. Looking for advice with frost. I am in Wisconisn and considering building an above ground next season. I am worried about frost heaving the pavers that are recommended for all install. I am looking at 2 reputable builders in the area and one says pavers is the way to go and is a platinum Doughboy retailer and the other says absolutely not to pavers and is a Certified Pool Builder through the APSP. I am concerned about 2 professionals having such polar opposite certainties on their installation process

    1. First off, I live in Florida and know little about frost heaving. BUT, I don’t think pavers will cause or prevent heaving as the pavers themselves have little to no structural value. I will default to the guy’s opinion who has built more above grounds partially in the ground in your area. That could be the only guy who really knows the answer to this.

  12. I just installed the intex 14×42 elite, single mom doing all this myself. I had someone level a spot. Well we thought it was level. It was not, so I had2 tons of sad brought in. It’s about3 to4 inches too low on one side. I cant really afford to dump what I’ve put in already. Is there anyway to fix this without wasting all that water. Not but anout a quarter of the way filled. But still money lost if i dump it. Please help. It’s always been my dream to have a pool of my own, it’s been mentally draining so far. Help please

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