What to Use for Leveling an Above Ground Pool

What to Use for Leveling an Above Ground Pool

Over the years I’ve seen my share of horribly built above ground swimming pools. Many of them were severely misshaped, all their uprights leaned to the side and the resin connectors were cracked and did not hide the screws. The biggest way to mess up an above ground pool installation, though, is for it not to be level.

The most “off level” an above ground can get is around three to four inches off. This means when the pool is filled, on the one side the pool structure is three or four inches higher above the waterline than on the other side. Chief Obvious nature fact: Water is always level with the earth. Since water can only be level, an “off level” swimming pool will look really bad when you fill it.

I don’t usually see above ground pools that are off more than four inches, because they will almost always cave in when the level is off by more than that. Most above ground installation manuals will say that a pool should be level within an inch, but I try to get it level to an eighth of an inch or so. Above grounds with liners that have patterns or tile lines will start to look “off level” at about the half inch mark as the naked eye can compare the level pool waterline against the pattern of the liner.

How an Above Ground Pool Is Leveled

Traditional above ground swimming pools are leveled at their bottom track. This is the track that the pool’s wall fits into. So, if the track is level, then so is the wall. Most do-it-yourselfers will go on YouTube and find that most videos show how to level the entire bottom area of the pool. They will show this using some makeshift long leveling tool made from two-by-four wood nailed together according to the length needed to span the radius of the pool’s size. They then tape a two or four-foot level to the wood so they know when it’s level and attach one end to a piece of wood that’s hammered into the earth at the very middle of where the pool is going. At that point the long two-by-four wood can swivel in 360 degrees from the center pivot point and can be used to level the earth.

This leveling method does work to level the earth, but it is time-consuming and ultimately not very accurate in leveling what’s really important to level which is the bottom track. The bottom of an above ground pool doesn’t have to be level. Some will “dish out” the bottom of their pool so it is gradually deeper in the very center and that’s cool as it may make it easier to maintain the pool later on.

The reality is that it is much more important for the pool’s bottom to be smooth instead of level. The above-mentioned long two-by-four leveling method does very little at making the pool bottom smooth as the smoothing is done later on after the wall is up and the bottom coving is built or installed.how to level an above ground pool

Leveling the Pool’s Bottom Track

When I started building above grounds in the eighties, we didn’t use blocks for leveling.  We would just level the earth and lay the track down and roll out the wall. The result was some of those pools were pretty “off level”. Today every pool installer uses some kind of blocks for leveling the track and we place a block under every one of the bottom track connectors. I’ve seen people use all kinds of things for leveling blocks from cutting pieces of small pressure treated wood (not recommended) all the way to full 8”x8”x16”concrete blocks buried (also not recommended). Most do-it-yourselfers use too big of a block for this as they think the blocks have some structural value and they don’t. I use 6”x6” standard thickness square pavers.

CAUTION: SIDE RANT AHEAD

When I explain that the blocks under the track have no structural value, some homeowners look at me sideways and don’t believe or agree with me on this. If you work above ground pool bottom railsin computer science or are an engineer of some kind, chances are you won’t agree with me as these two professions must attract the overly intellectually arrogant.  In this case, it doesn’t matter if you are wrong, as it won’t hurt anything to overbuild. You can spend your whole week digging and leveling giant unnecessary pieces of concrete materials. I’m sure your body needs the exertion and your soul will enjoy being outside for a change. Certainly there is value in everything we do.

Anyway, when leveling the blocks under the track, people do it in two ways. Most will lay down the pool’s bottom track, shape it and somehow mark where the connectors are and then take the track out of the way so they can level the blocks. Some will keep the track in place and level the blocks underneath. This is tricky as the track will get in the way of leveling the blocks. The latter is the method I use.

What to Use to Level the Blocks

Most people will use a four-foot level and starting with the first block, will level from block to block all the way around until all blocks are the same level. This is hard to do as the distance between the track connectors (which is where the blocks go) is more than four feet long. To make up the difference, some will tape their level to a five foot 2×4 so it will reach from block to block.

Personally, if I were using a four-foot level to level the blocks, I would leave the track in place and put the level on top of the track. This will allow you to level farther than the four-foot length of the level as the track covers the longer distance from connector to connector. This is also more accurate as you are now leveling the actual track and not just the blocks. Confused yet? Sorry. This will make more sense when you are doing it instead of just reading about it.

The Ultimate Leveling Tool

Years ago I used a four-foot level to level pool tracks, but eventually graduated to using a builder’s level instead. Hand levels work well, but the drawback is you are leveling from block to block which means you are using a different point of reference every time. This can result in the blocks not being all the same level. You’ll know how level or off you are when you finally level that last block with the original first block you started with. Often the blocks will be off and will have to be redone using this method.

A builder’s level or transit uses the same point of level reference every time. This means the blocks will all be the same level the first time. It does take two people to do this, though, as one has to look through the level while another is leveling. You could rent a 360-degree laser level and do it on your own if you don’t have any good friends.

In conclusion, just remember that it’s the bottom track that has to be level and not the ground inside the pool. Get that bottom track level and the right shape and the whole pool will look good and last longer no matter how bad the pool’s bottom looks or feels.

33 thoughts on “What to Use for Leveling an Above Ground Pool

  1. Loved your article,we are on having toreplaceour above ground pool liner. How any people are needed to replace this, and what is the best to use forthebottom of thepool

  2. Hi, I have an above ground oval pool and develop rust and now the wall cracked. It is only 4 years old. Can that section of wall on the 15×30 be replaced with getting a new pool?

  3. How do I find knowledgeable & experienced workers to level the ground for my above ground pool. I hired 2 amateurs who brought their kids with them & no tools except a shovel & take?

  4. What is the piece called underneath the connecting bottom tracks? I need to find two of them and cannot find what it is called.

  5. Hi Dan, great article! We have been trying to level the ground now for 3 days. We feel better about getting the track level like you mentioned above. Our ground is fill dirt with many small rocks. Every time we pull up a rock there is 3 more. We are using a 6 foot level to rake off the high spots but should we use a transit to level the ground before the track process? We have a pool pad and lime sand for the 2″ cushion. Is that enough cushion? Also, we purchased the pool coving. Should we use it or the sand?
    Thanks for your time,

    1. I like to use .5 inch foam insulation under my pools. It feels amazing when walking on it and hides all the small rocks!

  6. Thank you for the article. We are new to pools and gave us good info. We bought a house on the river which came with a above ground pool. The floor of the deck is level with the top of the pool. This spring the river rose very high and sand was washed out from under the pool bottom making the pool lean badly. (I think this happens every year to some extent.) We are re-doing the pool and deck next spring and wonder if you have some idea as to a base for the pool to avoid future washouts.
    Thanks for any advice,

    1. Earth washing out from under a pool means there is more than flooding going on. There also has to be flowing flood water . This is extreme and I don’t advise you keeping the pool where it is. Avoid danger by moving the pool or raising up the earth and reinforcing it so earth doesn’t flow away.

  7. I have a 15’ round pool. While trying to replace my liner, some of my walls came down. I have dugged every thing out, and the walls are up again😊. My question, does the walls all have to go back in the tracks? The are that has come out is below ground level. Thank you for your help 😊

  8. We just bough a 22’ pool and have a backyard that slopes. We are trying to figure out the easiest option to level it but we also want to do it right. Do you suggest using a rototiller to loosen the soil then dig it level? Thanks for a great article!

    1. I’m not an installer but have done alot of reading up on this, as I’m also putting up an above ground. It sounds like one should dig out the high spots and use something like a tractor with a loader bucket or a skid steer if you have access to one. The “low” spot don’t touch. That is your starting point. From there, all other points around the pool have to be dug down to that low level.

      Adding dirt to a low spot to make it high is very difficult to do. Well, it sounds easy but when you put on tens of thousands of pounds of water, the newly added dirt will compact and become a lumpy spot. It’s very difficult to compact new dirt to the same compaction rate as the existing soil that you already have.

      I think a rototiller will just make a mess of things, loosening up far too much soil too far down and it’ll ruin your good base. Good luck!

  9. i built above grounds in west tn, west ky, and southern illinois for 4 summers in college from 2002-2005. learned a hell of a lot doing that work. your post was precisely how we leveled our blocks. cool to read how you went through the same logic as we did.

  10. Your article was very helpful. I have a question that I hope that someone can answer.
    I live in the San Francisco Bay area. We have hard clay here. The type that is almost as hard as granite on the top three inches until you hit the softer stuff below that.
    My questions are :

    1. The bottom rail will not sit perfectly flat on the dirt because of small nooks and crannies and it is very hard like granite. What are my options in this case? Do I make a bed of small river gravel underneath along the circumference of the pool so that the rail can sit evenly?
    Which leads to this question :
    The plates where the rails come together are plastic and they are about an eighth of an inch thick. Logic dictates if i even out the blocks with the surface of the diet then the rails will be floating above the dirt with an eighth of an inch gap so it appears that the blocks have to be sunk an eighth of an inch further down. It’s this correct? I have a contempra pool 15′. I called the company where I purchased it and they stated it can float above the dirt between the blocks. I though that answer to be incorrect.. Also one final question. If the boffins rails are all label but the base is off by 2 degrees at the lowest point is this acceptable? Any help appreciated.

  11. I am building a 33 foot above ground pool and need a little advise.
    I had a company with a skid steer and excavator get my ground level to within one inch using a laser. My ground has many nooks and crannies that will not allow the bottom rail to sit flush on the ground. Should I use a crushed stone around the base to get it smooth so that I can lay the rail down flush with the ground? Or will the minor inconsistencies in the ground be smoothed out by the weight of the pool since the overall ground is level to one inch?

    1. Ronnie, the pool’s bottom track has to be level. The rest of the ground does not. Use patio stones to level the bottom track by placing one under each connector plate. Use a level to do this. Don’t rely on the earth’s level. After you have the bottom track level, then you can level the earth to it. This way, the pool wall(which fits into that track) will be level. That’s really important.

  12. I have now emptied my 18’ above ground pool 3 times this summer. First time was because of an approximate 6-7” leveling issue in one end. This time a cleaning issue. We moved it but still have a 4” level issue in the same end. Now that the water is out again can I use 3-4 inch pavers under the connectors on that end to make it more level. I assume the pavers must be small and the size of the connectors???

    1. It sounds like you have a soft-sided above ground or an Intex type. Those are the hardest to get level. You’ll have to take the pool down and get a 19′ (because you have an 18′ pool) area level within about one inch. You have to remove any sod first. Get a line level and use it to make sure the area is level. Then re-install the pool and you’ll be good. Blocks won’t do much if the ground isn’t level.

  13. Hi, I have a 24’ round pool. My previous pool let go after a Number of years, and we did not replace the pool until the area had been sitting a few years growing weeds. I hired a company to come in and re-install my new pool on the same area. Now that the pool is then I noticed there are high and low spots within the base of the pool I also can feel a few small rocks up against the pool liner of the floor is this anything to be concerned about they use sand as a base on top of my old base. I am concerned that they rushed to get done and did not give me the quality I expected. I do not want to have to replace my liner because of small rocks penitrating my liner. I feel as though my old pool was had a more level floor. The pool walls do look level to the naked eye. Do you think the small rocks can harm the liner? They are maybe 1/2” in size. Thanks.

    1. The rocks will most likely never come through the liner. The liner will stretch around things and rarely tear. If you want, you can take a small piece of wood and a hammer and gently tap the rocks down. They won’t come back up and you won’t feel them anymore.

  14. We had a 24′ X 54″ pool installed 11 years ago. It collapsed so we removed the pool and bought a new one. I am presently digging around the pool base to get the rocks out of the way. I found the pavers that the track must have rested on. Since I have gotten this far and I have pulled the sand and clay away toward the center, do you think I can do this on my own (with some muscle help)? I have done so much work already, the site is already there (from the old pool), and it seems that I have done the hard work already (pushing river rock back and digging out the clay and sand all the way around the diameter to make the pavers accessible). I realize that the most important part of the process is to make sure the site is level. Any advice you can give would be appreciated.

    1. Although you have worked hard clearing away the area around the pool, I would still advise you to have a professional do the install. There are many reasons but the biggest is that those blocks usually have to be re-leveled because the new uprights are commonly a different distance apart from the existing pool uprights. Re-using the existing level and position of the blocks will often result in an off level and/or misshaped pool.

  15. Help. My bottom rails were level but I can’t get my side supports into the right position. They are both about 2inchs above the pool wall. What should I do?

    1. Help. I need more information to know what your problem is. Even the smallest above ground has like 8 uprights/side supports. You’re claiming to only have two? And what is meant by “the right position”?

      If I had to guess, I’d say that two (of your many) uprights won’t fit down into the bottom connectors all the way. This is leaving them too high at the top. Get down there and make them fit. Cut something if you have to.

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