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.

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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!

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125 thoughts on ““Off Level” Above Ground Pools

  1. Very good information on here! However, I still can’t find an answer on how to level my ground that’s off about 8”. I read that I shouldn’t level the ground with sand and only use it to have a smooth surf ace. My pool will be next to a block wall that is the high side and if I dig down, it will expose the bottom blocks and concrete. Any help on what to fill the low side with will be highly appreciated.. Thank You!!

    1. I really don’t think there’s any way to fill the low side and have it be level. Our pool area was about 13″ inches off level. We excavated down to about the 11″ mark and couldn’t go any further because of a buried pipe. We had no choice but to try to build up the 2″ difference on the other side. We used the soil we had excavated to do so.

      My husband wanted to try to compact it by hand using a steel tamper, but there’s no way it would compact it enough. He thought I was going overboard doing it, but I rented a plate compactor. And I knew even that wouldn’t put the same downward pressure that the pool water would. So we actually built up the low side so that it was about a 1/2″ higher after compacting. After being filled, our pool water is still about 2″ lower on that side. My pool doesn’t look racked or strained at all. Everything looks straight as far as the frame goes, so I can live with it. It does annoy me though. And this was only trying to make up a 2″ slope difference. Trying to make up an 8″ difference by building up would be next to impossible. As much as it sucks, digging is the way to go if you want a level pool.

  2. Just installed a new 16×48 summer waves and it has settled on one side aprox 2.5″. If I put pavers under the legs on the low side to level it back out. Will this work?

    1. We just put up the 16 x 48 one and filled with the 1” of water recommended. It seems to be looking more in one area, after working so hard to level it. I’m not sure what to do.

  3. My wife and I recently had to replace our old pool with a new 27′ doughboy above ground pool and have an issue with the liner. After filling up the pool, we noticed what I can only describe as a ledge or ridge that circles the entire pool where the walls meet the bottom. This ridge is 4-6 inches in height. This ridge is probably raised an inch or two off of the wall. In one area, that ridge is not at the bottom and almost looks as if there is a pool noodle behind the wall. It is also occurring below the grade of our lawn as the pool is a foot or so into the ground. Is this caused by poor installation or settling since the area that is raised is below grade? Do you have any idea what the cause of this is?

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. By the way it a has a deck built all around the pool hard to go underneath and do any kind of digging

  5. My above ground pool is on legal on one side, the liner is off off pulling down, wall don’t sit in tracks one suggested I could glue wall to board but if I did that how would liner stay in place, please help any suggestion

  6. I have a 16 x32 Doughboy oval . One of the wider four flat side supports is leaning 5-6 inches out, .This Just happened with warm weather. It was installed in November. Is there a way to fix this, and will it cause a major problem ? Could I use a come along to a tree on the other side and pull it back in place and the fix the bottom of support some how ? I will greatly appreciate your help. Thanks

    1. If you are talking about along the straight side of the pool, then it sounds like it wasn’t installed right and something failed. With a Doughboy, this could be that they didn’t use a concrete block for a non-strapped pool OR they didn’t use the right kind of paver or something to support under the strapped buttress. Ether way, you’ll want to drain the pool down at least half way to relieve some of the outward pressure so you can fix this.

      Pulling it back upright and in place with a come-along and a tree sounds dangerous. Instead, drain the pool down and then push the wall in place to look underneath the outside part of the buttress and fix. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see what happened. The last time I saw this was when an installer used just a thick cap stone instead of a filled cinder block and it failed after a couple months. The funny part was that he used cinder blocks on all the buttresses except one. I guess he was short one and didn’t want to go to Home Depot for one. What a bozo!

  7. I’m looking for advice on a sloped yard. We have dug a hole – digging down on the higher side – to create a level ’round’. It’s almost identical to the delta image in the article. What do we do with the soil wall on the higher side? There will be a gap and we are concerned about the soil wall crumbling away and kids twisting ankles in the gap.


      1. Ok to fill back fill this area with dirt? Or would rock or sand work better so it doesn’t wash out?

  8. I have a summer waves pool 17×52 we tried very hard to level ground. The pool appears to be tipping in from two sides when you stand back in look just slightly. Is this going to be a problem!

    1. That depends on what “slightly” means to you. If off more than two inches, the pool may gravitate to the low area and eventually lose its shape and get worse.

  9. 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

    1. At 3-4 inches off, you’ll have to dump the water to fix this. And this time when you try it again, use this device called a “level”. They come in a couple different ways. Research how to use one and use it to do a better job leveling your earth. Being off 3-4 inches over only 14 feet means you didn’t even get close.

        1. Well, it was her dream to have a pool, spent money on sod and other supplies, yet didn’t use a LEVEL to LEVEL the ground 😂😂. I’d say he answered the concern quite accurately.

  10. Is it ok to build a wooden base to level the ground for an intex 12ft pool as it will be going on a slope?

  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.

      1. Are you close to Largo? We have struggled severL times to get our pool level and seems to not be successful. It’s stays at about 4 inches difference. I have poured tons of money in a tiller, sand and dirt , scared for the safety of my kids while in it. Please help

        1. How big is your pool? We are in process of installing an Intex 22’ x 52” and after filling half way we are between 2-3 inches off level. I am concerned that it will be unsafe.

          1. Same situation here with same exact pool. Landscaper “leveled” yard of 23 feet in diameter using top soil, no sand. We filled the pool half way with water and it seemed fine. Then continued to fill and the day after the pool was filled completely, we noticed the pool was approximately 2 inches unleveled. One side of the pool legs started to slant slightly. We’ve decided to drain the pool and have the landscaper come back to correctly level the pool area. Hopefully he will be able to level it. Dreading having to take down the pool and put back up.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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. 😉

  15. 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

    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?

  16. 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. Never build up the low side lower the high side always. Unless you compact with a plate machine you will never get the fill dense enough to not move under that size pool as 60,000 lbs of water in it

    2. We tried to shortcut with our intex 15ft×4ft. Built the low side up with construction sand, filled it, and all the legs sank straight through the sand, and the pool nearly collapsed. Had to drain the pool, remove it, remove the sand, dig out the ground, rent a ground compactor, put some sand back, and refill the pool. It’s been a nightmare and the pool is still off by 1 1/2 inches.

  17. 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???

    1. I just installed my 14×42 summer waves elite pool. I tied 8 ft string to peg and created circle for area I wanted to place it. I dug up all the sod. I wish I had had a lawn roller but stamped it down as much as possible. I put a fine layer of sand and circled it with a 2×4 and a level until it was level and smooth making sure there were no pebbles. I layed a tarp flat over the area. Layed the pool out where I wanted it to go. I set up the frame. I added a 1×1 paver stone under each leg leveling it with stone dust. I just leveled one stone to the next then to the next and so on. I leveled the legs, level on the side of the leg and again level on the front of the leg. I also made sure the paver stones were pulled out enough they would not rub the pool. I double checked level at the top frame over each leg. All good. Filled it with an inch or two of water which was level, jumped in and removed any wrinkles. I then filled it a few more inches and then re-leveled the legs , side and front, before it was too heavy to adjust. Filled it up all the way so a half inch from top of pump opening. Water doesn’t lie, it is level. Just move paver to paver keeping them level! Now I am a single mom with an infant and did all this myself, just keep it simple. You can do it!

  18. 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.

    2. Have the installer re-install the pool. Almost all above ground manufacturer warranty is voided if installed on any fill material and not 100% on virgin ground.

  19. 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?

  20. 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 ?

    1. Above ground pools aren’t supposed to be installed on “fill” material. It can either wash out from underneath, and/or compact and cause the pool to be out of level.

      1. The wall will always be a consistent height though regardless of the legs. The idea is to get the wall level

  21. 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.

          1. We replace our old soft sided pool. It was 18ft round we went with a 16ft round. Left the ground the way we had it being that it was level. But one side of it seems to have to much strain on it. What can I do before it bust at the seem?

          2. Your guess is about as good as mine. These soft-sided pools have a poor design. If it looks bad, then you’ll have to drain it and try again making sure the shape stays somewhat round. Or you can save some money and consider a better metal walled pool replacement.

        2. Our 15 ft soft sided pool collapsed and flooded our neighbors yard (and under their house) with less an an inch off level. Be careful

      2. Replaced a pool and it is level but has a few deep lumps. The original was fine. I think the guy didn’t do anything to the original base pack. He is out of business. Any way to insert fill to even these dangerous spots out. In the process of draining now for other reasons. Any help would be appreciated.

      3. My pool is a Coleman Vista 2. It is two inches off exactly. A normal person wouldn’t notice but my OCD does. Is this ok for now?. I can send pics…

    1. Mine was 4 inch unlevel so dig 2 inch hole on one side n raised other side 2 inch worked great

          1. Mine is about five inches off. We removed the sod leveled the ground with a straight board and long leveler, and the pool seems to be sinking. The difference was slight at first (just a couple of inches), but the ground seems to be sinking on one side. What should we do?

          2. How is your pool holding up? Mine is alittle more off than that and we are nervous but want to make it through the summer.

          3. How is holding up now. Mine was a little off and then sunk after a bunch of rain. Draining it down now so I can jack up the low side and stabilize the feet better.

        1. I dug under 7 of the feet on the high side and they did not fall. Now that side is off ground and im looking for a solution plz

          1. I just did the same thing. Have one person shaking the side while another person is sitting/bouncing full weight and you should see it start to move. may help having someone in the pool making waves to release some pressure off the wall. i got mine to drop 2 inches this way.

      1. My pool is off 4in. on one fourth of pool , I have called person who set pool up, can they fix it with out dumping the whole 9000 gAls of water, it’s a colmrn heavy vinal siding. I am almost afraid it may bust, is this safe to get in

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