Some people don’t know this, but what I often call a “real” above ground swimming pool is one that has a metal wall and a separate liner. This has been the design for most above grounds for at least the fifty plus years that my family has worked with them and my guess is that is how it will be many years from now.
So what then is a “soft-sided” above ground pool? Well, since I’m asking this question to myself, I might as well answer.
Soft Sided Pool 101
The biggest thing that defines a soft-sided above ground is that the wall of the pool is also its liner. The material used for the wall/lining is canvas-like and waterproof. This means a lot of things. Soft-sided pools are much easier to install because of this as it only needs a framework to keep this canvas up and in shape and it’s done. They also aren’t as protected from sharp objects that get thrown by kids or blown by a gust of wind during a storm or something such as a sharp rock that can get propelled by a lawnmower.
Soft-sided pools don’t come in as many sizes as the regular above grounds and they don’t last nearly as long. Well, I say that, because most soft sided pools are cheaply made. The vast majority of these pools are sold through Wal-Mart and are really inexpensive. If you choose to get one of these, don’t expect to get any more than a season or two out of it.
These pools are not great. They are not even good, but are just OK. Intex makes more soft-sided pools than anyone by a long shot. You can get them at Wal-Mart and depending on the size and model, will cost only a few hundred dollars for everything. I’m talking like $400 for the pool, equipment, ladder, and maintenance kit. This is a ridiculously cheap price, but it’s also ridiculously cheap in quality.
Once in a while I’ll get a call from someone who thinks that one of these cheap $400.00 pools that is made in China is the same as a good standard metal walled above ground pool package that costs $3000.00. They’ll think the other pools are just grossly overpriced and the world is trying to rip them off at every turn. I’ve heard, “I can get a whole pool package for less than what this guy charges for just a pump and filter. Why would I pay all that extra money?” I used to try to tell them what a cheap piece of junk that $400 Intex pool is, but my efforts fell too many times on deaf ears so I don’t anymore. Their minds are already made up so I’ll just say good luck. After a year they call me back, because they are now ready to quit screwing around with Chinese landfill products and want something that will last and that they can properly maintain.
There are other soft-sided pools that are made in China and while most are the same quality as Intex, some are just marginally better. You’ll find new manufacturers every year that make these pools and they will be gone just a fast as they came. Names like Pro Series or Great Escape have been around for a bit, but these pools can be made under any name. Some are slightly better, so my best advice for getting one is to go by price. Soft-sided pools that are just a couple hundred dollars more than the Intex ones might be a little better, but don’t expect much.
By far the biggest issue with these cheap pools is the pump and filter that come with them. The pool itself isn’t too bad, but the pump and filter are abysmal. They are simply too small and too cheap to keep up with the demands of cleaning the water. Some will get a cheap soft-sided pool and then buy a standard good filter pack to use with it. That’s not a bad idea at all, but Intex makes it difficult to retrofit anything other than their equipment to their pools. They use ultra specific fittings on their pools to discourage anyone from using stuff other than their own. This is unfortunate, but you can still fit standard equipment to these pools. It’s just not easy to figure out. If you can successfully attach good equipment to these pools, that will help big time. The pool still won’t last more than a couple years, but at least the water will be nice and healthy.
The other big issue with these cheap pools is the steel frame rusting out. Years ago, gearheads would say that the steel used to make Japanese cars came from the melted down steel of old crushed American cars and that’s why it wasn’t as good. By that rational I’d say the steel China uses to make these pool frames must come from old Japanese cars. In other words, the steel is junk.
The Good Thing About Intex Pools
There are many people in this country who have kids and are broke. There is no way they can get the credit or can save up the money to buy a real above ground, but they can get a few hundred together to buy an Intex pool and I think that’s great. The landfills will be that much bigger in two years, but that family gets to enjoy a pool.
Another good thing about getting a cheap soft-sided pool is it’s a good inexpensive way to find out if you really want a swimming pool. I can’t tell you how many people call me for an installation of a real above ground to replace the Intex they bought a year or two ago. They discover that they really like having a pool, but need to have something maintainable that will last.
Good Quality Soft Sided Above Ground Pools
I’ve been pretty negative about soft-sided pools, but that’s only because I’ve been talking about that garbage made in China. There are some soft sided pools that are awesome and will last for years and years. They are made of much better materials that don’t rust nearly as much or nearly as soon and come with great standard fitting equipment.
These high-end soft-sided pools are still easy to install and are truly mobile as they can be fairly easily disassembled/reassembled. The drawback to these pools is the cost and look. They often will cost more than a metal walled above ground and not look as nice in the yard. Great quality soft sided pools have been around for years, but I think for the above-mentioned reasons they never really became popular.