Above Ground vs Inground: It’s Not Just About Cost

Picture of an above ground pool that's slightly buried

Should I get an above ground pool or an inground pool? It’s a question every would-be pool owner has to answer if they want to get anywhere in their quest for backyard bliss.

According to the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, there are about 5 million inground pools in the United States, compared to about 3.5 million above ground pools. However, the market for above ground pools (aka onground pools) has grown faster in recent years.

In short, people are pretty divided on what type of pool to get.

Of course, for many people, there is no choice because an inground pool doesn’t fit their budget. But for others, the decision is tough – and it involves a lot more than just dollar figures. Here are some of the factors to consider when deciding on the right pool for you and your family.


We like to harp on the fact that inground pool prices vary a lot. The same is true of above ground pools, especially if you want to include easy set pools in the discussion. The truth is, a lot of the dollar figures thrown around for both above ground and inground pools are practically meaningless because of all the variables involved.

However, one thing we can state with certainty is that an inground swimming pool is far more expensive than a comparable above ground pool. In fact, for the cost of an inground pool on the low end of the scale, you can probably get a top-of-the-line above ground pool – and still have money left over to throw your first pool party.

If you want a deeper comparison than that, it might be helpful to consider the extra costs of installing an inground swimming pool. Here are some of the things included in the cost of inground installation that may not be on the tab for an above ground pool:

  • Excavation
  • Professional installation (may or may not be necessary for an above ground pool)
  • Pool safety fence
  • More expensive materials
  • Additional permits

So, given the same budget, an above ground pool gives you more money to play with. Many people choose to take some of that money and spend it on a nice wraparound deck. For many homeowners weighing above ground vs. inground, the choice comes down to a basic vinyl inground pool vs. an above ground pool with a deck.

Above ground pool with deck and fence
With the money you save by getting an above ground pool, you can install a wraparound deck that improves its looks and functionality.


You’d probably guess that installing an above ground pool is quicker and easier than installing an inground pool. And you’d be right, generally speaking. The key is to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.

Above ground pools are typically put together using a kit, and are relatively straightforward for a handy person to install. If you buy your pool from a local pool shop, they typically do the installation for you as part of the purchase. Otherwise, you may be on the hook for doing it yourself (maybe not so quick and easy?).

Inground pools can also be installed via kits, though it’s less common. The need to excavate makes installing an inground pool much more challenging right off the bat. Getting permits and complying with safety laws is also likely to be more difficult with an inground pool.

That said, the more common scenario for an inground pool is for it to be installed by a local pool company. The pool may be installed in a matter of weeks or months, depending on whether it’s vinyl, fiberglass, or a custom gunite pool. But however long it takes – and however complicated the process is – at least you’re not the one doing the work.

Picture of a man working on setting up the frame for an inground swimming pool
Installing an inground pool is typically a job for professionals, and will leave your backyard looking like a construction zone for weeks.


With pool walls extending above ground, a stationary above ground pool has a built-in safety feature that’s lacking in inground pools. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, well over half of fatal drownings happen in inground pools (another 10% happen in portable above ground pools, which include inflatable and plastic kiddie pools).

That said, details do matter. While above ground pools might be statistically safer, an inground pool with thoughtful safety features (including a fence) is less likely to be the scene of an accident than an unsecured onground pool.


Above ground pools come in a large-but-limited number of models. While you can find them in lots of different styles, the sizes and shapes available pale in comparison to what you can get for an inground pool.

In fact, an inground swimming pool can take any form you wish (provided it’s made from concrete rather than a pre-constructed fiberglass shell). There are more add-on features available for inground pools, including tanning ledges and attached spas. You can also get a diving board with an inground pool, which isn’t possible with an above ground pool due to its lack of depth.


To most people’s eyes, inground swimming pools are more attractive than above ground pools. They simply look more like natural bodies of water.

That’s not to say you can’t make an above ground pool look nice, especially if you get creative with landscaping or an attached deck. However, for an above ground pool, the highest compliment is often when someone says it “looks like an inground pool.” That should tell you something.

Above Gr
An attractive exterior and the right landscaping can improve the looks of an above ground pool. Otherwise, you can hide it with a wrapround deck.


Above ground and inground pools require a lot of the same maintenance tasks, including cleaning, filtering, and maintaining chemical balance. As far as durability goes, inground pools – particularly concrete and fiberglass ones – generally hold up much better than above ground pools.

On the other hand, when an inground pool does need renovations or repairs, you’re pretty much stuck with an expensive project on your hands. It is, after all, a permanent fixture on your property. In contrast, an old above ground pool can simply be torn down and replaced at your leisure.


An inground swimming pool generally adds value to your home, but probably not nearly as much as you put into it. Still, that’s better than an above ground pool, which can actually reduce property value. This is especially likely if you live in a warmer area where inground pools are the norm, or if you have an above ground pool that’s simply too cheap for your property.

To be clear, neither type of pool makes much sense as an investment because there are almost always more effective ways to spend your money on home improvement. Still, if you’re set on buying a pool, it’s worth considering what sort of asset you’re getting for your money.

Still unsure whether an above ground or inground pool is right for you? Some pool experts suggest starting off with an above ground pool. Then, if you choose, you can “upgrade” to an inground pool after a season or two, when you have a better idea of what it’s like to have your own backyard pool.

After all, getting an inground swimming pool is one commitment you don’t want to dive into.