Selecting a pool for your yard can be a complicated process. Use this guide to the different types of pools—including above-ground, in-ground, and specialty pools—to sort out which option is best for you.

By Jessica Bennett
Updated March 19, 2021
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A pool is the ultimate backyard upgrade. Depending on its design, a pool can serve as a relaxing retreat, a family fun zone, or a training area for serious swimmers. Pools come in a variety of sizes and styles, and the type of pool you choose will help determine the cost, construction process, and how you and your family will use it. When planning for a pool, it's important to consider all your options for above-ground, in-ground, and specialty pools before you make the investment. You should also note that not all types of pools are allowed in some regions. Check your local building ordinances early in the planning process, and be sure to follow all safety guidelines when you start construction.

Use the following guide to learn about some of the most popular types of pools and decide which one is right for your backyard. Each option comes with its own pros, cons, and special considerations that should factor into your decision.

home with outdoor pool on deck
Credit: Brie Williams

1. Above-Ground Pools

Generally the most economical option, above-ground pools sit on the surface of your yard, sometimes with a deck or patio surrounding them. Most above-ground pools are constructed with aluminum, resin, or steel sidings with vinyl liners. Patterned walls are available.

You can often assemble and dismantle this type of pool with relative ease as a DIY project, or many retailers offer delivery and installation. Above-ground pools are also suitable for yards with limited access. They arrive in pieces that can easily be carried to the pool site for assembly.

Advantages of Above-Ground Pools

Above-ground pools are generally less expensive and easier to build than other types of pools. Here are some of the main advantages:

  • Above-ground versions are the most affordable type of pool.
  • Some options are temporary structures, so you can take them with you if you move.
  • Available in several shapes and sizes, they're suitable for small yards.
  • Assembling and disassembling an above-ground pool is relatively easy.

Disadvantages of Above-Ground Pools

You should also consider these downsides before choosing an above-ground pool:

  • Although they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, you are typically limited to designs offered by manufacturers.
  • Above-ground pools can be difficult to disguise in a landscape, although carefully planned patios and decks can help blend them into your yard.
  • Their lifespan is not as long as in-ground pools. Vinyl liners typically need replacing every five years.

Also popular are the most basic above-ground pools, which are easily filled with a garden hose and stored away when not in use. Because they require no filtration equipment, they must be regularly drained, cleaned, and refilled to provide a clean swimming environment.

backyard pool and clubhouse
Credit: Tria Giovan

2. In-Ground Pools

In-ground pools are permanent structures built directly into the landscape. They come in several varieties, with concrete, fiberglass, and vinyl-liner pools being the most common types of in-ground pools. Your contractor can work with you on the choice of construction. Materials are typically chosen for strength and flexibility.

Fiberglass Pools

These are usually made by the manufacturer and delivered in one piece. Fiberglass pools are typically more flexible than concrete pools, making them a good choice in earthquake-prone areas. Fiberglass panel pools, which are constructed on-site, are another option that allows more design flexibility.

Concrete Pools

Often the most costly to build, concrete pools are poured on-site, allowing you to custom-design virtually any shape or size. Several finishes such as plaster, paint, and specialty coating materials such as Pebble Tec are available in a range of colors.

Vinyl-Liner Pools

These in-ground pools are built with panel walls that are fastened together and sit on a concrete foundation. A custom-made vinyl liner then covers the entire pool.

outdoor pool stone patio
Credit: David Tsay

Advantages of In-Ground Pools

In-ground pools offer nearly endless opportunities to customize the size, shape, and style to create your dream pool. These are the main advantages:

  • Most in-ground pools can be designed to fit any shape or size yard and accommodate your specific needs, such as space for diving or fitness swimming.
  • They can be easily designed into the landscape.
  • There are several accessories and features available, such as diving boards, slides, water games, water fountains, and specialty lighting.

Disadvantages of In-Ground Pools

This type of pool also comes with a few significant downsides:

  • In-ground pools are typically more costly to build.
  • The construction duration can be lengthy.
  • Because the water surface is near ground-level, in-ground pools can pose a greater safety risk for young kids or pets.
outdoor infinity pool
Credit: Paul Dyer

3. Infinity Pools

Typically custom-made to highlight a view, infinity pools feature one or more walls with a vanishing-edge design, which sits just below the pool's water level. This allows water to flow over the wall, creating the illusion that the water has no bounds. This type of pool is often used on sites with a steep drop-off to showcase views of mountains, bodies of water, and other striking landscape features. Because of their specialized design requirements, infinity pools can be very costly to build and maintain.

in ground backyard pool
Credit: Jay Wilde

4. Lap Pools

If your primary reason for owning a pool is fitness, a lap pool can be a smart investment. Designed specifically for swimming laps, this type of in-ground pool is long, narrow, and typically rectangular. Requiring minimal space, lap pools are ideal for small yards. Most lap pools offer at least 40 feet of straight, unobstructed swimming space to limit the need for frequent turns. For a single swimmer, the width of a lap pool can be as little as 8 feet. The construction considerations are similar to that of other in-ground pools.

5. Swim Spas

Swim spas are another type of pool that's well suited for fitness use. A hybrid of a pool and spa, swim spas have water jets that allow the user to swim against a constant flow of water. Great for small yards, some swim spas span as little as 12 feet. Because the swimmer isn't actually moving through the water, the dimensions of the pool can be much smaller. They can also be heated for dual use as a spa and a swim spa.

ranch home backyard with hot tub and lap pool
Credit: Bob Stefko

6. Hot Tubs and Spas

Hot tubs and spas are small, heated pools intended for relaxation or hydrotherapy. The portable, above-ground version is typically called a hot tub, while a home spa refers to an in-ground model, which are often built in conjunction with in-ground pools. Thanks to their smaller size, hot tubs and spas are typically less expensive to install and maintain compared to other types of pools. However, their compact dimensions also limit their use.

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