How to Level the Ground For Your Pool

Written by Michael Dean
May 9, 2023

above ground pool on level ground

Above ground pools are an affordable alternative to inground pools, but to last a long time, they need to be correctly installed. One of the most important things to consider is having a level surface for your swimming pool to sit on.

Below, I’ll cover the step-by-step process to level your backyard and confidently install your above ground pool. I’ll also discuss why leveling the ground underneath your swimming pool is important. After you read this article, make sure to read my guide on what to put under an above ground pool as well for some different base options.

Main Takeaways

  • Leveling the ground for your above ground pool will require a lot of digging, and you may need to hire a professional to tackle the job.
  • You can level the ground without digging, but to do so, you’ll need sand and a long board connected to a rope.
  • You need to level the ground for your pool so that it is safe and sturdy; it can even affect the longevity of your pool, the water level, and structural integrity.

Materials and Tools You Need to Level Your Backyard

There’s a lot of discussion about the tools you need to level the ground for your pool. One school of thought is that the more basic the gear, the better. Others believe you can’t level ground for your pool without heavy-duty equipment. I’ve done both, and I think the reality lies somewhere in the middle for simple above ground pools.

To level the ground in preparation for your pool, you’ll need the following:

  • Shovel
  • Large level
  • Stakes for marking the ground
  • Tape measure
  • Plank
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Heavy Machinery (not always necessary)
  • String
  • Motorized or manual ground compactor or a hand tamper
  • Spray paint
  • Level head rake
  • Sub-base material like sand
  • Hose

Step-by-Step Process: How to Level the Ground for an Above Ground Pool

When leveling the ground for your above ground pool, the first thing you need to decide is whether you want to hire professionals or tackle the job yourself.

After you survey the area (more on that below), if you find that it requires some heavy-duty machinery to move all the dirt you need to displace, I recommend hiring a local contractor to help you out. On the other hand, if it’s just a few uneven spots, you should be able to DIY without any issues. Let’s get into the steps.

  1. Survey the area
  2. Identify any higher areas
  3. Remove grass and debris
  4. Begin digging with a shovel
  5. Use heavy machinery for bigger projects
  6. Periodically Check How Level The Ground Is
  7. Rake the leveled soil
  8. Compact the soil
  9. Add sand layer
  10. Compact the sand
  11. Spray with herbicide
  12. Cover with a protective base and set up your pool

Step 1: Survey the Area

Check with your local municipalities and utilities before you start removing sod or digging up the ground. They will let you know if you’re sitting on top of gas and electric pipes or buried cables and sprinkler systems. The last thing you want is to break a pipe and have a hazardous and expensive accident on your hands. For more information on this topic, read my guide on how to choose the right space for your above ground pool.

Step 2: Identify Any Higher Areas

Once you’ve established there are no buried pipes or cables, check the area and determine how even it is and pinpoint any areas of high ground. Instead of trying to raise the low areas of the ground up, you should lower the high areas. So, mark the high areas of the ground with wooden stakes or spray paint, as these are the areas that will require the most attention when leveling.

Step 3: Remove Grass and Debris

Now that you’ve established the main areas you’ll be working on, you can begin clearing the ground for your project. First, you will need to remove the grass and any debris underneath. Rocks and roots in the ground can damage the pool liner, so it’s crucial to clear the area before installation. You can use a motorized sod cutter or a garden hoe to cut up the sod and roll away the areas of grass you want to remove.

To make this easier, I recommend placing a tarp over the grass a few weeks before you plan to level the ground and weigh down the edges of the tarp with cinder blocks or other heavy objects. This will kill off most of the grass, making removal MUCH easier.

Step 4: Begin Digging With A Shovel

This is where the shovel and wheelbarrow come in. It’s easier to level the ground by digging and reducing the height of hillier ground than by building up lower ground. This may take considerable time and effort, depending on how uneven the ground is. In general, you should be able to level the ground without heavy equipment unless you have to remove more than 12 inches of soil.

Stones and large roots may also complicate digging down to ground level.

Step 5: Use Heavy Machinery For Bigger Projects

If you are dealing with larger hills in the ground with more than 12 inches of soil to remove, you should consider renting a skid steer loader or other heavy machinery to level the ground. While it will cost you more in the long run, it will save you tons of time and backbreaking manual labor spent manually leveling the ground.

Step 6: Periodically Check How Level The Ground Is

Use a level to check the ground as you work. I recommend placing a sheet of plywood or a plank on the ground first and then placing your level on top; this allows you to get a more accurate reading. Make sure you move the plank and the level around the pool area to ensure the entire patch of ground is perfectly leveled.

Step 7: Rake The Leveled Soil

Once the ground is level, you should grab a level head rake to remove any twigs, stones, or other debris from the soil. You should ensure that no hard or sharp objects in the soil could potentially puncture your above ground pool liner.

Step 8: Compact The Soil

After raking the soil, wet the ground and use a motorized compactor, a manual garden roller, or a hand tamper to compact the soil. Think of the soil as the primary foundation for your pool. The firmer the soil is, the less likely it is to shift.

Step 9: Add A Sand Layer

Once the ground is level and compacted, add a sand layer to smooth out the base. The sand layer protects the pool liner from any remaining debris in the ground. You need to add enough sand to cover the entire pool area with at least two inches of thickness.

Pour the sand onto the leveled ground and spread it out in an even layer with a rake. Use the hose to wet the area and leave it to dry overnight.

Step 10: Compact the Sand

Now that the ground is dry and flat, it’s time to pack it in. Use a hand tamper or lawn roller to compact the ground.

Finally, recheck the ground to ensure it is thoroughly leveled and even. Many above ground pool owners discover too late that their measurements were off. This is the time to make final adjustments and remove any missed bumpy ground.

Step 11: Spray With Herbicide

To ensure grass, weeds, or other plants don’t take root and attempt to grow into your pool liner, spray the entire layer of sand with herbicide before installing your pool.

Step 12: Cover with Protective Base and Set Up Your Pool

Adding a protective base layer prevents the pool liner from damage and punctures. Usually a foam or tarp material, the protective layer can also help insulate the pool and prevent heat from escaping into the ground. Lay out your pool pad over the flattened ground, and you’re all set to install the pool.

How to Level the Ground for Your Pool Without Digging

It’s daunting to rent a digger or shovel all day long to level out the ground for your above ground pool. If you are dealing with very hilly or uneven ground, you may need to bite the bullet and either hire a professional or rent some heavy equipment. But if you already have a pretty even ground, there is an easy alternative to digging.

Use Sand and a Long Board Connected to a Rope

This is a method I have seen pool owners use before that is surprisingly effective. Simply purchase a twelve-foot-long piece of two-by-four and a standard piece of rebar. Attach a level to the board with duct tape. Drill a large hole through the two-by-four and place it on the rebar. Tie a strong twine around the two-by-four.

The board will then pivot in a circle on the rebar to flatten the sand as you pull it around with the string. Eventually, this will flatten the sand to be completely level, and the process requires almost no digging! For more effectiveness, have another person push down on the board while you pull it.

Why Your Above Ground Pool Needs to Be on Level Ground

A level ground plays a critical role in ensuring your pool is safe, sturdy, and ready for use. There are two significant aspects of an above ground pool that are affected by the evenness of the ground you build on:

  • Water level
  • Structural integrity

While not directly affected, even ground also plays a vital part in determining the longevity of your above ground pool.

Water Level

Building on uneven ground can result in an uneven water level, giving your pool a shallow and a deep end. While this may seem advantageous, it can be dangerous for weak swimmers or children who cannot touch the bottom.

It’s not only the deep end that will cause you problems, either. Pool equipment, such as pool cleaners, can get stuck in the shallow end. This impacts the pool’s cleanliness as an ineffective cleaning system cannot correctly catch debris like falling leaves or twigs.

Of course, aesthetics can be affected as well. A pool constructed on uneven ground doesn’t look right. And, like a picture hung crookedly, it’s immediately apparent that something is off.

Structural Integrity

A pool built on uneven ground poses structural risks as well. The uneven foundation of a pool built on a slope causes an unequal distribution of pressure around the pool wall. When not built on level ground, a pool may be at risk for buckling or twisting.

If you’re exceptionally unlucky, the pool wall may be at risk of collapsing, destroying the pool. The pursuant flood puts you and your neighbors at risk of water damage as well as injury.

Tips For Choosing The Best Site For Your Above Ground Pool

Choosing the right location for your pool is very important, as a good site will be easier to level and safer. Here are a few tips for choosing the best spot for your pool.

Avoid Areas Near Trees Or Rocks

This will make your job of leveling the pool much easier! It’s best to avoid putting your pool in an area near trees with lots of roots or rocky soil. This kind of terrain will be much more difficult to level and clear of debris that could puncture your pool. Not all yards have a nice flat area to accommodate an above ground pool, but try to choose the flattest area of your yard. You’ll also be better off avoiding choosing a site near many trees, as this will result in you having to clean the pool more often than you otherwise would.

Clear And Level An Area That Is Around 24 inches Wider Than Your Pool

You should add a border around your pool that is also leveled and cleared to account for the ground shifting and to give you a nice level space when setting up your pool.

Check Your Setback Requirements

In most counties and municipalities, setback requirements state how far your pool must be from your house. The distance can range from just a few feet to more than 20 feet. However, most pool setback regulations are 10 feet.

Check Your Drainage Areas

The last thing you want is to level off a space for your pool to later find out that when it rains, the area becomes a massive puddle. Check the drainage areas of your yard and pay attention to which parts of the ground accumulate water when it rains. Avoid these areas when clearing and leveling the ground for your above ground pool.

Final Thoughts

It’s a long, arduous process if you level the ground yourself. So work slowly and take your time. And be sure to check the level of the land as you dig. If you check and double-check that the ground is level before installing your above ground pool, it will save you from starting from scratch.

Once the ground is level, you can install the above ground pool, fill it with water, and enjoy! Looking for a pool recommendation? Head over to my top picks for the best above ground pools.

Questions? Let me know, as I’m always happy to help.

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