For years, consumers only considered an aboveground pool as a low cost alternative in the leisure pool market.

“Aboveground pools have been around a long time, but there are some misconceptions,” says John Butterfield, corportate communications manager for Doughboy Recreation in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. “There’s the perception that an aboveground is ‘that white tank in the backyard,’ or a perception that they’re just toys.”

“But it is a ‘real’ pool,” Butterfield says.

So real is the aboveground pool that it has enjoyed a tremendous resurgence in popularity, say industry experts.

Suddenly, the aboveground pool has become fashionable. More and more people are turning to what was once considered only a cheap alternative to inground pools.

Among new pool purchases, aboveground pools out-number inground pools nearly three to one. There are now over 3.2 million aboveground pool owners in the United States, only slightly behind the 3.3 million inground pool owners.

There are several reasons for the shift in pool buying. The most obvious reason is that the average family just doesn’t have the same discretionary income that it did in the past, industry experts say.

The aboveground pool market is the strongest in colder regions of the country, such as the northeast and the midwest, where people are only swimming for about 90 days out of the year. “For certain climates, you have a limited season, so doesn’t an aboveground pool make sense?” asks Butterfield.

Helene Bukenas, from West Deptford, New Jersey, bought an aboveground pool for her family two years ago. The reason for the choice was simple economics. “It was cheaper. That’s the main and only reason,” she says. “An inground pool is more expensive to install and maintain.” Bukenas shopped around and chose a 34-foot oval pool that was 5 feet deep. The model cost $4,000 and she claims a comparable inground pool would have cost $20,000.

As the popularity of inground pools soars, it is important for families to understand what they are buying. Families need to take a number of factors into account, such as the size of the yard, how many people will be using the pool, how many years a family intends to use the pool and, of course, price.

Once a family determines what size pool they need, they should shop around to ensure they are getting the best pool for the best price. Aboveground pools have a wide range of prices, from under $1,000 to over $12,000, complete with a myriad of “deluxe” options. Inexpensive aboveground pools that only last a year or two can be purchased at discount stores, but the average kit costs $2,500 to $3,000.

A regional sales manager with one company in the industry says his compay sells its top-of-the-kine aboveground pool for around $12,000. It is loaded with options normally associated with inground models, including a deck or walk-around, automatic pool cleaners, quality ladders, a high-quality pump and filter system and winter or solar cover. The company calls it a “turn-key” system.

Aboveground pools are constructed from aluminum, steel, and polymer resin. They’re all quality pools and they’re not going to fall down, but there is a difference in the quality, says a pool industry designer.

Aluminum pools have traditionally stood at the higher end because they are more corrosion-resistant. Steel is more apt to rust, but the metal industry over the past ten years has made high quality steel coatings. The edge that aluminum pools once had is decreasing, the designer says.

Resin pools have been developed over the past ten years as well. There is no corrosion with resin, but most experts agree that the pools are not as strong as metal.

Aboveground pools are also taking on new colors and shapes. Fifteen years ago, the wood-grain pool was the most popular. Now, a national marketing director says, there are any number of colors. Past choices were a blue pool, a gray pool, and a brown pool, but now people want the pool to match their home siding, he says. The more fashion or taste conscious the consumer gets, the more companies have to keep up.

Aboveground pools are ideal for the first-time pool buyer. “Swimming pools are like automobiles,” says Michael Draves, of the Delair Group. “First pools tend to be inexpensive.” Often, aboveground pool owners turn into inground pool owners.

But pool consumers need to study their options. When you buy an automobile, the consumer is a little more educated about the product," Draves says. “With a swimming pool, the consumer generally doesn’t know (the market).”

That doesn’t mean first-time pool buyers can’t learn the market quickly and end up with pools their families will enjoy for years to come.

Everyone agrees that a consumer who shops around can get a great aboveground pool value.

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This article originally appeared in the Premier Issue of Pool & Spa Living. Mr. Wilson, who has granted us permission to reprint it here, has written for South Jersey Business Journal, Infectious Diseases in Children: The News Source For Today’s Pediatrician, Atlantic City Magazine, the Haverford College Alumni Magazine, The Vermont Cynic, among other publications.