It looks like it’s time to level the ground for that pool you wanted. So you’ve picked the perfect spot, and you want to dive right into leveling the ground? That sounds great, and we like the spirit. However, before you grab that shuffle and start tossing dirt, there are a few items you need to consider.
There are legal issues and physical hurdles that can undo all of your leveling work. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen by going over a quick ground-leveling checklist. If everything looks good, we can start gathering the tools and leveling the ground.
Checklist for Leveling the Ground for an Aboveground Pool
- Check the local recorder or assessor’s office to find property lines.
- Check city, state, or province codes.
- Do you belong to a homeowner’s association? They’re going to have something to say.
- There is a minimum distance that must exist between the street and your pool. Have you checked to make sure that you meet that distance?
- Pools cannot be built near underground utility cables and aboveground power lines.
- Are there any official easements associated with your property? Your pool cannot be planted close to that area without risking legal trouble from blocking access.
- Pools cannot be installed close to a conservation area.
- Are you going to rent digging equipment? Can that equipment reach the spot you have chosen?
- Are there any trees nearby? For older trees, the perimeters of the root systems often mirror the perimeters of the canopies. Younger trees tend to have far-reaching root systems, but they are weaker and easier to manage. Root systems can interfere with the leveling process, but they can also damage the pool as they grow.
- When it rains, will there be water drainage issues around the pool? If there will be and you are determined to stay there, you’ll need to install a water drainage system.
How to Level Ground for an Aboveground Pool
- Mark the Pool’s Layout upon the Ground
- Remove the Sod
- Level the Remaining Dirt
What Tools Do You Need to Level Ground for a Pool?
Each of these tasks has several steps, and we’ll break each of those steps down as we come to them. To complete these tasks, we’ll also need to gather some essential tools. We’ve sorted those tools into separate lists. If you’ve already completed any of these tasks, you can skip that task’s respective list of tools.
- Layout Tools: Measuring tape, Spool of string (nonelastic),
- Sod Removal Tools: Large tarps, Grub hoe, Pick, Wheelbarrow, Wide shovel,
- Wide rake, Spade, Sod cutter or Rototiller, Rubber gloves (optional)
- Ground-Leveling Tools: carpenter level, Fungicide, Herbicide, Large zip tie, Lawn roller, Long wooden board, Sand, Stakes, Wheelbarrow, concrete or mason sand, flags, rake, large drum or rolling tamper, Skid-steer (Optional), spade, stakes, water, wide shovel
If you have already marked out the layout or removed the sod, please head over to whatever section is helpful to you.
Task 1: Mark the Pool’s Layout
When you know where the aboveground pool will be, you should mark it off. It’s easy to get disoriented and make mistakes within a workspace. The markings will keep you on target, prevent wasteful mistakes, and reward you with a better ending result.
The way you mark the layout will depend upon the shape of your aboveground pool. We’ve written instructions for the two most common aboveground pool shapes, the oval and the circle.
If your aboveground pool is a circle is in the shape of a circle:
Step 1: Calculate the radius of your circle-shaped pool.
Step 2: Find the Center
If you don’t know where the center is, but you know where two pool edges will be, we can use relative positioning to find the circle’s center.
- Image 1: (1) Place stakes at the known edges of where the aboveground pool will be.
- Attach a spool of string to one of the stakes, and cut that string to the length of the pool’s radius plus one foot. The extra foot of space will make the perimeter of the supporting surface one foot larger than the pool. If you don’t want that, don’t add one foot.
- Image 1: (2) Pull the string taut towards the estimated center of the pool. If everything is correct, the orbit of the string should cross over the center of the pool.
- Image 1: (3)Using the end of the string as a guide, mark the arc of the orbit that crosses the pool’s center. You can use markers, flags, spray chalk, or whatever else you have handy.
- Image 1: (4) Now repeat these steps with the stake placed at the other edge of the pool. If you find the point where the arcs intersect, you will find the center of your circle. Place a stake to mark the center of the circle.
Step 3: Image 2: (1) Tie a spool of string to the center stake.
Step 4: Cut the string attached to the stake
- If you want the extra supporting space, the length of the string should be the radius of the circle plus one foot. If you don’t want that, do not add the extra foot.
- Step 5: Image 2: (2) Plot out the Circle upon the Ground
- If you extend the string, keep it taut, and walk around the stake, you can use the string to place markers, flags, or some chalk around the perimeter of the circle. This works almost exactly like using a compass to draw a circle onto paper. You act out one point of the compass, and the stake acts out the other.
If your aboveground pool is in the shape of an oval:
Plotting the points of an oval upon the ground will be a bit more complicated. Instead of one circle, you will need to draw three and find their intersecting points. You will also need to be careful with the orientation of the oval.
Step 1: What Are the Lengths of the Major and Minor Axis?
The major and minor axes are the two diameters of the oval. You probably already know them because they are the pool’s width and height measurements. The larger number is the major axis; the smaller is the minor axis. To give an example, if your aboveground pool is 12’x24′, the major axis is 24′, and the minor axis is 12′.
Step 2: Find the Center of the Oval.
We recommend adding one foot of space in each of the upcoming measurements. The extra foot of space will create a better supporting surface.
- Image 3: (1) Attach a string to the major axis stake.
- Image 3: (1) Pull the string taut. Now measure and cut the string to half of the length of the major axis.
- Image 3: (2) If the string is extended and its length is revolved around the stake, its orbit will eventually cross the oval’s center. Pull the string taut towards the oval’s center, and mark the arc of the orbit that crosses that center.
- Image 3: (3) Repeat the last step for the minor axis.
- Image 3: (4) Find the point where the arcs intersect and place a stake in it. That stake is the center of the pool.
Step 3: Mark the Opposite Sides of the Aboveground Pool
- Image 4: (1) Tie a string to “Side A” of the major axis. Image 4: (2)Walk that string against and across the center of the pool. Keep walking until the taut string is the full length of the major axis. Image 4: (3) Place a stake at this point. We have labeled this as “Side B.”
- Image 4: (4) Repeat for the minor axis.
Step 4: Find the Foci
- Image 5: (1) Attach a string to “Side A” of the minor axis
- Image 5: (2) Pull taut and cut the string, so its length matches half the length of the major axis.
- Image 5: (2) Use the string’s orbit, and stake the two points of the arc that intersect the major axis line. Intersections between straight lines and curves are called “foci,” so we will refer to them as our “foci stakes.”
Step 5: Create a Guide from the String
These next two steps will construct a guide that will lead us on the exact path of the oval’s perimeter.
- Image 6: (1) Tightly wrap a single piece of string around the two foci and the stake at “Side A” of the minor axis.
- Image 6: (2A) Now pull the string off of the “Side A” stake but leave the string on the foci stakes. This action will create some slack in the string that we can use in the next step.
Step 6: Walk the Perimeter and Place the Stakes
Image 7: (1) Assuming everything is set correctly and the string isn’t too stretchy, you can pull the string in any direction parallel to the pool and arrive on the perimeter of the oval. Image 7: (2) Use stakes, flags, or chalk to mark out the shape of the pool’s perimeter.
Remember, the foundation needs to be slightly bigger than the aboveground pool sitting atop it. That’s why this guide adds one foot to the size of our perimeters. Of course, it’s up to you if you want that. You can adjust that size as you see fit.
Task 2: How to Remove the Sod for Your Pool
Step 1: Kill the Grass
Removing the grass will be much easier if it’s dead. We know grass cannot survive without sunlight, so let’s blanket the grass with a tarp to kill it. The grass will take about two weeks to die, which is a bit of a wait. However, if you are not in a rush, the reduced difficulty will be worth the wait.
With a two-week wait, there is a decent chance the wind and weather will push your tarps around. Use bricks, logs, rocks, or whatever else you have handy to weigh the tarps down.
Step 2: Remove the Sod
The grass is dead, so we are almost ready to remove the sod. Before we do that, we need the ground to be damp. We can wait for a bit of rain, or we can use a hose. Dampen the first four inches of soil, but don’t oversoak the ground. Puddles will make work messy and difficult.
Step 3: Rent a Sod Cutter (Option A)
If you are clearing a large plot of its sod, it might be worth investing in a sod cutter. You can rent these machines at Home Depots, Lowes, or any other home improvement stores. Before you begin to use the sod cutter, ensure that you are not about to cut through any cables or waterlines.
Step 3: Use a Grub Hoe (Option B)
If you’d rather sacrifice a little back to save a bit of money, a grub hoe and spade will work perfectly fine. If you choose this method, you likely develop a handful of blisters. If you want to prevent that, pick up some rubber gloves too.
Using a spade or an edger, we need to punch out small sections of the sod. You shouldn’t remove the sod. You want to cut around the sections like how a cookie-cutter cuts out shapes from cookie dough.
Cut it deep. However, exactly how deep will be up to you to determine. Many professionals don’t agree on the exact depth, but they typically range between two and four inches. You’ll be fine as long as you cut out the grass, all of the roots, and just a bit more.
Step 4: Dispose or Relocate the Sod
After you cut out the sections of the sod, you will need to get rid of them. As far as the pool is concerned, it doesn’t matter how you get rid of the sod. However, if the removed sod is in good shape, you might be able to relocate it to another area of your property.
Task 3: How to Level the Ground
We can break down the final task of actually leveling the ground into the following steps:
- Level the ground
- Clean up the loose soil
- Spread sand over the ground
- Tamp the ground flat
To level the ground, we need to reduce the high mounds of the ground over multiple passes. During the first pass, we will solely rely upon our eyes to find and fix the obvious differences in elevation. For the rest of the passes, we need to use leveling tools.
Step 1: First Pass – Reduce the High Patches of Ground
Instinctually, you might incorrectly try to balance out the low points of ground with any high mounds of dirt. Resist that instinct. If you fill in those low points, the uncompressed dirt can result in an unstable surface that might lead to pool damage.
That’s why the ground level needs to be reduced to match the lowest point of the space. It is just more stable. Use a wheelbarrow and shovel away any excess dirt. What you do with the dirt is inconsequential as long as it’s gone from the pool space.
Step 2: Second Pass – Level Ground with Basic Tools (Option A)
Grab a long wooden board, a carpenter’s level, and a long zip tie. Zip tie the carpenter’s level to the board. Take your new leveling gizmo and place one end at the center of your pool.
Use the leveling bubble as a guide and place stakes at any mounds that still need to be reduced. When everything is marked, rotate the board like a hand of a clock. Don’t move the end that’s touching the center of the pool, and only rotate the outer end of the board by two to three feet.
Step 2: Second Pass – Level the Ground with a Skid-Steer (Option B)
If leveling the ground by hand sounds like too much work, you can rent a skid-steer loader to make the job a whole lot easier. Don’t stress if operating heavy machinery scares you. They are easy to use. Also, if you don’t want to operate the skid-steer, it’s easy enough to hire someone to drive it for you.
In general, home use doesn’t require special certifications to use the skid-steer. However, laws change, and we certainly aren’t aware of all of them. Before paying to rent the machine, have a quick talk with the rental company. Make sure there aren’t any requirements you need to meet or training you need to complete.
Step 3: Rake Away the Loose Dirt and Debris
Use your leveling widget and check your progress. If everything is flat and level, you are ready to use the rake to pull away any loose debris and dirt sitting upon your leveled surface. Pay extra attention to any sharp objects, such as any pointy sticks or rocks that might poke through the pool’s lining.
Step 4: Tamp the Soil and Add Limestone
The ground is level, and the debris is removed; the final step is to compress the ground. Watering the ground can help with compressing it. Like earlier, when we removed the sod, try to dampen the ground without turning everything into a muddy mess.
To do the actual tamping, you can either rent a tamper or fill a large drum with water. The drum isn’t ideal, but rolling it over the ground’s surface should be sufficient to compress the ground.
When you have leveled the ground as much as humanly possible, you can use limestone to fill in the remaining teeny tiny divots dotting the dirt surface.
Step 5: Spread a Layer of Concrete Sand or Masonry Sand(In Most Cases)
You might need concrete or masonry sand, and you might not. To find out, check the owner’s manual for your pool. Assuming that sand is required, you should spread about one to two inches of it upon the ground.
To help you choose, know that most people use concrete sand to make the sturdy level surface that an aboveground pool requires. Masonry sand can provide the same benefits, but the ending product gives a smoother, more polished appearance.
Also, because masonry sand is more refined, it is less likely to have any pointy rocks that could hurt the pool. As you’re spreading the sand, whether concrete or mason, keep your eye out for rocks. When everything hardens, it will be much more difficult to remove anything pointy.
Step 6: Spray Fungicide and Herbicide
If you’re still with us, you’ve made it to the final step. Everything is leveled and nearly prepared for the pool. The only thing left to do is to spray fungicide and herbicide to keep the plants at bay. Most of the time, a gallon should be sufficient. However, it will vary from product to product and project to project.
Petroleum deteriorates pool liners, so only use petroleum-free products.
After the fungicide and herbicide have been applied, you should wait about two weeks before installing the pool.
Common Questions About Leveling Ground
How much does it cost to have the ground leveled for a pool?
The difficulty of the ground, the grade of the slope, and various other factors will affect the price. According to Fixr.com, the average rate charged for ground leveling services is as follows
Minimum Charge: $400
Average Rate: $1,300 per 1,000 yards
Maximum Rate: $5,000 per 1,000 yards
What should I put under my aboveground pool to level it?
Typically, we use concrete sand or mason sand as the final step to create a leveled surface for aboveground pools. Some alternative options are concrete slabs, crushed stone, and pavers. Ultimately, you can use whatever you like as long as the surface is stable and level.
How do you know if the ground is level for a pool?
Use a zip tie to attach a carpenter level to a long wooden board. Use the carpenter’s level to spot-check the leveled area. Reduce the height of any bumps until the bubble in the level rests perfectly in the center.
For best results, use a board that is longer than the pool’s perimeter. However, if you do this, the board should not be bent. To decrease the possibility of the board flexing, rotate it until the thickest sides of the board are vertically oriented.
Can you put an aboveground pool on the grass?
It would be best if you did not put an aboveground pool directly onto the grass. Grassy is an uneven surface. If a pool’s water weight is not evenly distributed, there is a significant chance of damage.
That said, if you don’t want to remove the grass, it is possible to build a useable surface on top of it. However, it will still require a lot of sand and a lot of work to create a stable surface that will not damage the pool.
What happens if the ground is not level for my pool?
At the very least, the pool’s tilt will cause uneven water levels and put a significant amount of force against one side of your pool. Over time, this will distort the shape of your pool. At worst, the weight will destroy the pool’s liner, damage the wall, and potentially destroy your pool.