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Cheap Pools Buying Guide

Many frugal consumers opt for inflatable backyard pools with depths up to four feet and diameters ranging from 8 to 18 feet. We researched a few cheap pools that garner decent user reviews, but safety issues convinced us to limit our list of best cheap above-ground pools to models with structural frames that can be disassembled and put away for winter storage.

A recent article in Consumer Reports notes the risks associated with inflatable pools when proper safety protocols aren't followed (e.g., it's easy for a youngster to push down the sides and topple in). To be sure, safety is always a critical issue where swimming pools of any type are concerned. Some communities require fencing with a latched gate for pools deeper than a few feet, so be sure to check local regulations before purchasing and installing a cheap pool. Regardless what the laws say, there are safeguards you should take, such as removing ladders or securing covers tightly when the pool isn't in use and having adults present when it is. With smaller backyard pools, the best precaution is to drain the water between uses.

Cheap backyard pools are readily available at big-box stores and from ecommerce vendors. But be forewarned: Do-it-yourself backyard pools, including those on our list, tend to have shorter life spans than high-end models or in-ground pools. Overall build quality isn't as sturdy, installation jobs may not be perfect, and weak pumps and filters are major factors that limit a cheap pool's longevity and users' enjoyment. Then again, you may be happy to reclaim your backyard when the kids have moved on to other summertime adventures.

Intex, Heritage, Seaview Club, and Summer Escapes are the big fish in the cheap swimming pools sea. Most framed backyard pools are round, with widths ranging between 8 feet and 30 feet and depths ranging from 30 inches to 52 inches. Framed rectangular pools start at about 12' x 24' x 52" and swell to 16' x 32' x 52". Most cheap pools are sold as kits that contain a liner, pump and filter, and skimmer, and some include bonus items such as a ground cloth, ladder, top cover, maintenance kit, and vacuum.

Our search for the best cheap backyard pools hit a few waves due to the limited number of reviews, minimal differences among models, and different brand names splashed onto what otherwise appear to be the same pool. Still, we identified several cheap pools that should give your family warm-weather fun for several years. At the top of our list we put the Intex 15' x 48" Metal Frame Circular pool (starting at $240) for its price, mid-range size, durability, and user-friendly setup, and the Intex 18' x 9' x 52" Ultra Frame Rectangular (starting at $751), also for its durability and easy assembly. The Heritage 12' x 42" Circular pool (starting at $399) and Seaview Club 18' x 42" Galvanized Steel Above Ground pool (starting at $650) qualify for second place. They're both decent swimming pools but require more setup time and are subject to relatively more grousing about leaks and overall build quality than the Intex pools. Little praise but lots of criticism (parts that break, water that leaks, poor customer service) about the Summer Escapes 18' x 48" (starting at $450) suggests your money would be better spent elsewhere.

Know what you're getting into before rushing out to buy a cheap pool. Maintenance requirements are ongoing and the cost of accessories adds up quickly. But if you follow the installation instructions and take proper care, the rewards on a hot summer day more than compensate for the time and cash you've sunk into your backyard pool.

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