In-Ground vs. Above-Ground Pools

Consider your budget and surroundings when deciding what type of pool suits you.
Sleek Pool Deck at 2013 HGTV Dream Home

Sleek Pool Deck at 2013 HGTV Dream Home

The 2013 HGTV Dream Home located on Kiawah Island, S.C., boasts a sleek pool deck and comfortable sitting area that don't interfere with the view. The modern design of this space provides relaxation that complements the natural beauty of the island.

Photo by: Eric Perry

Eric Perry

Deciding on an in-ground pool versus an above ground pool depends on your budget and where you live. In regions of the country where it's warm most of the year, an in-ground pool installed in the backyard is almost expected. In cooler areas or for tight budgets, an above-ground pool may fit the bill.

In-Ground Pools

A permanently installed in-ground pool can add value to your home, particularly if you live in a climate that is predominately warm most of the year. It can also enhance your landscape by providing a water feature that creates a pleasing view from inside the house or from a patio or deck.

But while providing a place for entertaining, exercise or lounging, there are drawbacks to installing an in-ground pool. Most obvious is the initial expense as a pool is a major investment. Follow that with the yearly maintenance including a boost to your electric bill for running the filter and/or heater; a hike in your water bill for constant refilling as water evaporates; and the chemicals, cleaning, and opening and closing for the seasons if you live in an area where cold winters prevent year-round use.

If you have your heart set on an in-ground pool, you'll be dazzled by all the options available as you shop. There are nearly countless ideas for the shape of your pool, the materials for the liner or walls, the decking or paving materials to surround it, and the toys you can add on like waterfalls, slides and diving boards.

Dreamy Pool Design Ideas

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Cool Pool Features

An attached stone wall with water spouts and adjacent outdoor living room with fireplace complement the curved lines of this nature-inspired pool. The stone used for the fireplace ties the two spaces together. Photo courtesy of Belgard Hardscapes

Photo By: Zack Benson

Recessed Lounge Area

Giving those who want to stay dry an option is always a nice idea. This unique pool features a recessed seating area "inside" the pool so everyone can enjoy the pool together. Design by Pool Builders Inc.; photo courtesy of Digital Wave Productions

Swim With a View

Whenever possible, design your pool to take advantage of views. Steps on each side lead to a raised lounging area that allows visitors to enjoy the stunning vistas that surround this pool and spa. Photo courtesy of Belgard Hardscapes

Photo By: Chipper Hatter

Rock-Star Retreat

If you want a pool with personality, go for an unexpected shape. This unique pool by Emerald Pools and Spas, Inc. was created for a homeowner who plays and collects bass guitars. Photo courtesy of The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals

Photo By: Emerald Pools and Spas Inc.

Nighttime Appeal

Evening ambiance was the design goal for this pool and spa by Alderete Pools. Pentair LED multicolored lights enhance the nighttime feel and the attached patio features a full stone fireplace. Photography by Andy Abrecht

Photo By: unknown

Cascading Waterfalls

This multilevel, freeform pool and spa from Memphis Pool offers stunning stone waterfalls and a large vanishing edge to add drama. Photography by James Roberts

Serene Surroundings

Be inspired by nature when you design your pool. A natural rock waterfall and an elevated pedestal spa are at the opposite ends of this lagoon-style pool by Pool Builders Inc. Photo courtesy of Digital Wave Productions

Perk Up Your Plant Life

This pool was designed to flow from the house to the open pool area surrounded by lush landscaping. The right plantings can add both shade and intimacy for a pool. Photo courtesy of Neptune Pools Inc.

Photo By: Neptune Pools Inc.

Zero-Edge Pool

This four-sided zero-edge pool and spa by Alderete Pools makes a dramatic statement. Specially selected glass tiles surround the entire raised exterior of the pool to enhance the visual effects of the zero-edge design. Photography by Andy Abrecht

Lengthy Design

The curved ends and low-maintenance deck that surrounds this long and linear pool add visual interest to the pool area. Combining straight with curved lines provides a balanced look. Photo courtesy of TREX

Photo By: Laurence Parent

Zen Oasis

You can create an elegant but natural look with the right features. This pool and spa combination by Alderete Pools includes an attached large koi pond and stacked-stone spa dam wall. Photography by Andy Abrecht

Backyard Vacation

This glamorous pool and spa by Alderete Pools has the features that turn a backyard into a resort. A custom-built gazebo with built-in BBQ, sink, refrigerator and a granite-topped bar and seating are the extras that turn the pool area into an oasis. Photography by Andy Abrecht

Infinity Pool

This classic negative-edge pool by Pool Environments allows the homeowners to enjoy stunning views. The curved negative edge spans across the entire back of the pool. Photo courtesy of The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals

Photo By: Pool Environments

Swim-Up Details

Extra touches make all the difference for how a pool looks and feels. Swim-up barstools, a large outdoor kitchen and a well-designed lighting scheme give this pool a serious sense of style.

From: Mark Scott Associates


Most in-ground pools are made of either concrete (gunite or shotcrete), vinyl or fiberglass with concrete being the most popular, according to The Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP). The gunite, which is applied via a hose on-site, is covered with a layer of textured plaster made from the same material as the gunite, but this layer is often colored with pigments to give the pool a blue, white or gray color, depending on what look you want. The plaster is often topped with a few rows of ceramic tiles for a decorative effect. A gunite pool takes several weeks to build, but the advantage over other types of materials is that you have more options as to the shape you want.

A vinyl pool refers to the liner of the pool. These are generally prepackaged pool kits and are often ready to use in about a week. The vinyl liner hangs from the wall panels which can be made from aluminum, galvanized steel, plastic or pressure-treated plywood, depending on the manufacturer of the kit. Vinyl pools do not generally offer as many options for the shape of the pool, but they do offer many options in the patterns and colors available. For example, vinyl liners can be imprinted with tile patterns that you would otherwise have to pay a premium for if you were to have a fully tiled pool. Vinyl liner pools also tend to be less expensive than a concrete pool.

10 Pool Deck and Patio Designs

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Less Is More

Boxwoods anchor the base of the rear porch columns while repeated use of the 2x2 thermal bluestone pavers set with lawn joints forms a grid-like pattern. Having lawn on all sides of the pool and spa helps make the space feel more expansive. Design by Barry Block

Mix and Match

Try using more than one material for your deck and patio. The rich combination of brick, redwood and stone adds character to this pool and patio area. Photo courtesy of California Redwood Association

Patio Flair

Integrate your pool with a well-designed patio. An attached fire pit with built-in curved seating and a dining area make this pool patio area family friendly and ideal for entertaining. Photo courtesy of Belgard Hardscape

Photo By: Chipper Hatter

Decked Out

Create activity zones around your pool. Different levels of decks offer places to eat, lounge and relax as guests enjoy this inviting pool and spa. Photo courtesy of TREX

Photo By: Photographer: Matthew Borkoski

Poolside Pavers

Consider texture when choosing materials. Chiseled surfaces, random shapes and pavers give this hardscape the look and feel of vintage cut stone. Photo courtesy of Belgard Hardscape

Photo By: Chipper Hatter

Hard Rock Appeal

Random pavers, natural stone coping and artificial rock were used around this pool and spa to complement the rustic setting of this mountain retreat. The pool is also accented by a large rock waterfall. Design by Alderete Pools; photography by Andy Abrecht

Plan for Shade and Sun

Whenever possible, provide options for those who use your pool. This poolside paradise and covered patio by Marrokal Design and Remodeling allows visitors to lounge in the sun or have a drink or quick bite in the shade.

Natural Stone

For this small and cozy backyard, a freeform pool and raised spa by Alderete Pools is surrounded by natural stone blended with artificial rock formations. Three extra-large urns and a stone water feature with custom fountains adds ambiance. Photography by Andy Abrecht

Jet Set

This modified rectangle-shaped courtyard pool features travertine stone coping and stone decking. Six deck jet water features are included on the side corners of the pool. Design by Memphis Pool; photography by James Roberts

Elevated Pool Deck

An extension of HGTV Dream Home's great room and bedroom, this pool deck is elevated 10 feet above ground level and overlooks marsh scenery. The space beneath the deck allows for both a patio and a garage.

Photo By: Eric Perry

A fiberglass pool arrives to your site fully built. Imagine a huge bathtub that is sunk into the ground. This type of pool has limited sizes and shapes, but still, there are generally plenty of options to choose from and they take about a week to install. They tend to cost more than a concrete or gunite pool.

Classic blue and white is still the norm when it comes to colors for the walls or liners of pools, says James Atlas, co-owner of Platinum Pool Care. But embellishments that personalize your pool are on the rise. "The opposite of crisp blue is black or gray for liners and walls," says Atlas, adding that properly applied glass tiles attached to the walls just under the coping on concrete pools are replacing standard ceramic tiles.

Pool with a View

Pool with a View

Design by Lim Chang Rohling and Associates

Design by Lim Chang Rohling and Associates


In-ground custom-designed concrete or gunite pools offer the most variety of shapes. Vinyl liner in-ground pools typically come in straightforward rectangles but can also include rounded ends. Fiberglass pools generally come in a limited number of shapes but still offer many options.

Trending across the board is the classic rectangle. It's being driven by the rise in popularity of the automatic pool cover, says Nick Vitiello, design engineer and project manager of Lang Pools. "Auto covers make the pool more efficient and safe." Attached to the pool under the coping on one end and typically running along embedded tracks in the coping, they help prevent evaporation, hold in heat and can reduce the use of chlorine. While an auto cover can be installed on a freeform pool, it increases the cost and may not be as aesthetically pleasing as it is on a rectangular pool.

Pool Deck

Pool Deck

A wood deck around an above ground swimming pool.

Photo by: Chiya Li

Chiya Li

A wood deck around an above ground swimming pool.

Above-Ground Pools

If you want a pool in a hurry or are on a tight budget, an above-ground pool is an option. The advantage is that they take just a few days to install, they arrive in a kit form to your yard and are erected by a team of installers.

Many higher-end above-ground pools include decking and railing options that are included in the price or can be added on at purchase. They can be heated to extend your swimming time. An above-ground pool is, by far, the least-expensive option for a pool. Kids love them, and built-in fencing and locking gate options make them safe as long as an adult monitors them.

The main disadvantage of an above-ground pool is that it generally adds no value to your home. They also have some of the same problems as in-ground pools, such as water evaporation and maintenance issues. They typically come in just either 48 inches deep or 52 inches deep so they are not suitable or safe for diving, should that be your sport.

Permanent or Temporary

An above-ground pool is considered a temporary addition to the backyard even though you may have spent time and money incorporating the pool into your outdoor decking or living spaces, and your landscape. When it comes time to sell your home, you may find that it detracts from the overall aesthetic of your yard. But they are much more easily removed from your property than in-ground pools are.


Above-ground pools typically come in round or oval shapes so you are limited to what is available; however, the size of the shapes varies. The advantage of this is that you can start out small then work your way up to a larger pool as your family grows along with your budget.

Next Up

Design a Pool Deck or Patio

From relaxing outdoor rooms to sunbathing decks, get tips to outfit the space around your pool.

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