If you find yourself needing to replace your above ground swimming pool liner, either because of tears or excessive staining, you don’t need to hire a professional.
As long as you have a little time on your hands, you can save yourself some serious money by doing it yourself.
Hiring a professional can cost well over $1,000 on top of the cost of the liner!
And since we are all about getting stuff done ourselves and saving money around here, I’m gonna show you how it’s done!
What is a pool liner?
A pool liner can be made out of materials other than vinyl, such as fiberglass, but those are usually constructed for inground commercial pools that get a lot of heavy use.
Most pools, especially above ground pools, have vinyl liners.
And the pool liner is there to retain the water in the pool and look nice at the same time.
That’s really it.
They also provide a waterproof barrier between roughly constructed pool materials and the water.
Imagine an above ground pool constructed with metal rods and panels. Not only is it not a smooth surface on the inside, it’s also not watertight.
Pros & cons of replacing your own liner
But before you decide to tackle the project, you probably want to make the most informed decision possible, right?
So, here are the pros and cons of making it a DIY project:
When to replace your old liner
The usual lifespan of a vinyl pool liner is about 6-10 years, but there are things that can happen even before that to make replacing it a necessity.
Here are things to look for:
Over time, vinyl liners start to wear out from contact with UV rays and harsh chemicals. They'll eventually start to crack and tear, and sometimes you can’t tell just by looking.
If your pool seems to be losing water faster than normal, you may need to closely inspect the liner. If it appears to be cracking in several places (usually around fittings and edges), then it’s probably time for a new one.
If your liner is slipping out of its track frequently, it may be stretching.
You might also notice some sagging and wrinkling when this happens, and the fittings might appear to be loose around the pump and skimmers.
When your liner starts to fade significantly, it's also a sign that it's nearing the end of its useful life: the vinyl will soon start to deteriorate, tear and stretch.
It can also be stained from algae, which doesn’t always mean it needs to be replaced. But most people like to replace them when they become eyesores.
Types of above ground liners
There are three basic types of above ground pool liners—overlap, unibead and beaded—and the differences between them is just how they're installed.
How much do pool liners cost?
Pool liners can range anywhere from $100-900, and if you install it yourself, that should be your total cost other than supplies you might need to get the job done.
The overlap liners are the least expensive, but there isn’t a lot of cost difference between the other types. The price is usually based primarily on the size.
How to measure for your new liner
How you measure your pool for a new liner will depend on the shape you have.
And don’t take your manufacturer’s word for it: the measurements could be slightly off due to installation or just the way they labeled it.
Even an inch off could make a difference! Luckily, measuring your above ground pool is much easier than an inground pool.
Measure the diameter of the pool right across the center inside the pool wall.
Take this measurement in several places to ensure that you're getting the widest measurement.
If your pool is slightly off in one spot, you want to make sure you don’t have a gap.
Measure end to end in the very center of the pool inside the wall.
Again, take these measurements in several places to get the most accurate number.
These are the easiest to measure since there is not much variation in straight edges.
Measure the length and width right across the middle inside the pool wall, but note what corner type your pool has, since most standard pool liners are made with straight corners, not diagonal.
You'll also need to measure your pool's wall height from top to bottom from outside the pool.
Measure it from the top of the bottom rail to the bottom of the top rail.
You measure from the outside for a true measurement because the inside will usually have sand or filler that will affect those measurements.
Replacing the liner
Now it’s time for the fun stuff.
Now that you have measured your pool, chosen your liner and have it right there ready to go, it’s time to take it out of the box and find out what you’re made of.
Step 1. Drain the pool
I know: we usually tell you to never drain your pool completely, but this is different.
To replace the liner, you absolutely have to get as much water out as you can for obvious reasons.
The best way to do this in an above ground pool is to siphon it out with a water hose or to rent a submersible pump.
The hose will get a lot of the water out, but it will lose suction toward the bottom so you'll have to find an additional method.
Aside from putting all the kids in there with buckets (totally an option), you can use a pool cover pump, or rent a submersible pump just for this part.
Of course, if you're renting the pump, you might as well use it for the whole process.
Once you're down to just a few gallons of water, you should be okay to go ahead and remove the liner and allow the excess water to fall to the ground.
Step 2. Remove the liner
Disconnect all your pool plumbing from the skimmers and unscrew all the face plates.
Also remove any pool accessories like ladders or steps that are attached over the liner.
Use a sharp utility knife to slice the vinyl into easily-removable pieces and remove them from the pool, then make sure that you remove the liner from its track if it has one to avoid damage.
If you have an overlap liner, you'll also need to take the top rails off.
Step 3. Prep the floor
Smooth out all the sand filler inside your pool so that your new liner will get a fresh, even start.
Fill in any holes left from settling, but don’t overfill or add an extra layer unless it absolutely needs it as this can affect your previous measurements.
Use a large carpenter’s level on a straight board to make sure the floor is level.
Check it in several areas and add or remove filler where needed.
If you have a cement floor on the bottom, clean the floor thoroughly to remove debris.
Also, be sure to repair any cracks or holes you find.
Step 4. Prep the wall
Place duct tape over any holes from bolts or screws used to connect the pool panels, and sand and paint over any rusty areas you find to prevent further corrosion.
There should be sand corners rounded at the bottom inside edge of your pool to give the liner a sort of resting place; smooth that out and add sand to it where needed in case it has slid away in spots.
Another option is wall foam that is made especially for this purpose: you can line the edges with this foam filler instead of sand if you wish.
Step 5. Install new liner
It’s best to install the liner in warm weather to allow for a little give in the vinyl. Also, try to do it on a calm day to keep more control of the material.
You'll definitely need a couple of friends to help with this process, too, especially if you have a large pool, so make sure you do it on a day that there are no football games on.
Lay the liner inside the pool, carefully unrolling it to the length of the pool.
This is where your friends come in handy: you'll all need to reach in from outside the pool and pull the liner into place. The more hands, the better for this project.
If you have an overlap liner, you can use your clamps to hold it in place temporarily, or if you have beaded liners, you can use something like popsicle sticks to secure it in the track in a few places.
For overlap liners, adjust the liner to make it even all the way around the pool. This will take some time and patience, but again, the more hands, the better!
The liner should be about an inch from sitting on the pool floor with no bunching or sagging.
For beaded and unibead liners, insert the liner into the tracks, shifting it as needed to remove wrinkles.
You may have to pull the liner in places to straighten it out and it should also be just about an inch from touching the pool floor.
Step 6. Set the liner with a vacuum
This step is really helpful to remove any small wrinkles you're having trouble removing and for preventing them in the future.
First, seal all the returns and openings with duct tape to create an airtight seal.
Then, insert the hose of a commercial duty shop vac into your skimmer until it is in between the liner and the wall a few inches down the pool wall.
Next, turn the vacuum on and wait for the liner to stick to the wall like shrink wrap.
Try to keep wrinkles smoothed out during this process. You may have to turn it off periodically while you straighten out spots that are folding.
Step 7. Fill the pool
Make sure your liner is set into place firmly in its rails if it is a beaded liner, or with its clamps if it is an overlap liner.
Keep the shop vac running as you begin to fill the pool and turn it off after it has 6-8 inches of water in it. Now, take the vacuum hose out, and pull the duct tape off of all the openings and continue to fill.
You'll want to keep a close eye on your pool while it is filling to make sure the liner doesn’t pop off the track or start to pull or wrinkle.
Step 8. Reinstall face plates & gaskets
Once the pool is completely full, you can start to reinstall these.
Screw them down very tightly and then reconnect all your plumbing the way it was when you took it apart.
Use a utility knife to trim away the vinyl from inside the face plate openings.
Maintenance & cleaning tips
Once your new liner is installed, you probably want to make sure you get the most life out of it, so there are a few tips you should follow to take care of it:
Vinyl pool liners are a popular choice for pool owners, and they do serve their purpose well.
Just make sure you take the proper precautions when cleaning and maintaining your pool so that it will last the maximum amount of time.
Your new pool liner will make you feel like you have a brand new pool, so enjoy it!
And be sure to drop us a line and let us know how it goes.
We’re always happy to hear from pool owners like us!