Imagine this: You just spent thousands of dollars installing a beautiful new in-ground pool in your backyard. You’re thrilled to finally take that first dip on a hot summer day. But as soon as you dive in, you feel a sharp pain in your foot – a tear in the pool liner caused by a rock pressing into the bottom. Your heart sinks when you see the bubbling slit in the liner and imagine how much it will cost to repair. If only you had taken the time to properly level the base beneath your pool with soft sand, this could have been easily avoided.
Proper pool leveling with sand is a critical step that prevents liner damage and costly repairs down the road. Follow these tips, and you’ll be able to cushion and protect your pool liner for years of fun and relaxation.
Why Proper Pool Leveling Matters
Preventing Pool Liner Damage
When a pool base is uneven and contains sharp rocks or rough surfaces, this can easily lead to punctures, tears, and rips in the vulnerable pool liner. Repairing this type of damage is not only expensive, but it also usually means draining all the water and pulling up a portion of the liner for a patch job. In severe cases of improper installation, the entire liner may need replacement, costing thousands of dollars.
Taking the time to create a smooth, level layer of sand provides a cushion that protects the liner from harm. The soft sand conforms around any small objects and eliminates potential puncture risks. Just a few inches of proper leveling can save you a huge headache down the road.
Stopping Water Settling and Shifting
Over time, water in an unevenly leveled pool will naturally settle into low spots and hollows. This not only looks unsightly, it also leads to problems with circulation. As more water collects in certain areas, other sections can be left high and dry. Dips in the bottom can also promote vegetation growth if the liner gets exposed.
A level layer of sand provides a stable base that keeps your water evenly distributed across the entire pool floor. This allows the filtration system to work efficiently so the water stays clean and refreshing in all areas.
Achieving Proper Water Circulation
An unleveled pool bottom forces the pump to work harder to circulate water to high areas. The uneven flow also means some spots will be deprived of adequate filtration. That leads to hot spots and cold spots, increased energy usage, and extra wear and tear on pool equipment.
Proper leveling creates uniform depths across the entire pool floor. This allows even water flow and makes the pump’s job much easier. Your pool equipment will run smoother and more efficiently while providing consistent filtration.
Choosing the Right Sand for Leveling
Avoiding Potentially Harmful Materials
It may be tempting to just use whatever fill material is handy, but some common options like gravel, pebbles, crushed rock, shells, or wood chips, can damage your liner. Any sand used for pool leveling should have a very fine, smooth texture without sharp edges.
Sand with a mixture of rock or gravel can grind, scrape, and puncture. Materials like shells and wood planks can leave impressions and voids beneath the liner leading to premature failure or leaks. Always avoid anything that could potentially harm the vulnerable pool lining.
Options Like Mason Sand and Concrete Sand
Mason sand and concrete sand are two excellent choices for pool leveling. Both feature smooth, rounded grains in a fairly uniform size. This fine texture allows them to flow together to form a perfectly flat surface beneath the pool liner.
You may see mason sand referred to as white sand. It frequently gets used between bricks and blocks in construction. Concrete sand is another common construction material, often used for mixing with cement. While both work, mason sand may have a slight edge due to its lighter color that reflects light and keeps water heating efficient.
Where to Buy Pool Leveling Sand
For smaller above-ground pools, bags of mason sand or concrete sand can be readily purchased at your local hardware store, home improvement center, or garden nursery. Typically, these bags weigh between 50 and 100 pounds. Load up what you need for your project or have some delivered.
For larger in-ground pools requiring truckloads of sand, your best sources are swimming pool installation professionals, masonry supply stores, or bulk landscaping materials companies. They frequently carry or can source both mason sand and concrete sand. Going through pool builders for your supplies may get you contractor discounts.
How Much Sand Do You Need?
Figuring out the right amount of sand involves determining the total volume of the space you need to fill. For a basic rectangular pool, this involves multiplying the length by the width and again by the depth you want the sand to fill.
For example, a 15 x 30 foot pool excavated down 4 inches for sand would need approximately 6 cubic yards. (15x30x.33’/27 = 6 cubic yards). Round up when determining yardage to account for any waste or irregular areas.
If your pool shape is oval, kidney shaped, or otherwise irregular, calculating the volume gets a bit more complex. There are plenty of easy pool volume calculators online that can help with unique shapes and dimensions. Input your parameters to determine the total cubic footage.
Converting Volume to Weight
Sand is frequently sold by the ton rather than cubic yards. To determine weight, remember that sand has an approximate density of 100 pounds per cubic foot. So take your total cubic footage and multiply by 100 to get the equivalent sand weight in pounds. Then divide by 2000 to convert to tons if needed.
In our 15 x 30 pool example above, 6 cubic yards works out to about 9000 pounds or 4.5 tons of sand required (6x27x100/2000). This helps when pricing out sand by the ton from suppliers.
Buying in Bulk Saves Money
When purchasing sand for pool installation, buying in larger bulk quantities rather than numerous small bags will save you money. Sand is heavy, so transportation costs factor into the pricing. Suppliers offer better rates for full truckloads.
Sand at hardware stores is usually sold in 50 to 100 pound bags. While convenient for smaller needs, this can get pricey for larger projects. Big sand piles sold by the ton or truckload cost much less overall.
Allow Extra for Waste and Grading
It’s smart to add 10-20% more sand than your precise calculated volume. Some sand will get wasted during the handling and shaping process. Extra reserves make it easier to fine grade and touch up any low spots.
Reshaping and smoothing out the sand prior to liner installation always takes more material than expected. Going slightly over the minimum amount makes the leveling process easier and prevents last minute sand shortages.
Spreading and Leveling the Sand
Prior to delivering and spreading the leveling sand, take time to prepare the bare excavated area. Remove any vegetation, roots or debris and fill in any extremely low spots or holes with compacted earth.
The goal is establishing a fairly level working surface that requires just minor smoothing and fine tuning with the sand. This reduces the amount of sand needed and makes the job much simpler.
Layering the Sand
Spread your sand in a series of 2-3 inch layers rather than dumping it all out at once. Use a garden hose with a light spray to moisten each layer after depositing. The water helps naturally settle and compact the sand while also revealing any hidden pits or gaps. Fill these in with additional sand before adding the next layer.
Building up thin, compacted layers prevents air pockets and allows the sand to consolidate into a denser, more stable base. Take your time, allowing each layer to fully settle before adding more on top.
Using Rakes and Boards
As you build up and shape the sand, use a stiff rake or landscape drag to smooth out each layer. Pulling tools across the surface blends the sand into a consistent flat plane. The tines help break up any clumps too.
Checking for dips or high spots is easier with a long, perfectly straight board. Drag or place the board across different areas and look for gaps where light shows under. Fill in any low spots revealed before moving on.
For the final layer, a hand trowel is great for precision smoothing and contouring of the sand. Gently blend out any indentations or ridges remaining as you visually check the flatness.
Recheck the entire area with a level or board to confirm an even plane before liner installation. Refine and touch up any spots as needed. A smooth sand base protects your liner and ensures optimal circulation.
Installing an in-ground swimming pool is a big investment that you want to protect. Taking the time to properly level the base with the right amount and type of sand can prevent liner damage, water circulation issues, and other problems down the road.
The ideal surface for your pool liner can be created with high quality mason sand or concrete sand. Just a few inches of sand makes all the difference in enjoying your pool for many years to come. So don’t cut corners on this critical step of pool installation.