Does an Above Ground Pool Freeze Solid?

An above ground pool with snow around the edges and the covered center of it frozen with ice.

If you have an above ground swimming pool, you have one major worry: wintertime. Lots of problems come during winter, especially for those who live further north. No one is going to want to use the pool because it’s too cold. This leads to being concerned about whether to keep the water in the pool for the season. On the one hand, leaving the water inside would mean you don’t have to refill the pool come summertime. On the other, what if the water freezes in the pool?

Can an above ground pool freeze solid? Above ground pools can freeze solid, especially in negative degree temperatures. Above ground pools will freeze solid from side to side within a few days in temperatures below zero degrees.

However, very rarely will a pool freeze all the way to the bottom. The ice sheet at the top will typically become thicker by one-fourth inch every few days. The thickest pools tend to freeze ten to twelve inches deep, and this is only in northern states.

Effects of Pool Freezing

Ice as an element has a fundamental difference to water. Because of this difference, the ice that is made when your pool freezes can have different effects on your pool. Here are the possible effects of your pool freezing over:

Popping Tiles

If the top of your pool is made from ceramic tiles, then your pool might be in danger. When water turns to ice, that ice expands and takes up more space than the water. If this is happening at the same level as your ceramic tiles, the expanding ice could push into them. This pushing, combined with an air pocket that is commonly created behind pool tiles when they are laid, can cause the tiles to crack.

Extra Pressure

Since water expands after it is frozen, the new ice expands out farther and covers more surface area. This surface area is significant when calculating pressure. Another added component to pressure is the thickness of the ice as it can grow day after day. Essentially, the extra pressure created from the great surface area and extra ice can damage your pool.

Lack of Water Circulation

Very rarely does water left in above ground pools over the winter freeze all the way from top to bottom. However, water can still freeze in unexpected places. Water that passes through pipes and other pool equipment can freeze while it’s in smaller bodies of water. As the water freezes, it expands in the pipeline as ice and takes up excess air space. If the ice keeps expanding, then the pipes will crack and might even burst. If the pipes become unusable, then the whole pool plumbing system is gone.

Leaking from Pool

A leaky area in your pool can create multiple issues for above ground pools when it starts freezing outside.

First off, a leak that might be small int the summer could leak water onto tiles or other more delicate parts of the pool structure and ruin it when the water freezes over.

Secondly, leaking water during the winter causes the sheet of ice at the top of the water to start tilting based on where the leak is. This tilt can lead to the ice sheet on the top slipping out and then ripping up the vinyl that lines the pool.

Also, leaks can lead to pool walls having nothing pushing them outwards. In the cold weather, this can lead to the pool walls caving inwards.

Pool Cover Damage

Most winter pool covers aim to protect pools from heavy snowfall and ice. The problem with pool covers is that they also catch any kind of debris that floats onto the pool, like branch twigs. All the pressure from the twigs and the ice and the snow can weigh down on the pool cover and rip it up. The debris that used to be on top of the cover would then mix in with the pool water.

There can also be severe damage when water freezes on top of the pool cover. Water that has frozen on top of a pool cover can become sharp as it melts, leading to cuts in the pool cover and even possibly the liner.

How to Avoid Freeze Damage to Your Pool

While there are many things about freezing that can cause damage to your above ground pool, most of these factors have countermeasures you can use to prevent damage.

Watch Water Level

In the winter, it is best to keep your water level below the level of the tiles, if any. If the water is not near the tiles, the water won’t touch them when it expands after being frozen. This, along with tiles’ built-in anti-breakage protection, should keep them from cracking due to ice. It would also be a good idea to keep the water level below the skimmer so the water can’t freeze inside it.

Get a Skimmer Gizmo

Also known as an ice compensator (Amazon), this bottle looking contraption sits semi-submerged in the pool skimmer so that it can take in ice as it expands in the skimmer. This helps prevent wall caving or damage around the skimmer. However, these become ineffective if the ice layer gets too thick.

For pools with vinyl lining, you can use a skimmer plug instead. This blocks the skimmer entrance in the pool, so water can’t get in. You can also use a sheet of plastic that covers the skimmer opening in the pool so water can’t get into the skimmer.

Check for Leaks

If you notice your pool leaking, pump more water into the pool. This will prevent the ice sheet from moving downwards and potentially ripping your pool lining.

Do Cover Cleaning

It is essential to take care of your pool cover during the winter. This includes using a cover pump (Amazon) to remove water that piles up on the cover during the season and cleaning it on a somewhat regular basis.

Also, protect the cover by preventing it from touching the pool water when you put it on. If it does, the cover might stick to the pool water as it begins to freeze. You can’t lower the water level after your pool is frozen, so this should be done before you even put the cover on.

Protect the Plumbing

The best thing to do to keep water from freezing in pipes connected to the pool is to drain the water from the pipes, which can be done mechanically or by unplugging the drain plugs in the equipment. After the water is removed, keep the equipment protected from the freezing temperature by putting blankets over them or tying a heating cable around the pipes.

Air Pillow

An air pillow (Amazon) is used to keep the top layer of an above ground pool from freezing solid. Water expands by about nine percent when it freezes and becomes ice. If you use air pillows to cover roughly ten percent of your above ground pool’s water surface, this should counteract the expansion due to freezing and protect your pool walls and skimmer from the increased pressure.

Don’t Drain the Pool

While it might be tempting to avoid all the above problems by just draining your pool, doing so will almost be worse than keeping all the water in. The freezing temperatures on the outside with the lack of any support on the inside of the pool could cause the pool walls to cave inwards. It is best to keep water in the pool throughout the season.


While the top layer of water in an above ground pool does freeze solid, the freezing rarely goes all the way through the pool. When freezing does occur, just remember to check the water level, and perform regular cover maintenance, and your pool should survive another season.

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