Understanding Above Ground Pool Pump and Filter Systems
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Understanding Above Ground Pool Pump and Filter Systems

Guide to understanding the operation of an above ground pool pump and filter system and what to know when selecting one.

The real heart of any above ground pool is the pump and filter system. It keeps the water moving in the pool, helps to remove debris, aids in the distribution of chlorine in the pool and filters for small particulates in the water. Without this system, your pool will become a stagnate pool of slime.

Following the flow of water, the system starts with the skimmer. This is an opening in the pool wall below the water line that has a container mounted on the outside of the wall and has a basket inside it to catch large debris. A hose runs from the skimmer to the pump, which is gravity fed. A hose now runs from the pump discharge into the top of the filter unit. The water now travels through the filter, which has a layer of special sand to remove small particulates that could cloud the water. From the filter the water travels through another hose that is attached to the pool wall just under the water line. This is the discharge and is what makes the water swirl lazily around the pool.

Now that you understand how the pump and filter work, you may be asking, “So what kind of system do I need?” There are basically 3 kinds of above ground filtration systems. Sand, Cartridge and Diatomaceous filter systems. For reliability and ease of maintenance I prefer the sand filter system. The cartridge system is better at filtering small particles, cartridges are fairly inexpensive and the entire system is easily maintained. Diatomaceous (DE), filters provide the best in filtration but can suffer from loss of water flow with time.

Equally as important as the filter, is the pump. The size of the pump you will need will be dependant on the size of the pool. As a general guide, if the pool is less than 24 ft. round, then a 1 hp pump will do. If your pool is over 24 ft. round, a 1 ½ hp pump is recommended.

Finally, a couple of quick points about your pump and filter system. First, make sure that the filter is level and elevated from the ground. I recommend using pavers to create a solid level base for the filter to sit on. Check the skimmer at least once every day or two. A clogged skimmer basket can restrict water flow and isn’t good on the pump. Water levels in your pool can drop from splashing and evaporation. Never let the water line drop below the skimmer. Doing so will render the entire filtration system useless. It could also burn up the pump from running it dry. Take care of your pump and filter system and it will quietly hum away for years as you enjoy your above ground pool.

See my other pool articles:

Backyard Pool Troubleshooting

Guide to Winterizing an Above Ground Pool

How to remove algae from a pool

Pool landscaping, lighting and security

Proper Pool Chemical Balance

Understanding Above Ground Pool Pump and Filter System

Installing an Above Ground Pool

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Comments (3)
Brian Hurrell

I have a 4ft 6inch above ground pool and have now obtained a combined sand filter and pump. Should the pump/filter be at ground level or should it be raised off of the ground and if so by how much. The combination unit has a debris basket to clear which when I tried to empty when unit was at ground level once before. The force of the water from the pool stop me from getting the lid back on again. What have I done wrong on the set up. Urgent help required. Please.......

Ron Warner

The pump/filter system should be on a level surface on the ground. I recommend paving stones as a surface to place the pump/filter system. The pool should have 2 debri baskets. One near the top of the pool wall and another on the pump. If the top basket is kept free of debris, the pump basket should not need to be cleaned very often. When it does, you will either need to fight with the water and the pressure when cleaning it or, pump the pool down to just a bit below the skimmer and water outlet in the pool wall. Then refill when done. The drain and refill solution is dryer and less messy, but also means adding water which means a chemical adjustment as well. My suggestion to avoid the whole hassle is to keep the skimmer basket free of debris and you shouldn't get anything to speak of inside the pump filter basket.

Hope this helps

J. Peterson

Brian, I would recommend draining the pool down slightly below the skimmer basket and then installing a valve in the line between the skimmer and the pump. This will allow you to shut off the flow of water from the pool during routine pump maintenance. Because your pump is at ground level, after closing the pump lid, gravity will push water from the pool back into the pump, priming it for restart.