Buying Above Ground Pool Pumps Guide – Swimming Pool Pumps Explained

How Do Swimming Pool Pumps Work?

Above-ground pool pumps play an integral part in the life of your swimming pool. It is the main part of the system that allows pool water to circulate so it can be treated, sanitized and heated (when available). is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. This means we get a commission for any qualifying purchases.

Think of swimming pool pumps as the heart of your pool. Its main function is to suction water from the pool and send that water to the treating mechanisms such as the filter and chlorinator. This water then goes back to the pool giving you clean, safe and crystal-clear water.

Without a pump for above-ground pools, all you have is stagnant water that will eventually turn green and covered in algae. (which is why we need to regularly change the water in those kiddie pools.)

Here’s a very basic diagram showing how swimming pool pumps functions:

Above Ground Pool Pumps Power Consumption

One of the main things people consider when buying above-ground swimming pools is the pump’s power consumption. The truth to the matter is it USED to be significantly expensive to run a swimming pool at home. However, new technology has made this household expense a more affordable one than you may think. Despite this new technological advancement though, understand that running a pool is still going to add a significant expense to your electricity bill.

A swimming pool pump’s electricity usage is dependent on many things.

  • How big is your pool?
  • How strong is your pump?
  • Are you using the right size pump for your pool?
  • What kind of pump do you have?
  • What time of the year is it?
  • For how long do you run the pump every day?
  • At what times of the day do you run it?
  • How much is the cost/kWh in your area?

Here are some resources to help you know how much pool owners’ electricity usage is every month

1) Arthur’s above-ground pools estimate it at 37.5 cents/hour. 
2) Energy calculator by Pentairpool calculates your expected energy expense/year. It puts pool size, kWh cost, pump horsepower and usage in hours into consideration. Gives you a pretty good idea
3) Another pool energy calculator from which is a little bit more complicated and is also made to help you optimise energy use.

Concerned About Too Much Energy Usage?

There are many things you can do to keep your swimming pool pump energy usage as low as possible

  1. Use the right pump for your pool. Buying a bigger pump than what your pool needs is not very cost-effective. Energy.Gov states, “The larger the pump, the greater your pumping and maintenance costs. Therefore, you want to use the smallest size pump possible for your swimming pool.”
  2. When possible, use a variable-speed pump.
    • Reduce the number of hours you run your pool. Pool manufacturers/sellers have a recommended minimum number of hours to run your pool pump. Running the pump at this number of hours gives the utmost guarantee that any pool water is safe and clean. But in reality, the number of hours depends on a lot of other factors as I’ve written above so it is possible to get your pool pump to run less than the recommended hours. The number of hours can vary greatly from pool to pool. So the only way you can know this is by trial and error. Set the pump’s timer back each week and then test the water’s clarity (greenish tint is never good!) as well as its chemical balance (pH and Chlorine levels.) Keep doing this until you get just the right number of hours that guarantees safe swimming water for you and your family. (disclaimer: this is just advice, do it at your own risk ).
  3. Know when the off-peak time is for electricity usage in your area and schedule your pump for use at these times. Buy an automatic timer for convenience and make sure you check it every month to see that it’s working properly.
  4. Don’t split the hours your pump runs in a day as more electricity is expended when starting up the motor (I haven’t seen actual data if you could really save more this way, compared to say, having two separate times scheduled for off-peak rates – but this is currently the general opinion)


How To Operate Swimming Pool Pump

As written above, how long to run a swimming pool pump depends on many different variables.

A “dirtier” pool will need its pump running for a longer time than a pool that is used by a few people. A dustier place will require more filtration. In the winter you can get away with less running time as algae theoretically have less opportunity to grow (or perhaps no one is using it anyway! – especially for the above-ground outdoor pools!).

When you buy a pump, you will be given a recommendation on how long to run the pump every day. Use this as the basis for how long to put your pump in operation daily. And then use the advice above on possibly reducing the number of hours especially if you’re concerned about electricity usage.

There are some things that you can do to lessen the number of hours your pump runs. Basically, you need to do some work to help your filtration system do an easier job. This requires a more hands-on approach to getting safe clear water.

This means that before that pool water even goes through your pool’s filtration system, you will need to make the water a little bit cleaner first. Some things you can do:

  • Regularly rake off leaves and other debris from the surface of the water
  • Regularly clean the wall and floor with a pool brush

—> this obviously needs a bit more manual work which some of you may not want to do 🙂

For the more mathematically inclined, here’s a way to calculate how long to run your pump

Buying A Swimming Pool Pump

Thinking about buying a swimming pool pump? Here are some things to consider to find the perfect pump for your pool.

What Size?

Energy.Gov recommends that you buy the smallest size pump you can get away with for your swimming pool.

Above-ground Swimming Pools

If you’re buying an above-ground pool, it is best to contact the manufacturer for info on the best pump size recommended for your pool. Visit their website first. It will usually have a guide on the best pump size for each pool they sell.

Some people when replacing an old pump stick to buying the same size that the pool came with while others buy one with a stronger Horsepower with good results.

Inground Swimming Pools

Buying swimming pool pumps for inground pools can be a lot more complicated. One that should ideally be determined by a proper professional. But for DIYers among you, here are some of the things you need to know first to know which pump to buy.

  • How big is the pool? How many gallons of water does it use?
  • What is your pool’s turnover rate? This means how long it takes for All of the pool water to go through the filtration system.

Want to know more about the intricacies of what turnover rate is, then here’s some tech talk by the Professional Pool Operators of America on what it is and isn’t – just a little something to stir that head of yours a little bit 🙂

Or you can go the easy way and just use this pool turnover rate calculator 

  • Know the flow rate of your pool’s plumbing system
  • Know your filter’s flow rate
  • Determine the ideal flow rating for your new pump
  • Did you get all these ready at hand? Head to Poolplaza on how to calculate all these to find the right pump size.. (Warning: If you hate numbers, don’t even think about it! This will do your head in – just get that professional pool person to identify this for you!)

Some more reading for those who are keen to find the best pump size themselves.

  • Whirlpool:  Very useful forum discussion
  • Home Depot: Home depot’s pool pump sizing guide ; (even more info on all those mathematical calculations you need in case the Hayward guide does not suffice

Single, Dual Or Variable Speed?

This is a hot topic among pool owners and professionals alike. I’ll lay down the pros and cons, the two sides of the coin, the (another word for two sides of the coin?) but you will have to decide for yourself which pump to buy.

When it comes to swimming pools, variable-speed pool pumps are considered to be the best since sliced bread. Finally, here comes a technology that is so cost-effective that the energy cost of pool operations could potentially be reduced to 50-90%.

What is the main problem?

For many years, many swimming pools have run on single pool pumps. This single flow/speed pump has been the main reason for inflated power consumption. (why? Explanation here if you’re interested in the technology behind it)

In came variable speed pumps – and the world of swimming pool ownership has never been the same again. These pumps can vary the flow up to ___ making the pump more energy efficient than a single pool pump – so efficient in fact that pool owners are expected to save hundreds if not thousands of dollars per year.

Great news, right?

Well, there’s only one problem. These variable-speed pumps are expensive and buying one, despite the possibility of saving money in the long run is a big decision to make.

So then comes the Dual Speed pumps –— The budget-conscious answer to reducing the energy cost of running a pool.

And this is where the decision of buying swimming pool pumps becomes a big dilemma.

Because now, there’s a divided group of “dual speeders and variable speeders” that both argue each one is better than the other. And they can state their cases very well.

Accdg. To “dual speeders”, it’s expensive to run on Variable speed in the long run. Why? They easily break especially in places that are too hot or get a lot of storms/lightning. Replacing a single pump with a variable-speed motor can cost many hundreds/thousands of dollars.
The difference in energy efficiency is not that much. So considering these two factors, it is so much more reasonable to buy the much cheaper option.

Accdg. To Variable Speed users The energy efficiency difference is a lot greater than dual speed “fans” will have you believe. In fact, it can be as much as a 50% – 70% difference.

When you have not just a swimming pool but also a spa, a fountain etc, it is so much more cost-effective to use a variable speed pump as you will need to frequently change the speed to match the needs of your equipment.

So those are the two arguments and frankly, choosing which one to buy is something that you will have to decide for yourself. Here are some more resources to confuse you even more showing both sides of the argument:


How about Above Ground Pool Pumps

Many of the portable above-ground pools like Intex swimming pools use cheaper single-speed pump which almost always does the job well. With less water, the pump doesn’t need to run for too long in a day in this case as many of them have 10,000 or less gallons of water.

If you’re replacing an old pump, here are a few things to take note of:
a bigger more powerful pump doesn’t always mean a better pump. In fact, if your pump is bigger than what your pool needs, it will make it less efficient and will cost a lot more. Repeating what the guys over at Energy.Gov says, buy the smallest pump that you can get away with.

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