If you’re in the market for a new in-ground pool, you have three options: concrete (also known as gunite), fiberglass, or a vinyl liner. But how much do you really know about each?
Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages. While fiberglass pools typically offer the most benefits to the prospective pool owner, there are also some negatives.
Advantages of Fiberglass Pools
The gel coating of fiberglass pools create a durable, non-porous surface, unlike the rough, porous surface of concrete pools. Algae loves to colonize porous surfaces and can become particularly problematic during warm weather and through heavy pool usage (humans and, yes, dogs).
It’s important for concrete pool owners to diligently maintain their pools through weekly brushing and proper chemical usage to control algae. Because concrete is alkaline-based, it continuously affects the pH level of the pool water. As a result, muriatic acid must be added daily to regulate the pH.
However, fiberglass pools have no effect on water chemistry. In fact, owning a fiberglass pool can reduce time spent on maintenance by up to 75%. Wouldn’t you rather spend more time in the pool than maintaining it?
Speed of Installation
Fiberglass pools also save months of installation time. Manufactured off site, they’re delivered to your home and installed usually within two days. With concrete pools, you’re looking at three to six months to install. It’s not only a major disruption to your yard, but you have to consider timely scheduling if you want to enjoy your new pool for the swimming season. There are also noise and mess issues from trucks and equipment, street congestion (especially in narrow streets), and neighbour issues (complaints).
Composite Fiberglass pools are tough and resilient because there are no liners to damage. Considering the typical cost to replace a vinyl liner can range from $4–7k if damaged, that’s good news for your wallet! Vinyl liners can be damaged by debris falling into pools such as branches, furniture, glassware, or pets.
Inground Fiberglass pool design has evolved significantly over the past three decades. Once considered the ugly duckling of pools, they’ve transformed into elegant and beautifully designed enhancements to your home that can rival any concrete pool. They can incorporate features ranging from a variety of finishes, tile selections, mosaic tiles, colourful lights, decorative walls and ledges, spillovers, water features, spa additions, and more. It’s no wonder the fiberglass pool market has continued to grow.
Salt Chlorination Compatibility
Salt chlorination systems have become a popular alternative to chemical pool chlorination (easier on skin and bathing suits). While they provide lower maintenance and superior water quality, salt can adversely affect concrete pool surfaces.
Vinyl liner pools are also susceptible to problems from salt chlorination. Many are manufactured with metal wall panels that can be adversely affected. Others have aluminum pool perimeter coping that can also be damaged by salt chlorination and eventually cause the liner to leak. Big problem. Bigger dollars!
There are no such headaches with fiberglass pools. Salt chlorination systems have no adverse effects on the surface, so you can benefit from the convenience and low maintenance costs.
Home buyers looking for a property with a pool will look at condition, value, and maintenance. Nobody wants to invest in a concrete pool that needs upgrading or is a cleaning nightmare. Vinyl liner pools don’t fare that much better either. They’re not the most aesthetically appealing pools, and liners need to be replaced every 5–9 years.
A prospective buyer may also insist that the existing owner replace the liner as part of the sale conditions. If not in good condition, both concrete and vinyl liner pools can actually decrease the value of your home. Because of their low maintenance and durability, fiberglass pools actually add value to your home. They can make pool ownership a joy instead of a chore.
Disadvantages of Fiberglass Pools
Initial Cost Higher than Vinyl Liners
Fiberglass pools are initially more expensive that vinyl liners, but considering that liners need replacement every 5-9 years, the long-term savings offered by fiberglass pools is significant.
Pool Sizes and Shapes Not Customizable
While most people find a fiberglass pool form that they’re happy with, it’s important to know that fiberglass pools can’t be customized. There’s no way to change the design or depth. If you’re looking for a unique style of pool or decide that you may want to upgrade your pool to something completely different, you won’t be able to do so.
Concrete Pool Advantage
Customizable Size and Shape
The greatest advantage to concrete pools is that you can create whatever design you want. There are no limits (except construction criteria and budget) to what you can create, from a simple backyard pool to your own personal resort.
Concrete pools are extremely durable (unless you live in an area where land movement is possible). The downside is that their surface can roughen and coarsen over time, especially with poor maintenance and heavy use. But while they can’t compete with the toughness of a fiberglass pool surface, there’s no risk for damage from animals or sharp objects as there is with vinyl liners.
Disadvantages of Concrete Pools
- Though the most popular and versatile type of pool, concrete pools have a number of issues.
- More Hands-on Maintenance
- Algae thrives in the porous concrete surface. It’s stubborn and difficult to remove, and weekly brushing is necessary to keep it under control.
- Significant Chemical Usage
- Water chemistry is a constant balancing game. Algae removal requires constant chemical usage, which results in higher maintenance costs and time. Because concrete is alkaline-based, there is also a continual need to balance the pH of the pool water by regularly adding muriatic acid.
- Incompatible with Salt,
- Saltwater chlorination can adversely affect the surface of concrete pools. This can result in a shorter lifespan, requiring more frequent resurfacing.
- Highest Cost of Ownership
Concrete pools are not only the most expensive to install but are also the most expensive to maintain. Considering the cost of chemicals, maintenance, resurfacing, and upgrading, the expense over time can be quite significant.
Rough Interior Surface
The roughness of concrete pool surfaces not only provides a home for algae, but it can be hard on the feet or cause scrapes. Many regular users even have to wear water shoes to protect their feet.
Lengthy Installation Time
Installation for both fiberglass and vinyl liner pools typically take only a few weeks, whereas concrete pools can to take three to six months or more to complete. The noise and congestion of construction can also affect everything from the state of your back yard to your relationship with your neighbours.
Advantages to Vinyl Liner Pools
Low Initial Cost
Vinyl liner pools are appealing to people on a budget. At typically $10,000 or less than concrete or fiberglass pools, their affordable prices make pool ownership within reach.
Though vinyl liner pools are mostly rectangular, there are options to customize features such as depth, size, and shape. While customization is more expensive, the cost is still less than what the same customization would cost for a fiberglass or concrete pools.
The cost and frequency of replacing liners is the greatest disadvantage to owning a vinyl liner pool. They’re typically replaced every 5-9 years and cost approximately $4,000 to replace, which includes the liner and labor. It’s important to consider the long-term cost in This means the low initial cost of the pool could be offset by continuing maintenance costs.
Problematic Liner Warranties
While liner warranties are typically provided for about twenty years, it’s strongly recommended that you carefully review the information. Key points to look out for are:
- Warranty will only cover the liner seams where the sections of material are fused together.
- The warranty doesn’t cover labor, water, or additional expenses.
- Pro-rated warranty, meaning that you may be eligible to receive a credit for a new liner during the first 2-3 years, but very little beyond that period.
Algae Will Grow in Parts of Vinyl Liner Pools
Although vinyl liner pool surfaces are relatively non-porous, there are sections, such as the plastic steps attached to the pool wall and behind light niches, that are prone to algae growth. This is because they’re submerged and don’t have circulated water.
The following breakdown summarizes the pros and cons of each type of pool:
Concrete pools recommended if:
- Your budget is $80k +
- You want a custom pool and can’t find a fiberglass pool to suit your needs
- You have no issue with the time, cost, and maintenance
- You don’t mind investing significant money over time for upkeep
Vinyl liner pools are recommended if:
- Your budget is $30k–$45k
- You don’t plan to stay in your home for more than 2-3 year (and thus avoid liner replacement)
- You want the biggest size for the lowest price
Fiberglass pools are recommended if:
- Your budget is $40k +
- You find the right design
- You want easy maintenance
- You want low long-term maintenance costs
- You want quick and easier installation