Fiberglass vs Vinyl Liner Pools: Which is better?
Throughout the years of helping pool shoppers compare and contrast the different types of pools available, I've had many that debated the merits of Vinyl Liners versus Fiberglass Pools. So let's take a closer look at these two swimming pool building methods and the pros and cons of each.
Vinyl Liner Description as per Wikipedia:
Vinyl liner pools
As mentioned above, vinyl liner refers only to the interior surface of the pool, as colorized chlorinated PVC thermoplastic vinyl may be used as the waterproofing membrane in a number of diverse pool construction methods. Vinyl Liner pools are typically more numerous than other in-ground pool types, especially so in European Union countries, Canada, England and New Zealand.
They are very popular in the Eastern and Southern United States, where this pool type is considered to be a less expensive option to gunite concrete or referred to as a prefabricated pool that can be quickly installed during a single week, but will still provide a durable, quality product that can last for several decades. Designed by Cascade Industries engineer Bob West and introduced to the New Jersey public in 1948, the package pools were introduced to the wider American public by Cascade's (c. 1948-1980) VP of sales Ed Gorman by inclusion the 1951 Sears Roebuck catalog as a do-it-yourself project for US$500.00 + delivery and installation.
In the following years many manufacturers world-wide have produced vinyl pool kits of varying styles and quality that can be transported to sites and installed in only a few days. Designs range from simple (and cheap) prefabricated wooden or galvanized steel walls to high-quality concrete sacrificial shutters incorporating foam insulation that are pumped full of high-density shotcrete and remain in place once the concrete has set (as opposed to the wasteful method of using and discarding plywood boxing that gunite and shotcrete pools employ). Vinyl liner pools are popular with many pool buyers due to lower initial cost, better insulation, the many liner patterns and colors available, a child friendly embossed non-slip finish, and the fact that the liners are treated to discourage algae growth. Most chlorinated PVC thermoplastic vinyl pool liners are .20" and .30" gauge (.50 mm & .75 mm) and are recyclable when they reach their design life (usually 20 to 25 years in moderate climates). Replacement liners can be installed in one to two days, and providing the basic pool shell is of substantial construction, a pool may have several new liners over its expected life, which could be as much as fifty years in the case of a concrete construction.
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Vinyl Liner Pool Advantages:
Initial Price: In just about every market, a vinyl liner pool will have the lowest initial install price. This is mainly due to the fact that the material costs for a vinyl builder are the lowest, and the labor isn't too bad either. The majority of vinyl liner pool installations in most parts of the United States fall in the 20-40k range once one figures pool and patio.
Soft/Non Porous Liner: Although vinyl liners have their drawbacks, one of the benefits of a liner is the fact that it, like fiberglass, is not rough on the feet and does not harbor algae growth(unlike concrete/gunite pools). Having a non-porous surface leads to less chemical usage during the season and therefore money savings as well.
Shape/Depth Customization: Unlike a fiberglass pool, vinyl liners can be customized into any shape or depth. So whether you want an ‘L' shaped pool, a classic Roman, a Grecian, etc; a vinyl liner pool will fit the bill.
Vinyl Liner Pool Disadvantages:
Liner Replacements: Although liner warranties are usually between 20-30 years, these warranties have very little value after the first couple of years because they are very pro-rated. This means the liner loses its value each year. Plus these warranties do not cover labor and water costs during a liner replacement. Although the structure of a vinyl liner pool will typically last over 35 years(assuming it's not a wood-wall structure), the liner itself will have to be replaced on average every 8-12 years. In other words, I've seen vinyl liner pool owners that have replaced their liner 4 times in 20 years and others that have only replaced it once in 20 years. Currently, the cost of a vinyl liner replacement, when you figure in labor, liner and water, is about $4,000.
Bleaching of Liner: For chlorine users, vinyl liner pools can fade significantly in only a few years time. What this means is that even though the liner itself may hold up, its appearance can be pretty awful once faded out.
Steps and Benches Don't Match Liner: In most cases, the steps and benches of a liner pool to not match the actual liner. In other words, let's say you have a dark blue vinyl liner pool. In order to have steps and benches, usually white fiberglass structures are inserted and the liner butts-up to these units. This lack of color uniformity can make the aesthetics of the pool suffer quite a bit. In recent years, some builders have started overlaying the steps and seats with the actual liner to eliminate this problem. This technology is currently used by few builders though due to its difficulty to properly install.
Resell Value: Unlike a fiberglass pool, which is viewed as long term structure without major repairs, vinyl liners pools are viewed poorly by certain potential home buyers. In other words, some home buyers are hesitant to purchase a home with a vinyl liner pool because in its inevitable costs down the road. In fact, I've seen many cases where a potential home buyer requests the home seller to install a new vinyl liner in the pool as part of the closing stipulations for the real estate transaction.
Coping: A large majority of vinyl pool builders use an aluminum C-track coping edge for the interior coping of the pool's patio. Although using a C-track makes the process of pour concrete around a vinyl pool much easier, it also negatively impacts the pool's appearance. This is why we at PoolSchool recommend cantilever coping when purchasing a vinyl liner pool
Fiberglass Pool Advantages:
Lower Maintenance: This is what originally spawned the fiberglass pool movement throughout the United States and the rest of the world. Pool buyers, in general, want a pool that will be low maintenance in terms of chemicals as well as repairs down the road. Fiberglass pools fit this need better than any other pool structure.
Aesthetics: In their early stages, fiberglass pools were rather ugly, with white being the only finish available and exposed fiberglass coping edges. But with new mold innovations, colored finishes, and cantilevered concrete; fiberglass pools have come to rival the aesthetics of concrete pools.
Long Term Cost: Because of their incredible longevity, the cost of a fiberglass pool, over its lifetime, is usually much less than a vinyl liner pool.
Resell: Because of their aforementioned benefits, fiberglass pools will often appeal to home buyers that normally would not have been interested in swimming pool ownership.
Fiberglass Pool Disadvantages:
Shape/Depth Limitations: The main drawback of a fiberglass pool is that they typically don't go deeper than 8' and no wider than 16'. This does limit one's ability to customize pool shape and depth.
Initial Price: For some customers, the initial price of fiberglass pools can be a drawback. When comparing a vinyl liner pool apples to apples with a fiberglass pool one will find that a fiberglass pool is initially 4-9k more.