Which is Best: Fiberglass, Concrete, or Vinyl Liner?
By now you probably know that there are three types of inground pools: fiberglass, vinyl liner, and concrete (also called gunite).
Below is a detailed comparison of these three pool types including the pros and cons of each. If you want general pricing for each you can find that here. Below you'll also find the most comprehensive library of fiberglass vs vinyl vs concrete pool articles found anywhere.
Okay, let's dive in. First, let's look at the following comparison chart that outlines specific pros and cons for each type of pool on a scale from one to five (green is good):
Let's discuss this chart for a moment. As you can see, fiberglass pools have some substantial advantages over vinyl and concrete, but there are some disadvantages as well.
Why are fiberglass pools so easy to maintain? It all has to do with surface porosity. The surface of a fiberglass pool, called the gelcoat, is virtually non-porous. In contrast, the surface of a concrete pool is extremely rough and porous.
These rough cavities and pores give algae a place to hide and call home, making pool ownership much more difficult. Concrete pool builders teach their clients that weekly brushing of the entire pool surface is mandatory to keep algae at bay. In addition, chemical usage in concrete pools is much higher because of the need to penetrate the pool surface to kill algae.
Concrete pools also require daily doses of muriatic acid to lower the pH of the water. This is because concrete is alkaline based and constantly increases the pH of pool water. Fiberglass pools, on the other hand, are inert and do not effect water chemistry in any way.
For these reasons, fiberglass pool owners typically spend 75% less time and money maintaining their pools. This means anyone who owns a fiberglass pool will spend more time in the pool and less time maintaining it.
Watch this video to learn about the differences between owning a concrete and fiberglass pool from one of our customers who owns both!
Speed of Installation
Because the fiberglass pool shell is manufactured off site, the installation of the shell typically occurs in about two days. Compare this with three to six months with a concrete pool and we're talking about a huge difference in the duration of time your yard is in disarray and often the difference between swimming this year or waiting until next Summer.
Because fiberglass pools have no liner, there's no need to concern yourself with puncturing the pool surface. Vinyl liners are not cheap....often upwards of $4-$5k to replace. This can happen from dogs getting in the pool, tree branches, patio furniture blown into the pool, etc. Fiberglass pools are incredibly strong and durable so there's no need to be concerned about damaging the pool during daily use.
Over the past 30 years fiberglass pools have transformed from the typical white bathtub you'd find at a rental beach house, to the elegant designs and aesthetic features that are now as much works of art as pool. This is due to advancements in the industry such as beautiful colored finishes, ceramic tile, tanning ledges, water features, stunning pool lights, elevated spas, poolside walls, etc. This is one of the many reasons why fiberglass pools have gained exponential market share over the past decade.
Compatibility with Salt Systems
Salt chlorinators have proven to be a low maintenance, high water quality option for pool owners. However, if you have ever seen what de-icing salt does to the surface of a sidewalk you can guess what it does to the surface of a concrete pool. In our opinion this makes the combination of salt systems and concrete pools unfavorable. Also, many vinyl liner pools are constructed with metal wall panels and most have aluminum coping around the perimeter of the pool....this is also a terrible scenario for a salt system. The liner will eventually leak and good-by wall panel! In comparison, fiberglass pools and salt systems go together like peanut butter and jelly. With no adverse effect on the fiberglass shell, you can enjoy the low maintenance benefits of salt with confidence that your pool is not compromised.
Low Lifetime Cost of Ownership
Check out the following chart to compare what the average pool owner would spend over a 10 year period with each type of pool:
Initial Cost Higher than Vinyl Liners
As you can see from the chart above, even though the initial cost of fiberglass is a bit more than a vinyl liner, you spend far less in the long run when factoring in the cost of liner replacements every 5 to 9 years. In fact, the video that's posted on this page (The Ultimate Fiberglass vs Vinyl Video) shows a 15 year old vinyl liner pool that was needing it's fourth liner replacement!
Shapes and Sizes not Customizable
The one major disadvantage of fiberglass pools is that you can't change the shape, size, or depth of the pool. So the question then becomes, can you find a fiberglass pool model that you're happy with? We've found that about 90% of people do find a fiberglass pool that perfectly meets their needs. However, if you need a pool that's 10' deep, or an ultra customized shape, fiberglass probably isn't the best fit for you.
If you're interested in the fiberglass pool designs we offer click here.
Want a quote for a fiberglass pool? Click here.
Concrete Pool Advantages:
Customizable Size and Shape
As you noticed in the first chart above, concrete pools give you the ability to customize the shape of the pool...this is far and away their greatest virtue. This is perfect for those wanting an extremely deep or large pool, or a pool with custom tanning ledges (which are also available in fiberglass) or other custom features.
Concrete pools are also very durable. Just like fiberglass, there is no concern with dogs swimming in the pool or fear of damage to the pool interior from sharp objects like with vinyl liner pools.
Concrete Pool Disadvantages:
Unfortunately, the flexibility concrete allows from a design perspective comes with a price.
More Hands-on Maintenance
By it's very nature concrete is extremely porous. This gives algae a place to call home. Once embedded into the surface of a concrete pool, algae is extremely tough to remove. In fact, concrete pool builders recommend brushing the entire surface of the pool with a steel brush at least once a week to remove any algae that is on the surface.
More Chemical Usage
Water chemistry is another issue with concrete pools. Because the algae embeds into the surface, more chemicals are required to reach and destroy it. This requires more time and money to maintain the pool. Also, concrete is alkaline based which constantly increases the pH of the pool water requiring the regular addition of acid to keep it in balance.
Incompatible with Salt
And as mentioned earlier, salt and concrete don't mix. The dissolved salt in the pool water will shorten the life expectancy of the interior finish of a concrete pool, thus requiring more frequent refinishing.
Highest Cost of Ownership
As demonstrated in the chart above, concrete pools cost exponentially more money to own. Acid washing by professionals every three to five years, more money in chemicals, more money spent on electricity, and refinishing/remodeling all add up to tens of thousands of dollars over the years.
Rough Interior Surface
The rough interior of a concrete pool does harbor algae growth but that's not all. It can take a toll on tender feet as well. In fact, most kids who play in concrete pools on a regular basis have to wear water shoes to protect their feet from becoming sore and blistered.
Slow Installation Time
In contrast to fiberglass and even vinyl liner pools which can be completed in several weeks, it's not uncommon for concrete pools to take three to six months or longer to finish. Construction takes a toll not only on the backyard, but on the family as well.
Vinyl Liner Advantages
Low Initial Cost
Vinyl liner pools are more affordable to install...usually at least $10,000 less than fiberglass or concrete pools. This, their most appealing attribute, allows many families to enjoy the benefits of an inground pool that couldn't otherwise fit it into their budget.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of vinyl liner pools are rectangular, it is possible to customize the shape, size, and depth of the pool. Custom shapes do cost more, but still typically less than fiberglass or concrete pools.
Vinyl Liner Disadvantages
The following video show a not-so-old vinyl liner pool transformed into a stunning fiberglass pool.
The biggest disadvantage of vinyl liner pools is the cost and frequency of replacing the liner. Today's vinyl liners will typically last between five and nine years at an average cost of around $4,000 to replace when factoring in the cost of the liner, labor, water to fill the pool, and other minor expenses that tend to come up. This means the low initial cost of the pool could be off-set within the first ten years after construction....and over the entire lifetime of the pool, it will cost many thousands more than a fiberglass pool in the long run.
Liner Warranty Not Straight Forward
Another point of discussion is the liner warranty, which is typically stated as twenty years or so. We would encourage anyone expecting to receive any credit on a liner replacement to read the warranty in full. You'll probably find the following information:
1. The warranty only covers the "seams" of the liner, where the sections of material are fused together.
2. The warranty does not cover any labor, water, or other expenses.
3. The warranty is extremely pro-rated. You'll most likely get some credit toward a new liner during the first two or three years, but next to nothing after that.
Parts of Vinyl Liner Pools Do Harbor Algae Growth
Even though the surface of a vinyl liner pool is relatively non-porous, parts of the pool like where the white plastic steps attach to the pool wall, and behind light niches have submerged areas that do not have circulated water. Consequently, algae grows in those areas and spawns new algae growth.
When it comes to which pool type might be a good fit for you, here's what we've found in a nutshell:
Concrete Pools are a usually a good fit for those who:
- Have a budget of $50k and up
- Need a custom shape or depth, or can't find a fiberglass pool they like
- Don't mind spending a significant amount of their spare time and/or money maintaining the pool
- Are okay with investing tens of thousands of dollars to keep the pool in working order
Vinyl liner Pools are typically good fit for those who:
- Have a budget of $25k-$35k
- Will only live in the home for two or three years (and can avoid the first liner replacement)
- Want the biggest pool for the cheapest price
Fiberglass Pools are usually for those who:
- Have a budget of $35k and up
- Can find a fiberglass pool design that meets their needs
- Want low maintenance
- Want a pool that doesn't cost a fortune in the long run
- Want a quick and relatively pain free installation
Looking for more info? You're in luck! We've check out the following articles and videos from our archives.
Fiberglass vs Concrete vs Vinyl Liner Articles:
Fiberglass vs Vinyl Liner Articles:
Fiberglass vs Concrete Articles:Cheap Concrete Pools, The Economy, and Swimming Pool Buying Mistakes