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Fiberglass Pools vs Concrete Pools vs Vinyl Liner Pools: Myths and Which Pool is the best?

By Marcus Sheridan

Having been one of the first companies in Central and Eastern Virginia to embrace the fiberglass pool industry, I have been able to address the concerns of many clients involving the pros and cons of owning a fiberglass swimming pool. Despite the exponential growth of the composite(fiberglass) market throughout the United States, I have found there are still some serious myths regarding the potential drawbacks of owning a fiberglass pool. Hopefully the following paragraphs will address and alleviate these issues.

Myth #1 Fiberglass Pools will float or pop-up:

This is one of the most amusing, and most common, of all misconceptions I have heard regarding fiberglass pools. If anyone (especially another pool dealer) tells you that fiberglass pools pop out of the ground, then they are simply being dishonest and trying to use fear as a means of motivating you to get another type of pool. There is a local company (I will not mention any names here) in the Mechanicsville area that loves to tell homeowners that every time there is a hurricane in Virginia, fiberglass pools all over the place float up out of the ground. I personally called this company once and asked them to give me just one name of someone who had a pool float, and of course they were unable to give me such information. During our nine years in business, and after having installed well over 600 fiberglass pools in the ground, we have never had a pool float after installation. This is because not only are the pools always full of water, but the concrete deck engulfs the pool's outer lip, making it impossible for the pool to move unless the concrete deck moves with it. Hopefully I am explaining myself clearly here. I have hundreds of customers who would be happy to verify these facts. Please don't be fooled by anyone who uses this ploy as a means to push a potential customer in a different direction.

Myth #2 Fiberglass pools look cheap:

Had someone said this 15 years ago, I would have agreed with such a statement. But times have changed in the fiberglass industry, especially with the introduction of cantilever concrete coping, colored pool finishes, waterline ceramic tile, mosaic inlay tile, fiber-optic lighting, water features, etc, etc. With so many options and features to choose from, homes of all value ranges can easily find a pool that corresponds aesthetically with their appearance. When I show pictures of the pools we have installed to customers, I often get asked if they are seeing concrete pools. This is because fiberglass pools are now very beautiful and permanent looking. This is also why customers of all economic classes (we have installed many pools where the home value is well over 1 million dollars) are going with the fiberglass advantage.

Myth #3 Fiberglass Pools only work in warm climates:

This one really makes no sense to me at all. It is an accepted fact in the swimming pool industry that fiberglass has the ability to "flex" due to its incredible tensile strength, much more so than any other type of permanent pool (i.e. concrete). When people are concerned about freeze conditions having an adverse affect on fiberglass, they are forgetting that the water in a pool, when it freezes, expands in an upward direction (where there are no barriers). But the simple fact is that we have never had one customer sustain any damage to their fiberglass shell due to freezing weather conditions. Again, this statement is easily verifiable with our customer reference list.

Myth #4 Fiberglass pools are much more expensive than vinyl liner pools:

The answer to this one is a little tricky, but hopefully I'll explain myself clearly here. Typically, if someone is comparing a fiberglass pool to a liner pool, apples to apples, features with features, they will find that a fiberglass unit typically runs 5-10k more initially. I say initially because when someone is considering the cost of a pool, there are two different ways to arrive at the number. The first way is by solely looking at the initial cost of the project. The second, unlike the first method, takes the initial price but also adds the expenses of the pool over the course of its lifetime. For example, let's say you spend $25,000 initially for a vinyl-lined pool. Considering the liner will typically last 8 years on average (this number can be more or less depending on a variety of factors) before it has to be replaced, and the average cost of a liner replacement is usually between 3-5k, a pool owner could easily spend 8-12k on liner replacements alone during the first 20 years of the pool. The same principle is applicable to concrete pools who have to be replastered (every 8-12 years), where the average cost for this service is well over 5k. This is one of the great beauties of a fiberglass pool. There are almost never large expenses down the road for a homeowner to worry about. When a potential pool buyer figures in the cost of these long term repairs/expenses, as well as the year to year savings on chemicals, it is no wonder why so many consumers are willing to pay more initially for a fiberglass pool in order to pay less and have less headache in the long run.

Myth #5 Concrete Swimming Pools versus Fiberglass Swimming Pools: Which is Better?

Ahhhh…So the debate rages on. Which is better? Are concrete pools the best choice? Or has fiberglass taken over as the pool of the 21st century. I'm sure you've heard arguments for both. And what you've likely heard has been biased.

You see, most installers only install one type of pool. If they install fiberglass, then they say fiberglass is the ONLY way to go. If they install concrete, then they say such statements as, "A pool is not a pool unless it's concrete" or "Why would you ever even consider fiberglass?" or "All of your friends have gotten concrete, you're not going to get something different are you?" or "You'll never find a shape you want." Etc, etc, etc… And if you talk to a friend that owns a concrete pool, then they'll likely tell you to choose concrete. Likewise for the friend that owns a fiberglass pool.

So let me clarify a few points for you now: " Fiberglass may or may not be the right pool for you. It is NOT for everybody. " Concrete (gunite) may or may not be the right pool for you. It is NOT for everybody. And now for your TRUE guide to picking the right pool for you.

You should choose a concrete pool if:

  • -You are looking for a VERY customized shape or size not offered in the fiberglass line. An example of this would be an "L" shaped pool or a pool wider than 16'.
  • -You are looking for a pool DEEPER than 8'. This would be because you've decided on a very springy diving board and you want to be able to do many tricks and unique dives off of said board.
  • -You are not concerned with expensive repairs down the road.
  • -You are not concerned with the maintenance time you spend with the pool on a weekly basis.
  • -You are trying to create a complete naturescape. In other words, you want the pool to have many natural rock features, grottos, possibly a 'pond' appearance, etc. (Although one may argue fiberglass pools can look very natural, I still have yet to see a natural masterpiece as I have seen many times with some very high-end gunite projects.
  • -You are looking for a beach entry. (There are a few fiberglass pools with something similar to a beach entry, but it's still not quite the same design you'll find in a concrete pool.)
  • -You are NOT concerned with concrete's roughness on your feet. (I've had second time pool owners choose fiberglass simply because their concrete pool tore up their children's feet too much. This is pretty standard with most concrete/gunite pools.)

You should choose a fiberglass pool if:

  • -You are looking for the LEAST amount of swimming pool maintenance possible on a daily/weekly basis.
  • -You are looking for a swimming pool that will likely have no major repairs/expenses (structurally speaking) down the road.
  • -You are looking for a quick pool install.
  • -You are looking for a pool on the smaller end of large. In other words, you are looking for a size that is roughly 16'x40' or less.
  • -You are looking for a pool that will have 'flex' strength if need be. (For example, let's say you live next to a rock quarry where there is constant ground vibration.)

So there you have it. See which list fits your needs the best and that's what you should go with. (Yes, I am a 'Fiberglass Pool Guy' and I did just say that there are times when you should absolutely choose concrete). And if you want to listen to the counsel of your friends, listen to the ones that have owned BOTH types of pools, not just one or the other. For example, of the 500+ fiberglass pools our company has installed, roughly 10 of the customers owned a concrete pool previously. Because of the drawbacks of concrete, they chose to take a different route the second time around. These people are the true pool comparison experts. Notice also that I have not mentioned the pool's appearance on this concrete vs fiberglass page. This is because I have seen absolutely stunning concrete AND fiberglass pools. It's all about the builder's capabilities as well as the buyer's budget. In fact, when our company presents at a home show, many onlookers see our pool photos and assume we do concrete. Of course, this is not the case but it just so happens that both pools can be very beautiful and elegant, or very boring and cheap, depending on a variety of project factors and decisions.

Myth #6 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:

"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. "

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Construction_methods_for_private_pools"

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 River Pools 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, the same package is normally about 4-9k higher for fiberglass. For some customers, especially the ones that are thinking in a short-term perspective, this difference can be too much.