Concrete Pools vs. Fiberglass Pools: An Honest Comparison
Time for a radical statement: fiberglass pools aren’t for everyone. I know! Contain your shock! River Pools manufactures and sells them, but our priority is one thing: customer satisfaction. We want you to be informed so you can make the best decision for you and your family...even if that means not choosing us.
The most common choices for a long-term pool are concrete or fiberglass. Let’s go through how these two types of pools compare in the following areas:
- Cost (initial and lifetime)
- Installation time
- Interior surface texture
- Hands-on maintenance
- Chemicals and electrical energy
Is a concrete or fiberglass pool better for me?
Concrete pools cost $50,000 or more and require expensive long-term maintenance. They're highly customizable but take 3–6 months to install. Fiberglass pools typically cost $45,000 or more and require little maintenance. They're pre-built on existing molds and only take 3–6 weeks to install.
Cost (initial and lifetime)
Although we don’t recommend DIY-ing a fiberglass pool, some people do choose to install the pool themselves, which can cost between $12,000–$30,000, depending on the pool size and any upgrades.
Most fiberglass pool projects cost $45,000–$85,000 for both manufacturing and installation, but they can be much more depending on how fancy you get with landscaping, accessories, and water features.
Long-term, your only serious maintenance expenses will be in chemicals and electricity. You’ll spend almost $4,000 over a 10-year period.
Concrete pool construction usually costs between $50,000 and $100,000 upfront.
Concrete pools need a lot of TLC to stay in good condition, so you’ll also need to budget for long-term maintenance such as acid washing, refinishing, and energy usage. Over the life of a concrete pool, maintenance costs over $25,000 every 10 years because of the extensive upkeep.
The upfront costs for both are about the same, but concrete pools cost far more in the long run. Winner: Fiberglass
Fiberglass pools typically run up to 16 feet wide, 40 feet long, and 8.5 feet deep. They’re created from pre-designed molds, so you’re limited to the established shapes and sizes.
Even outside of the size restrictions, you can customize your pool to any aesthetic with water features, tanning ledges, tiles, and colorful lights and finishes.
If you need a super long or deep pool, concrete is your best option. It costs more for each square foot, of course, but you can design your pool to look as dramatic as you like. You also have more freedom to design it to suit your specific needs.
Fiberglass pools and concrete pools can be equally gorgeous, but concrete pools are almost unlimited in their size and shape options. Winner: Concrete
We manufacture the fiberglass pool shell off site.
After we transport the pool to your backyard, it’s in the ground and ready for swimming in about 2 days. The patio and decking will take another week or two. From beginning to end, the process usually takes 3–5 weeks.
It takes 3–6 months to construct a concrete pool, which is typically done using the gunite process. That is a long time for you to want to cry every time you look at your torn-up backyard.
You only see the installation part of the fiberglass pool process, not the messy manufacturing, and that installation takes weeks instead of months. Winner: Fiberglass
Interior surface texture
The interior surface of a fiberglass pool is called the gelcoat. It’s smooth to the touch.
Steps or tanning ledges are designed to have an anti-slip texture, but even that’s not rough.
Plaster is the roughest interior surface for concrete; it scrapes your skin badly.
Exposed aggregate (like pebbles) isn’t quite so rough, but the hard bumps can hurt to walk on. Polished aggregate can remedy that.
Tile is the smoothest finish, but also the most expensive.
A concrete pool owner has to spend an arm and a leg to smooth out the surface. A fiberglass pool feels smooth and pain-free by default. Winner: Fiberglass
Both the gelcoat finish and the pool structure itself are super durable.
You can also use a salt chlorine generator for low maintenance and silkier water, as the salt has no harmful effect on the fiberglass shell.
The structure of a concrete pool—that is, the actual concrete—is incredibly durable.
All interior finishes for concrete pools, including basic plaster, are strong enough that you don’t have to worry about damage from toys, dogs, or tree branches. However, you do still need to replaster the pool every 10–15 years, including replacing the waterline tile.
If you use a salt chlorine generator, the dissolved salt in the water will further shorten the life expectancy of a plaster-based interior finish (which includes aggregate). Salt water doesn’t affect a tile finish, though.
Both surfaces are strong and durable, but concrete pools are weak against salt and need to be refinished. Winner: Fiberglass
The gelcoat also doesn’t affect the water pH, so you rarely have to add in acid to balance it. You do still need to test your water chemistry each week, though.
The alkalinity of concrete increases the water pH, so you need to add muriatic acid (hydrochloric acid) every day.
You also need to clean the entire surface of the pool with a steel brush at least once a week to remove any surface algae.
Fiberglass pools require minimum weekly maintenance, whereas you have to babysit concrete pools so they don’t become ponds. Winner: Fiberglass
The gelcoat of a fiberglass pool is smooth and algae-resistant, with only microscopic pores, so algae has no opportunity to burrow into it.
Concrete has many pores and cavities, which invites algae.
You need to brush the pool at least once a week.
Regular maintenance can keep your pretty pool from turning into a pond, regardless of the pool type. However, a fiberglass pool makes this easier for you. Winner: Fiberglass
Chemicals and electrical energy
Fiberglass pools need less electricity and fewer chemicals to stay in good shape. Less money, time, and sweat. Nice!
You have to put aside time and money to buy and add the extra chemicals to kill algae. Aside from that, you also need to add acid regularly to keep the water chemistry in balance, given that concrete is alkaline-based.
Concrete’s high maintenance needs translate to higher chemical and electricity usage. Winner: Fiberglass
Which should I choose?
Only you know your priorities for your new pool. Consider these different characteristics to consider as you determine the best fit for you and your family. Maybe the pool needs to fit your specific aesthetic regardless of cost. Or maybe you’d prefer low costs over customization.
If you're still on the fence, but you'd like to get a clearer idea of your perfect pool, try our Pool Type Selector quiz. You'll get a customized recommendation with just 10 quick clicks. Try it out below:
Concrete pools work well if you:
- Have a budget of $50,000 or more
- Need a custom shape or depth, like an L shape or 9-foot deep end
- Can spend significant time and/or money maintaining the pool down the road
- Want a completely natural design (natural stone, grottos, pond-like appearance)
- Are unbothered by rough texture on your feet
Fiberglass pools work well if you:
- Have a budget of $45,000 or more
- Need a small-to-medium pool (16’x40’ or smaller)
- Can find a fiberglass swimming pool design that meets your needs
- Want the least maintenance possible
- Need the pool to have flex strength against constant ground vibration
- Want a pool with low long-term costs
- Want a quick, easy installation
Unlike concrete pools, fiberglass pools are installed quickly (over a few weeks instead of months), cost much less in the long run, and require minimal maintenance and repairs.
Fun fact: If you already have a concrete pool and want to switch over, you can actually install a fiberglass unit inside it.
At River Pools we offer both freeform and linear fiberglass pools in Virginia and southern Maryland (and across the country through our dealers). If you think a fiberglass pool might be the right choice for you, we want to answer any questions you have!
Editor's note: This blog article was updated on November 16, 2020.