Fiberglass vs. Vinyl Liner vs. Concrete Pools: An Honest Comparison
Is there an unbiased comparison of fiberglass inground pools, vinyl liner pools, and concrete pools on the internet?
A client who recently reached out to me doesn't think so. He stated in an email:
As you're no doubt well aware, it's a desert wasteland when trying to find information on pools... Sorting through the internet for usable information is difficult in the extreme. Of the few forums I've found, most devolve into trolls arguing gunite pools vs. fiberglass pools vs. vinyl liner pools - over and over and over and over.
"What would help a great deal is to find some kind of unbiased information that explains each pool in detail and then backs off - letting me (or the customer) make the final decision."
This article is my effort to provide an objective source of information about the three types of inground swimming pools.
The approach is simple. I list the advantages and disadvantages of fiberglass inground pools, vinyl liner pools, and concrete pools...then back off so you can form your own opinion.
Fiberglass vs. Vinyl Liner vs. Concrete Pools
Vinyl liner pools have a lower initial cost and a customizable shape, but you frequently replace the liner. Fiberglass pools are easy to maintain, quick to install, and very durable. They cost more upfront and aren’t as customizable. Concrete pools are extremely durable and customizable but require heavy maintenance, the highest costs, and a slow installation.
Fiberglass Pools Pros and Cons
Pros of a Fiberglass Pool
- Low maintenance
- Little or no lifetime cost
- Non-abrasive surface
- Built-in seats and steps
- Manufactured in a controlled environment
- Quick installation
The gelcoat surface of the fiberglass pool shell doesn't have the big pores and cavities of plaster.
This inhibits algae growth and reduces the amount of sanitizing chemicals required to maintain the pool.
Little or no lifetime cost
About 99% of the time, the shell of fiberglass pools needs no upkeep.
There's no vinyl liner to replace and no resurfacing.
The gelcoat surface of fiberglass pools is smooth to the touch.
Built-in seats and steps
Most fiberglass swimming pool designs have seating, and all have steps incorporated into the shell of the pool.
Manufactured in a controlled environment
Fiberglass pools are built in the controlled climate of a factory.
Because the shells of fiberglass pools are built off-site, the installation occurs more rapidly...3–6 weeks on average.
You can do amazing things with a fiberglass swimming pool, such as beautiful colored finishes, ceramic tile, tanning ledges, water features, stunning pool lights, elevated spas, poolside walls, and more.
Learn why we expanded to manufacturing fiberglass pools and how our methods revolutionized the industry.
Cons of a Fiberglass Pool
- Limited shapes and swimming pool designs
- No wider than 16'
- Repairs on some colored finishes do not match
- Higher initial cost
Limited shapes and swimming pool designs
Because fiberglass pools are built from a mold, the consumer is limited to the shapes and sizes offered by the various fiberglass pool manufacturers.
No wider than 16'
Fiberglass pools are shipped via the road. Shipping restrictions limit the width of the fiberglass pool shell to 16 feet.
Repairs on some colored finishes do not match
Many fiberglass pool manufacturers use colored finishes that do not match in the unlikely event that a repair is needed.
Higher initial cost
Fiberglass pools are more of an initial investment—usually at least $10,000 more than vinyl liner pools and about the same as concrete pools.
Vinyl Liner Pools Pros and Cons
Pros of a Vinyl Liner Pool
- Low initial cost
- Customizable shape and size
- Nonabrasive surface
- Doesn't foster algae
Low initial cost
Vinyl liner pools have the lowest initial swimming pool cost of any of the three types of inground pools.
Customizable shape and size
There are no limitations of the length, width, and depth of vinyl liner pools.
The vinyl liner material is smooth to the touch.
Doesn't foster algae
The vinyl material used in vinyl liner pools is also relatively non-porous, so it inhibits algae growth.
Cons of a Vinyl Liner Pool
- Higher lifetime cost
- Liner warranties are pro-rated
- Have to use the pool with care
- Lower resale value
Higher lifetime cost
On average, a vinyl liner will last 5–9 years. Each replacement can cost $2,500–$3,500 plus the cost of water. It usually adds up to $4,000–$4,500.
Liner warranties are pro-rated
Many vinyl liner manufacturers have a 20-year pro-rated warranty. Read the fine print.
Have to use the pool with care
Dogs, kids throwing stuff in the pool, tree limbs, etc., are all concerns.
The liner is only 20–30 mils thick, which is the thickness of several sheets of paper. One mistake could cost you big bucks.
Lower resale value
When you go to sell a home with a vinyl liner pool, one of the first questions asked is "How old is the liner?"
If it's more than 3–4 years old, there's a significant chance the potential buyer will request you replace the liner before the sale of the house, or the value of the pool will depreciate.
Concrete Pools Pros and Cons
Pros of a Concrete Pool
- As big as you want
- More flexibility with swimming pool design features
- Works of art
As big as you want
Concrete pools can be any size, shape, or depth.
More flexibility with swimming pool design features
Vanishing edges, beach entries, tanning ledges, etc., are all just a sketch away from reality with concrete pools.
Works of art
Concrete pools can be integrated into design as a literal work of art in the landscape.
Cons of a Concrete Pool
Unfortunately, the flexibility concrete allows from a design perspective comes with a price.
- High lifetime cost
- More chemical use
- More maintenance
- Longer install time
High lifetime cost
Concrete pools will need to be renovated every 10–15 years. This involves resurfacing and re-tiling the pool at an expense of $10,000–$20,000 or much higher depending on the pool.
More chemical use
Because the surface of concrete pools is very porous, more chemicals and filtration are required to prevent algae. The alkalinity of the pool shell also constantly raises the pH of the water, requiring you to frequently add acid to counteract the effect.
You also need to frequently broom or sweep a concrete pool with a pool brush to remove algae from the pores of the plaster or aggregate surface.
Longer install time
Concrete pools take longer to install...usually 3–6 months.
Each of the three types of inground swimming pools—fiberglass, concrete, and vinyl liner—comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Pros and cons of fiberglass pools
Fiberglass pools are extremely easy to maintain, can be installed quickly, are very durable, and can be beautifully designed. However, their initial cost can be higher than vinyl liner pools, and the shapes and sizes are not as customizable.
Pros and cons of vinyl liner pools
Vinyl liner pools have a lower initial cost and a highly customizable shape, but the biggest disadvantages include having to frequently replace the liner, the possibility of algae growth, and the riskiness of the liner warranty.
Pros and cons of concrete pools
Concrete pools are extremely durable and allow for a highly customized size and shape. The disadvantages include more effort to maintain, more chemical usage, highest cost of ownership, a rough interior surface, and a slow installation time.
Still have questions about these three types of inground swimming pools? If so, contact us directly or comment with your thoughts below!
And don't forget to download your free copy of our ebook, "Comparing Fiberglass, Concrete, and Vinyl Liner Pools in the Modern Age."
Editor's note: This blog article was originally published in June 2009 and has been updated and revamped for accuracy and appearance.