You might be looking for new ways for your family to spend quality time together. You might be dreaming of an elegant place to socialize and entertain. Perhaps you’re looking for a way to achieve your fitness goals and a healthier, more active lifestyle. Maybe it’s all of the above.
Depending on which type of inground pool you choose, how many add-on features you want to incorporate, and what part of the country you live in, installation costs can range from as low as $35,000 to $100,000 or more. It’s a big decision.
So, if you’re considering buying an inground swimming pool, it’s important to do your research and understand the three different types of inground pools on the market—vinyl liner, fiberglass and gunite— and the benefits and drawbacks of each.
We’ll take an objective look at how these pools rank against each other so you can see how they stack up in the areas that are most important to you. Let’s get started.
For any type of inground pool, the first step is excavating the hole. After that, the manufacturing and installation process is different for the three different types of inground pools.
Vinyl liner and gunite pools are built in the field, while fiberglass pools are built in a manufacturing facility and delivered in one piece. For this reason, heavy rain and other weather events are more likely to cause delays to vinyl and gunite installation schedules than they are with fiberglass installations.
Vinyl liner pools are framed out with a series of interconnected panels made of galvanized steel, aluminum, or plastic. Once the pool is fully framed, concrete “footing” is poured around the perimeter of the frame to hold the panels in place. When the footing has set, a base of vermiculite or grout is applied on top of the soil and smoothed out. This base becomes the floor of the pool, so it’s essential that it’s even and free of imperfections, as bumps can be felt underfoot through the vinyl. Next, the vinyl panels are attached to the frame and the liner is smoothed out. The pool is now ready for equipment installation, coping, and decking.
A vinyl liner pool typically takes about 4-8 weeks to install.
Gunite is the name of the process used to create pools made of concrete, so the terms “gunite” and “concrete” are used interchangeably when referring to these types of pools. After excavation, a gunite pool is framed out on top of concrete blocks with a network of steel rebar. The concrete is then gunned onto the rebar frame through a high-pressure pneumatic nozzle. The spraying process results in the textured finish that gunite pools are known for. After the gunite has cured, waterproof plaster is applied to the entire pool surface. The pool is now ready for equipment installation, coping, and decking.
A gunite pool typically takes about 3-6 months to install.
Fiberglass pools are made by first creating a mold of the pool design. The mold is prepped so that the pool won’t stick in the de-molding process. The fiberglass pool shell is then handcrafted in layers, starting with the gel coat finish. After the finish sets, layers of fiberglass are evenly applied, building strength in the shell. Once all the layers of the pool have been applied, the shell is given time to cure, so that all the fiberglass molecules can bond. Then, the shell is carefully removed from the mold, trimmed and inspected.
Once the fiberglass pool shell is complete, it’s loaded with a crane onto a wide-load trailer and delivered directly to the pool installation site where it’s placed into the excavated hole. Once the pool is placed and leveled, it’s ready for equipment installation, coping, and decking.
A fiberglass pool typically takes about 3 weeks to install.
In terms of comfort underfoot, vinyl liners rank pretty well. If the base has been properly built, the vinyl surface throughout should be smooth and easy on swimmers’ feet. However, that smooth vinyl can also mean a slippery-when-wet surface, so it’s imperative that swimmers take care when walking in the pool, particularly on vinyl-covered stairs.
Gunite pools with plaster finishes rank the lowest in terms of comfort underfoot. Because the surface is textured and a bit rough, swimmers can sometimes end up with stubbed toes or scratched feet and elbows when they’re playing in the pool or swimming laps. The surface can also be rough on swimsuits and pets’ paws. The upside is that the textured surface gives swimmers solid footing, with a much lower chance of slipping as they enter and exit the pool.
Gunite pools can also be finished with exposed aggregate, which is a pebble-like surface. It’s less prone to scratching, but the hard, uneven surface can also be uncomfortable underfoot. Tiling a gunite pool is also an option, but it’s much more costly than plaster or aggregate. And while tile is beautiful, it can also result in a slippery and difficult to navigate surface.
Fiberglass pools are finished in a polymer gel coat. It’s smooth under your feet and also has non-skid properties built into it. As a result, it’s by far the most comfortable and safe surface of the three for swimmers’ feet. For pool owners who want to share their pools with their four-legged family members, fiberglass pools are the best choice, hands-down.
Fiberglass pools are the most pet-friendly pools!
Compared to fiberglass and gunite, vinyl liner pools rank the lowest in terms of durability. Regardless of the thickness of the liner, it will be prone to tears from normal wear, any sharp objects that might find their way into the pool, and pets’ claws. Another issue with the durability of vinyl liner pools is the potential for the liner to float. This occurs when groundwater pressure builds up under the pool. The liner will temporarily lift with the pressure, then recede when the groundwater recedes. This typically results in wrinkles in the liner, which can only be removed by draining the pool and resetting the liner.
According to KompareIt.com, the average nationwide cost to replace a standard vinyl liner in an inground pool is $3,000 to $5,000, and it will need to be replaced every 8-12 years. However, freeform and other custom shapes can add up to $10,000 to the liner replacement cost. Vinyl-covered stairs, benches and swim-outs will also bump up your replacement costs.
The structure of a gunite pool is quite sound, and definitely more durable than vinyl liner pools. However, they do require a fair amount of maintenance to keep them in good shape. The plaster finish is porous, so pool water and chemicals will cause it to break down over time and need to be resurfaced. Any waterline tile will also have to be replaced at that time.
Another durability factor to consider with gunite pools is climate. In areas of the country where pools are subjected to extreme cold, the freezing and thawing process can cause cracks and damage to the concrete. This is one of the reasons gunite pools are most popular in areas of the country where it’s warm year-round.
According to HomeAdvisor.com, the average nationwide cost to resurface a gunite pool is $6,500, and it will need to be done every 10-15 years. Under good conditions, resurfacing a gunite pool will take about a week. Weather and other delays could extend that to two weeks or more.
A properly installed and maintained high-quality fiberglass pool is very structurally sound. Recent innovations in the fiberglass pool industry, such as the Geo-Anchor Pool Wall, have allowed pool builders to anchor the pool walls to the earth during installation. This helps the fiberglass pool walls resist movement and groundwater pressure.
Because fiberglass pools never need to be refinished, and there are no liners to replace, they rank highest in terms of durability.
Vinyl liners can be damaged by unbalanced water, so vinyl pool owners need to be extremely careful with pool chemical usage and water chemistry. Vinyl pools often require more chemicals to balance their water. Additionally, seams and wrinkles in the vinyl liner make a great breeding ground for algae which can be frustrating and time consuming to get under control.
Vinyl pool owners can expect to spend 2-3
hours per week on pool maintenance.
The surface of a gunite pool, by nature, is porous and rough. The nooks and crannies of the concrete create an ideal environment for algae to grow. Gunite pool owners’ maintenance schedules need to include brushing the entire surface of the pool at least weekly to keep algae at bay. Gunite pools also require a higher volume of chemicals to penetrate the gunite surface. Furthermore, because concrete is alkaline, the pool water may require daily doses of muriatic acid to keep pH levels in check.
Gunite pool owners can expect to spend about 4-5 hours per week on pool maintenance.
Fiberglass pool owners can expect to spend an hour or less per Fiberglass week on pool maintenance. The smooth, non-skid gel coat finish of a fiberglass pool is 100 percent non-porous and non-reactive, so it doesn’t absorb chemicals or affect how they work. As a result, other than regular skimming, vacuuming and testing, fiberglass pools require much less weekly maintenance than vinyl or gunite pools.
Fiberglass pool owners can expect to spend an hour or less per week on pool maintenance.
Note: If you’re interested in having a saltwater pool (instead of chlorine), be aware that salt water systems are not recommended for gunite pools. The salt can eat through the sealer and cause flaking, resulting in the need for more frequent resurfacing.
Automatic pool covers:
Automatic pool covers can help save both time and money on pool maintenance:
Depending on the shape and size of pool you choose, all three types of pools are compatible with automatic pool covers.
Colors, Shapes and Sizes
Vinyl liners come in a wide array of colors and patterns. Vinyl pool builders are now offering more custom shapes and freeforms in larger sizes than ever before, so customizing them is definitely an option.
Because every gunite pool is custom-built, they can be as large and deep as any pool buyer can dream of—and they can be built in any shape imaginable. There’s also a wide array of finishes and colors, so it’s easy to create a completely unique gunite pool.
Because fiberglass pools are built in a factory and delivered in one piece, there is a limit to how deep and large they can be for safe transport. However, some of the largest fiberglass pools on the market (around 16’ x 40’ and up to 6’ 8” deep) are still large enough to accommodate a big family that loves to swim. Fiberglass pools are available in a wide variety of shapes and colors, including unique freeforms.
Features: Wide-open steps, Tanning ledges, Benches, Swim-outs, Beach entries, Sunken living areas
While vinyl pool builders can install features like tanning ledges relatively inexpensively, they will still be covered with vinyl and may not be able to withstand the pressure of a ledge lounger without tearing. Sometimes, steps can be troublesome in vinyl liner pools when the steps are made of a polymer and covered in vinyl liner because they can make for slippery entrance and exit from the pool. In standard installations, pool buyers will often opt for either white plastic steps or a removable ladder.
And while some pool builders attempt to create the feel of a beach entry pool in a vinyl installation by creating sloped decking leading down to it, there’s no such thing as a truly “zero entry” vinyl pool. Custom designs like sunken living areas are not possible in vinyl pools.
Basically, high-end features are not as available, must be custom-built, and are not always worth it in vinyl pools.
Any combination of features is possible with a gunite pool.
However, each feature can add significantly to the cost of the overall pool project.
For many years, high-end features like beach entries and sunken living areas have only been available in gunite pools. Both of these custom features have, until recently, been found mostly in luxury hotels and resorts.
However, they’re now growing in popularity in residential installations. Again, they’re absolutely possible if you choose a gunite pool, but they’ll add to your project’s overall cost.
The bottom line is: high-end features are available, but not very affordable because they are custom and more labor intensive.
Fiberglass pool designs often feature wide-open steps, spacious tanning ledges, wrap-around benches and deep-end swim-outs. Whether your priorities are wide-open swim areas, spots for sitting and socializing or sport-bottom depths for water aerobics and games, you can find the combination of features that’s right for your family in a fiberglass pool design.
Beach entry pools and sunken living area pools have recently become available in fiberglass. These designs will cost more than a standard fiberglass pool, but these high-end features will be less expensive than they would be in a custom gunite installation.
With fiberglass pools there are a variety of built-in high-end features that give you luxury for a reasonable price.
Cost factors for all three types of pools will vary widely based on the style, size and features you want, as well as where you live. However, here are some general guidelines for the three types of inground pools (including decking) from HomeAdvisor.com:
$35,000 to $65,000
$45,000 to $85,000
$35,000 to $100,000 (price can vary drastically based on geographic location)
Will an inground pool add to your home’s value?
The answer depends mostly on where you live and what type of pool you’ve installed, but generally, an inground pool can add up to 7 percent to a home’s value. If you live in a part of the country where it’s warm year-round, or in a neighborhood where lots of other homes have pools, your margin will be greater.
According to ReviewHomeWarranties.com, 94 percent of vinyl pool owners reported that their liner replacements were not covered by their pool warranties. Here’s the reason: while a vinyl pool manufacturer might offer a 20 or 30-year warranty, they’re specifically covering defective workmanship, and full coverage often ends after two years. After that, the coverage percentage decreases every year. So, by the time your liner needs to be replaced, the warranty may cover as little as 10 percent (or none) of the replacement cost. No warranty covers the cost of draining and refilling your pool.
Because gunite pools are built from the ground up, there is no such thing as a manufacturer’s warranty on them. Warranties come from the pool builder. Thus, they will vary from one builder to the next. Gunite pool buyers should ask their pool builder what type of warranties they offer for equipment, workmanship and structural defects.
Most quality fiberglass pool manufacturers offer a warranty on both the structure and the surface of the pool shell, which are transferable (one-time) to a new owner if you sell your home.
The structural warranty refers to the integrity of the pool walls themselves and their ability to withstand groundwater pressure. The surface warranty covers “osmotic blistering” (which is bubbling on the surface of the pool wall.)
Look for a lifetime structural warranty and 15-year surface warranty.
Creative vinyl pool owners might find alternative uses for the scrap vinyl (such as covering wood piles or outdoor equipment) after they’ve had their liner replaced. However, vinyl is not a recyclable material, so it will eventually be sent to a landfill.
When a gunite pool is resurfaced, the old plaster is chipped away, down to the concrete shell. This material cannot be recycled, so it will also end up in a landfill.
The environmental footprint is smaller with fiberglass than with gunite or vinyl pools because of reduced chemical use, no acid washing and no liners in landfills.
If you’re concerned with your environmental footprint, look for a fiberglass pool manufacturer that is ISO 14001:2015 certified. This means they are constantly reviewing and measuring the organization’s current and future processes for environmental impact, proactively reducing their environmental footprint, and creating a safer and healthier work environment for employees.
To maintain or add to a home’s value, vinyl pools must be in tip-top shape. Imbalances in water chemistry can wreak havoc on vinyl, causing wrinkles almost overnight. And even the best maintained vinyl pool needs a liner replacement every eight to 12 years, resulting in significant overall costs over the life of the pool, not to mention the lost swim time.
Like vinyl pool ownership, gunite pool ownership results in lost pool time and recurring costs. To add value to your home, a gunite pool also must be excellently maintained. Regular maintenance as well as periodic painting and resurfacing represent a significant financial outlay over time.
A fiberglass pool actually adds and holds value after purchase, and it requires no major remodel or investment beyond the initial purchase. Depending on where you purchase your fiberglass pool, you can get a lifetime structural warranty and 15.year surface warranty to protect your investment. Lower maintenance costs and no major downtime make fiberglass pools the best overall investment.
Comparison Rating at a Glance
The choice is yours. As you can see, pool buying is not a one-size-fits-all situation.
Every pool buyer has different priorities. If a low, upfront investment is your most important criteria, a vinyl liner pool is probably your best bet. If you’re looking for a completely custom, one-of-a-kind pool—and cost is no object—gunite is the pool type for you. If you’re looking for a durable, low-maintenance pool with built-in features that’s easy on the eyes, feet, and budget, there’s a fiberglass pool in your future.
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