If everything you need to know about inground swimming pools were in one place, it would begin with an acknowledgment of the three types of inground pools. Here, we compare vinyl vs. gunite vs. fiberglass pools, starting with the ease of installation and followed by a discussion of relative surface comfort and safety, and durability. Maintenance, features, environmental concerns, and other comparisons round out the conversation comparing inground vinyl, gunite, and fiberglass pools.
The fiberglass pool shell is handcrafted at the plant, allowed to cure to a perfect shape and strength, then loaded onto a truck and brought to your site. It’s then dropped into the pre-excavated hole, leveled and finished with filtering equipment, coping and decking. The whole process usually takes just three weeks.
When loved ones, including pets, are spending time in and around the home pool, you want them to be comfortable and safe. Because of the different materials used to manufacture vinyl, gunite and fiberglass pools, they each provide a different experience.
Vinyl liners need to be replaced relatively often. And due to the fact that concrete buildings last a really long time, you might think that the most logical answer to the most durable pool type is concrete. Factor in freeze/thaw cycles that may cause cracking and resurfacing that is required every 10 years or so, and you may think again. Fiberglass lasts decades without resurfacing.
Gunite pool maintenance costs involve steel brushing the surface every week, acid washing every three to five years, and resurfacing every 10 to 15 years. For vinyl liner pools, replacing the liner every five to nine years will need to be factored into maintenance costs. Both gunite and vinyl require more chemicals and maintenance time. Because there is no need to resurface and fiberglass pools require fewer chemicals, you can get the most enjoyment and the least headache maintaining a fiberglass pool.
Inground pool costs vary for several reasons, including installation difficulty, features, options chosen, and region, among others. Typically, vinyl pools have the lowest upfront costs, while fiberglass takes the middle and gunite the highest costs.
For a long time, fiberglass pools weren’t associated with custom-type features and options. That’s no longer the case. Fiberglass offers shapes, sizes and features to please every taste. While gunite and vinyl liner pools have many possible custom features, they aren’t built-in and come at a cost.
We can’t speak for other fiberglass pool manufacturers, but Thursday Pools warrants the surface of the pool from osmotic blistering for 15 years. Because they aren’t manufactured, gunite pools may only have a workmanship warranty. Some vinyl pool liners come with a 20-25 year warranty, and only ensure that you're covered against any defects in workmanship in the vinyl liner, but won't protect you against improper installation or maintenance of the pool liner.
Gunite and vinyl liner pools can leach chemicals and rust back into the groundwater. Additionally, acid-washing concrete pools can result in harm to the environment. Because vinyl liner pools need regular replacement, more vinyl liner pools than any other type end up in landfills. Fiberglass pools last decades and don’t leach chemicals and rust back into the groundwater.
When fiberglass pool owners talk about the best overall investment of their pool, they mean it! Fiberglass pools can last as many 50 years with proper care and maintenance. The lifetime maintenance costs for fiberglass are lower than the alternatives, and they have strong structural and surface warranties available in most regions.
That’s the million-dollar question, and it’s one that Thursday Pools is equipped to help you answer. If you have compared inground pool types and decided that fiberglass is the way you want to go, there are many resources to help you narrow your choices. Whether you are looking for a small, medium or large pool, a rectangular, freeform, or roman-shape, tanning ledges and/or swimouts, there is a fiberglass pool to fit most any lifestyle.
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If you’re looking at inground pools for your backyard, you are probably aware that three main types exist, and you likely want to know what type of inground pool is best for you. And the more you dig in, the more you realize there is much to be considered. Some questions you may be asking yourself include, “Which type of inground pool lasts the longest?” “Which type of inground pool is cheapest?” “What are the upsides and downsides of each?” We’ll take a deep dive into all three of these types of inground pools, so you can decide for yourself the answer to, “What is the best type of inground pool: vinyl, gunite, or fiberglass?”
Purchasing an inground pool will likely be a once-in-a-lifetime purchase for you. While you may have specific reasons for wanting a backyard pool, such as your health, exercise, or to have a gathering place for family and friends, installation costs can range from as low as $35,000 to $100,000 or more. The bottom line is that it’s the most significant investment in your home, in many cases.
As you consider this investment, it’s helpful to understand more about the three types of options offered in most regions of the country, how they differ in important ways, as well as the pros and cons of each, so you can decide what’s right for you.
When it comes to installation, which type of pool wins out for ease, low cost, and speed of installation? After all, an inground pool is an inground pool, is an inground pool. Right? That statement could not be less accurate, especially when it comes to installation. Have you ever seen a concrete pool rolling down the highway? Probably not. If you have seen a fully-formed pool on a truck headed to a site, it’s a fiberglass pool shell that is manufactured in a controlled manufacturing facility and then transported to your site.
There are some commonalities related to installing an inground pool, and If you’re going to install one in your backyard, these are universal checklist items.
After addressing these universal factors affecting installation, consider the pool types individually.
Vinyl liner pool installation considerations. If you want a pool installed, in relatively short order, at the lowest upfront cost possible and with some flexibility on size and depth, vinyl may be the way to go. You’ll sacrifice features, pay more in annual maintenance (than fiberglass), and may have repair and replacement costs above and beyond the other pool options to contend with later on.
Vinyl liner pools are framed with a series of interconnected panels made of galvanized steel, aluminum, or plastic. Once framed out, a concrete footing is poured around the perimeter of the frame to hold the panels in place. Then a base, often a silicate mineral or grout, is applied and leveled out to create the bottom surface and is covered with vinyl. Vinyl panels are attached to the frame to finish the walls, then coping and decking are installed. The whole process of installing a vinyl liner pool usually takes 4 to 8 weeks.
Note: Vinyl liner pool installation can be affected by the weather.
Gunite pool installation considerations. Gunite pools take longer to install, particularly if you’re installing custom features or going freeform in design. In comparison to vinyl liner pools and inground fiberglass pools, gunite takes considerably longer to install. If your most important question is, “how fast can I get into my pool?” into your value equation, gunite may not be the option for you.
After excavation, a gunite pool is framed with concrete blocks and steel rebar. Concrete is gunned through a high-pressure nozzle onto the frame, resulting in a textured finish. After the gunite has cured, a waterproof plaster is applied to the entire pool surface, then coping, decking, and equipment connections or installations can occur. The gunite pool installation process typically lasts about 3 to 6 months.
Note: Consider the weather and schedule when considering a gunite pool. Inclement weather can impact the already long install times and the stability of the materials in use.
Fiberglass pool installation considerations. Installation time and ease often put fiberglass at the top of a pool owner’s shortlist. Especially if you live in an area where weather conditions are unpredictable, fiberglass may be right for you.
Fiberglass pools begin in the pool manufacturing facility with a mold. The fiberglass pool is handcrafted in layers, starting with the gelcoat finish. After the finish sets, strengthening layers are applied, the shell is given time to cure, and then it’s removed from the mold, trimmed, inspected, and ready to be shipped. After arriving at the installation site, the pool shell is placed in the excavated hole, leveled, and then it’s ready for coping, decking, and equipment installation. The whole installation process usually takes about three weeks. Note: When installing a fiberglass pool, make sure that you’ve considered backyard access. Obstacles or impediments that interfere with a truck and crane may add to the time and cost of your fiberglass pool installation.
Vinyl liner pools are prone to algae growth, making them slippery and posing safety concerns. They also can get wrinkles that present a potential tripping hazard.
The gunite pool’s plaster-covered concrete has drawbacks, including the porous and rough surface. The rough surface can scrape the bottom of your feet (and your pet’s paws), and it makes for an environment that is more susceptible to algae; therefore, it must be brush-scrubbed often to prevent algae build-up that makes slippery spots.
Fiberglass earns top marks in terms of comfort and safety. Because of its smooth gel coat finish, the surface is comfortable for human and pet feet, and it won’t snag bathing suits. Most modern fiberglass pools (including those manufactured by Thursday Pools) also have a non-skid finish that is algae resistant, so the surface helps prevent slip and falls.
Vinyl pools may score pretty well in installation time, but looking forward to lifetime ownership and considering “uptime,” there is the question of vinyl repair and replacement. Vinyl liners can be punctured or torn by pet claws or sharp objects that have fallen in the pool (e.g., tree limbs), thereby requiring repair. Replacement, which will usually occur every 8 to 12 years, will require a drain and refill of the pool and some downtime in-between. Considering uptime into the equation, you have to give vinyl a couple of negative marks for repair and replacement frequency. The liner replacement of a vinyl pool can cost anywhere between $3,500 and $5,000. If a pool is a larger or more freeform design, a replacement can be closer to $10,000. Vinyl liner pools are the least durable pool type for the reasons mentioned above.
Gunite/concrete pools are popular with installers familiar with the construction processes involved, and they typically appreciate the ability to customize their creation. They are less prevalent in mid-states and northern states where homeowners must contend with a freeze/thaw cycle, which can crack or heave the concrete in gunite pools.
It might seem counterintuitive, but gunite pools are not the most durable pools out there. Their porosity makes them more prone to cracks and the effects of time and pollutants, such as calcium and algae. It’s highly likely that you’ll have to resurface your gunite pool within 10 to 15 years.
Fiberglass has a sheen to it. To the uninitiated, it might seem to be a material on par with plastic or some sort of rubberized product. In fact, fiberglass is lightweight yet strong and not brittle. Its durability is reflected by the fact that many inground fiberglass pools last as long as 50 years without the need for major repairs or replacement. It’s a material built to last a lifetime. All things considered, fiberglass pools are the most durable pool type.
If you’re purchasing a pool for your backyard, you know that it is an investment and, like many investments, one that requires maintenance to provide the value you expect. That said, each pool type requires a different level of maintenance.
Vinyl pools can be challenging to balance chemically. And unbalanced chemistry is a common cause of wrinkles in vinyl liners. Because seams and wrinkles on vinyl pool liners are a breeding ground for algae, maintenance can take some extra time and attention. Expect to spend 4 to 8 hours per week on vinyl pool maintenance.
You will spend time with your gunite pool by necessity. Concrete is porous and alkaline, and therefore more chemicals are needed to keep pH levels in check. On average, they will require 4 to 8 hours of maintenance per week, far more than with a fiberglass pool. In addition, you’ll spend more money on chemicals, keeping algae and other minerals at bay.
Fiberglass pools have lower maintenance requirements and allow homeowners to save both money and time, and use fewer chemicals. You can generally expect to spend one hour or less per week on maintenance.
Vinyl inground pool costs range from $35,000 to $65,000, the cheapest of the three types of pools in upfront costs. Downsides that may offset this plus of upfront savings include lack of high-end feature capabilities like zero-entry, more frequent need for repair and rebuild, and higher maintenance costs.
Fiberglass pools have an upfront cost that is usually slightly more than vinyl and less than gunite—in the range of $45,000 to $85,000. However, due to their durability (up to 50 years) and lower maintenance costs, homeowners may want to consider overall costs or lifetime value rather than upfront costs.
Gunite is typically the most expensive of the three types of pools. Gunite inground pool cost ranges from $35,000 to $100,000 and up. However, gunite pools may be less expensive than fiberglass pools in sun-belt states that are not subject to freezing temperatures.
Before jumping into comparison, it’s good to know what is available in today’s market and the expectations of an educated consumer. We all come to the pool buying experience with a unique set of life experiences that shape our perceptions of what a pool could and should look like, what features it should have, and how it should make us feel when we’re spending time in it.
Some pool buyers expect a pool to be a kidney or oval shape, about five feet deep, and capable of becoming a skateboarding venue when it no longer reliably holds water. Some buyers are all-inclusive vacationers, and they count hot-stone massages and swim-up bars among their favorite things. Still, others hear the word “swimming,” and their heart rate goes up as they think about their next swim workout, water volleyball game, or an intense game of sharks and minnows.
The good news is that there truly is something for everyone in this modern age of backyard pools. If you want something “quick and dirty” that may not last super long but gets you in the water today for a sweet price, that’s available. If you want to mimic the luxe resort life right outside your backdoor, that’s more attainable than you might think. And if you’re going to get in your backyard pool and get your red blood cells oxygenated, we can do that, too. Some pool types can deliver the features you want and need more efficiently and affordably than others.
Vinyl pool designs come in an array of colors and patterns. Custom shapes and freeform designs are part of vinyl’s appeal. Features or pool options are a similar factor in lifetime cost. Vinyl liner pools have an opportunity cost built-in – there may be features you’d like to have but either cannot include or can include with certain compromises. For example, some features, like tanning ledges, can be created with a vinyl pool, but it’s still a vinyl surface, prone to tearing and more slippery than is ideal – and it will need to be custom-built on site.
Vinyl pool builders can install features like tanning ledges, the ledges will be covered with vinyl, though, and you’ll have to exercise great care if you want to put a lounger on the ledge surface. It could tear. On a similar note, features like step-in stairs or sloped-entry installations are made more difficult by the tendency of vinyl to be slippery.
Many vinyl pool installers will opt for plastic or aluminum steps/ladders to avoid potential tears or slipping. On the same note, many of those same installers will advise against trying to incorporate high-end features like sunken living areas or zero-entry pools because they are not plausible or cost-effective with a vinyl pool.
With gunite, you can go as big as you want and as deep as you’d like. And you can add as many features as you’d like. Many of the most popular features available in the residential pool market, like sunken living areas or zero-entry pools, come from hotels and other commercial settings. They are possible with gunite. But they will be custom-built, labor-intensive, and can add significantly to the cost of a gunite pool.
A gunite pool is a blank canvas. You can make it deep. You can make it wide. And you can make it as freeform as you’d like. And when it comes to features, if you can dream it, you can do it with gunite. Features will cost you in a gunite pool. All that flexibility has a trade-off, and that is high cost. Because a gunite pool is built on-site, the features you might expect should come with the pool could be costly add-ons.
Fiberglass is valued for its durability and beauty. And in more recent years, as manufacturing innovation has taken hold, fiberglass has expanded in available sizes and shapes. It has features for swimmers who like to sit and socialize and for the more active swimmer. Because fiberglass pools are built in a factory, there is a limit to the size and depth – usually, 40′ long and 6′ 8′ deep are the limits.
If the value of your pool is dictated by overly large or unique size, depth, or shape requirements, fiberglass might not score the highest marks with you. If the range of size and shape choices available today is enough to suit your tastes, fiberglass can come through for you. The breadth and depth of choices far exceed the expectations of most new pool buyers. In addition, the features that are built-in make fiberglass pools feel custom – at a much lower cost.
The march of innovation and improvement has led to a steady increase in fiberglass market share among types of pools in North America. The polymer gel coat surface of a fiberglass pool is smooth under the feet, has non-skid properties built into it – good for kids and pets – and shimmers stunningly in the sunlight. In addition, features like spacious tanning ledges, wrap-around benches, and deep-end swim-outs are less expensive than they would be in a custom gunite installation.
If you had an idea that fiberglass pool designs included a rectangular, kidney, and oval option, you were in for a surprise when you started your online research. Fiberglass manufacturers have upped their game and now offer scores of pool designs with a combination of shapes, sizes, and built-in features. A pool with a custom feel is not out of reach.
It’s not just pretty designs driving the fiberglass pool wave. It’s also creative engineering. An example of that creativity in engineering is Thursday Pools’ patented backfill eliminator. This technology is a fully integrated support structure for pools with tanning ledges. It solidifies tanning ledges, eliminates the need for extra backfill under the ledge, and allows for the free flow of groundwater underneath. In essence, it lets the ledge do what it’s intended to do – act as a sturdy, reliable platform for in-pool tanning and relaxing.
Features you will see in the modern fiberglass pool include wrap-around benches, courtesy ledges, zero-entry (sometimes called “beach entry”), tanning ledges, and sunken living areas. On top of that, there are niche products like wading pools (low depth), spas, and wet decks that can reflect the individual tastes and needs of the homeowner. A fiberglass pool gets points for what it can deliver efficiently, affordably, and with remarkably good taste.
Vinyl liner pool warranties generally expire or cover less over time. A vinyl liner may have a 20-year warranty that covers defective workmanship, but by the time you need a new liner, that warranty will be ineffective and won’t cover the cost of your new liner or expenses associated with draining/refilling your pool.
Fiberglass pools by Thursday Pools include a 15-year surface warranty that will warrant the surface of the pool from osmotic blistering. And a one-time transferable limited lifetime structural warranty protects against any leak due to structural failures caused by workmanship and material used in the manufacturing for the lifetime of the pool.
Gunite pools don’t come with a manufacturer’s warranty because they aren’t manufactured. Gunite pools may only have a workmanship warranty. Make sure to understand what is included in any warranty.
Vinyl is not recyclable. It does need to be replaced every 8 to 12 years on average, and that old liner, and any that follow, will typically end up in the landfill. The metal commonly used for coping in a vinyl liner pool can rust and leach back into the groundwater.
Gunite can pose a few environmental concerns. Old plaster is chipped away down to the concrete shell during resurfacing, and the material is non-recyclable and will end up in the landfill. Gunite pools may also leach acid back into the groundwater.
Fiberglass pools have a smaller environmental footprint than gunite or vinyl pools because of reduced chemical use, no acid washing, and its long lifespan.
Thursday Pools are manufactured in an ISO 9001/ISO 14001 certified facility.
Thursday Pools is voluntarily an ISO 9001 manufacturing facility. It’s a commitment to standards of quality and being held accountable. It takes time, effort, and expense – and no other fiberglass pool manufacturer in the US has made that commitment – only Thursday Pools. Thursday Pools is also an ISO 14001 certified pool manufacturer. An ISO 14001 certified fiberglass pool manufacturer is constantly reviewing, measuring, and improving processes for environmental impact.
The lifetime value of your pool is also affected by how much you enjoy it. This may seem obvious, but when you’re comparing pool types, it’s a helpful gauge when comparing narrow topics like comfort, safety, and durability. All three affect just how swimmer-friendly a pool is, how much you’ll want to use it, and how much enjoyment – or lifetime value – you’ll receive from its use.
The lifetime value of fiberglass is impacted right off the bat through quick installation time. Your fiberglass pool shell arrives fully formed and ready to be dropped into the pre-excavated hole. If you’re eager to swim right now, an inground fiberglass pool will reward your impatience.
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 criterion, a vinyl liner pool is probably your best bet. If you’re looking for a completely custom, one-of-a-kind pool – and the 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 looks great and is easy on the feet and budget, there must be a fiberglass pool in your future.
One last note on the difference as you compare vinyl pools, gunite pools, and fiberglass pools. As a large-scale manufacturer of pools, Thursday Pools is in the unique position of working with a large network of independent installers and homeowners in multiple regions. We get wide-ranging feedback and develop resources based upon the real needs of pool owners.
We share this information with our network, regularly hosting independent dealers at our manufacturing facilities and providing resources to assist them with customer education and marketing the many benefits of inground fiberglass pools. We also offer our insights to the customers we share. This includes a huge library of informative and instructional videos, eBooks full of advice and insights into the pool-buying experience, and a monthly newsletter. Thursday Pools makes sure that fiberglass pool owners are informed!
Shopping for a backyard pool is a process. Suppose you have taken the time to compare the types of pools available and decided that fiberglass pools are the direction you’re leaning. In that case, you may want to know even more about inground fiberglass pools, including some of the specifics on sizes, shapes, features, and how to put together your plan to get that pool in the ground and ready for swim season. Now is an excellent time to go beyond comparison and take a deeper dive into fiberglass pools.
In digging into the pros and cons of the different pool types, we’ve covered cost directionally and with some ranges – fiberglass pools coming in at a range of $45,000 to $85,000. You might wonder where the pools you desire to fall on that spectrum. It’s those choices you make from the available inground fiberglass pools and within your specific installation that influence your final cost. One rule of thumb fiberglass pool installers make is $1,500 x linear foot = ballpark installation cost.
Go big with large inground fiberglass pools.
Did you know that you can get a 40-foot inground fiberglass pool? That’s big enough for the family, the family dog, the family friends… it’s big. Thursday Pools offers the Grace Beach Entry, the Monolith, the Goliath, and the Aspen in 40’+ sizes. Although these are all rectangularly shaped, it doesn’t mean they lack character.
The Grace Beach Entry features that day at the beach, zero entry design, plus bench seating in the corners. The Monolith features a flat-bottomed shallow end and wide-open deep end with space for diving (Type I). It’s got angled steps and benches, too! The Aspen offers that perfect relaxation and play-time combination with a tanning ledge and a deep-end swim-out. The Sandal, at 39′ 6″, offers similar features to the Aspen but in a free-form shape.
At 40 feet long, these bigger pools will cost a little more, but you’ll also enjoy a more comprehensive array of options for backyard pool enjoyment – and that may be just what you’re looking for. Using the 1,500 figure, a general ballpark figure for a 40′ fiberglass pool would be $60,000. Keep in mind this is a base figure.
Not small. Not big. Just right. Medium inground fiberglass pools.
The fiberglass pool options expand in exciting ways as you move to the size range of just under 40′ to around 27′. From the Aspen pool design to Lil Bob to Cathedral to Wellspring, the ability to select a pool for your backyard size and swimming activity tastes is greater than ever when you jump into the medium-sized selections. If you have a crowd to appeal to, these fiberglass pools can help you out.
The Sun Day, a Thursday Pool model in three sizes greater than 30′ and less than 40′, combines free form shape with comfortable walk-in steps, curved bench seating, and a wide-open swim area. It’s just fun. The Cathedral, at 33′ 5″, combines a traditional rectangular profile with arched ends that provide seating and wide steps as well as a classic design accent to your backyard. Go Cathedral LX and add a 9′ diameter tanning ledge inside one of those curves!
At 33′ 5″, a pool cost calculation using the $1,500/linear foot measure, your ballpark cost for a medium-sized pool is around $50,250.
Small Pools are a niche. And sometimes a sidecar.
There is no shortage of small fiberglass pool designs that can stand alone or act as a complement to your larger pool. These pools are usually 25′ or under. You might describe them as snappy, scalloped, or spa-like – or maybe all three! You’ve got options, even with small fiberglass pool designs, when it comes to the type of pool activity you want.
If you go with the smallest version of Thursday Pool’s Aspen, at 25′ in length, you’ve got a pool that fits into most backyards and accommodates a mix of both relaxing and energetic pool activity. It’s great for entertaining. Move to the Spa, Wading Pool, or Wet Deck designs, and you’ve got compact designs that you can tuck away in a little nook of a backyard or build adjacent to a larger pool as a design and activity accent.
At 20 feet in length, using our $1,500/linear foot calculation, a small fiberglass pool design comes in at a ballpark estimate of $30,000.