Fiberglass vs. Vinyl Liner vs. Concrete Pool: An Unbiased Review

There’s lots of information online about the various types of swimming pools available. If you plan to install an inground pool, you really only have three options: vinyl liner, fiberglass, and concrete. Each type of pool has advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, an unbiased review of all three is almost impossible to find. That’s because virtually every comparison out there is written by a pool company that sells and installs only one type of pool. That’s like going to a Toyota dealer and asking for a fair comparison between Toyota, Chevy, and Ford pickup trucks. Even if they are trying to be honest, you know they have a motive. So before you trust any of these comparisons, take a look at the rest of the website and see what type of pool they sell. We guarantee that the pool they sell will be the cheapest, easiest pool to install and own.

Here at The Pool Butler, we know that which type of pool you choose is a personal choice. We want you to have the information you need to make an informed decision. But we don’t have anything riding on which one you choose, because WE DON’T SELL POOLS! We clean, maintain, and repair pools, so we have firsthand knowledge of the costs involved with ownership. But we have nothing to gain or lose by which type of pool you choose to install. So if you are looking for a genuinely unbiased review, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll take a look at all the options and give you our honest opinion. Whatever your choice is, we’re happy to help you maintain your pool.

Fiberglass vs Vinyl Liner vs Concrete Pool - An Unbiased Review [infographic]

 

Why an Unbiased Review is So hard to Find

Deciding to install a swimming pool is a significant financial decision. No matter what type of pool you choose, the installation is not cheap, and neither are the ongoing costs of ownership. If an advertised pool seems too cheap to be true, it probably is. With the money you’re spending, you don’t want to cut corners just to save a few bucks in the short term. Deciding which type of pool to install is your first step in your pool ownership journey. You can’t make any other decisions until you’ve made that one. But try to find an unbiased review, and you’ll be almost fresh out of luck. Most reviews are by companies that sell pools, and therefore have a vested interest in your final decision. The Pool Butler doesn’t sell pools, so we’re here to give you the real low-down so you can make your own decision.

To help you on your pool ownership journey, we will present the pros and cons of each type of pool. After that, we’ll leave the decision making up to you.

Fiberglass Pros and Cons

A fiberglass pool is manufactured offsite as a giant fiberglass shell. The shell is delivered to your home in one piece and dropped into a prepared hole.

Fiberglass Pros

A fiberglass pool comes prefabricated. This means that installation is pretty quick and easy. The pool can be installed, leveled, and backfilled in just a couple of days, although it will be a few weeks before you can take your first swim. The prefabrication includes steps, seats, and ledges. It may even include rails and ladders. Think of a fiberglass pool like a mobile home. It shows up from the manufacturer ready to go.

Fiberglass pools also have pretty low maintenance costs. Most fiberglass pools have a gel lining. The lining is non-porous, which means there’s not much of anywhere for algae to take hold. That makes cleaning a fiberglass pool less labor intensive than other types of pools. The non-porous shell also doesn’t absorb chemicals or react with the pool water, minimizing the cost of added pool chemicals.

A fiberglass pool is more expensive to install than a vinyl liner pool, but less expensive than a concrete pool. Over time, however, you can recoup some of the installation costs with the lower maintenance costs. A fiberglass pool with a gel coating takes a long time to fade and rarely needs resurfacing or repairs.

Fiberglass Cons

The biggest drawback of a fiberglass pool is the limitations created by delivering the pool in one piece. Fiberglass shells have to be transported by a truck, so the maximum size is 16 feet wide and about 40 feet long. Also, the design options are limited. This is a prefab pool, not a custom pool, so you get exactly what the manufacturers are selling. That being said, there are many manufacturers and many styles to choose from, so beyond the size limitation, you do have a lot of options.

Fiberglass pools are made with a gel coating. The gel coating is pretty sturdy, but if it cracks or needs repairs, it can be difficult to match the color of the rest of the pool.

In terms of initial cost, a fiberglass pool is cheaper than concrete but still more expensive than a comparably-sized vinyl liner pool.

Vinyl Liner Pros and Cons

A vinyl liner pool is built by digging a giant hole, installing steel or polymer walls, then dropping in a paper-thin vinyl lining. The lining is the inner wall of your pool and holds all the water.

Vinyl Liner Pros

A vinyl liner pool is the cheapest type of pool to install. There are other lifetime costs, but the startup costs are the lowest of any type of pool.

Similar to the gelcoat on a fiberglass pool, a vinyl liner is nonporous and doesn’t absorb chemicals. That makes it less expensive to maintain than a concrete pool. It also means less room for algae to grab hold, so you won’t be spending as much time brushing your walls as you would with a concrete pool.

Vinyl liners offer much more customization than fiberglass pools. The liner is shipped folded up, so there are few size limitations. The shape and size of your vinyl lining pool are really up to you.

Vinyl liners have a soft, slick surface. You can decide if that is a pro or a con. It’s gentle on your toes, but can be hard to grip.

Vinyl Liner Cons

A vinyl liner is fragile. The liner is only 20 to 30 thousandths of an inch thick, literally paper-thin. The vinyl is a lot stronger than paper, but you still have to be careful. Small tree branches, pointy pool toys, or a pet’s claws can all puncture the lining. If you have kids or pets, a vinyl lining is a risky choice.

Vinyl liners may have a low initial cost, but lifetime costs can be higher than a fiberglass pool. The lining will need to be replaced every 5-7 years. Between the cost of the new liner and the water to refill your pool, you’re looking at a $4,000-$5,000 expense. Also, a vinyl pool does not include steps, ladders, or other external parts. Purchasing those add-ons will add to the initial cost.

Because vinyl liners are so fragile, they tend to have minimal warranties. Even the best vinyl liner warranties are prorated since the liner has to be replaced every 5-7 years. A vinyl liner pool can also be a liability when you sell your home. Vinyl liners have the lowest resale value of any pool. In addition, the first question any potential buyer will ask is how old the liner is. If it’s more than a few years old, you may have to install a new liner before selling or reduce the total home value to pay for the buyer to do it themselves.

Vinyl liners are non-porous, which helps with cleaning, but they also have seams and sometimes even wrinkles. Those seams and wrinkles can harbor hard-to-reach algae.

Concrete Pool Pros and Cons

To build a concrete pool, a contractor will start by digging a huge hole in the shape of the pool. Then, rebar will be installed around the edges and bottom of the hole where the walls will be. Concrete is poured into molds around the rebar to form solid walls and flooring. After the concrete sets, it is usually covered in plaster, gunite, tile, or pebble finish.

Concrete Pool Pros

The main benefit of concrete pools is that they are entirely customizable. You can literally build anything your pool builder or architect can sketch. Beach entrances, tanning ledges, vanishing edges, and pretty much any customization you dream up are all possible. However, all that customization comes with a price tag.

Concrete Pool Cons

Concrete pools are not cheap or easy to build or maintain. A concrete pool takes a lot of time and money to install. How much time and money depends on the size and complexity of the pool and the contractor you choose. Once the pool is built, you will use more chemicals to keep the water clean and balanced than you would with another type of pool. That’s because the walls are porous and absorb the chemicals. If you use plaster, it will react with the pool water and raise its pH. You will need to add acid regularly and closely monitor pH levels.

Porous walls also become a hideout for algae. Keeping a concrete pool clean requires regular vigorous scrubbing with a pool brush, followed by vacuuming. If you buy an automatic pool-cleaning robot, it will set you back another thousand dollars. You will also use more electricity than with other pools since you have to run your filter 8-10 hours a day.

About once every decade or so you will need to completely drain your pool and acid wash the walls and floor. Depending on the pool and the contractor, acid washing could cost $200-$800 or more. A concrete pool needs to be resurfaced more regularly, about every seven years, which can cost $5k-$15k, again depending on the pool and the contractor.

Final Takeaway

  • Fiberglass pools are quick to install and easy to maintain but have limited options.
  • Vinyl liner pools are cheap to install but fragile. The liner needs to be replaced every 5-7 years or if it is damaged, leading to minimal warranties and low resale value.
  • Concrete pools are as customizable as your dreams but costly to build and maintain.

Which type of pool you choose is up to you. A lot depends on your budget, your vision, and how you plan to use your pool. Whatever pool you choose, The Pool Butler can help you maintain it so that it lasts as long as possible and is already ready for a swim. You can find out more about our cleaning and maintenance services here.

The Pool Butler