Customers are always asking what type of swimming pool is better, a vinyl, concrete or fiberglass pool. They want to know how they differ in cost as well as maintenance. Truth is, each pool type has distinct advantages and disadvantages. There will be surface maintenance of one sort or another with all swimming pools, no matter which surface type you choose.
Here's a collection of concerns, or questions really, that I've heard over the years, from homeowners planning to build an inground swimming pool.
"How Long Do Vinyl Liners Really Last?"
My last liner lasted 29 years! The liner was destroyed during an October snow storm that dropped two very large trees over my pool. 29 years is unusual, but it does give testament to how long a liner can last, when given good care - ahem!
Most inground vinyl liners generally last around 10-12 years. It depends on where you live and the chemical care that you give to the pool. Pools open year around, with lots of UV exposure, may have a shorter life to their vinyl liner.
Chemical care involves maintaining your pH and Alkalinity levels, so the water does not become slightly acidic. Careful chlorine use will also help to protect a liner, by always pre-dissolving pool shock, and if you use chlorine tablets, adding them into a proper chlorine feeder.
Pool plaster will slowly degrade over time, and staining and etching are common. After 10-15 years, the surface will degrade to a rough and ugly state, and a new coat of plaster is applied. The cost to replaster is generally twice the cost of a liner replacement, and not something that a homeowner can do, unlike a liner replacement.
Fiberglass surfaces tend to hold up longer, in most cases, but will need some repair at some point between 10-20 years of age. Fiberglass pools can fade and develop hairline cracks or larger cracks that will need repair, but these repairs are very noticeable. The pool can be "re-glassed" or a new gelcoat can be applied by a professional, but in some areas, finding a contractor can be difficult. Cost for this service can easily be twice the cost of a liner replacement.
So, yes, it's possible that a vinyl liner won't last as long as plaster or gelcoat, but the nice thing is that you can give your pool a whole new look for a reasonable cost, half of what the other types cost, or much less, if you install your own vinyl liner - not an option with other pool surface types.
"What if a Vinyl Liner Gets a Hole?"
On many pools, it's not uncommon for small holes in the liner to not leak. Water pressure is strong against walls and concrete floors. Sand bottom pools will leak, however, but usually only if the hole is on the floor of the pool.
Holes in liners can occur, but not easily. At 20-28 mil thickness, it's very difficult to even push a fork through a vinyl liner - it takes a lot of force, or a very sharp implement to cut a vinyl liner.
If holes do happen, they can be easily patched with an underwater vinyl patch kit. In most cases, there is no need to drain the pool to repair a vinyl liner. Patches can be very long-lasting, I had a patch on my old liner that lasted 15 years!
"How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Vinyl Pool Liner?"
It depends on the size of the pool, and the thickness of the liner you select. It also depends on if you have a contractor replace the liner, or if you replace the liner yourself. Liner replacement will typically cost $3000-$4000 for a company to do a complete liner removal and replacement. Compared to other pool types, inground liners are far cheaper to replace.
If you were to replace an inground liner yourself, you can usually do so with costs less than $1000. I would say about 90% of our customer install the replacement liners themselves, it is really not hard. The box tells you the direction to set the liner in inside the pool. Drag it over the pool, and hang it onto the bead receiver. You will need a shop vac or a blower to suck the liner back to the wall, and also 1 or 2 helpers.
For more information on the 1-day job of replacing your own pool liner, see Chris's post on "Planning an Inground Vinyl Liner Replacement".
"What about Wrinkles in a Vinyl Liner?"
Wrinkles can happen when a new liner is installed. It could be from a bad measurement, but usually it's just a matter of taking your time when you are installing the liner, to make sure that it is hanging "centered" over the pool. It's easy to have the liner slightly askew, or not lined up to the corners and floor angles exactly. Once it's lined up correctly, the shallow floor may need to be pulled up toward the shallow end wall. Remaining wrinkles can be pushed to the sides and corners as the installation progresses. The weight of the water will hold the vinyl in place.
"How about Fading or Bleaching?"
Fading at the waterline will happen with time, especially for vinyl pools in the hot southern sun. For pools in the mid-section or northern parts, it's not such an issue, especially for pools that are covered and winterized for half the year or more. Although the vinyl has UV inhibitors, direct sun can be hard on liners, especially those with a printed border. A stick-on 6" tall border, called BorderLines can be applied at the water line to brighten up the pool again.
Bleaching of a liner is a type of chemical fading that usually is caused by repeatedly pouring shock directly into the pool (always pre-dissolve first), or throwing tablets into the pool. Chlorine tabs will stain any pool surface type, and are best used in a chlorinator. Liners are more resistant to this type of fading than they used to be, but it's best to be careful not to allow chlorine to directly lay on a vinyl pool floor.
"How Does Wall Strength Compare?"
Inground vinyl pool kits are installed with curved and straight wall panels made from either Coated Steel or Polymeric Thermoplastic. Both are guaranteed for 25 years, but can last much longer. My 30 year old steel walls looked great when we replaced the liner a few years ago, and I saw no signs of deterioration, no dents, no rust.
The shell of a concrete pool can be expected to last 50 years, in most cases. The waterproof plaster coating will need to be redone many times, just like a pool liner, but when designed and built correctly, the shell should last a long time.
Fiberglass shells are typically warranted for 30 years, and are a fairly rigid structure, when designed and built properly. If manufactured or installed out of level, stress can be put on certain parts of the pool. If the backfill settles or shifts, so can the pool. Hollow or weak spots behind or under the shell can also cause problems.
If we did a Mythbusters style wall strength comparison, perhaps firing projectiles at the walls of all 3 pool types - I would suppose that concrete pools would be the strongest. I'd also hypothesize that our inground vinyl pool kit walls would be stronger than the fiberglass pool walls. I'd like to see that episode, Discovery channel, are you listening?
"Are Vinyl Pools Limited in Shape or Design?"
Inground vinyl liner pools have many different design options. Pool Kits can be custom designed into just about any shape that you want. There are regulations (on all pools) on the ratio of shallow end to deep end, and deep areas have to have certain dimensions. Concrete pool designs can be somewhat more flexible, but most designs that can be done in concrete can also be done with a vinyl pool kit.
Fiberglass pools have a lot of limitations in design. I don't believe there is such a thing as a custom fiberglass pool. Dealers of fiberglass pools will usually have a few dozen designs to choose from, in similar modified rectangle shapes. Many can have beautiful curves and lines, but most are on the small side, and not more than 6 feet deep.
"Can a Vinyl Pool have Stone and Tile?"
Yes - you can use stone, brick, or any natural material as the coping around a vinyl pool, as shown in the picture on top of the page. You can even install real tile around the border perimeter, which hangs over the top of the wall. Most people however, have a printed tile border on the vinyl. More people lately are installing paver coping bricks around the pool, which looks really terrific, if you ask me! For pool coping options, our pool kits have several choices for dressing up the edge of the pool.
"Can Dogs Swim in a Vinyl Pool?"
I have a dog that does not like the water but we have managed to get her in the pool a couple of times. As soon as she gets close to the edge of the pool she reaches for the edge but has never touched the liner. She usually goes to the steps in which case she just walks out. If you have a dog, I would show them how to swim to the step area. We do not get very many calls saying they have to replace the liner because of animals, and maybe never for the family dog. If you have a dog, rest easy, a vinyl liner can withstand more than you may think! Another Myth - Busted!
Well, that's all of the concerns or objections to vinyl liner pools that I can think of now. If you have another that I didn't cover, please post a comment below.
One more thing - vinyl pools are the most suitable for DIY pool construction. If you're considering building your own inground pool, our inground vinyl pools are the best choice to make.
'Til Next Time;
SPP Pool Expert