The 3 types of inground swimming pools

Posted July 19, 2018 in Water Feature

Imagine waking up on a cloudless, warm, sunny day where the coffee is already made and the sunshine is playfully glistening off of the rippling water in your backyard inground swimming pool; absolute perfection!  Well, we can’t guarantee that the coffee will already be brewed, but we can say for certain, that most backyards can handle the addition of an inground swimming pool.

Where the is a will, there is a way when it comes to pools.  Not all yards are an even playing field with perfect drainage, but consulting your landscape designer about existing backyard issues will help them create a swimming pool plan that will solve problems and provide you with a backyard that you have always dreamed of.

For those who grew up with above ground swimming pools or have not been involved in installing an inground swimming pool, the process starts with information.  There are three types of inground swimming pools to choose from, each with their own pros and cons.  To know which is right for you, it is important to know how your family will use the pool, how much time you are able to dedicate to maintenance and, most importantly, what your realistic budget is.

Let’s explore the three types of inground pools to see which makes sense for you, your family and property!

Fiberglass

Fiberglass swimming pools are factory-molded into a seamless bowl-shaped shell.  These shells are unforgiving and homogenous, so transportation and installation can limit the size and shape of the pool itself.  Once the shell makes it to your property, it is set into the backyard’s excavated hole by way of a crane.  With this considered, you will obviously need enough clearance on your property for the crane to do its job…this also includes being clear of overhead electric and telephone wires!

It is a common misconception that fiberglass pools are the cheapest and fastest option, but that isn’t always necessarily the case.  Between fabrication, transportation and installation, the costs and timeframe could equal that of a vinyl liner pool.  Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of a fiberglass pool installation:

Pro

  • Less maintenance.  The gelcoat surface of a fiberglass pool is nonporous which inhibits algae growth, ultimately reducing the amount of chemicals needed.
  • Comfort.  The smooth surface of the pool shell is smooth and non-abrasive on soft feet.
  • Less lifetime cost. There are no liners to replace or need for resurfacing.
  • Durable. Scratches can be sanded and buffed while dings can be repaired just the same as any fiberglass vessel would.

Con

  • Maintenance.  While the gelcoat inhibits algae growth and is smooth on the feet, the shell will wear down and dull over time. Shell maintenance takes several hours of labor and special equipment.
  • Limits. Because fiberglass swimming pools are prefabricated, a homeowner has a limited amount of shapes to choose from.
  • Size.  Since these pools are transported by road, shipping restrictions will not allow a pool over 16’ to hit the road.  Also, fiberglass pools over 14’ require vehicle escorts!
  • Integrity. The integrity of the shell is only as good as the materials used to create it, and since they are prefabricated, a good deal of trust is needed.  Problems with the shell may not show up for 5-10 years of use.
  • Fees.  Shipping something as large as a fiberglass pool over a long distance will incur great fees.
  • Logistics. The potential for shell damage is high between the manufacturer to the time it is set in the ground by the crane.  Great care is needed for a successful install.
  • Aesthetics.  Everyone has their own opinion, but fiberglass pools are not the most attractive in the landscape.

Vinyl Liner

The side walls of a vinyl liner pool are constructed of steel, plastic or aluminum panels and backed by vertical braces to support the force and weight of the water.  To accommodate these braces, the excavation of the swimming pool will be approximately 3’ larger than the finished pool itself.  Don’t worry, this will be backfilled!

The panels are typically 42” tall, which is why the shallow end is about the same depth.  Once the walls are installed, the outer concrete footing is poured to keep everything in place and after plumbing, it’s time for the pool’s base.  The base of this type of pool is a mix of cement, vermiculite and water or a blend of sand, cement and water, which is troweled in place and smoothed out.  The vinyl liner will sit on top of this base and be snapped into place.  Before it’s time for water, vacuums will be used to suck the air out from under the liner; this creates a bubble and wrinkle-free environment.  Simple enough, right?  Well, what are the pros and cons of a vinyl liner swimming pool?

Pro

  • Cost. Vinyl liner swimming pools typically have the lowest initial cost of the three types of unground pools.
  • Fully customizable.  Unlike fiberglass pools, liner pools are fully customizable with plenty of options to choose from.  There is no limit on length, width, depth or features to add to this type of pool.
  • Low-maintenance.  While all pools have some kind of maintenance, the vinyl liner is relatively non-porous which inhibits algae growth.  This pool will still need to be regularly vacuumed and maintained, however.
  • Aesthetic.  The liners come in a variety of colors and patterns to choose from.  Who doesn’t like options?

Con

  • Be careful.  The most common thickness for a pool liner is 20 mil (not to be confused with millimeter), so try not to have any sharp toys or pet claws in the pool that would puncture the liner!
  • Higher lifetime cost. On average, a vinyl liner can last 10+ years if properly taken care of.  Once a liner replacement is needed, the cost of liner, install and water can be more than expected.
  • Resale value: While uncommon but not unheard of, if your pool has an old liner in it, there is a chance that the potential buyer will request a liner replacement before the sale of the home.

Gunite

This is your 100% fully customizable option.  Since gunite swimming pools have a custom skeleton made of rebar (steel rods), your size, depth and shape is left up to your imagination!  This rebar framework creates a grid around the pool, which reinforces the structure.  The fun part starts when the installer begins to spray the gunite (mixture of cement and sand) all around the rebar, bringing the pool to life.  Once the gunite is smoothed out and cured, plaster and tile will be applied to finish.  With this type of swimming pool being very popular here in the United States, let’s take a look at the pros and cons to see if it is right for you…

Pro

  • Design flexibility.  Vanishing edges, beach entries, tanning ledges, slides, grottos, waterfalls…you want it, you got it!
  • Aesthetics.  Given the opportunity to incorporate any features desired, gunite swimming pools can become a work of art in the landscape.
  • Built to last.  Pool builders and owners alike agree that a gunite swimming pool is the most durable being that there are no liners to rip and have a stellar impact resistance.  This is why resorts and commercial swimming pools are of gunite construction!
  • Built on site. Unlike fiberglass pools that are prefabricated and transported, gunite pools are built on site, making the design possibilities endless.

Con

  • Installation time. While these custom swimming pools are awesome when they are done, perfection does take time. Between the rebar installation and the time it takes the gunite to cure, this pool has the longest installation time.  If you are patient, you will be rewarded with a beautiful water feature in about 2-3 months time, depending.
  • Investment.  This type of pool has the highest initial cost of the three types discussed. Depending on how the pool ages, you can expect to renovate it every 10-15 years with a higher price tag than the others.
  • Rough finish.  The plaster finish isn’t as smooth as fiberglass or vinyl liner pools.  The finish can feel rough and irritate hands and feet after a while.
  • Maintenance.  Unlike fiberglass and vinyl liners, the gunite pool surface is porous making it more prone to algae growth.  In turn, higher chemical costs and more time spent maintaining the pool is required.

There you have it, the three types of inground swimming pools and a healthy dose of pros and cons.  While all 3 options will cool you off and essentially provide the same function, only you and your family can make the decision of what is best for your lifestyle!

Here at MasterPLAN Outdoor Living, we believe in providing all options and information to our clients so they can make educated decisions and selections for their outdoor space that makes the most sense for their family and their property.  From our highly detailed 3D designs to installation of structure and landscape, we partner with our clients through the journey with the goal of creating a timeless outdoor living space to enjoy for years to come.  When you are ready to live your best life outdoors, reach out to MasterPLAN!

Join Our Newsletter

Stay up to date with what is happening with MasterPLAN Outdoor Living.