There are two basic types of swimming pools: above-ground and in-ground. In general, above-ground pools are less expensive to install because of the materials and construction methods involved. Usually, a special vinyl lining is laid over a steel, aluminum or even a wood structure. Above ground pools are manufactured in a wide range of sizes, often available in kit form that the home owner can build.
Unfortunately, above-ground pools are usually temporary and are not "built-to-last." The vinyl lining can get easily ripped or torn, resulting in leaks requiring constant repair. And, because above-ground pools sit above the ground, they can be an eyesore and look "out-of-place" with your backyard landscape (not to mention they are difficult to maintain and do not improve the value of your home).
Concrete and gunite (a type of reinforced concrete) are the most common in-ground pool types because they have been on the market longer than the new, more efficient types of pools.
Concrete and gunite are sprayed over a framework of steel rods and wire mesh, then coated with plaster to give the pool a smooth, printable surface. Today, concrete and gunite pools are most commonly used for commercial and public swimming pools.
The nice thing about concrete and gunite pools is that you can virtually build them in any shape or form that you wish. Unfortunately, it is the most expensive of the three types of pools and it takes a long time to build.
Furthermore, concrete and gunite is porous, therefore providing small areas for algae and bacteria to grow. In addition, it can easily crack and chip with the change of the temperature and weather conditions, providing even more areas for algae and bacteria to grow. This is why concrete and gunite pools require the most maintenance of the three types of pools, costing $100 or more a month to maintain.
Concrete and gunite pools require periodic annual pool draining for cleaning purposes. When the pool is drained, the cracks in the concrete and gunite need to be repaired and the pool siding acid-washed and perhaps replastered, if necessary. Acid washing is necessary every one to three years, depending on water condition. Acid washing does remove a layer of plaster or marcite. Usually, after the second acid wash you can expect to replaster the pool.
Fiberglass pools are made out of a seamless one-piece, pre-formed fiberglass container that is set in the ground and can be installed in less than five days. The fiberglass itself has a smooth, non-porous gel coat surface.
Although fiberglass pools have a wide range of sizes and shapes, and can be moved if you choose, you are restricted to those sizes and shapes that are offered, unlike a concrete or gunite pool. You'll rarely find a fiberglass pool over sixteen feet in width because they come from the factory ready to install in one piece.
Fiberglass pools are appealing because they require much less maintenance than either of the other pool types. Fiberglass will not rip, tear, crack, chip or leak, providing a longer-lasting surface. Therefore, monthly maintenance costs are minimal, around $40: The durability of fiberglass is especially important if you live in a cold weather climate in which surface materials contract and expand. This is why concrete and gunite pools crack and chip.
Because a fiberglass is non-porous, algae and bacteria cannot stick to the surface. This reduces the amount of chlorine necessary to keep the pool clean to about one-fourth of the amount that other pools use, which can add up to large cost savings over time.
Fiberglass pools never require draining for cleaning, which is a huge chore. In addition, to clean the fiberglass surface, all you need to do is vacuum the bottom of the pool, which takes only 10-15 minutes a week. At first you might think that concrete/gunite pools are the most stable; however, fiberglass pools can flex about two feet without sustaining any damage and can safely withstand more external pressure than concrete/gunite pools.
Most people, however, choose to build their pools level with the ground. These are called in-ground pools. There are three basic types of in-ground pools: concrete/gunite, fiberglass, and vinyl liner.
No matter what type of pool you choose, you will be required to perform a certain amount of maintenance. However, each type of pool provides its own maintenance challenges. It is important to understand these challenges by pool type before you make your selection.
Vinyl liner pools use a high-density vinyl lining, offering a cosmetic textured pool surface. The lining is seamed together throughout the sides of the pool. Polymer or steel walls are bolted and fastened together on concrete flooring. The vinyl liner is spread over the floor and paneled walls and connected to the top of the walls by a vinyl rib at the outside edge of the liner.
The initial cost of vinyl lined pools can be inexpensive when compared with concrete and gunite pools and take much less time to install. However, the maintenance on vinyl lined pools is high because the liner can be easily scratched or cut, especially if there will be toys or hard objects in the pool (even mechanical pool cleaners!). To repair a vinyl lined pool, you'll need to replace the entire lining, which can cost from $2,500 to $3,500 or more depending on the time of the season for replacement.
Also, algae and bacteria tend to nest in the porous texture of the fabric and seams of the vinyl, requiring high amounts of chlorine to keep the pool clean. It is kind of like a shower curtain that is exposed to moisture and heat on a consistent basis.
Severe problems can arise when algae starts to grow under a vinyl liner because it can start to eat the liner from the underside and is very difficult to treat. You can expect to pay up to $100 or more a month to maintain a vinyl liner pool.
In addition, heating costs will generally be higher, especially on steel wall construction. The only thing between the ground temperature of 57 degrees and the pool water is steel and vinyl. A polymer or plastic wall does reduce the cost of heating somewhat; but, it also adds considerable cost to the construction of the pool ($1,500 to $2,500 in some cases).
However, there are huge distinctions between different fiberglass pools. (They are not all created equal.) Vinyl Ester resin is a must! This material is a bonding agent that helps hold the pool together. Vinyl Ester also prevents cobalting, which is a black or purple stain that forms from the outside in. It is a chemical reaction within the fiberglass itself. The stain can usually be removed but will continue to resurface. Make sure you see it in writing that the pool has Vinyl Ester. If it is not advertised in print, chances are it does not have it.
It is also important to have some sort of vapor barrier in the fiberglass. Even though the gel coat or finish is smooth and non-porous, the back of the pool is without a vapor barrier. Fiberglass is a cloth that will absorb moisture from the ground. Moisture or even ground water will leach through the fiberglass causing blistering on the gel coat that is not usually covered by warranty.
You also want to make certain the pool is constructed with hand laid fiberglass as opposed to chopped glass. Hand laid fiberglass is much stronger and is built with full sheets of fiberglass cloth. Chopped glass fiberglass is a pudding-like substance with shreds of fiberglass usually sprayed or rolled on. Fortunately, because fiberglass pools are pre-built, you can see the pool prior to installation. Check out the finish beforehand. If it doesn't look good out of the ground it will not look good in the ground. Remember, water magnifies any flaws.