Fiberglass and concrete (gunite) swimming pools are very different. They look different. They feel different. And once you look into it closely, you’ll find that they have different strengths and weaknesses.
Because they’re so different, there’s generally not much debate over fiberglass vs concrete inground pools. Each has plenty of ardent fans, but no one can claim that one is objectively better than the other. It’s a matter of preference.
Once you understand the differences between fiberglass and concrete, you, too, will probably have no trouble deciding which one you prefer. Here are some of the main areas that distinguish the different types of pools.
|Appearance||Prefabricated Pool Shells||Wide Variation|
|Feel||Smooth||Depends on Finish|
|Installation||Days or Weeks||Weeks or Months|
|Durability||Debatable (see below)||Debatable (see below)|
Fiberglass and concrete tend to cost about the same initially. Both are considered top-tier pool building materials. Whatever difference there is in pricing is likely to be obscured by the many other factors that go into the cost of an inground swimming pool.
That said, in terms of total cost of ownership, it’s worth noting that maintaining a fiberglass pool is generally cheaper. That’s because fiberglass is more algae resistant, and therefore could save you money on chemicals over the life of the pool.
However, if you really want to save money on a pool, neither fiberglass nor concrete is your best choice. Instead, consider a vinyl pool, an above ground pool, or even a recessed pool. Or, if you have to have fiberglass or concrete, you can do what many people are doing and install a smaller pool.
Both types of pool can be beautiful when installed properly and complemented with attractive landscaping and decking.
That said, you can be more creative with concrete pools because they can be constructed in whatever shape you like. You’re limited only by your imagination, your budget, and the skill of your pool builder.
In contrast, fiberglass pool shells are built at the factory and shipped intact to your home, so you have to choose from whatever options are available. Because fiberglass shells come in many different forms, this usually isn’t an issue. However, if you want something really out of the ordinary, you’ll probably need the flexibility of gunite to make your vision a reality.
Here, concrete wins hands-down. As mentioned, concrete pools are completely customizable. You can pick any shape, have them conform to your home and property, add features like a spillover spa or baja shelf – you name it.
On the other hand, fiberglass shells are pre-fabricated. That doesn’t mean that you can’t customize your fiberglass pool installation, but it does limit your options. You can generally find any feature you want in a fiberglass pool shell, but can you find all the features you want in one pool shell? It depends on how exacting you are.
As you might imagine, the issue of customization comes into play most often when it comes to higher-end luxury pools. The average homeowner doesn’t need more pool configurations than what are currently offered by big-name fiberglass pool companies. In fact, many appreciate having a limited number of options because the choices can get overwhelming.
With concrete, the feel depends on the finish used. Plaster is the standard choice, and tends to be on the rough side. However, if you’re willing to pay extra, you can get the pool finished with tile made of ceramic, stone, or glass, among other options. With a big enough budget, you can essentially get any surface feel you like.
In contrast, fiberglass tends to be smooth to the touch. The flip side of that is that it can get slippery, a particular concern for pool steps where falls can happen. However, a slippery surface isn’t necessarily a flaw in the pool shell, but an indication that there’s an algae problem.
So what’s the bottom line? If you want a surface that’s less slippery, that’s a point in favor of concrete. If you want a surface that’s foot-friendly, that’s a point in favor of fiberglass. And if you have room in your budget for any finish you want, it’s a complete non-issue.
Here’s one huge difference. Fiberglass pools are generally very quick and easy to install. Because the shell comes prebuilt from the manufacturer, installation is a matter of simply dropping the shell in a hole and connecting the plumbing (okay, there’s more to it than that, but not much).
Installation of a gunite pool is much more complicated, as all the work is done onsite. Whereas a fiberglass pool can be installed in a matter of days, concrete pools typically take weeks or even months. And of course, with longer time windows, there’s more potential for delays due to weather, scheduling snafus, etc.
All in all, ease of installation is a point in favor of fiberglass pools. Keep in mind, however, that a swimming pool is a long-term investment. Down the road, are you really going to lament that your backyard was torn up for a couple of extra weeks?
Fiberglass and gunite pools are both more durable than vinyl and can last for decades. Exactly which type of pool is more durable is a matter of debate, though.
Some would say that you can’t beat concrete for durability. Others – especially those in the fiberglass pool industry – point out that a gunite pool will need a major renovation at some point, while fiberglass is practically impervious to normal wear and tear.
On the other hand, fiberglass pool shells can crack due to earth shifting, especially if you drain the pool. There are also reports of fiberglass pools popping out of the ground. Most pool shells include a long-term (perhaps even lifetime) warranty, but it may not cover everything.
As you can see, there’s no consensus winner in the debate between fiberglass vs concrete inground pools. Concrete pools are probably the most popular, but fiberglass pools seem to be gaining on them year by year.
Regardless of which you choose, you’ll want to find a pool builder with experience installing that type of pool – in fact, many specialize in only one or the other. Ask for examples of their work, and note what type of pool they seem to be most adept at installing. Bottom line, if you have an experienced pool contractor on your side, you can’t really go wrong with either choice.