Types of Inground Pools: Demystifying the Options

Woman relaxing in an inground swimming pool

Swimming pool terminology can be mystifying. After doing some research on pools, you might be tempted to think pool companies invent a bunch of gobbledygook just to try to impress you.

However, the main reason pool terminology gets confusing is that there are just so many options. And unfortunately, you can’t even begin to plan a new pool without familiarizing yourself with the language of pool design.

Your first major decision comes when you choose between above ground and inground. If you go with an above ground pool, things get considerably more straightforward. You can move on to shopping for the pool you want.

On the other hand, if you decide on an inground pool, things only get more complicated. That’s because there are lots of different types of inground pools.

Here’s an overview to help you get a handle on things.

Vinyl, Conrete or Fiberglass

The biggest dividing line between inground pools is based on the type of materials used in their construction. Here are the three types and their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Vinyl lined pools are the cheapest option, and offer many different styles to choose from. The liners for these pools feature lots of different colors and patterns to dress up your pool.

On the downside, vinyl liners typically need to be replaced every ten years or so, and they’re susceptible to being punctured (though it’s relatively easy to patch them yourself with an at-home kit).

Concrete, or gunite, pools are considered the standard by many. This type of pool is durable and allows for almost any pool shape and size. If you want the maximum amount of customization, then a gunite pool is for you.

Unfortunately, gunite swimming pools are significantly more expensive than vinyl pools. They’re also more difficult to install than the other types of inground pools, and can leave your backyard looking like a construction zone for weeks or even months.

Photo illustrating construction of a gunite swimming pool
One disadvantage of gunite pools is that they can take weeks or even months to install.

Like gunite, fiberglass is long-lasting (though it can crack). Because their surface is nonporous, fiberglass pools are algae resistant and usually require less maintenance than either concrete or vinyl. Compared to the other options, this type of pool is also a breeze to install, as the prefabricated pool shell is shipped intact to your home.

Of course, there’s a flipside to that. Because they’re prefabricated, fiberglass pool shells come in a limited number of shapes and sizes. Fiberglass pools are also expensive, typically costing about as much as a concrete pool.

Shape, Size, Style, and Function

When talking about the types of inground pools, most people stop at the construction materials. However, pools are also defined by their dimensions, their looks, and how they’re meant to be used.

For example, a typical backyard pool could be referred to simply as a rectangular pool. Or it could be called a family pool to note that it’s large and works well for lots of different activities. Stretch the rectangle out a bit, and you have a lap pool designed for swimming laps.

A small round pool could be referred to simply as a round pool or circular pool. Alternatively, it could be called a plunge pool to note that it’s a small pool that’s intended for taking a dip rather than swimming. Finally, it could be called a cocktail pool to emphasize that it’s more about hanging out and entertaining.

Photo showing a round inground pool
Round or circular pools aren’t as common as rectangular pools. However, they can be a good choice for some homeowners.

Confused yet? Keep in mind that these terms aren’t mutually exclusive. The same pool can fit into more than one category, and in many cases, there are multiple ways to refer to the same type of pool.

To help clear things up, here’s a glossary of different inground pool types based on shape, size, style, and function.

Beach Entry PoolPool with a gradual entry mimicking a beach shore
Cocktail PoolA small pool designed for entertaining
Deck PoolPool, often above ground or semi-inground, surrounded by a wooden deck
Exercise PoolOften a lap pool, but could be any pool designed for exercise
Family PoolLarge pool designed for a variety of activities
Freeform PoolA pool with a curvy shape designed to mimic a natural body of water
Infinity Edge PoolPool with one edge that drops off, highlighting the scenery behind it
Lagoon PoolFreeform pool with a winding lagoon shape
Lap PoolA long rectangular pool made for swimming laps
Plunge PoolA small pool for taking a dip
Resort PoolType of luxurious pool found at tropical resorts
SpoolAnother term for a small pool (small + pool = spool)
Tropical PoolA pool, often a freeform pool, with a tropical vibe

These are just some of the more common terms people use when describing different types of inground pools. There are many more, and the list grows as new pool styles become fashionable.

Chlorine or Salt Water

Finally, a pool can be defined by how it is sanitized.

Traditionally, pools have been kept clean and free of algae through the direct application of chlorine, in tablet or liquid form. However, salt water pools are increasing in popularity. These pools create chlorine from salt using a device called a chlorine generator or chlorinator.

Despite the fact that both types of pools ultimately use chlorine, a lot of people find the water from salt water pools to be less harsh on their eyes and skin.

There are other ways to sanitize a swimming pool as well, including bromine, ozone, and ultraviolet (UV). However, for a private residential pool, the choice is typically chlorine vs. salt water.

What Type of Pool Do You Need?

Before embarking on a pool project, it’s important to educate yourself on the terminology. Pool contractors can be helpful in explaining the options, but they often have a vested interest in selling you one type of pool over another. In fact, they may not even offer all types of pools.

In other words, they’re not the most impartial sources of information.

When it comes time to select a swimming pool contractor, look for one with experience building the type of pool you’re looking for. Prospective pool builders should be able to show you previous projects they’ve worked on. Find a builder who’s done a great job on a pool similar to the one you want, and you just might have a match.