Can You Put A Vinyl Liner In A Concrete Pool?
The question of "can you install a vinyl liner in a concrete pool?" comes up quite a bit from concrete pool owners who are looking to skirt some of the hefty maintenance costs associated with owning a concrete pool. When a full renovation is required, and the estimates come in, the numbers can be anywhere from expensive to heart-attack-inducingly high, and it is common for pool owners to have a knee jerk reaction and start looking for cheaper options. The first thing that most concrete pool owners will think about, other than filling the pool with dynamite and blowing it merrily to smithereens, is perhaps they can put a liner in the pool for less money than a full concrete pool renovation. I completely understand the thought process that pool owners have about this. A vinyl liner sounds like an easy way to get the pool holding water, which is almost always the problem they are trying to solve, but there is more at work here than it might seem on the surface to a pool owner.
One would not have to look very far to find a pool liner installer willing to stick a liner in your concrete pool for a few thousand bucks...but is this really in the best interest of the pool owner? As a concrete pool specialist, the idea of putting a liner in a concrete pool is borderline blasphemous to me. There are very, very few times when putting a vinyl liner in a concrete pool will be in the best interest of the pool owner, or the longevity of the pool. So why is it so common to hear about liners in concrete pools if it is not a good idea?
A concrete pool and a vinyl pool are two totally different things. They might look similar once they are filled with water and surrounded by decking and landscaping, but the actual construction of the shell is substantially different.
The biggest difference is that a vinyl pool is a thinly lined shell carved into the ground and lined with rubber. A concrete pool is basically an upside down bomb shelter. The amount of work involved with placing a concrete shell of this volume in your back yard is immense, and the reason why concrete pools are more expensive than other types of pools.
A concrete pool is so much more substantial and so much higher quality than a vinyl liner pool that it seldom makes sense, financially for the value of the property, to convert a concrete pool to a vinyl pool. So again, why do so many concrete pool owners look at going this route? This is almost always due a leak in the pool that they can not resolve...but there are other reasons as well.
Reasons Why You Might Put A Liner In A Concrete Pool
There are a lot of reasons why a concrete pool owner might explore converting their pool to a vinyl liner pool. Most of the time these will be budget related concerns relating to the upfront cost of fixing and renovating concrete pools.
Unfortunately for concrete pool owners who switch to a vinyl liner, many learn that this conversion does not actually save you money, and can have some long term negative consequences for both the pool as well as your house itself.
Tile & plaster renovation is too expensive - It could be that you do not have anything specifically wrong with your concrete pool other than it is aging and coming due (or perhaps already past due as usually is the case) for a full coping, tile and interior surface renovation. The cost of new coping, tile and plaster remediation in a concrete pool is appreciable. Often this renovation could cost 40% to 50% the price of a new concrete pool installation so sticker shock can have a lot to do with pool owners looking towards a vinyl liner to ease the financial burden.
Leak in the pool - One of the most common reasons that a concrete pool owner would look to install a liner in their pool is due to an ongoing leak situation. Finding and fixing leaks in a concrete pool can be difficult, more difficult than other pool types, and the repairs can be more difficult as well. By comparison installing a vinyl liner seems like a quick and tidy solution to this problem. But what if installing the liner does not solve the leak, or actually introduces new leaks into the pool?
Cracks in the pool - A concrete pool that has a cracked shell or any kind of structural cracking is certainly one of the last situations you want to encounter as a pool owner. It would be very tempting to accept an offer from a local vinyl liner installer to put a new coping strip and liner in your concrete pool if you have cracks in the shell as this would, at least on the surface, seem like a viable cost saving option.
Need sandblast before new plaster - If you have a concrete pool and you looked into having it resurfaced however you were told that you need to sandblast the existing surface before you can even looking at resurfacing. The total cost for the sandblasting and new interior surface was too much money so you are looking into a liner instead.
Vinyl is just as good - Maybe you don't really care whether you have a vinyl pool versus a concrete pool, or any other kind of pool for that matter. Since one is just as good as the next, why not just hang a vinyl liner in your concrete pool as this will be a much cheaper option in the long run. But the real question here is whether it actually will be cheaper in the long run...
Concrete is too rough on feet - Similar to the reason above this one, if your concrete pool is rough then this means that your interior surface has failed and needs to be renovated. If the concrete is too rough on your feet then it will need to be renovated to be smooth before you could put a liner on it anyway or it will damage the liner.
Just want to sell house - A very common line of thinking with pool owners looking to convert from concrete to vinyl is that you want to or are planning to sell the house, and a liner is the fastest way to make the pool area look passable. The problem with this is that once you convert your concrete pool to a vinyl pool, you now have something "strange" going on with the house. This could (and should) make potential buyers of your house wary of proceeding as a liner in a concrete pool very likely is hiding a serious problem.
While all of these are reasons that a pool owner might have to consider putting a liner in their concrete pool, the underlying problem exists with each of these situations - it is seldom a wise idea to put a liner in a concrete pool. Almost all problems addressed in this list sound like they are a cheaper alternative to renovating or repairing a concrete pool, however as a concrete pool specialist I would wholeheartedly disagree.
Why Can't You Put A Liner In A Concrete Pool?
You can put a liner in a concrete pool if you want to - hell you could paint your pool with truck bed liner if you want (please don't do this) but it does not make it a good idea or a wise long term financial plan with your pool. In my experience, as both a concrete pool and a vinyl liner pool expert, putting a liner in a concrete pool is a cop-out. I would almost never recommend to a client to do this, and yet in my contracting days I would encounter customers weekly who have quotes from other local companies to do just that - put a liner in their pool. So here is how it works...I know these companies that provided quotes to put a liner in their pool. These quotes always come from "liner only" companies.
Not all pool owners realize that the pool industry is self divided into construction, service and maintenance companies, and then further into concrete, vinyl liner and fiberglass companies. In the vast majority of cases that a concrete pool owner receives a quote or recommendation to install a liner in their pool, it is coming from a company that only does vinyl pool work. They are only recommending this to the client because they do not have the requisite skills or experience to rectify the problem properly. The only possible thing they could do to get your money would be to install a liner in your pool...and so that is exactly what they tell you that you should do. As someone who specializes in both concrete pools as well as vinyl liner pools, here is what I want you to know about this - and remember that I am not trying to sell you anything and have absolutely nothing to gain by steering you, personally, one way or another:
The liner will not last long - When you install a vinyl liner into a concrete pool, the liner will typically not last very long. Many liner manufacturers will not even make a liner if it is intended for a concrete pool (which they can often tell just from the internal dimensions of the shape of the pool) because of how fast they wear out. Older concrete pools are very rough, and a vinyl liner is designed to move regularly and this causes a sandpaper effect on the liner as it rubs against the aged and rough concrete floors and walls. The vinyl liner installer will not tell you about this because your liner might not last long, but it will almost certainly last longer than the one year warranty period that they offer you on the installation.
The liner will most likely leak - It is hard to make a swimming pool completely waterproof even under optimal conditions. Installing a liner in a concrete pool is not optimal conditions. The fixtures used on a concrete pool are different than those used on a vinyl liner pool. This means every potential leak point in your pool structure, skimmers, returns, main drains, all will need to be customized. Concrete pools use a flange style that you mortar up to and against. Vinyl pools need a two part flange and gasket system and while these two systems are similar, they are not interchangeable. Switching a concrete pool to have all flange and gaskets for the skimmers, returns and main drains (and hopefully not steps!), is a big project to be sure, and highly likely to result in some leaks as this type of invasive changes are technically challenging to do effectively. Lots of opportunity for leaks to be introduced into the finished pool system with a change like this. Fortunately for the installer any leaks that are introduced are probably on the smaller side and unlikely to be noticed by the pool owner. By the time the leak gets bad enough that you notice, the liner installation will be out of the warranty period they offered you.
They do not care if the value of your house goes down - If you have a concrete pool then you have the Mercedes of swimming pools. When you put a vinyl liner in a concrete pool this is kind of like blowing the motor in your Mercedes, so you have a 30 horsepower tractor motor installed instead because it is cheaper than a replacement Mercedes motor. If you have a concrete pool with a vinyl liner then you have taken a luxury component of your home and altered it to be much less valuable. Someone looking to make a quick $1000 from you does not care about the value of your home or whether putting a liner in the pool will hurt your resale value.
They do not care if your pool looks bad - In addition to not caring about the potential value of your home, a liner installer does not care if your pool does not look as good as it should, or as it used to. It is not their pool, or their home, and this is just another cashed check in the bank for them. I am sure many of these installers would make an effort to make the conversion to a liner look as good as possible...but at the end of the day a concrete pool with a liner in it will be immediately recognizable as such, and it does not look as good as what it was intended to be from day one - a concrete pool.
I hope by now you are starting to see that you should really be questioning the validity of the idea to hang a liner in your concrete pool. It is something I would be very apprehensive to encourage pool owners to do. The main reason is simply that you should be able to fix your concrete pool. This is part of the reason that concrete pools are so valuable, is because they are so serviceable. Even in the worst cases where structural cracks and leaks have developed, there are repair solutions available. Quite often you have not been offered these solutions simply because you are not talking to the right people.
Repairing Concrete Pools
Almost every problem with a concrete pool can be fixed...it is simply a matter of how much work, and how much cost, is associated with the repair. If you think you are buying a cheaper long term solution by switching to a vinyl liner then you are very likely to be unhappy with the long term results. The amount of work that it takes to properly prepare a concrete pool to receive a liner is almost as much work as completely renovating a concrete pool properly. The secret is that most liner companies are not really familiar with how to convert a concrete pool properly, and do not do as much preparation as they should. Most importantly, for example, the entire pool interior surface needs to be smooth.
If you are going to take the time to refinish the entire surface of the pool so that it is smooth...why not just resurface the pool with plaster instead of grout and then you have a "new" concrete pool again? Most liner installers will skip this finishing stage and just smooth out some of the most aggressive bumps with a grinder. This results in a rough pool surface that aggressively wears away liners. It is not uncommon to have a concrete pool with a rough finish to wear holes in vinyl liners every few years. If you have to replace the liner in your pool every few years then this hardly sounds like a good long term solution to me.
The coping on a concrete pool is the area of pool deck that sits directly overtop of the vertical pool wall - usually about 12" wide or so. On a vinyl pool the coping is the aluminum or PVC track that retains the liner bead at the top of the wall. If you convert your concrete pool to vinyl then you will need to add a coping strip underside the existing coping cantilever. If you are hanging a liner to save money then it is worth noting that if you need new coping on your concrete pool, adding a vinyl liner coping track will not alleviate this need. You will still need to install new concrete pool coping before you can install the liner track coping. This means that the cost to fully renovate a concrete pool (coping, tile and plaster) as actually just a comparison of tile and plaster versus proper preparation of the concrete pool for a new liner...and the numbers are far closer than you might think.
By the time you grind or blast the existing pool surface and skim coat to be smooth enough to protect a liner, as well as installing all new vinyl flanges on every fixture in the pool (skimmers, lights, steps, returns, vacuum ports, plus the new vinyl coping installation as well as the liner itself (and installation costs for the liner) you are not far off from the cost of just fixing the tile and plaster interior surface in the first place. Even if you have structural cracks in your pool, quite often this is not as much money as you might think to have structural staples added...but what you will not get is a guarantee. Many concrete pool owners might look into getting structural cracks filled, but they will likely be offered little in the way of guarantees in terms of if the staples will prevent the pool from leaking again. Lots of money and little in the way of guaranteed results sounds pretty risky to a concrete pool owner - but it might very well be the smartest option for you.
What this comes down to is whether the pool is still shifting and whether the cracks are active. If they are still moving then nothing in the world will stop the pool from leaking, and certainly not a flimsy little liner. If they are no longer moving, then the staples should work, along with a renovation of the interior surface, but some pool owners might be put off by the lack of a guarantee for this type of work. It is unrealistic to expect a contractor to walk into your yard and assume responsibility for an error that was likely made decades ago which resulted in your pool cracking. A few thousand dollars of your money is simply not enough of a reward to accept this kind of liability. In my experience if you are being told to put a liner in your concrete pool it is simply because you are not talking to a concrete pool specialist and I would strongly encourage you to contact additional companies who deal mostly with concrete pools to come out and take a look at your pool for you.
If you are a vinyl pool installer that puts liners in concrete pools, I am not saying that this never is the best option...just that it is seldom in the best interest of the pool owner in the long term. It is worth noting that it is possible to put a liner in a concrete pool, well, it is just that the amount of work it would take to do this properly is similar to what it would take to just renovate the pool properly for how it was built and intended to be.
If you are interested to learn more about how to convert a vinyl liner pool into a concrete pool, the opposite process to the one talked about in this article, then check out this detailed article about how to convert a vinyl pool into a gunite pool.
If you want to continue learning about pools and spas from an industry expert follow swimming pool Steve on acebook , twitter and youtube