Are Vinyl Liner Pools Good?
You might be considering a vinyl liner swimming pool but you are unsure whether these pools are a good investment or not. Are vinyl liner pools any good or are they just a cheap and entry level version of a better quality pool? If you live in an area where vinyl pools are not popular you might not be familiar with how they work, how they look, and most importantly, how long they can last. When you imagine having a liner pool instead of a concrete pool or fiberglass pool it is common for people to imagine that the liners are fragile, rip easily and do not look as good as permanent interior surfaces like concrete pools or fiberglass pools. In reality vinyl liners and vinyl liner pools have the ability to last a very long time and require very little in terms of maintenance and service...and they can look better than you think.
When some people think of a vinyl liner pool they picture a round, above ground pool with a solid light blue liner. Above ground pools are the entry level price point into owning a swimming pool. In a local market where inground pool packages start at $50,000 and go to $150,000 very quickly with a few upgrade options you can probably still get an installed and minimally landscaped above ground pool for $5000 to $10,000. It is a little confusing when comparing above ground pools as there are some above ground pools which are more like a toy / throw away pool rather than a quality above ground pool kit that has the potential to last a few decades when installed and cared for well. If you want to start at the very beginning with this you can pause now and read this article about cheap swimming pools which shows examples of the throw away, portable and more permanent above ground pools and the differences between them.
Above Ground VS In Ground Vinyl Pools - It is important to understand that there are many different quality pool kits on the market. You can buy a vinyl pool kit for $500 or you can buy a vinyl pool kit for $10,000. That is quite the difference between costs and as you might imagine the finished pool kits will look night and day different from one another. When asking about whether liner pools are worth it you first need to understand this important difference in that you can buy a cheap, last-you-a-few-years liner pool, or you can buy one that will last for many decades. In this sense you need to quantify what kind of vinyl pool you are asking about. When you start to look at inground vinyl pools the kits for these are much more expensive than any above ground vinyl pool kit. The materials need to be much thicker, stronger, corrosion resistant, and just larger than those typically found in above ground pools.
Liner Pools VS Concrete Pools & Fiberglass Pools - When making a direct comparison to concrete pools or fiberglass pools it would be a mistake to picture an above ground pool with a light blue liner. Modern day vinyl liner pools can be adapted to fit within any backyard design from entry level all the way up to and including million dollar mansions with automatic pool covers, cantilevered stone coping, tanning ledges, in-floor cleaning systems, underwater stools and uncommon shapes and sizes. A skilled vinyl liner pool builder has very little in the way of limitations using modern construction practices and you might just find that your budget goes a lot further than it does with more expensive concrete or fiberglass pools. When well designed and built you can not even tell what kind of pool you are looking at unless you are on your hands and knees inspecting the corners and interior surface. In this sense the biggest limitation of vinyl liner pools might simply be what you think they are supposed to be, rather than what they actually can be.
Are Liner Pools Good Quality?
There are a lot of ways to build a pool and a lot of technical steps in the process. Even when comparing only one type of pool, vinyl pools, there are a host of options for the materials you use and how you put the kit together that will affect the overall quality and longevity of the pool as a whole. Built using high quality materials and experienced installation methods you can expect your vinyl pool to last longer than 50 years. The vinyl liner pool at my family home is right around 45 years old now and will certainly last for a few more decades without too much trouble. When you build a liner pool the interior surface (the liner) is a separate item from the structural shell (walls and floor) where as with both concrete and fiberglass pools the interior surface and the shell are permanently attached together. What some people view as a negative (the relatively weak interior surface vinyl as compared to concrete or fiberglass) is actually a positive for vinyl liner pools.
About 25 years ago we renovated our vinyl liner pool and installed new lights, new coping, new in-wall fiberglass steps, a new concrete deck and a new vinyl liner. Previously the pool had a 6" deck mount PVC coping (which was the popular style when the pool was built) but we changed this over to a bullnose style coping that is poured in place with the concrete deck. We took a pool that was already 20 years old and transformed it into (what was) a modern day vinyl liner pool. Doing that with a fiberglass pool is impossible, and a concrete pool needing new deck, coping, tile and plaster would cost you anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. Our vinyl liner pool transformation had a retail price point of less than $20,000 and this was for a large 20x40' pool! We are nearing the end of the second liner since the major overhaul, averaging about 12 to 13 years per liner. The deck, coping, walls and floor are all still in near perfect condition which means that when we change the liner again in the next few years this will set us up for another 12 to 13 years, and the retail price for a large liner job like this would be only $4000 to $5000.
Do Vinyl Liner Pools Last A Long Time?
Pictured here is a vinyl liner pool that is in the process of having a new liner installed. This pool is around 20 years old at the time of this picture, and surely will last for at least that long again, most likely longer. The type of pool kit used for this pool has extra galvanized coating on the walls that many pools do not, and the lack of decay or cracks in the grout floor show that this pool was installed well, and with experienced hands. An inground vinyl liner pool can easily meet and exceed a 50 years service cycle though it is common to renovate the deck and coping every 25 years or so, and new liners about twice that often.
Benefits of vinyl liner pools
- Vinyl liner pools cost less than other inground pool options
- Vinyl pools can last well in excess of 50 years with regular upkeep
- A vinyl pool can look as fancy as any fiberglass or concrete pool
- Vinyl pools come in many shapes and sizes, including custom shapes and sizes
- Changing a liner is not all that expensive
- Installing a new liner every 7-15 years allows you to change the look of your yard
- Vinyl pools handle cold weather better than any other pool type
- Vinyl pools do not pop out of the ground in high water tables like concrete and fiberglass
Through my career I have renovated hundreds of vinyl liner pools and installed thousands of new liners. One thing that I have always enjoyed about new liner installations is how fast the transformation is. By the time you call me to come and give you a quote for a new pool liner you have probably been looking at a sad, worn, fading or ripped pool liner for a while. In the span of one long day I can transform that eyesore into what looks like a brand new pool. That is part of the magic of a new vinyl liner. Pool owners unanimously love the change of color, choosing new liner and border patterns, and seeing the "new pool" once I have finished. Needing to change a vinyl liner every 10 years or so is something that people talk about as a negative for vinyl pools but in my experience this is actually a benefit of this type of pool. You get to change the color and style of your liner every decade or so and it does not cost tens of thousands of dollars like other pool types when they need a new interior surface.
Floor Options For Liner Pools
There are a lot of material options to choose from when building a pool that will determine the quality of your installation. Some builders use rigid PVC pipe while others use flexible PVC hose. Some vinyl pools have a cheap PVC coping track while others have a much higher quality aluminum coping track. Some vinyl pool kits use wood walls, some use galvanized steel walls, some use composite resin walls and some builders even pour their own walls with concrete (or filled cinder blocks).
The floor of the pool could be compacted sand for a very entry level inground vinyl pool, but higher quality (and better looking) grout mortar or vermiculite mortar floors are also available. The type of floor material you choose and the quality to which it is installed with go a long way towards determining good quality from poor quality in a vinyl pool. In addition to this, coping and deck design for a vinyl pool really change the finished look of the pool and this one design point can definitely get you closer to the look more traditionally found with concrete pools.
Bullnose Coping For Liner Pools
This picture shows the style of vinyl pool coping that you pour your concrete deck right into. The coping itself, once installed, acts as the inside form for the concrete pour. Going back one more generation of this style the bullnose was rounded however modern variations on this coping style have a more vertical face detail as seen here. When pouring a deck integrated coping it is important to choose a quality aluminum product as opposed to a weaker PVC product. Pictured here this aluminum coping is around 25 years old and still in perfect functional condition and will last for more liners to come. While functional and common this style of vinyl pool coping looks conspicuously like vinyl pool coping and some people prefer the look more traditional of a concrete pool, which is something that you can mimic with smart design choices for vinyl pools.
Stone Coping For Liner Pools
This example shows a vinyl liner pool that has a low profile wall mount coping track that is mounted at the top of the vertical wall face section which finishes flush with the top of the wall. This allows for the installation of a stone coping (or concrete coping) which looks more like what a traditional concrete pool coping looks like. If you would prefer a vinyl liner pool that looks less like a liner pool and more like a (more expensive) concrete pool then this coping design is the key to accomplishing this. The coping and stone can be cantilevered an inch or two over the edge of the pool, or like in this case finish flush with the face of the wall.
Concrete Coping For Liner Pools
Similar to how you can use natural stone coping you can also use poured concrete or pre-fab concrete coping stones around a vinyl pool. Again the coping track for the liner is low profile in style and finishes flush with the top of the pool kit wall. In the case of poured concrete coping for vinyl pools you would either build inside forms with wood that temporarily attach to the vertical face of the pool wall, or you would use a product like Stegmeire forms which is a styrofoam form for casting cantilever pool coping. Instead of attaching to the pool wall as with wood forms the Stegmeire forms clip into the liner coping track to allow you to pour the coping and then remove the forms without any damage or hardware attached to the pool walls.
As you can see the budget you have and the decisions you make along the way are going to determine the overall look and quality of your vinyl pool. I think there are many cases where home owners buy concrete or fiberglass pools as they view these as inherently higher quality or better looking pools when in reality their budget could go much further with a vinyl liner pool installed by the right person. Chances are you would be surprised to see what can be done with liner pools these days!
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