Mar 15

Vinyl vs. Gunite an In-ground pool comparison

Often times when people are shopping us for an in ground pool, we are up against a Gunite pool installer for the job, and every time we are asked the advantages and disadvantages of both. In this post, I will outline what I feel are the most significant differences, and let you decide what pool fits you best.

Lynnfield Oasis vinyl liner pool

The most common dig I hear against vinyl liner pools is the old “can my dogs go in without tearing the liner” The answer is yes and no. More importantly if that’s the number one complaint against a vinyl liner pool, then there must be a lot of good about them, and there is.  Some dealers use plastic steps for vinyl liner pools, and if the dog is shown where to enter and exit, there will never be an issue, seeing how I’ve yet to see a dog capable of touching the bottom with their paws! For pools with vinyl covered steps, the same logic applies; show the dog how to get in and out and there never will be an issue. I’ve only seen a couple tears due to claws, and they were easily patched. In these situations, the dog was confused on how to get out and was trying to climb out of the pool where there were no stairs, obviously this could cause a rip.

Another misconception about vinyl liner pools is the limited shape and design possibilities. This may have been the case ten years ago, but the industry has come a long way since then. Gone are the days where vinyl liner installers lost jobs because they could not duplicate a design proposed by a Gunite installer. In fact today, good vinyl liner installers can not only build any shape put in front of them, they can do it for much less money. This includes such features as bench seating; swim-out cuddle coves, sun decks and more recently, negative edge or infinity pools.  Compare the two pool pictures below; they are the exact same shape, with both having a bench seat, in fact the one on the left has a larger bench seat .

Gunite oasis pool vinyl liner oasis pool in Newbury, MA

Many potential customers have visited this exact pool on the right, many with the same question; “I didn’t know you installed Gunite pools?”  They are surprised to find out exactly how much customization we can provide them with a steel wall vinyl liner pool. I wonder what the cost difference is between these two pools?  One thing I know for sure is it’s in the thousands of dollars.

Another, yet small advancement as of late is the addition of matching color faceplates for skimmer, main drains and return fittings, although simple in idea, this now allows builders to completely hide any evidence of plastics in a vinyl liner pool, so like a Gunite pool, the interior is seamless and continuous in color. If built properly with the correct coping design, matching faceplates and a little pizzazz to the shape, it becomes even harder to decipher the two pool styles apart, until you get the bill that is.

Now that shape, design, and appearance are on an even playing field, it comes down to structure.  Gunite pools are basically a concrete shell, reinforced with re-bar and finished with a variety of colored materials. This does lend itself to a very strong water tight vessel. When a Gunite pools is in the ground, think of it like the hull of a  boat, a boat of course is designed to float in the water.  Although rare, it is possible with a gunite pool installed in a high water table area, to float, causing the shell to pop out of the ground, an almost unfixable problem.


not a fun scenario

Vinyl liner pools are not immune to ground water issues either, the difference is that with a vinyl liner, the problem is not only fixable it’s generally not an expensive fix.  Usually what ends up happening is the water pools up behind the liner and forms a bubble. In most cases the water can be pumped out from behind the liner and re-set with no wrinkles.  Furthermore in either case, if the installer does his job correctly, any pool installed in a high water table should fair ok.

Probably the most significant difference between vinyl and Gunite is the cost of ownership.  Now most people consider their time valuable, gunite pools by nature require more time and upkeep because of their material. Low or high calcium levels in the water, for example, can cause scaling which is hard to reverse. Regular brushing of the pool walls with a stainless steel brush is required to keep the finish smooth, especially in the first year of ownership where brushing is required daily.  Metals in the water can also be tough to deal with.  In vinyl liner pools metals usually only effect the color of the water, whereas in gunite pools metals can stain the surface and be a real bear to remove, as it embeds itself into the porous gunite material.  In severe cases draining of the gunite pool and acid washing the surface is your only solution.

Like anything in this world there will come a time with any pool that it needs a complete overhaul.  Liner pools tend to go through liners every 10-15 years, at a cost of 2500-5,000k depending on the size and shape. Gunite pools too will need to have a makeover at least once in their lifetime. This generally involves resurfacing of the gunite itself, at a cost upwards on 10k.

Obviously I am partial towards vinyl liner pools, and not just because we install them, but for the overall ownership experience.  It is my hope however that no matter what route you take with your pool installation, that it brings you and your family years of enjoyment.

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