As with most things in life, there are always options, and pools are no different. While not everyone drives a Chevy or Ford, neither is one pool finish right for everyone. Below we will try to offer some insight on the different finish options available to pool owners. Which one is right for you?
Vinyl Liner Pools
We will start here, as vinyl liner pools are typically the quickest and the least expensive to install, as well as the easiest to maintain. While available in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, custom shapes are also possible, but do tend to cost substantially more. And while the lifetime of a vinyl liner is typically shorter than the lifetime of any of the other pool surfaces, when the liner wears out it can be replaced.
Fiberglass pools tend to install more quickly than any other kind of pool and can last for a very long time. They usually cost quite a bit more than a vinyl liner pool, but less than a gunite or shotcrete pool. One of the draw backs to fiberglass pools is that they are available in a limited selection of sizes and shapes. The main reason for the limited selection is the width, which is normally limited to what can fit on a truck. Fiberglass tends to be more prone to metal stains than other surfaces, but aside from that is fairly easy to maintain.
Gunite or Shotcrete, With Plaster,Quartz or Pebble Finish Pools
Gunite or Shotcrete pools are available in a limitless variety of custom sizes and shapes, dictated only by your imagination and budget! Gunite is a dry sand and cement mixture that is pumped via a compressor to the pool area, where it is mixed with water to create the shell material. Shotcrete is a special wet concrete mixture which is pneumatically pumped to the pool area, creating the shell. Both products are “cut” by the finishers to create the shape of the pool. Gunite does not test out to as high of psi strength as Shotcrete typically, and Shotcrete tends to test high but be more “brittle”. Properly installed, either make for very strong, durable pool shells. Both products also offer many options for enhancing the plaster surface, including coloring, adding small quartz crystals, glass beads, or pebbles of various sizes. These pools take the longest to build, are the most expensive to install, and require the most maintenance. They also offer the ability to create exquisite shapes and features, as well as the ability to address slopes coming into the pool, create beautiful vanishing edge treatments or perimeter overflows, where the water “disappears” into the deck around the entire perimeter of the pool itself.
Caring for the plaster properly during the first month is critical and can entail more work than most people expect. However, after the first month it does get easier, although maintenance is still more work than the other kinds of pools. When properly cared for, the plaster surface can last a very long time; even longer if quartz or pebbles are added to the plaster. When the plaster does wear out you can re-plaster, or change the finish to a more durable (quartz or pebble) finish. Costs vary for each finish option, and these surfaces are more costly than the cost to replace a vinyl liner in a vinyl liner pool.
Darker colored plaster often has a mottled appearance; one that some folks like while others do not. This mottling is a reaction of the plaster and the water, and is not 100% controllable. If you are considering a colored plaster finish, please understand that the evenness of the finish is not something that your pool builder or plaster company can control. Adding quartz crystals to the plaster can look wonderful, and can increase the life of the plaster. Adding pebbles to the plaster can look amazing, and extends the life of the plaster even more than quartz crystals, as the concentration of pebbles is roughly 90-95% of the finish, creating a very durable finished product. The larger pebbles can sometimes cause the surface to be uncomfortable to walk on, if you are sensitive. Most companies offer a smaller sized pebble, that while smoother, may still seem objectionable to some. Most people have no problem with pebble finishes, and it is suggested that you visit some pools with this finish to see if it is right for you. Adding quartz, glass, or pebbles to the plaster is obviously more expensive, as the product itself costs more to produce and it takes trained installers to properly apply. The added life expectancy of this product also tends to add a bit to its cost, as it does not need to be redone nearly as often as any of the other mentioned finishes.