Does a Pool Have to Have a Liner?

Whether you are installing a brand new pool or are looking to renovate or replace parts to your current backyard swim zone, you might be curious about your options when it comes to liners. Does your pool even have to have one?

There are three main types of inground pools including vinyl liner, fiberglass, and concrete. Vinyl liner pools have a liner that needs to be replaced every 4-9 years, but fiberglass and concrete pools do not have liners. Upfront costs of vinyl liner pools are much lower but their upkeep can add up.

Of course, finding the right type of pool for your backyard will depend on a variety of needs and desires that you may have, but you should know that not all pools require liners. In fact, you will likely find that you can save several thousands of dollars in pool upkeep by choosing to go with a fiberglass pool (even though these cost more upfront). Let’s dive in for a closer look.

Why Does a Pool Need a Liner?

Before we look more into detail about the different types of inground pools you can install in your backyard, it is important to take a closer look at why your pool may (or may not) need a liner in the first place. After all, understanding this will be the key to understanding the role of liners in all pools (and why some types of inground pools may not require a liner).

Vinyl liners are used in inground pools to maintain the pool’s integrity- in its shape, ability to retain water, and the ability for the water inside the pool to be regularly maintained and cleaned with chemicals. Some pools like concrete and fiberglass pools do not require liners for this.

With that said, knowing the type of building material that your pool is made from will make a difference in knowing whether or not it was designed to be used with a liner or not. And, while there are many benefits of having a vinyl liner, there are also many benefits to installing inground pool options that do not require this.

Still, if you are using a pool with a vinyl liner, you will likely see several advantages. First of all, a pool with a vinyl liner typically comes with a warranty for the liner should it begin to peel on the trim or the edges of the liner. Keep in mind, though, that some warranties might be made out for several years but might not actually cover typical wear and tear that can happen within the 4-9 years that your vinyl liner will need to be replaced.

Along with this, it is important to note that your vinyl liner will still need to be cleaned and maintained before, during, and after the swim season each year. This can be included in some of the regular pool maintenance, but it can also be an added step such as if you need to scrape off any buildup. 

Even more, a vinyl liner secured in place in the pool will provide a smooth surface for swimmers to rest their feet when they choose to stand up. This detail can go unnoticed, but if you were to install a concrete pool, this is likely the first difference that you (as a swimmer) would pay attention to because of the stark contrast of a smooth and rough surface. The effects that this has on the swimmer’s experience in the water are great. 

Finally, although some people might not like the aesthetic appeal of a vinyl liner in their inground pool, the liner options that are available yield more traditional in terms of what a backyard pool will look like. Of course, if you replace your liner, you may find a new pattern available, but vinyl liners in pools can serve as a sense of tradition and a more vintage look for your summer swimming adventures.

Fiberglass vs. Vinyl Liner vs. Concrete Pools

When taking a closer look at whether your pool will require a liner or not, this comes down to how your pool is constructed at its base. Specifically, there are three main types of inground pools that you can install: fiberglass, vinyl liner, and concrete pools. While vinyl liner pools (obviously) require a liner, fiberglass and concrete pools do not.

This is not the only difference between these three types of pools though. In fact, and likely unsurprisingly, there are many differences between fiberglass, vinyl liner, and concrete pools. Choosing the right type of pool for your backyard can come with a variety of questions, but this can also be highly personalized based on your preferences and budget.

To make this search a little easier for you, we have broken down some of the main comparison points that you are likely to consider when choosing which type of inground backyard pool is the right choice for you and your family. Without further adieu, let’s take a closer look at the differences (both positive and negative) between fiberglass, vinyl liner, and concrete pools.

Pool Liner Requirements

As stated above, the only type of inground pool that requires a pool liner is a vinyl liner pool. As the name makes clear, this type of pool uses a vinyl material to secure the water inside of the pool while keeping other types of contaminants out. 

Alternatively, fiberglass and concrete pools do not require pool liners. You will find, though, that just because a pool does not require a liner does not mean that it naturally has all of the benefits that a liner can provide. For example, the surface (texture) of a vinyl liner and fiberglass pool will be much smoother than a concrete pool, even though a liner is not required in a concrete pool.

What is the Least Expensive Type of Inground Pool?

Taking a look at the cost of inground pools is one of the most popular starting points. After all, if you cannot afford the installation and maintenance of the pool, then there is really no point at looking further, right? With that said, it is incredibly important to distinguish that both the initial installation and the long-term pool maintenance will play a role in the expenses that come with any type of pool.

Specifically, while a vinyl liner pool will be the least expensive pool to install ($35,000-65,000), its long-term pool maintenance will include liner replacement every 4-9 years costing $4,500 with each replacement on top of regular costs for chemicals and electricity.

On the other hand, concrete pools are in the middle of the road when it comes to the initial costs of installation as they typically range between $50,000-$80,000 to install. However, they are the most demanding for pool maintenance (even though they do not require a liner and consequent replacement), and estimated maintenance costs are up to $27,000 in 10 years.

Then, fiberglass pools will have the most costly installation ranging from $45,000-$85,000, but their maintenance and upkeep costs are minimal compared to vinyl liner and concrete pools. They do not require a liner (or replacement) and estimated maintenance costs in 10 years only totals $3,700.

So, you can see how these costs all range in terms of the initial costs as well as the maintenance costs that go into them. For example, a vinyl liner is the cheapest type of pool to install, but its maintenance and upkeep costs (due to liner replacement every 4-9 years) puts it in the middle of the road for total cost.

Then, fiberglass pools have the highest installation costs, but because they have such low maintenance costs associated with their long-term care, they rank the lowest in terms of maintenance costs. Alternatively, concrete pools might cost the midrange installation costs, but their maintenance is the most expensive.

So, you can see how these varying costs would go into your consideration when choosing which is the right type of pool for you to install. If you are just looking to install a pool in your backyard that you plan on moving from before you would need to replace the liner, then a vinyl liner pool might be a good choice. However, if you are looking to stay long-term or want the highest resale value, then choosing a fiberglass pool can be a great long-term investment.

What is the Easiest Type of Pool to Maintain?

The next question that is likely on your mind when it comes to choosing the right type of inground pool for your backyard is what all is required for pool maintenance. Now, while all pools will require standard pool chemicals, water, and electricity costs, these can range a bit. Even more, there are more in-depth maintenance requirements on some types of pools compared to others.

While fiberglass pools have the highest initial upfront cost, they are the easiest and least expensive pool to maintain. Vinyl liner pools are midrange in cost and ease of maintenance. Concrete pools are the most costly and difficult to maintain.

When it comes to pool maintenance with fiberglass pools, you are really in luck. You will spend a pretty penny installing this type of pool in your backyard, but the high-quality pool that this gives you is well worth it for those who can afford the upfront cost. The fiberglass walls not only do not require a pool liner, but they create a smooth surface that is not welcoming to algae and other bacteria.

On the other hand, concrete pools have a rough and naturally porous surface. While this is fine for maintaining the water in the pool (and not requiring a liner), this porous surface is where algae and bacteria love to reside. Consequently, you will be required to perform an acid wash on the pool shell every 3-5 years, have an extensive cleaning on the interior of the pool done professionally (or take the time to do this yourself), and pay for new installation of replastering it or adding new tiles.

These costs are not minimal, either, and although the standard chemical and electricity bills will be about the same for a concrete pool as for a vinyl liner pool, the additional costs that come with the intense cleaning of a concrete pool (because of its naturally porous surface) means your costs are likely to be way more expensive (both in time and money) in the long haul.

Vinyl liner pools, then, fall in the middle of the road in terms of pool maintenance. While they do not require intense scrubbing (and even an acid wash) like a concrete pool requires, they do not have the same benefits that a fiberglass pool does in terms of its lacking liner requirement. Therefore, since you will have to replace the liner every 4-9 years, this will add in the chore (and associated cost) of maintenance for this type of pool.

Everything else in regards to pool maintenance is about the same. Of course, severe, unexpected damage from strong storms throwing hard, pointy objects into the sides of the pool could wreak havoc on a pool liner, where a concrete pool would be unaffected. 

Still, outside of these extreme conditions, maintenance is routine (with chemicals, electricity, and water), so you will really need to think about the more in-depth cleanup and maintenance when comparing these three types of pools.

Which Type of Pool is the Most Customizable?

When it comes to customization of shape and size, this is where concrete pools will have the other two types of pools (fiberglass and vinyl liner pools) beat. This is one of the main reasons that people opt for concrete pools in the first place.

Specifically, concrete pools are the most customizable in shape as they are not predetermined for any fixed dimensions in length, width, or depth. Consequently, you can create a concrete pool to the exact specifications that fit your yard, budget, and style best.

Even with the sizing customization, you can also choose certain types of types to add to the aesthetic appeal of your concrete pool. So, while some people would prefer the natural aesthetic appeal that a fiberglass pool has to offer, others love the ability to create any shape and dimension with a concrete pool. Of course, since these are not predetermined in their shape, you will have to wait longer for the concrete to set, but most people who choose this option are pretty ok with it. 

How to Choose the Right Type of Pool to Install

Now that we have taken a closer look at some of the distinguishing differences between fiberglass, vinyl liner, and concrete pools, you have a little more information at your fingertips for choosing the right type of pool for you. Still, it can be helpful to have a step-by-step instructional guide on what to consider when choosing the right type of pool to install.

When choosing the right type of pool to install, you should consider your initial budget, long-term budget, plans for staying in the same home, ability to self-maintain the pool or need to hire a professional, and your desired aesthetic.

These categories are, by no means, entirely limited, but they can help you to make some of the most qualifying decisions when it comes to which type of pool is the right choice for you. To take a closer look, consider:

Initial Budget

When it comes to being able to pay for your inground pool, you need to consider the budget that you have for the initial installation. For a quick comparison, vinyl liner pools are the least expensive initial installation ($35,000-$65,000), concrete pools come in second ($50,000-$80,000), and fiberglass pools have the most expensive initial installation cost ($45,000-$80,000). 

Of course, this will depend on the cost from a contractor, your ability to install help with any of the installation, and the dimensions of your prospective pool. Most often, the larger the pool you plan to install, the higher the costs will be. There will also be added costs for any specialized shapes or unique requests like a handicap access, splash pad, or fountain addition.

long-term Budget

Next, once you have your initial budget, you need to consider how much you are willing to pay for the pool in the long run. For example, over the course of 10 years, fiberglass pools are estimated to only cost $3,700 in maintenance compared to a vinyl liner pool costing $11,000 and a concrete pool costing $27,000.

These costs are associated with standard maintenance (chemicals, regular upkeep, etc.) as well as more in-depth maintenance. You need to be prepared for these costs once they come, as some types of maintenance costs will need to be able to be addressed immediately (or you could incur more damage and associated costs).

Plans for Staying

If you are going to build a pool in your backyard but are confident that your family will outgrow your house and require a move (or be moving for any other reason), then it might make more sense to choose a vinyl liner pool that costs less upfront. However, if you are going to stay long-term, then a fiberglass pool might be worth your investment since its long-term maintenance is so low. This is where you weigh your total budget and make a game plan.

Self-Maintenance vs. Professional Care

If you are able to do most of the maintenance on your pool yourself (assuming your work is adequate), then you could save on some costs of professional care. However, if you install a concrete pool and need an acid wash, then this might be something you choose to have a professional do. 

Or, if you want a professional to install your pool liner, then you will need to add in this cost. Ultimately, this will come down to the cost of your local professionals as well as your own ability to be self-sufficient (completely or partially).

Desired Aesthetic

Last, but certainly not least, if you are going to be spending your days looking out at the beautiful water in your backyard, then you want to have the right aesthetic appeal. If you are going for more of a budget look (or desire to pick out unique tiling), then you can opt for a concrete pool.

If you prefer a more traditional, vintage look, then a vinyl liner pool will do the trick. If you prefer a more modern, sleek aesthetic, then a fiberglass pool will take your backyard to the next level. Considering the style, shape, and possibility of customization is important when considering which type of pool is right for you.

Jed Arnold

Jed spent every year from the ages of 15 - 22 as a Lifeguard (Red Cross) and ages of 17 - 22 as a Certified Pool Operator (CPO). Between working for over a dozen facilities and owning a pool, he carries over a decade of pool experience.

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