When shopping for a new pool, there are several types of pools out there, with different surfaces. To narrow down the field, the 3 most popular are gunite (plaster/concrete), vinyl-lined, and fiberglass pools and they each have their pros and cons. For example, Gunite pools have the most durable finish (pro) but the cost with both the initial set up/installation and resurfacing when (not if) needed is vastly higher than the other two common pool types (con). Compared to vinyl-lined pools, the liner normally lasts from 7 to 10 years depending on how well you keep your water chemistry and costs significantly less both upfront and down the road.
Gunite pools have been around since the '60s and are the most durable pool finish. This means you have to be careful of rough play in a concrete pool since these pools won’t have any give and are not soft the touch; a common concern if you have children playing in the pool.
The pool's structure consists of a steel rebar frame coated with a mix of cement, white sand or marble aggregate, and water. This is applied to the rebar frame and troweled for a smooth looking finish still making it very popular.
While Marcite plaster is the least expensive of the gunite pool surfaces, it does have its disadvantages. The surface can start to show visible chipping or etching after 5 to 7 years. They will also start to stain, and inhibit algae due to its porous surface and is the least durable in the plaster pool family. The better upgrade for this pool type would be to opt for exposed aggregate surfaces as these offer more options from pebbles, sand color and more. Diamond Brite, Pebble Tec and Hydrazzo are a few common types of aggregate surfaces which we’ll break down further here.
Diamond Brite $$
Diamond Brite is made with a quartz aggregate and a polymer modified cement which increases bonding and hardness of your pool’s structure. It has a textured surface consisting of small pebbles in the cement being brought to the surface. The life expectancy is on average approximately 8 to 12 years. A light acid wash is recommended after about 5 years to keep it looking bright.
Hydrazzo was the first pool surface to be polished. It consists of coarse crystalline (a crystal compound), colored marble and Portland cement as well as a few other ingredients to beautify the surface. This is the smoothest finish available in gunite pools but is still hard as a rock. Its life expectancy is 15 to 20 years and comes in a wide variety of colors as well.
Pebble Tec $$$$
Pebble Tec is on the higher end of the cost spectrum. Pebble Tec is a mix of large pebbles, stone aggregate, and cement. This is the most durable of the plaster pool types as its surface last from 15 to 20 years +. Pebble Tec is the top choice for gunite pool buyers.
While all of these are great products, like much of the pool design process, choice simply comes down to personal preference. If you’re looking for complete durability, a pool that pushes back, concrete may be for you. The costs will add up so be aware you’re opting for the most expensive pool type up front.
If you have small children or even rambunctious teenagers you may want to think twice before adding a concrete pool to your family’s backyard and scrapes and boo-boo’s will be a common pause in the fun. For these types of settings, a vinyl liner pool is strongly recommended as the surface will be soft to touch and provide a slight give, almost like a cushion.
Keep in mind as well that if you like a change of scenery every 7 to 10 years, a vinyl liner allows you to completely change the look and feel of your pool (for less than the cost to resurface a gunite or fiberglass pool). You can even create a gunite look using liners with textured pebble patterns similar to the plaster, aggregate surfaces for fractions of the cost.
Additional resources for your pool buying journey:
- How much does it cost to install an inground pool
- What to know when buying an inground pool
- Build Your Own Pool & Save
- Vinyl VS. Fiberglass VS. Concrete: Pros, Cons, and More!
- Inground Pool Buying Guide