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Plaster, fiberglass & vinyl: what you should know

By Marcelle Dibrell

In our last issue of Service Industry News, we discussed swimming pool start-up procedures, with a focus on plaster swimming pools. While plaster-surfaced pools have dominated the market for years, remaining very popular, they are not necessarily the best. In addition to plaster pool surfaces, other concrete finishing techniques exist that can provide additional strength and durability. 

Furthermore, there are many instances where concrete pools are not desirable or affordable, and many homeowners will opt for a different medium, such as vinyl-lined or fiberglass finishes. 

While the installation of a pool may not necessarily be a service technician’s job, knowledge of the types of pools and surface finishes is important in terms of maintenance and refurbishment. Familiarity with the types of pools available is also useful for making pool recommendations to homeowners.

In general, there are three basic types of pools. These include gunite, fiberglass, and vinyl lined. Each of these options has pros and cons based on expense, maintenance and durability. 

Obviously, service requirements for each of these pool surfaces will vary. 

In this issue we will examine the pool surface options as well as examine some of the service responsibilities commonly performed for each surface.

Plastered, gunite, shotcrete pools are the most common pool in the industry, although alternative surfaces including aggregates like quartz, pebbles, and glass have been making a big splash in recent years. 

One of the biggest advantages of building a gunite pool is that it can be built to absolutely any design specification. 

Another is that they are animal friendly and can withstand a lot of abuse. Also, many people like the classic white plaster look and the brilliant blue of the water within, as well as the smooth feel of the plaster under their feet. 

However, from a service standpoint, plastered pools require the most maintenance. They have a relatively short life span, although the addition of aggregates can improve this. 

They require numerous preventative measures to avoid algae, and they are substantially affected by water chemistry and the plaster itself can affect the chemistry of the water. 

Furthermore, they can crack, chip, develop worn spots in high traffic areas, and become rough due to scaling. 

From a service perspective, there are multiple jobs involved with keeping up a plaster surface, but among the most common and lucrative is painting or repainting plaster pool to restore them to their former brilliance. 

Painting a swimming pool is among the most lucrative tasks that a service professional can perform. In some regions of the U.S., the charge for this service is more than $2,000. 

Painting a plaster pool is often the answer for pools that simply cannot handle another acid wash and for customers who are not willing or able to part with the expense of a complete re-plastering job. Useful advice on painting plaster will be given in the pages to follow. 

There are several good reasons to recommend a fiberglass pool to homeowners as an alternative to traditional concrete pools. 

Some of the advantages enjoyed by fiberglass pool owners include a short installation time and very little maintenance requirements. 

The coat of the surface inhibits the growth of algae making it easy to keep sanitized. Also in terms of pricing, they can be as competitive with concrete pools. 

There are, however, a few problems that can occur with fiberglass pools, and a savvy pool technician will want to be able to tell their customers about these issues. 

One potential limitation concerns the shape and size of the pool. Because fiberglass pools come pre-fabricated and travel to potential locations by truck, consumers are limited to the shapes offered by the manufacturer and they cannot exceed 16-feet wide. 

Also, they should not be emptied; the water in the pool helps to hold a fiberglass pool in the ground. 

Furthermore, if a repair is needed on the shell, especially if the shell is colored, it can be extremely difficult to color-match the repair. 

One of the more challenging as well as lucrative jobs that a service professional can perform on these pools is fiberglass resurfacing, a topic that will be discussed in more detail. 

Vinyl-lined pools are the least expensive form of an inground pool. 

According to our 2012 survey, the service fee to install a vinyl liner ranges nationally from $650 to $3,100, with the majority of the service sector charging $1,500 for this task, and this is not the only advantage. 

Vinyl-lined pools can be made into almost any shape and size, and because of the countless color and design features, liner pools can look as luxurious as a high-end concrete pool. 

The smooth vinyl surface is easy to clean and soft on the skin. When the need arises, replacing a vinyl liner is not only cheaper, but a much easier proposition than resurfacing a fiberglass or plaster finish. 

If the liner develops a leak, patching the liner is usually a simple task. 

On the down side, and depending on its thickness, vinyl liners will sometimes tear easily. 

Pets should be discouraged from using these pools, or trained to use the stairs. 

The liner can also easily be damaged or stained by poor-water chemistry. 

This is especially true in the case of shocking the pool: localized bleach spotting can occur with high-chlorine levels in vinyl pools. 

Vinyl-lined pools have a lifetime between 6 and 20 years, depending on their physical treatment and how the water chemistry was maintained over the life of the liner. 

Nevertheless, plenty of service professionals highly recommend them. 

For consumers wishing to refurbish a vinyl liner, the answer is usually to replace them, and the service charge for this ranges from $1,000 to $2,000. 

Yet, replacing a vinyl liner is not always as simple as it may appear. In this issue, we will discuss this common task performed by service professionals. 

No matter the pool finish, service technicians will benefit from knowing about all three types and the restoration involved with each. 

To read the entire March 31 issue — complete with give-and-take discussion from onBalance and the NPC, as well as start-up tips, charts and more — we welcome you to subscribe to Service Industry News today. Just $12 for 24 issues or $22 for 48 issues. Call us at 949-916-0292 to get started.



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