Making the Right Choice: How Do I Decide which Pool to Buy?

How to Decide Which Pool To Buy

If you are stepping into the world of backyard pools for your home, you’ll have your work cut out for you in regard to research, decision-making, and possibly financing the build for your pool.

There is a bit of misinformation out there when it comes to purchasing a pool. Frankly, I believe that many sites give too conservative of a price expectation and provide too little of an understanding of how monumental a task getting a pool built and installed is for homeowners.

When choosing a pool, consider budget, permits, and HOA restrictions first. Fiberglass pools are fast and require less maintenance. Vinyl liner pools offer customization options on a budget. Concrete pools offer unique features and customization but require more maintenance. Above-ground pools are very affordable but less aesthetically pleasing. Intex pools are quick to install and mobile, while above-ground pools with vinyl liners are more durable but less mobile and oftentimes not attractive.

This article will give you as deep of a dive as possible into both inground and above-ground pool ownership, the different types of pools available, and how you can decide which pool is right for you before you buy. I’ll discuss the different types of pools and pool builds, some of the pros and cons along with an explanation of what to expect after purchase. You can also check this in-depth guide on inground pool sizes to help you choose which size is right for your home.

Inground Vs. Above-ground Pools Understanding the Difference

The key difference when discussing the difference between above-ground and inground pools is that one is a permanent structure built into your home or backyard while the other is mobile. Above-ground pools can be taken down and put back up time and time again if they are durable. Once an inground pool goes into the ground, it stays there. The exception is fiberglass inground pools which can be moved but 99% of homeowners would never want to do that.

This is where the astronomical price difference comes between the two. A similar difference that we can imagine is the price difference between building a decent carport or having an entire garage built on your land. This brings us to the next part of the discussion which is approval and restrictions, just as in our example above, there will be a load of different regulations to follow when putting a permanent structure on your land compared to a nonpermanent structure plus the additional safety regulations because of the possibility of drowning from unsecured pools.

Permit Approval and Hoa Restrictions for Pools

Before even jumping into what type of pool you want, you’ll need to find out what type of pool you are allowed to have! If you are living in a subdivision most likely there are some rules to live by to keep neighbors from having an all-out war over various annoying things. For example, my mother has a portable toilet business and wanted to place a portable toilet on her deck during the summertime so that people weren’t tracking water and dirt into her house when playing in the pool. The HOA was not having it and she wasn’t allowed to put the toilet outside. I don’t have a dog in that fight but I can understand both sides of the argument.

As you can imagine, building a pool might be against regulations set out by your HOA. The rules do tend to be specific to above-ground or inground pools which might force your hand on which type of pool you are going to build on your property.

Your local city ordinances will have some very specific requirements for your pool that you should know beforehand. In most cases, fencing is a common example. Most cities require fences to be built around a pool they have specific height requirements and gate latch requirements.

Here is an example of the Code in St. Louis County, Mo.

The top of the barrier shall be not less than 72 inches (1829 mm) above grade where measured on the side of the barrier that faces away from the pool or spa. Such height shall exist around the entire perimeter of the barrier and for a distance of 3 feet (914 mm) measured horizontally from the outside of the required barrier.

Exception: For residential swimming pools the top of the barrier shall be not less than 48 inches (1219 mm) above grade where measured on the side of the barrier that faces away from the pool or spa. Such height shall exist around the entire perimeter of the barrier and for a distance of 3 feet (914 mm) measured horizontally from the outside of the required barrier.

305.2.1 Barrier height and clearances.

You should go to your local city hall to enquire about any information you should know before investing serious time and effort into a pool that you might not even be allowed to have or build. Even with the cheapest portable or inflatable pools, there is a legal requirement to have fencing around the pool, so this step of the process should not be overlooked to protect yourself legally and also help keep your neighborhood safe from possible drowning accidents.

What Budget Allowances Do You Have for Your Pool?

This is a huge question that you’ll really have to do some financial soul-searching to be sure you aren’t living beyond your means. If your comfortable budget is below $30,000 – $40,000 USD for the initial purchase of your pool, then you should take a serious look at getting an above-ground pool. Below the $30,000 USD mark there are a ton of options for you to choose from that I discuss later in the article.

If you are comfortable spending $50,000 and above then an inground pool is something you can look at purchasing for your home. We will dig into the different kinds of builds you can do that are within your price range and desires.

Inground Pools: The 3 Major Types

If budget and regulations allow and you choose to go for an inground pool then you are taking your first steps into a journey that will hopefully leave you with your dream backyard! As with any journey though, there are trials and tribulations to overcome before we reach our storybook ending. A good place to start is reading more about what makes a good size pool for your yard.

The three different types of inground pools are Vinyl-liner, Fiberglass, and Gunite/Shotcrete. Each of these pools comes with its own pros and cons which I’ll dig into below.

Should You Choose a Vinyl Liner Pool?

These inground pools are the cheapest option among the 3 types. These pools start as kits that include steel or polymer walls and a vinyl liner that will go over these walls. The bottom of the pool, under the liner, has some options for the homeowners to choose from like sand, grout, or vermiculite.

Here is a quick Video of a Vinyl Liner Pool Build.

The pool kits themselves cost between $8,000 – $12,000 dollars. Examples of Size, Shape and Pricing options can be seen below:

18’x36’x6”8’Mountain Lake$11,090.00

Installation prices for any type of pool vary from region to region across the United States. The example I give will be based in the Midwest, the average price to install the Rectangle, Oval, and Kidney options would be about $50,000 – $60,000 USD which would include a bit of decking poured around the pool. This would not include any extra water features. The Lagoon or Mountain Lake options would be slightly more expensive because of the size and the difficult nature of building free-form style pools.

Not in the Midwest? If you are in the Northeastern part of the United States, you could add about 10%-15% to this price. If you are in the Southern part of the United States, you could take off about 10%-15%.

Advantages of the Vinyl-Liner Pool:

  • Cheapest Price to Purchase and Install
  • Can be formed into any Size or Shape you want
  • Customization. Ex. adding a bench to the pool.
  • Water Features can easily be added
  • Ability to change Vinyl-Liner Color
  • Smooth Vinyl Interior
  • Soft Floor(Vermiculite)
  • Large Range of Vinyl Liner Colors to Choose From
  • 1-2 Weeks to Install (Permits Pending, Not Including Landscaping or Deck)

Disadvantages of a Vinyl-Liner Pool:

  • Tears and Holes in Liner
  • Thinner Liners are not pet friendly
  • Wrinkles
  • Liner Replacement Costs
  • Cheap and Thin Liners need to be replaced more often

Vinyl Liner Durability and Maintenace

Vinyl- Liner pools themselves don’t have a shelf life. The steel and polymer walls are not going anywhere anytime soon. The vinyl liner itself might need to be replaced on an average of 10-15 years time but there are many instances of the vinyl liner lasting up to 20 years. The technology of today’s liner is resistant to fading from sun exposure. There are various degrees of thickness for the liner which also helps with its longevity, like the 36 mil liner which is considered “pet-friendly”.

Pool liners can cost between $1000-$3000 dollars and you’ll need to pay for the team to replace the liner as well. If you keep a good water-chemical balance in your pool, I believe you’ll be able to keep your vinyl liner for quite some time.

Is a Fiberglass Pool the Right Choice?

Fiberglass pools are precast shells made in factories. It’s quite a labor intense project to create fiberglass shells and there are a few manufacturers who apply their own unique process. These shells are created using molds that are layered using various materials. Here is an example of how a fiberglass pool shell is created:

  • Gel Coat (dyed Resin) is Applied to the Mold. This will become the Surface of your Pool.
  • A layer of waterproof Vinyl Ester Resin is applied to Prevent Osmosis from taking place Behind the Gel Coat which would cause Bubbles called Osmotic Blisters
  • Poly Ester Chop, a mixture of polyester resin and polyester chop, is applied as the third layer of the shell to build out the bulk of the pool shell.
  • Fiberglass Rovenwoving and Honeycomb are added between Polyester Chop layers to provide support to the floor, walls, steps, and other features of the pool that need support.
  • The fiberglass shell is removed from the mold and extra hanging fiberglass is trimmed from the edges
  • The Gel Coat is buffed to a high gloss finish.
  • The fiberglass shell is inspected for quality before being approved for delivery to customers.

Fiberglass pools fit right in the middle between the vinyl liner and gunite pools in terms of price. When it comes to preference, there is a big battle between passionate fiberglass owners who believe that in general, the fiberglass pool is superior to vinyl liner because of the replacement costs of vinyl every 15 years or so. Also, fiberglass can be extremely kid and pet friendly for owners worried about vinyl tearing. The smooth surface of the fiberglass is also preferred by many who feel gunite finishes like pebble-tech are too rough.

Fiberglass Pool Shell Costs w/Installation Average

The Shell for a Fiberglass pool can be between $10,000 – $25,000 dollars depending on brand, design, and location.


Advantages of Fiberglass Pool:

  • Fastest Installation for Inground Pools (2-3 Days not including deck or landscaping)
  • Low Maintenace In Comparison to Gunite and Vinyl
  • Fiberglass Holds Temperature Well
  • Salt Water Safe
  • Algae Resistant
  • Smooth and Durable Surface
  • Last 25+ Years when Maintained well

Disadvantages of Fiberglass Pool:

  • No Customization
  • Sizes and Shapes Limited in Comparison to Vinyl and Concretes complete size and shape customization
  • Most Shell Depths for Fiberglass are 6′. A few models are 8′
  • Any serious issues outside of the Warranty are Expensive and Difficult
  • Poor Installation and Irrigation can lead to the shell popping out

Fiberglass pools have risen in popularity over the years and from the list of advantages you can see the reason. Improved technology in the creation of the shell which increases the durability of this product has been one of the main reasons. This is a solid option for any homeowner looking for a simple installation process without customization but the costs are not as cheap as Vinyl Liner Pools.

Is a Gunite Concrete Pool the Right Choice for You?

A custom-built shotcrete/gunite pool is the cream of the crop when it comes to inground pool installation. They aren’t easy to maintain, they cost more annually, the upfront cost is the highest, and they do require overhauls on the pool shell surface after so many years depending on your pool shell finish. So why are they by far the most popular pool being built around the world today? The answer to that is the complete customization and longevity of concrete inground pools. When it comes to concrete, the sky is the limit on the design and features you can choose for your dream backyard oasis.

A simplified version of a concrete pool build looks like this:

  • Excavation
  • Rock Bed for Stability
  • Rebar frame
  • Shotcrete or Gunite is “shot” onto the frame
  • Plaster is applied to create a barrier between the concrete and the water
  • Additional Finish is applied

This build process can take a couple of months depending on the size and complexity of the build. The build process is also very rough on existing lawns and landscaping.

Concrete Inground Pool Costs

With any pool build, it’s extremely hard to give prices because it is such a customized job and no two pool builds are the same. I put together some samples of what a shotcrete pool build might cost based on Anecdotal evidence gathered from Facebook.

20.5′ x 29’w/12ft tanning ledgeNoN/A$86,000
18’x36′ 9’DeepYesGeorgia$100,000
16’x36′ w/Spa and FirepitYesNorth Carolina$135,000
15’x30′ w/SpaYesLouisiana$100,000
57’x46′ w/bar, waterfall, and hottubYesMidwest$191,000
19’x40′ w tanning ledge, spa, grotto, slideYesFlorida$170,000

Advantages of a Concrete Inground Pool:

  • Ultimate Customization of Shape, Size, Depth, and Features.
  • Longevity of 50+ Years
  • Durable
  • Weather Resistant
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Water Features and Add-ons

Disadvantages of a Concrete Inground Pool:

  • Expensive Purchase Price
  • Expensive Maintenace
  • Build/Installation can be Long and Messy (Months compared to Weeks or Days)
  • Pool Chemical Balance can be difficult
  • The pool finish can hurt feet
  • Cost to replace finish every 10-25 years depending on finish type
  • Concrete will crack over time

With the advancement in technology and durability of fiberglass and the cheaper price but the ability to customize vinyl, you might wonder why homeowners would still be building concrete pools. As we can see, the list of disadvantages is quite long. But when it comes to the most beautiful awe-inspiring pools built across the world, every single one of them is a concrete pool. You can also find out more about the durability and which pool is the most durable here.

Above-ground Pools: How to Decide Which One is Right?

If you are like me, you would probably want to have an inground pool but the budget isn’t there at the moment. I believe an above-ground pool is a great option until an inground pool becomes more affordable. Or, if you absolutely have an interest in an inground pool, you could still make above-ground pools look great. With a little bit of decking or landscaping around the pool.

There are a few popular brands of inground pools and I’m going to give you the Pricing for those below:

Brand and ModelSizePrice
Intex Ultra XTR Rectangular Pool Set24ft x 12ft x 52in$1,799.00
Bestway Steel Pro MAX14ft x 4ft x 14in$478.55
Summer Waves Elite Wicker Print Above Ground Pool18ft x 48in$568.99
Intex Easy Set Above Ground Pool18′ x 48″$408.79
Coleman Power Steel Swim Vista Series II Above Ground Pool14′ x 8’x 40″$749.99
Intex Metal Frame Above Ground Pool15′ x 48″$619.99
Wilbar Round Above Ground Pool24′$3,415.00
Summer Escapes Quick Set Above Ground Pool10′ x 2’6″$48.88

Advantages of Above-Ground Pools:

  • Mobility
  • Cheap Price
  • Less Debris from Ground Level
  • Lots of small pool options that are easy and fast
  • Fast Installation
  • Do-It-Yourself is Possible

Disadvantages of Above-Ground Pools:

  • One Depth (No Shallow or Deep End)
  • Aesthetically Unattractive
  • Safety Concerns of not being able to see in the Pool from the ground
  • Awkward Steps into and Out of Pool
  • Standard Pumps and Filters Included are Weak

There is also the Vinyl Liner Above Ground Pool kits that nearly everyone is familiar with. These are more expensive options but more durable than the brands and options listed above.

Final Thoughts on Deciding Which Pool is Right For You

If you have never been a pool owner then I believe it might be a good choice to look at getting a smaller above-ground pool in your backyard for a summer or two before making a large investment in an inground pool or even a more expensive above-ground pool. This will give you the experience of what its like dealing with upkeep and maintenance to see if it is something you are comfortable with. For me, I think one of the Intex or Coleman pools would be a great choice to test out having a backyard pool without blowing your budget.

If you have the budget and features are less important to you than time maintaining the pool, I believe your best option for an inground pool is the fiberglass pool. These are extremely quick installs and very user-friendly pools.

Customization and having a unique build for your pool are important to many people and if that is the case for you, the Vinyl-Liner Option or a concrete pool will be the best choice. If you are tight on budget, inground vinyl liner pools are really underrated in my opinion, and with the right builders look almost as amazing as a concrete pool. But, if your budget is high and having a unique one-of-a-kind pool is the most important part of the pool, you will have to choose a concrete pool.


The founder of I wanted a place to share all of the great information from my family to other pool lovers, builders, and those looking to buy a pool.

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