Vinyl liner pools are custom-made pools that separate the water from the pool structure with a sheet of vinyl. They can be installed quickly and are usually made with durable materials. Even so, some people find that they’d like something even stronger after having a liner pool for a while, and they begin to wonder if they can convert a vinyl pool to gunite (or concrete).
It is certainly possible to convert a liner pool to gunite, and it may even be easier than you expect! Liner pools are considered entry-level, so it’s common for people to upgrade them later on. It can, however, cost several thousand dollars, and you’ll have to hire a crew to do the job for you.
Now that you know it’s possible, it’s time to decide if you want to undertake the task of upgrading your liner pool to gunite. Let’s take a look at the differences between liner and gunite pools and the process of converting the pool, so that you can decide if it’s truly worth it.
What Is the Difference Between Gunite and Vinyl Pools?
A gunite pool has a rebar framework, which is a steel bar framework ready to support the concrete. It’s sprayed over with a mixture of concrete and sand to reinforce it. Water is applied at a high pressure, creating a very durable shell, and it can be customized in any shape.
A liner pool is also very customizable and a little easier to install. Instead of the mixture of concrete and sand, there’s a vinyl sheet between the pool structure and the water. It’s also cheaper, which makes it a popular choice.
Vinyl liners usually lock the top edge (known as a bead) into a track at the bottom, which is covered with the floor.
Because the gunite and vinyl pools are installed very differently, this leads to various advantages and disadvantages for each. It’s important to carefully consider them all in order to decide which one is right for you, as it very much depends on your individual circumstances.
Can You Turn a Liner Pool Into a Gunite Pool?
It’s perfectly possible to change a liner pool into a gunite pool, though you will be looking at a cost of a few thousand dollars minimum. Nonetheless, it is a popular conversion for those looking to upgrade and modernize their homes.
A vinyl liner pool is considered the most basic form of pool, so you can up the value of the pool and the home itself by undertaking the conversion.
Many people looking to sell their house will also upgrade the pool from vinyl liner to gunite. This is partially because a pool that’s reaching the end of its lifespan can bring the value of the home down significantly. A brand new gunite pool is a huge selling point since it has many years ahead of it.
How to Convert a Liner Pool Into a Gunite Pool
The first thing you’ll have to do is establish the elevation of the water and set the level. If you get this wrong, it can be pretty disastrous, which is why it’s recommended that you have experts do this conversion — even if you have all of the tools for the job! Usually, a laser transit will be used in the process.
You’ll then have to install a pool skimmer. Remember, the height you put the skimmer box at generally dictates the height of the water. On a gunite pool, you’ll have to encase the skimmer in a cube of concrete to make sure it stays safely attached (unlike a vinyl liner pool, which it can be attached with just screws).
The next step is to install a steel rebar grid for the concrete and sand mixture to go on. Then you’ll put either wet-pumped or dry-pumped shotcrete on the structure. Each of these is more popular in different areas, so the contractor you’ve hired will be able to explain which is better for your pool.
The nozzle that shoots this mixture out is very strong, so make sure you’ve hired someone who’s experienced — otherwise, they might get a nasty shock at how hard it is to control. Blockages in these nozzles can also be dangerous and can knock over even the biggest and heaviest of people. It’s a surprisingly dangerous job.
Once this part is done, your contractor will advise you on how long you need to leave the structure and mixture alone, but it’s usually about a month before you can do anything else.
You can then use stone coping or cast coping (again, it mostly depends on your area) and then tile the pool. You can decide which materials you prefer, but porcelain and glass tend to be the most popular.
Is a Gunite Pool Worth it?
As you can see, the process of converting to gunite is quite an undertaking. In order to decide if a gunite pool is worth it, you should examine the advantages and disadvantages of a gunite pool vs. a vinyl liner pool.
The Advantages of a Gunite Pool
Customization is the main advantage of a gunite pool. Not only can you customize the shape, but it’s also much easier to get add-ons for the pool because there’s a concrete base. You can put underwater benches and whatever else you’d like.
It’s also easier to add custom staircases that go under the water to provide easier access.
The longer lifespan is another plus. Gunite pools tend to last longer than vinyl liner pools. Because of the structure, their lifespan can essentially be infinite. They do need some maintenance to keep them in good condition, but there’s little chance of them needing a major repair to the structure.
Similarly, the longer warranty is another big reason to get a gunite pool. Because there’s less of a chance of something major going wrong and you can expect a longer lifespan, contractors will generally provide a longer guarantee so that if something does go wrong, they can come back and fix it.
The Advantages of a Vinyl Liner Pool
The biggest advantage of a vinyl liner pool is undoubtedly the cost. Vinly liner pools are much cheaper to install than gunite pools, with the cost generally falling under $65,000, whereas gunite pools can go up to around $150,000.
If you’re on a budget but still desperately want a pool, vinyl liner pools are a much more wallet-friendly option than gunite.
They also tend to have a nicer feel on the bottom. If you have sensitive skin or young children who are sensitive to different sensations, then it’s important to consider this factor when choosing which type of pool you want. With vinyl, you’re also less likely rip a bathing suit or get scratched by the wall, which can occur with gunite.
Although they aren’t as customizable as gunite pools because they don’t have the base to hold everything well, vinyl pools are more customizable in terms of appearance. Vinyl liners come in a variety of different colors and styles, so you can find something that suits your taste.
Disadvantages of Gunite Pools
The first major disadvantage of a gunite pool is how long they take to install. A lot of work goes into them, and there’s around a 30-day waiting period as you wait for the wet- or dry-pumped shotcrete to set.
That means if you’re desperate to get into your pool, you’re going to be waiting a while for the installation to be completed.
On average, because of all the work and that waiting period, you could be looking at up to four months. A vinyl liner pool, on the other hand, might only take a couple of weeks to install.
Just as it’s an advantage of a vinyl liner pool, one of the main disadvantages of gunite pools is the cost. With the potential price going up to $150,000, depending on the size of the pool you want, it can end up being quite a hefty hit to the bank account.
After all, most people don’t have $150,000 lying around (though there are usually financing options).
Gunite pools are also prone to more buildup of dirt and algae since the rough walls make it easier for bacteria to settle. That means you should be out there scooping the debris out of the pool and scrubbing the walls with a pool net (on Amazon) more than you might be with a vinyl liner pool.
Disadvantages of Vinyl Liner Pools
Vinyl liner pools only last up to 15 years (and that’s if everything goes smoothly). You’re going to have to shell out thousands to keep the pool in proper shape, whereas if you get a gunite pool, it can theoretically last forever. There’s constant maintenance going on when you have a vinyl liner pool.
The lifespan of your pool also factors into the home’s resale value. If you’re going to be selling your home in the next few years, someone is going to ask about the pool and they may not be so pleased if you say your vinyl liner pool is around 10 years old.
Furthermore, vinyl liner pools are very prone to damage. You’ll have to take great care of them to ensure they last for many years, and sometimes it’s hard to keep them safe from the elements.
If you live in a place that can get very cold and where water ices over frequently, it’s especially risky. Nonetheless, frost can also damage tiles on gunite pools.
Maintenance of Gunite vs. Liner Pools
Another thing to consider is the maintenance of each type of pool. Regardless of which kind of pool you have, you’ll have to keep it in good shape by performing regular maintenance tasks such as:
- Maintaining the chlorine level of the pool
- Maintaining the pH balance of the pool
- Using a pool net to scoop out the debris
- Brushing the walls
- Cleaning the skimmer
- Cleaning the filter and backwashing into the sewer
What these pools also have in common is that you’ll have to renovate them every few years. Still, gunite pools generally last longer and don’t need an entire replacement. Renovating a vinyl liner pool usually means replacing the lining and almost entirely redoing the pool.
With a gunite pool, you’ll have to resurface and retile it. On rare occasions, you’ll also have to replace some of the equipment, which means the costs can get really up there — that’s why it’s very important to take care of the pool and perform all of the necessary maintenance tasks. When the renovation cost is reduced, you’ll be thankful.
The rough surface of a gunite pool, however, does mean that the day-to-day maintenance might require a little more than a vinyl liner. That surface allows algae and dirt to build up, so you might find yourself having to brush the walls more often than you might in a vinyl liner pool.
You really have to weigh which kind of maintenance you prefer: extreme maintenance every decade or so, or regular light maintenance every couple of weeks?
If you neglect the maintenance on a gunite pool, it’s harder and more expensive to correct. A chemical imbalance, whether the pH is off or there’s too much chlorine, can cause the walls to become discolored. You can buy chemicals (on Amazon) to change the pH level of the pool, which should be around 7.2-7.4.
And unlike with a vinyl liner pool, you can’t simply spend a few thousand to replace the liner — you’d have to replace the whole pool instead.
Can You Convert a Gunite Pool to a Liner?
It’s also possible to convert a gunite pool to a liner pool. If your gunite pool has been there for a long time and is showing signs of aging, or if you just want something lower maintenance that you can change more often, you can perform the conversion the opposite way.
As with converting a liner pool to gunite, it’s a good idea to hire an experienced pool contractor, although it is also possible to perform the conversion yourself.
Foam will be attached to the pool walls to protect the vinyl liner from the gunite that’s already there. You’ll then have to install the track, but it’s important that the liner and track measurements are exact — which is one of the reasons that you should hire a contractor. If you don’t, then your installation won’t work and you could be out thousands of dollars.
The main reason for converting a gunite pool to a liner would be if there’s a leak you can’t or don’t want to repair, since the vinyl liner will seal it. This is a much easier conversion than liner to gunite, but it’s still costly. The most expensive part of it is the labor, unless you do it yourself — but again, that can be risky.