How To Tell If Your Fibreglass Pool Shell Is High Quality
Buying a fibreglass pool direct is a great way to save thousands of your hard earned dollars. Fibreglass pool shell prices vary massively and all fibreglass pools look shiny and well made when new. How can you tell if you are buying a quality low maintenance pool at an affordable price or buying the proverbial lemon and years of problems and frustration? If you look for the following tell tale indicators, you won't have to worry about making lemonade from lemons.
Let's say you walk into a new car dealer that sells several different car brands. The cars are all shiny, have four tyres and a steering wheel and to your eye, look well built. Despite the designs looking same-ish, there is a decent difference in price. Being the bargain lovers that we are, we lean towards the cheaper priced car from a lesser known brand. The sales consultant hands you a flash looking brochure and the keys for a test drive. The car drives well and the consultant explains that despite being cheaper, it is the same quality as the more expensive brand. "Sign me up" we say. Two years later, parts start to fail, the repair bills exceed the money you saved when buying the car and your mechanic mentions they repair your brand car more than any other brand. Urrgghh! Maybe swap "car" with couch, caravan or pool, however most of us have had an experience like this.
Fibreglass pool shells all look the same when new as well. Pool shells are also pretty hard to take back to the returns counter for a refund once they are in the ground. While a 25 year "lifetime" structural warranty sounds reassuring, there is a massive difference in quality compared to a pool with a 35 year "lifetime" structural warranty. Repairing or replacing defective pool shells is a painful and disappointing process. With pools, prevention is by far better than cure. With a cheaply made shell, often the first 5 years are problem free. It's after 5 years that the bargain fibreglass pool shell price might turn out to less bargain than you thought. We have a customer who is replacing his 5 year old pool with one of our pools shared how his suction cleaner was sucking chunks of gelcoat (the coloured inside layer of your pool you can see) off the pool wall due to structural osmosis (water leaking through from outside the shell creating blisters underneath the gel coat. Despite the pool having a 25 year structural warranty, the manufacturer isn't responding to his phone calls.
Assuming you don't have Superman level X-ray vision, how can you tell if you are buying a quality fibreglass pool just by looking at it?
Let's assume you've done your usual homework on how long the manufacturer has been making pools (ideally they need to be trading for longer than their offered warranty so the product is field proven), if they are National with multiple factories or State based, Googled their independent online reviews, if they are a SPASA member and the number of awards they have won along the way. Those boxes ticked, you're thinking the pool direct option is looking promising.
Tell Tale Indicator 1 - Structural Reinforcing Beam, Often Called "Safety Ledges"
Does the fibreglass pool shell have a structural reinforcing ledge (usually 75mm to 125mm wide) around the inside of the pool? A what you say?
These are more commonly called "safety ledges" and are promoted as making your pool safer for young swimmers. The real reason they are there is to reinforce the strength of the side wall of your pool to meet Australian Standards structural strength requirements. If you've ever peered underneath well built furniture, it won't be reinforced as the quality is in the materials and workmanship. Peer under lower quality furniture and you will see reinforcing added. Why? Cheaper reinforced materials cost less than quality materials. Less resin and fibreglass is needed to build a reduced strength pool wall and reinforce it which saves the manufacturer plenty of money on materials.
If the fibreglass pool shell is manufactured to a high standard, the pool wall should not need to be reinforced. If the pool wall is completely flat, it is an immediate sign of quality. It also means your automatic pool cleaner will be able to properly clean your pool walls up to the waterline. Pool cleaners can't properly get onto the structural reinforcing ledge ("safety ledge") which means plenty of your time spent manually brushing dirt off the ledge (as one customer said "you mean those dirt collecting ledges?"). Which is like buying an expensive vacuum cleaner that only does two-thirds of the house and you manually broom up the rest.
Keep in mind that a 8m x 4m pool with a structural a 125mm structural beam is really a 7.75m x 3.75m wide pool when it comes to internal swimming area. Around 2m2 less swimming area or 4,000 litres of water compared to a flat walled 8m x 4m.
If the warranty offered with the pool is less than a 35 Year Lifetime Structural Warranty, be sure to ask questions about shell thickness (minimum Australian Standards is 6mm), if the poly-ester and vinyl-ester resins are Australian-made and applied undiluted and whether the shell was manufactured in Australia or imported. You might be thinking "I'll have sold the house in 10 years so a 25-year warranty works for me". As mentioned, prevention is better than cure. Do you really want to be removing fencing, landscaping, paving, patios etc to have your pool shell replaced or repaired in 6 years?
Tell Tale Indicator 2 - Pool Depth
The average depth for fibreglass pools varies as much as prices these days. You've found several companies who sell pools direct and they all have 8m long models around 4m wide which is the size you are looking for. You look at the depth and notice some are 1.70m deep and others are 1.90m deep. "What's 20cm (.2m) of depth difference between friends" crosses your mind, particularly when the pool shell price is $1,000 cheaper. On a $14,000 shell, that is an 7% saving on the purchase price.
The 1.90m deep pool holds 48,000 litres compared to 44,800 litres for the 1.70m pool. Effectively, 7% less pool for your cash. That price saving isn't a bargain. You're simply getting less pool for your money so its cheaper. "Meh, we can live with that" you say. Fair enough. However, the depth can tell you plenty about the pool shells quality.
What are you looking for?
1. Is the pool shallower than other pools and is there a structural reinforcing ledge?
2. Is the pool deeper than other pools and is there a structural reinforcing ledge?
3. Is the pool deeper than other pools and the pool wall is flat without a structural reinforcing ledge?
If you answer "Yes" to question 1 or 2, there might be plenty of reasons why and it's best to ask the manufacturer those questions. Answering "Yes" to question 3 is a very good sign the pool is built to a high standard and quality. Particularly if the shell also has a 35 year lifetime structural warranty.
The table below shows how deep a fibreglass pool shell can be if well made. If you find a pool that is 8m long, 1.90m deep without a structural reinforcing ledge, it won't be the cheapest fibreglass pool shell price however it is a very good indicator it will be well made.
Tell Tale Indicators 3 - Curved Floor/Wall Joins
I don't know about you however I really like crisp, clean joins. My kitchen sink has 90-degree right angle joins and that awesome square look. I was in love.....until I had to clean it. Cleaning those corner joins is a fiddly process that has me wishing for a standard sink with nice curves that are easy to clean.
And so it is with fibreglass pool shells. 90 degree angled corners where the pool wall meets the floor tell us two things. Firstly, automatic pool cleaners struggle to clean where the pool wall joins the floor of the pool which means more manual brushing down for you.
Secondly, it tells us about the strength of the pool and how it was made. If where the wall meets the floor is a wide, rounded join (called a radius), this can only be achieved if the fibreglass resin is applied undiluted and to the right thickness. Right angle joins/corners, as seen in this image, are a method to reach minimum strength standards using less materials.
Have a chat to pool installers and they'll tell you that installing a pool with rounded corners is not only a sign of quality, it makes the installation process easier when backfilling around the pool. Getting backfill past right angle corners is a lot harder than rounded corners.
Just to be clear, seeing a right angle corner on a pool doesn't necessarily mean it is poorly made. The manufacturer, just like square kitchen sinks, might be deliberately designing the pool this way to meet market demand.
So, What Does This All Mean?
The above indicators, are, well indicators.
If you find a pool that doesn't have a structural reinforcing ledge, is deeper than other pools and the corners/ joins are rounded, it is more than likely the pool is very well made. This image is an example. It is also a certainty that the fibreglass pool shell price is going to be higher than the bargain offerings. If it is $1,500 higher in price, over 20 years, that works out to an extra $75 per year for pretty good peace of mind.
Bonus Tip: in this image, the long sides of the pool shell remain completely straight under its own weight which is a sign of strength and quality. In the image above, you can see the shell is sagging across the top and bowing across the bottom while under its own weight.
Let's say you find a pool that doesn't have the three indicators. Does it mean it is a terrible pool that will cause you endless problems? Not necessarily. You may have 20 years of trouble-free swimming. You'll definitely spend more time on the end of your pool broom cleaning your pool but that's not the end of the world for some. What is really important is that your buying decision is an informed decision so you know what your hard-earned cash is actually buying.
About The Author
My wife and I grew up playing in swimming pools. Our daughters learnt to swim in our backyard fibreglass swimming pool. There is nothing quite like hearing kids splashing about and giggling. As pools do, our pool became a social magnet for friends, family and neighbours which we loved. Helping customers to have their own pool and saving customers thousands on their pool and equipment is the best job in the world.