One of the biggest stories of the last few years in the pool business has been the growth of fiberglass pools. Estimates suggest fiberglass has garnered up to 17 percent of the new pool market (that figure is higher in fiberglass' Midwestern heartland, and lower in the gunite strongholds of the South and West). Overall, those market share numbers have been on the rise for the last decade, partly because fiberglass is taking business from gunite.
The reasons are manifold, says Rick Black, product director of fiberglass pools at Latham. "Over the years, many gunite pool builders have moved away from building concrete pools to building fiberglass pools as a way to reduce their labor requirements, decrease their cycle time (fiberglass pools are typically completed in 2-4 weeks rather than 2-4 months) and increase their profit margins. In addition to these benefits, there are fewer 'go backs' as the fiberglass shell is hand-crafted in a controlled environment rather than outside in the unpredictable environment."
All photos courtesy of Hendrick Pool and Lawn
These factors appeal to the builder, but the trend is consumer-driven. For the homeowner contemplating a gunite pool, time lag and cost are a big obstacle, says Kirk Sullivan, president of San Juan Pools. "The problem is a lot of people think they can't afford a pool, and it just takes too long to install one." Fiberglass is challenging that mindset with affordable pools that can welcome swimmers quickly.
However, one thing that has held fiberglass back is its enforced uniformity in shape. In the past, choices were limited and tended to be rather boxy. That is slowly changing, as builders learn to make the most of the fiberglass shell and manufacturers introduce new styles and features like the beach entry, heretofore unheard of on a fiberglass pool. This in turn attracts customers in search of more flair in their pool. Some of these customers, who previously would have no choice but gunite, are opting for fiberglass.
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Hendrick Pool and Lawn in McCordsville, Ind., builds for this exact customer, the homeowner looking for something above the norm. "We've been watching the residential pool market develop over the years and installing pools that are like those at hotels and resorts. In our area, these are the types of pools people want; consumers always want to have something different than their neighbors," says owner Jonathan Hendrick.
All photos courtesy of Hendrick Pool and Lawn
Hendrick recently installed a beach-entry fiberglass pool from Thursday Pools for a suburban Indianapolis customer looking for a signature feature while still enjoying the practical benefits of fiberglass. [The images throughout this story are annotated with Hendrick's discussion of the installation.]
About 600 miles southwest of Hendrick, Burton Pools & Spas is also beginning to install beachentry fiberglass pools for customers in and around Fort Smith, Ark. Owner David Burton has been tracking the burgeoning consumer interest in shallow pool zones such as tanning ledges and benches, and sees the advent of the beach entry feature as an expansion of the trend.
"When someone tells you they want a beach-entry pool," Burton says, "there is a very specific reason. Oftentimes, consumers want a beach-entry pool because they have older dogs or small grandchildren or a disability or injury that makes the beach entry appealing. This was the case for the pool we just installed. The homeowner really wanted a pool in which she didn't have to step down into the pool. When she learned, almost 9 months before we installed it, that we would be able to install a beach-entry fiberglass pool, she said she would wait the nine months because that is what she wanted. There was no way to convince her otherwise. So that is exactly what we did."
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The company's experience with gunite beach entry pools has made the transition a natural one, Burton adds. "Because we've built them before, it is easy for us to discuss beach entries with homeowners. It's important for them to realize that because of the large, slow transition slope, there will be less swimming room in the pool than say, an equivalent size pool with a large tanning ledge that you step into.
"But for those that really want the feature, the fiberglass beach entry has many advantages over a gunite beach entry. First of all, with gunite, in regions of the country with freeze-thaw conditions like ours, that shallow area is very susceptible to cracking and therefore needs additional product treatments to ensure that won't happen. Those product treatments add to the cost of the pool, not to mention having to comply with codes for the slope, etc., which is very time consuming.
"Homeowners looking for a beach-entry gunite pool are often shocked that the beach entry will add $10K to the price of the pool. So what's nice about the fiberglass beach entry is there is no 'additional' cost — it's just a part of the pool design. The slope is taken care of; it's all been pre-designed and engineered to meet codes. And the final product has a consistent, finished look." Due to the vastly different composition of the two shell materials, gunite/plaster versus fiberglass, differences in performance are well understood. Fiberglass is impervious to water while plaster is porous, meaning plaster offers a more enticing surface for algae formation. In the beach entry, this difference is exacerbated.
All photos courtesy of Hendrick Pool and Lawn
"In the beach-entry area where the water is shallow," says Burton, "it is more stagnant and it warms up faster, making it an ideal place for algae to grow. Even if you add more returns, there's just a much higher chance of algae clinging to the surface in the beach entry of a gunite pool, which will require more cleaning. It can even make that area more slick and potentially a slip hazard. With a fiberglass pool, the texture is built into the design. It already complies with safety requirements for slope and texture, and it's easy to clean and keep algae-free because the surface isn't porous."
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As for the practical matter of getting the vessel into the ground and properly surrounded, for a beach entry pool, Burton prefers to lower a shell from the boom of a backhoe than spray it on.
"We found that this fiberglass beach entry pool was much easier to build than a gunite beach entry. There is a lip around the entire perimeter of the pool which makes it much easier to pour up to the edge.
"Fiberglass is our fastest growing pool construction segment because it's a 'one and done' product that is easy to maintain," he says. "The customer sees what they are getting before it's installed. And also because there are now so many different features in fiberglass, and consumers want those features, like the tanning ledges and benches and beach entries. They are looking for more 'social' areas where they can sit within the pool. We are excited to see how this pool helps our sales and marketing this summer. I'm already starting to think of new displays."
SEATS IN THE SHALLOWS
The installation depicted throughout this article is a beach-entry fiberglass pool from Thursday Pools in Fortville, Ind. The company recently added the model to its product line, giving builders a signature feature in fiberglass that has been exclusively associated with gunite pools. Bill Khamis, CFO, and Ed Vondell, COO, recently offered their thoughts about the development and unique features of the product.
Where did the idea to create a beach-entry fiberglass pool come from?
Bill Khamis: It all came from the resort industry For years our builders have been asking us to develop a beach-entry fiberglass pool. They knew there was consumer demand building in the marketplace as more and more consumers see images of beach-entry pools at resorts on the internet, on TV and experience them while on vacation.
At the time of this interview, there have been five beach-entry pools installed this year in Tennessee, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Arkansas, and many more shipping out of the factory.
When we first posted the availability of the beach entry pool on our website, we received well over 50 homeowners who asked to put them on the waiting list to get one installed for this first season that we rolled out the pool.
What about installation issues?
Ed Vondell: In terms of installation, this beachentry pool isn't much different from any of the other Thursday Pool fiberglass installations. The digging, backfill and plumbing are all still the same.
This installation by Hendrick Pool and Lawn in McCordsville, Indiana, also has an automatic pool cover on it — which is common on most fiberglass pools — as the coping system on fiberglass pools is particularly well-suited for automatic pool covers. The pool features a gently sloping, non-skid pool entry that transitions seamlessly from most any deck or patio. It is attractive to those with small children because it eliminates the need for stairs and allows easy entrance and exit from your pool, making it perfect for swimmers of all ages. It also creates a shallow spot where small children can play and sunbathers can sit. But most importantly it provides a "luxury feel" of a high-end resort or a day at the beach.
Installing bubblers and lights into the beach entry is fairly easy as well, and Hendrick pools included them their first installation. Those are installed onsite so they don't need to be pre-ordered and are thus easy to add on.