Photo by Mike Warren
 

Fiberglass pools have come a long way.

While exact numbers are difficult to come by, anecdotal evidence from industry insiders shows fiberglass pools continue to gain market share, even in a down cycle for builders.

Here, Pool & Spa News examines some of the key factors behind the rise of fiberglass, as well as the trends that are expected to drive future growth.

From appealing to an increasingly savvy buying public to pushing the limits of color and shape, the industry continues raising the fiberglass ceiling.

More out of less

Lot sizes for new homes, beginning in the mid-1990s, have steadily gotten smaller. In fact, the average American homestead has shrunk by nearly 1,000 square feet over the past six years, according to Hanley Wood Market Intelligence.

The dwindling yards have helped diminish the traditional diving pool in favor of smaller vessels built for parties and play.

“You see much more demand for fiberglass pools from customers today,” says Bruce L. Holmes, CEO of Pools of Fun, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder based in Plainfield, Ind. “They want more patio pools and fun pools, so fiberglass complements that because of the size.”

Indeed, versatility has become a hallmark of fiberglass. Today, consumers can choose from models in the $25,000 range, or opt for more intricate designs that run $50,000 and above.

But with more complexity comes added cost. The response? Some manufacturers, such as Leisure Pools USA in San Antonio, simply carry fewer options. The company offers five styles in four sizes and a variety of colors.

“The advantage in offering a limited style selection is that our styles are designed to stack together, so we can transport efficiently,” says Ashley Gill, CEO of Leisure Pools. “Given that transport is often the second-biggest cost in a fiberglass-pool installation, reducing this cost is smart.”

Color, cut and creativity

The evolution away from plain, white fiberglass has been gradual, but the movement appears to have taken hold.

It began approximately five years ago, Gill says, around the time Australia-based Leisure Pools hit the U.S. market with color varieties and finishes that revolutionized the category in America.

Before then, he recalls, few stateside manufacturers offered much in way of color.

“The homeowners are driving this change,” Gill says. “They are discovering the benefits of fiberglass plus the attraction of color. With the development of color, fiberglass pools emerged from their slumber by homeowners demanding an alternative to the traditional white pools.”

Today, customers can choose from a virtual crayon-box worth of colors thanks to manufacturers who mix pigment in with their resins. San Juan offers more than a dozen custom colors to go along with more than 60 molds. Leisure Pools USA has introduced the term “color theory” into its company lexicon. Viking Pools, LLC, and Trilogy also offer their own patented finishes.

The result is a product that is more exciting and appealing to consumers — and the future style of fiberglass, experts say, seems constrained only by a designer’s imagination.

“I think there have been three or four leading manufacturers who have excelled at thinking outside the box,” says Scott Pearce, owner and president of Blue Water Luxury Pools & Design Co. in Bettendorf, Iowa. “Fifteen years ago, you’d see the identical mold from one manufacturer to another.”

Besides common templates such as the kidney, Roman-style and rectangle, manufacturers now are experimenting with their own designs, producing vessels that can be called free-form expressions of beauty.

“The trend for us is a pool that has a natural shape with few of the abrupt lines that defined the one-piece pool since its inception,” says John Anderson, owner of Anderson Concrete & Pools in Murfreesboro, Tenn. “In other words, shapes that cannot be distinguished from the gunite pools that have been the icon of the industry.”

It’s been a similar course for contours beneath the pool’s surface. Manufacturers are incorporating built-in benches and seating into fiberglass installations, taking a comfort cue from, among other sources, inground hot tubs.

“The leading manufacturers are offering more pool models to choose from, more features and colors that compete directly with other types of pools,” says Roger Erdelac, president of Blue Hawaiian Fiberglass Pools in Largo, Fla. “All that is increasing demand for fiberglass pools.”

Point, click and research

Consumers are privy to more facts and figures on fiberglass pools than ever before. One main reason: the Internet.

“Twenty years ago, potential customers didn’t have computers to look at, so they didn’t have anything to look at as far as pools go,” Holmes says. “Customers now have access to so much more information and products than they did yesterday.”

Second- and third-time pool buyers account for a significant percentage of these Web-savvy consumers, according to the experts. Many previously owned gunite and vinyl versions, and are turning to fiberglass for easier care and greater durability.

“More than 60 percent of our sales are to homeowners who are installing a new pool for the second or third time,” Gill says. “‘We just want a fiberglass pool — it makes so much sense’ is a statement we hear all the time.”

And customers are discovering that fiberglass pools can look every bit as refined as gunite. For instance, some of the latest finishes resemble pebbles, minus the mottling that can be problematic in gunite pools.

Plus, fiberglass has become easier to work with. Now designers are able to integrate waterfeatures, such as spillovers and fountains. Vertical surfaces at the tile line simplify tile installation. And stone coping completes a durable, colorful product that frequently opens much faster than a gunite or vinyl-lined project.

“We try to look at what the customer’s vision is, and figure out which product works best,” Pearce says. “If we can give them waterfeatures, we’ll try to accommodate that. It takes the pool to the next level (financially), but clients who are willing to do that are seeing great return on the value of their homes.”

Despite the long-held belief that concrete is king, fiberglass pools are making steady inroads as a cost-effective, versatile and visually striking alternative.

“Composite fiberglass pools are here to stay,” says Jay Tucker, owner of Swim World Pools in Gallatin, Tenn. “If you are not installing them now, you may want to take a closer look.”

Fiberglass on the rise

The future of fiberglass pools, according to several experts, will hinge on the integration of nontraditional features such as beach entries, colored lighting, varied depths and innovative design.

“As dealers’ and homeowners’ creativeness grows with the materials used, the possibilities are endless,” Tucker says.

More builders are using custom tile lines, with even a few made of natural pebble. In-floor cleaning systems also are primed to become more popular, along with fiberglass molds that include seating — especially in smaller pools made for lounging.

A fiberglass configuration that previously seemed far-fetched — the negative edge — recently has entered the marketplace. Though it requires precise site conditions and an optimal setting, the negative-edge installation sits atop many dealers’ wish lists. (For more information, go to Spilling Innovation.)

“The negative edge and gutter systems are unique advancements that I would like to see some more of with fiberglass pool manufacturing,” Tucker says.

Indeed, manufacturers are currently devising ways to combine shells for larger applications and multiple bodies of water.

“What hurt the popularity of fiberglass many years ago was that they didn’t have many options to offer,” Pools of Fun’s Holmes says. “Now look at it.”