Is Thicker Better? The Pool Liner Debate
Have you found yourself shopping for a pool liner recently only to be bombarded with phrases like Mil or Gauge? Or maybe you've been expected to know the difference between or 20 Mil or 27 Mil during an estimate. Perhaps you have received several quotes for several amounts and aren't sure why. So what does all this mean to you and why are the prices so different? They appear to be the same liner right!? Wrong!
To help sort out this mess I want to first clear up the terms Mil and Gauge. Mil and Gauge are terms used to represent the thickness of the material. 1 Mil is a scientific measurement equal to 1/1000 of an inch. 10 Mil's being roughly the thickness of a sheet of paper. We often find these terms being used interchangeably as if they are the same, they are NOT. On average a Mil liner will be 8-15% thicker than its gauge counterpart. Often companies using "Gauge" to represent their liners are operating under less than honest practices with the intention of deceiving their customers. So now that we know how to weed out the cheap knock offs, How do we dissect all the Mil differences, and what is the best?
As always, before you purchase your new liner talk to your installer and ask them these 2 questions.
What is your recommendation for thickness of my pool liner?
Is your crew confident installing a thicker liner?
As we all know, every backyard and pool are different. Thus making the Installer your best resource regarding your pool. Things like vinyl over steps, corner radius, or weather may all effect your installers reasoning. Occasionally you may find conflicting opinions between the companies giving you a quote. When this happens be sure to ask why the installers feel the way they do. A good service tech will find no problem sharing their findings with you.
What are your recommendations for liner thickness in my pool?
Here is where things can get a little weird..I recently polled Pool Professionals from across the US and Canada asking what their "Go To" was when installing pool liners. To my surprise the 20 Mil and 27+Mil were neck and neck with the 27+ category ending with just a few more votes. Naturally seeing such an even split I was enthralled to learn more. After reaching out for comments to some fellow Pool Pro's, I came to the conclusion that a few factors were the driving cause for what seemed like a geographical trend. The factors that arose over and over again were Weather, Marketing/Consumer Trends, Price, and Difficulty of installation. Let me break down my findings for you.
Weather- Data suggested those areas above the snow belt were overwhelmingly a 27+Mil market only. A main reasoning being the added puncture protection of a thicker liner against the winters ice.
"I could have lived my whole life and not known 20 Mil liners were as popular as they are. Certainly not where I live!" Swimming Pool Steve Ontario, Canada
Marketing/Consumer Trends- As we venture south of the snow belt, consumer trends and marketing efforts seemed to have made the biggest impact on the 27 Mil market. Cheap Online knockoffs boasting numbers like 30 gauge at a fraction of the cost led to an ill informed market. Customers were now coming into stores looking for thicker liners like they saw online. Thicker liners became the new norm seemingly over night.
A Florida Pool Gal wrote," If you only offer 20 Mil, you are immediately out of the bidding.
Price- Price was actually a driving force behind both the 20 and 27 Mil markets. 20 Mil guys almost uniformly suggested the increase in price wasn't worth the 7/1000th of an inch difference. While 27 Mil markets reported their manufactures often offered special upgrades to DuoMax(20 Mil wall 27 Mil floor) or 27 Mil liners at a lower cost making it a deal hard to pass up. While prices can vary from state to state, I am of the opinion that the added value of 1/3rd more weight to the liner can't be a loss of value. I often cringe when I hear a tech say something is too expensive without seeing the added value that item can bring the consumer.
"Customers choice, they have to look at it for the next 15 years. " Jay Goetz, Jays Precision Pool Service NY
Difficulty of installation- Pros that are accustomed to only installing 20 Mil liners tend to like the way they "stretch" into place. Many Pros have their own little quarks when taking measurements for a replacement liner. Subtracting 1/2 inch here or there to leave room for error with the stretch. These practices are not your friend when working with a 27+ Mil liner. Precise measurements are critical as the material is heavier and not as easily "stretched" into place.
Is Your crew confident installing a heavier liner?
Do not be hesitant to ask this question. After all it is your backyard and your point of focus for the next decade. There are always exceptions and special circumstances with any property, so knowing whether the tech feels comfortable installing a possibly more challenging liner is okay. An inexperienced installer may also shy away and give blanket statements like, "its just not worth the money" or "we only do 20s". Be aware of these red flags and don't be afraid to shop around.
In my area of the Midwest 20 mil liners have been the standard for a long time. This year I decided I was going to order 27 Mil liners for my clients. I wanted to know first hand if they were more difficult to install as many had claimed. I found there to be no difference in time frame or ease of installation. The box was physically heavier by ,you guessed it, about a third making it a bit more challenging to get it out of the box without a helper. All in All I was impressed and have made it our practice to exclusively offer the 27 Mil liners to our customers. There is really no cut and dry which liner is the best, as every situation and area can be different, but find out what the norm is in your area and don't be afraid to ask your Pro what they think.