Pool Finishes & Decking Material Options
Types of natural stone and wood decking, as well as concrete, tile, and aggregate options for your pool
By Tom Driscoll
As backyards increasingly become extensions of the home, natural materials traditionally found indoors have moved outdoors to create spectacular surfaces in and around swimming pools. Discriminating consumers desire a harmonious blend of elements. The pool and patio should appear as a natural progression of the home, not as an afterthought. High-end pool builders approach projects with customization in mind and will spend time crafting combinations ideally suited for, and specific to, each location.
True designers involve their customers, learn how they plan to use the swimming pool area and apprise them of all options. Then they suggest a design that creates a setting which is compatible with the style of the residence and locale, whether American-Mediterranean, natural, ocean or desert.
The right surface materials aid in achieving the desired effect and should be considered early in the planning process. Custom pool builders' education, experience and travels enable them to bring a vast array of textures and tints to the interior and exterior of each project. Blazing new trails, the builders represented in Luxury Pools are helping to shape pool construction practices by pioneering the use of materials and techniques.
Types of Pool Interiors & Finishes
Interior surfaces have come a long way, in large part due to consumer demand for more durable products and colors that hold up to frequent chemical usage as well as nature's elements. While plaster, vinyl liners and fiberglass used to be mainstays for all pools, many prospective pool owners are becoming increasingly aware of the finer and longer lasting finishes available. Only a few years ago, people considered aggregate finishes for pool interiors cutting edge, i.e., used only on high-end projects. Now, exposed aggregates have become standard on many pools, even those installed by some production builders.
Aggregate Pool Finishes
Aggregate finishes present opportunities for creating dramatic contemporary effects or dark natural lagoon appearances. The color and texture is achieved by mixing stone with enhanced plaster and then removing the outer ""skin"" to uncover the pieces of stone. Fine pool builders sometimes blend stones in a special color for specific applications, but the benefits extend beyond aesthetics since aggregate lasts much longer than plaster. The stone strengthens the plaster material, and manufacturers have developed aggregate products that reduce or prevent staining.
Exposed aggregate finishes with pebbles mixed in the concrete, popluarized by Pebble Tec,® present another contemporary option. Poolscape designers can incorporate decorative patterns or create distinctive looks by shading the concrete or adding a chemical stain. Smaller aggregates are more practical than larger stone. Broken pieces of concrete grouted in place create a dramatic effect.
Pebbled surfaces, which appear as a blanket of real river rocks, are also available in a variety of colors, generate an elegant appearance and carry through a natural theme. The tightly fused pebbles appear as stones lining the pool's bottom and sides and bestow a durable hardness. Pebbled surfaces also resist staining and chemical degradation.
Marble and Granite
Marble and granite have long histories as luxury surfaces, especially in first-class bathrooms, outfitting counters and floors.
Poolside, their presence is less popular due to the high price tag that comes with covering an area so large, but each is showing up more often in detail work for those who can afford it. Polished marble and granite finishes exceed the longevity of aggregates and offer a silky smooth feel. Crews hand polish the finish to a brilliant luster that resists etching, stains, scale and algae. Hand polishing adds to the expense, but many homeowners consider the benefits well worth it.
Tile has been used for years in aqueous areas of the home, such as bathrooms and kitchens. Pools of the past have also featured ceramic adornment; however, tiles were used more sparingly, mostly gracing the waterline or serving as a colorful accent.
Builders who are not on a budget are able to incorporate tiles and use them to their full potential. Shimmering glass tile as a total interior finish creates an awesome effect, as the tiles reflect light and make the water come alive. Owners can choose from an array of colors, patterns, murals or custom designs. Tile costs more than traditional interior surfaces, but over time, a tile finish can pay for itself. With the use of a strong epoxy grout, the tiles should never need replacing.
A top-of-the-line pool builder's toolbox includes all of these interior products, as well as skilled craftsmen to apply the finishes.
Pool Decking, Coping and Patio Materials
Decks showcase the pool, separate it from the rest of the garden and connect the recreation area with the home through visual cohesiveness. Similarly, coping, which outlines the shape of the pool, sets the water apart from the deck.
Fine pool designers are aware of the fact that water reflects its surroundings, and its color is very sensitive to the hues alongside, overhead and inside of the pool. Therefore, decking materials and interior finishes should always complement each other. Luckily, there are just as many choices for the hardscape as there are for a pool's interior. Style, climate and budget are all influential factors when clients and builders choose the material and its color palette.
Natural stone enriches many enclaves but cost more than many available deck surfaces. The trade-off is little maintenance and more versatility. Designers can order stones in a size or thickness specific to a home's needs, and have it cut accordingly. For some applications, random shapes lend a more traditional or natural feel, while uniform squares or rectangles often seem more contemporary.
Selecting a stone quarried nearby saves shipping costs, and the stone tends to blend in with the environment; however, imported products from Turkey or Israel present an exotic appeal. Some Luxury Pools' builders travel around the world to select an ideal stone for a specific project.
Many stones split along natural borders, and, therefore, are more slip-resistant than flat, smooth stones. Stone may also be abraded to create a rougher, safer surface and the appearance is perfect for edging lagoon-styled pools.
Homes in areas with freeze-thaw cycles require a harder, less-porous stone than those previously mentioned. Pennsylvania bluestone is a familiar choice in the Northeast but hot to walk on in the summer due to its density. Quartzite presents another attractive option in cold climes because it does not absorb water and it resists stains. Flecks of feldspar or mica in the natural stone sparkle in the sun.
In warmer climates, orange, brown and beige Tennessee sandstone gives a warm appearance, but being soft and porous, it tends to flake during freezes. Sandstones from India are comparable to Tennessee products in cost and ability to withstand cold temperatures. Other popular sandstones include sweetwater, with an olive hue; sunrise, with a blonde and orange appearance; and moonlight, with a brownish coloration. In the right locale, they dazzle and offer a distinctive, one-of-a-kind appearance. It is important to note that lighter-hued stone will feel cooler on the feet than dark stone.
Tumbled Lompoc stone, with its oatmeal coloration, presents a soft look. High Desert Colorado stone is another popular choice.
Pavers may be composed of stone, tiles, clay bricks or concrete blocks placed next to one another atop a bed of sand. Darker hued bricks or concrete modular pavers feel warm to the touch. Sealed, pastel and white concrete pavers continue to look beautiful for years and feel comfortable to walk on, even when the sun bakes and temperatures hit 100-plus degrees.
Tiled decking areas are less common, but in frost-free places, unglazed terra cotta tiles may provide the desired look, and a special finish can be applied to increase slip-resistance. While usually reserved for detail work, like a decorative wall or separator, porcelain and glass tile can be used across a wider range of climates since they withstand freezes and thaw well.
The design possibilities associated with this type of decking material are almost endless, though most impart a traditional look. From intricate patterns and non-standard shapes to textured or tumbled blocks that may even mimic stones, pavers can provide a more affordable option without sacrificing looks or high quality.
Wood typically absorbs less heat than some other materials, so it feels cooler and sometimes seems more comfortable to walk on than stone. Wood in hot, moist climates, however, can pose problems with mold and decay. Woods are typically used only for a raised spa or for a cantilevered deck with enough clearance below to prevent dry rot.
Brazilian hardwoods are often favored, since they will not splinter or crack. But all wood requires maintenance. Planks placed in attractive patterns impart different looks. They can be sealed to keep the natural mahogany color or left to weather, lending a seaside boardwalk appeal.
Concrete decks present the least expensive option, but be forewarned--concrete will crack. Drains can help mitigate cracking but not eliminate it. Concrete is available in a variety of colors and patterns to spruce it up.
Luxury pool surfaces present a special design dimension that should be a "must consider" when planning to build a pool. Experienced builders, with knowledge of color, texture and design, can help select complementary materials. Top designers advise that classic materials, with their eternal appeal, timeless beauty and durability, never go out of style.
Photo courtesy of Crystal Clear Pools, Feasterville, PA