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What is the Best Finish for My Pool?

In today’s market, pool owners have the ability to choose from a multitude of different pool finishes. From paint options that are more cost effective, to customizable ceramic tile options, each style has its associated benefits and drawbacks. While the decision process can be exciting, the array of different finish options can make it a daunting task. Let’s dive into the specifics of the most common pool finishes on the market, and hopefully take some of the stress out of your decision-making process.

Epoxy Paint

Epoxy paint is the most cost-effective option for pool finishes. While not recommended for indoor pools, it is an efficient option when considering design parameters for outdoor leisure pools. For instance, epoxy paint is great for pools constructed in climates that have to be winterized, or pools that will be left empty during the winter months. Unlike most plasters, painted pools are unaffected when exposed to the winter elements.

The expected life cycle of an epoxy-painted pool finish is approximately one to three years, as the epoxy paint will fade with time. Re-coat frequency is often an owner-driven appearance issue, rather than a coating failure issue. An epoxy finish can be re-coated with the same type of coating as the original finish with a minimal amount of surface preparation.

Lighter colors such as white or light blue are preferred. Darker colors (royal blue, dark blue, black, etc.) are not recommended for the entire pool surface as they tend to prematurely fade due to water chemistry and UV rays.

Plaster

Plaster is the oldest and the most common pool finish on the market. Plaster/marcite is a combination of cement, sand, calcium carbonate (plaster dust) and water. When applied, it is troweled until the “cream” is brought to the surface. The cream hardens and becomes a protective layer about as thick as two to three sheets of paper. Because it has such a thin application, acid washes can damage it pretty easily.

Plaster is typically the preferred finish for indoor pools. It has a longer life cycle than epoxy paint, but doesn’t have the longevity or aesthetic appeal of tile. Plaster is traditionally white, but colored plaster is available as well.

Based on Counsilman-Hunsaker’s experience, plaster will spall, or flake off, anywhere from 5-15 years (5-7 in high traffic areas) from installation. And unfortunately, there is no reliable fix. Plaster spalls due to problems with the original bond to the concrete wall, or due to aggressive pool water leaching mineral from the coating and weakening the plaster.

Aggregate Plaster

Aggregate plaster is essentially the new generation of a traditional plaster finish. It is made up of plaster combined with different types of aggregate like granite, quartz, marble, other stone/pebbles or glass beads. The added aggregate protects the plaster and provides texture and color.

The most common types of aggregate finishes are Diamond Brite, Pebble Tec and Pebble Sheen. Most aggregate finishes need to remain hydrated at all times (even during winter months) in order to prevent shrinkage cracking.

The lifespan of aggregate finishes is generally longer than that of plaster. Compared to traditional plaster, aggregate finishes are more resistant to chemicals and staining. Our experience has shown that aggregate finishes, if maintained in a wet or moist condition, will typically have a lifespan of 7-15 years. In most cases, you can expect to achieve a 10-year life.

The cost of aggregate finishes has a slight premium of approximately $2 per square foot when compared to traditional plaster. However, when looking at life cycle cost, the increased lifespan of aggregate plaster generally proves to be the better long-term economic decision.

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile provides a durable and attractive finish for indoor swimming pools. Its use for exterior pools, however, may not be cost-effective or appropriate considering the environmental conditions to which the finish may be subjected. For interior competitive venues, ceramic tile remains the recommended finish.

Tile can be completely customized for a look that is unique to your pool. Tile comes in a variety of styles, shapes, colors and textures. Through tile patterns and designs, you can tailor the look of the pool to your liking. Although it is the most expensive and labor-intensive pool finish to install, it has the longest lifespan. If tile is properly maintained, it can last 25-50 years. The grout will need to be touched up from time-to-time, but generally speaking, little maintenance is required.

On outdoor pools in particular, “frost-proof” tile is recommended. In order for tile to be considered “frost-proof,” it must be porcelain in construction. Glazed ceramic tile should be avoided on all outdoor pools in a freeze/thaw climate, and only considered on a case-by-case basis.

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