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Best Interior Finish for a Concrete Pool: Plaster vs. Pebble vs. Tile

By: Holly Jender on October 30th, 2017

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Best Interior Finish for a Concrete Pool: Plaster vs. Pebble vs. Tile

Installation & Construction  |  Options and Accessories  |  Swimming Pool Design  |  Concrete Pool Information

Here at River Pools, we care about your skincare routine. Well, for your feet.

If you already have a concrete pool—or have ever been in one—you know that its surface chafes. Plain old plaster may look classy, but the scrapes on your skin do not. It’s even worse for kiddies, who need water shoes. To save yourself some Neosporin, you may want to consider upgrading the interior finish.

As a refresher, here are the most common interior finishes for a concrete pool:

  • Plaster (the standard)
  • Aggregate
  • Tile

Plaster finish

What’s it made of?

Plaster is a mix of white cement, white sand or marble aggregate, and water.

The pool builders apply the plaster to the concrete pool structure using a flat, round-edged trowel.

trowel1.jpg

Although usually white, plaster can be dyed different colors.

What are the pros and cons?

Advantages

Plaster is relatively inexpensive.

Plaster is the iconic pool look. It’s classy and simple.

Resurfacing_Plaster_Pools.jpg

Disadvantages

As with most concrete pool finishes, plaster is rough to the touch.

Plaster accommodates algae, so it requires surface maintenance every week and acid washing every 3-5 years.

Standard plaster shows trowel marks more easily than an aggregate finish.

Plaster can also crack, stain, etch, and scale if the water chemistry is incorrect or if you neglect maintenance.

Colored plaster often streaks, mottles, or otherwise changes or loses its dye.

Plaster is the least durable of the interior finishes for concrete pools. It only lasts 5-10 years.


Aggregate finish

What’s it made of?

To upgrade your pool aesthetic, you can opt to mix a material like pebbles with the cement instead of sand.

Once it’s all mixed in and applied to the pool, the builders spray or wipe off the top layer of plaster to reveal the pebbles.

Common aggregate materials:

  • Pebbles
  • Glass beads
  • Quartz

An aggregate finish can be exposed or polished.

  • Exposed aggregate: the aggregate is revealed whole, providing a bumpy texture.
  • Polished aggregate: the aggregate is polished flat, providing a smooth texture.

For example, look at the difference between Stonescapes® Sand exposed aggregate finish and Hydrazzo® Sahara Sand polished aggregate finish.

exposed vs polished aggregate.png

What are the pros and cons?

Advantages

Aggregate finishes last longer than standard plaster. Quartz may last 7-12 years. Pebbles may last 10-20 years.

Glass beads are generally smaller than pebbles and softer on your feet.

Disadvantages

The larger the exposed aggregate, the less comfortable it is to walk on. Big pebbles will hurt a bit; tiny glass beads are less of an issue.

Some people have had trouble with glass beads fading and discoloring over time, even within 6 years.


Tile finish

What’s it made of?

Tile is typically made of porcelain (standard), stone, or glass. If you like, you can even mix the types together within the same pool.

Porcelain tile can be glazed, textured, or hand-painted for a fancier look. People typically use porcelain for waterline tile.

porcelain-waterline-tile.jpg

The colors and textures of stone options like limestone, sandstone, and granite work well with a natural aesthetic.

stone-tile.jpg

What are the pros and cons?

Advantages

Tile is the longest-lasting interior finish for a concrete pool.

Tile is easier to clean than exposed aggregate.

Porcelain/ceramic tile can be done as a DIY project if you’re very careful, although it may not be worth the headache.

Glass tile is nonporous and especially durable. It’s fire-, heat-, and UV-resistant, as well as frost-proof. It catches the sun and looks shiny.

glass-tile.jpg

Disadvantages

Tile of any material is more expensive than plaster or aggregate—as in $4-$30 per square foot or more. That adds up to thousands more dollars for you to pull out of your back pocket.

  • Porcelain is the least expensive material for tile.
  • Stone is more expensive than porcelain/ceramic tile.
  • Glass is the most expensive. Hugely so.

Tile can chip or crack.

Glass tile can have sharp edges if installed incorrectly.

 

How much does it cost?

The cost of resurfacing a concrete pool depends on your region of the country, the size of the pool, and the material you choose.

Typically northern states are more expensive than, say, Florida.

As with any element of a pool, your interior finish will cost you more the bigger your pool is.

Plaster may cost $3.60-$4 per foot, while an aggregate material may cost $4.75-$5 per foot. Glass tile can cost $30-$50 per foot to install (and that estimate is in Florida, where pools are less expensive).

 

What other options do I have?

No matter your interior finish, concrete pools are rough to the touch and super expensive, but they aren't your only pool option.

Vinyl liner pools provide a smooth interior finish but don’t look as classy as concrete or fiberglass and require a lot of maintenance.

Fiberglass, however, has a smooth finish (the gelcoat) that requires almost no upkeep and looks gorgeous.

If you’re looking for a pool with a smooth, low-maintenance interior surface, you may want to consider fiberglass pools. They’re high-quality, look lovely, and will last you for decades.

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Editor's note: This blog article was updated on October 16, 2018.