Before We Jump In...
On this page, we're going to discuss patio and coping options. If you are unsure what coping is, it's the area where the pool patio meets the pool edge. In some of the pictures, you'll notice that certain pools have a separate border immediately around the pool, and some have the same material throughout the entire patio without a separate border. These are different types of coping. It's important to understand this, because as you look at inspiration photos throughout this page, and anywhere else for that matter, you will notice multiple combinations of copings and patio materials. Understanding the distinction between coping and patio will help you better understand why you prefer one look to another.
Pool Patio 101
How Much Patio Do I Need?
Typically speaking, most folks need between 600 and 900 square feet of patio around a pool…enough room for a table and chair set, some chaise lounges, and enough to comfortably walk around the perimeter of the pool. If you’re planning to install the pool next to an existing patio or deck, you can probably get by with less. If you’re planning to accommodate large groups of people, or incorporate other elements such as an outdoor kitchen or fire pit, you’ll likely need more.
Patios, Budgets, and the Principle of Consolidation
When trying to adhere to a budget like everyone does, it's important to follow the principle of consolidation. We simply mean that you want to put as much patio as possible in your congregating areas, and only enough everywhere else to be functional and aethstetically pleasing.
For example, let's say your budget allows for 800 square feet of patio around the pool. The very worst use of that space would be to evenly distribute 8' of patio around the entire pool. Why? Because you would be without any single place to congregate and have more area than you need around much of the pool.
The best use of that space would be to consolidate as much of that 800' into one or two areas as possible. You may have 12' of patio along one side of the pool and have 8' on the shallow end, and three or four feet on the other two sides. Or you could have 16' on one end and 4' or 5' around the rest of the pool....you get the idea. This is a much better use of your money and space.
Make Sure You Get Enough Patio...or Plan to Add-On in the Future
With that being said, it's important to note that the most common mistake new pool owners make is that they do not get enough patio when they initially get the pool. So it's important to make the best use of your patio through proper design, but it's also important to make sure that you are getting enough patio to meet your needs. Many clients find it beneficial to implement their total backyard design in phases. If this is planned right, it allows them to have the pool installed so it meets their needs for a season. Then they implement the next phase later which adds more patio, outdoor kitchen, fire pit, etc.
What Pool Patio Materials Should I Consider and Why?
Concrete Pool Decks: Everything You Need to Know
Let's talk about concrete, its variety of textures and colors, and the love/hate relationship pool builders and pool owners have with it. We'll tackle concrete finishes first -- namely broomed finish concrete, textured concrete, and stamped concrete -- and discuss the pros and cons of each, as well as general pricing.
Broomed Finish Concrete
In a nutshell, broom finished concrete is the most popular pool deck material on Earth for these three reasons: it looks good (by most standards), it's affordable, and it's extremely durable. Consequently, it's what most pool builders include in their base packages. It typically costs between $6 and $8 per square foot. To achieve the best look, cantilevered coping (which we'll discuss later) should be poured in conjunction with the broom finished pool deck to cover the 6” wide fiberglass structural beam as shown in the picture to the right.
We developed this method and coined the term ourselves, so it's not a universally known finish by any stretch. If you mention "textured concrete" to another pool builder, they will most likely give you a strange look. Notwithstanding, it's a concrete finish that gives you the texture of stamped concrete without the need to add color to the concrete or seal the surface of the patio.
Basically, when you look at a patio, you see two things: color and texture. Oftentimes when folks don't particularly care for the look of broom finished concrete, it's the monotonous texture that turns them off as much as the color. When we do textured concrete, we basically add a stamped concrete surface to regular grey concrete as a texture solution.
There are many advantages to textured concrete. Here are four predominant ones:
- It looks great
- It eliminates the problems associated with concrete color (discussed later)
- It eliminates the maintenance burden of resealing the concrete every 2-3 years
- It is very budget friendly, around 50% less than stamped concrete
We have found this to be a great patio option for those who want a look other than broom finished concrete without the budget busting expense of stamped concrete.
There are three fundamental differences between textured concrete and stamped concrete. First, with stamped concrete, color is added to the concrete truck before it is poured. This is called integral color, and it permeates the entire batch of concrete. Second, once the concrete is poured and ready to be stamped, additional colored powder is broadcast across the surface. This is called colored release, and it serves two purposes: it keeps the concrete from sticking to the stamp pads, and it adds a secondary color to the concrete surface. The third difference is that stamped concrete is sealed with an acrylic sealer. This sealer causes the concrete to have a continuous wet appearance so the vibrant colors stand out. Now that we understand what sets stamped concrete apart, let's discuss some pros and cons of stamped concrete as a patio material.
- Many stamped pattern options
- Many colors to choose from
- More affordable than the natural stone it imitates (cost usually between $12 and $18 per square foot)
- There are problems associated with colored concrete
- It needs to be resealed every 2-3 years
- Like all concrete, it cracks
Let's Discuss Concrete Color Issues
If there's one thing we've learned over the years, it's to bring potential issues to the table as early as possible...and this is one of them. The reality is that concrete color is not an exact science, and with us anyway, there are no guarantees. The most common problem is when more than one truckload of concrete is needed, the colors from the two or more trucks don't match....even when everything is done right. We've also had issues with colors being entirely different than the sample shown on the color chart. These problems have been a small percentage of our total projects, but make no mistake about it, concrete color is a gamble. River Pools makes no guarantee on concrete color whatsoever; we want you to know that upfront.
We have found that for whatever reason, adding grey color to concrete is very consistent. Often times we'll add gray color to broom finish pool decks just to deepen the color a bit, and we have had great success there.
Now Let's Talk About Concrete and Cracking
It's the appropriate time to share with you our concrete guarantee, so here it is: your concrete will crack.
...and that's a fact, it will crack. But let's talk about why and what we do to try to control it. To understand why concrete cracks, we need to get an idea of what happens to concrete as soon as it's poured. Shortly after concrete hits the ground, it begins to cure, and when it begins this process, it begins to shrink. It does this at the greatest rate the following 48 hours after placement, and when this shrinking occurs, the concrete literally pulls itself apart. Picture a dried up mud puddle with cracks everywhere...same idea.
What we know is that concrete shrinks at a rate of about one eighth of an inch every fifteen feet, so we know that's about how often it will crack. We try to control this cracking by creating perforations in the concrete in an attempt to cause the concrete to crack there (think graham cracker). These are called control joints and are simply cuts or hand-tooled joints strategically placed throughout the patio. When all goes well, the concrete cracks where we tell it to...but sometimes it chooses to be naughty and a hairline or shrinkage crack will occur outside of a control joint. This is where our concrete guarantee comes in, because we've done all we can to prevent this from happening, and it's one of the unfortunate realities of concrete. It's also important to note that shrinkage cracks often occur within the first 28 days, when the concrete is curing at its most rapid rate, and it's not unheard of to see them within the first 24-48 hours after the concrete is poured.
At this point, we need to make the distinction between shrinkage cracks and structural cracks. Whereas shrinkage cracks are not covered under our 5 Year Limited warranty, structural cracks in concrete are. The differences between a shrinkage and structural crack are pretty evident, in that a structural crack shows signs of ground movement. In other words, if one section of concrete has shifted higher or lower than another, that is an indication of a structural crack.
If you're one of those people that will be driven absolutely mad if you get a crack in your concrete, it's probably not the best option for you. But if you understand that there's a relatively small chance of getting hairiline cracks, but you could live with it if it happens, you'll probably be okay. At the end of the day, the only guaranteed way to get no crack is to get no concrete.
Other Patio Options
Pavers are made of concrete, manufactured off-site, and shipped in by the pallet load. They are hand laid on a base composed of 4"-6" of compacted gravel with an inch of leveling sand on top. They iterlock together to form a continuous pattern that looks great and has many advantages over concrete. The two predominant issues with stamped concrete are resolved with pavers: cracking and color issues. Because the pavers are cured before placement, they don't shrink or crack. Also, because the paver arrives on site colored, you know what you're getting before it's placed. One side note, however, is there are differences in batch colors, so it's a good idea to pull from multiple pallets when the pavers are laid.
This picture is a paver patio with 18" of cantilevered concrete as a coping.
If there's a disadvantage associated with pavers, it's that weeds may try to spring up in the paver joints after two or three years. However, the reality is there will likely be weeds springing up in the cracks of your stamped concrete as well...just sayin'.
Contractors will typically install what's known as polymeric sand between the pavers. This special blend of sand stiffens when wetted and sets up almost like cement. This helps lock the pavers in place and deters weeds from growing in the cracks. Expect to re-sand your pavers every three to five years.
The cost of pavers is typically between $16 and $24 depending on the region, which makes them slightly more expensive than stamped concrete, but less than natural stone options.
Travertine is a form of limestone that has been used for centuries, dating back to early Roman times. It is formed from mineral deposits of natural springs...similar to the stalactites and stalagmites you may have seen in caves. The majority of travertine today comes from Italy, Turkey, Mexico, Peru, and the western United States.
As a patio material, travertine has many advantages. It is beautiful, stays cool to the touch, and does not become slippery when wet. It comes in a variety of colors ranging from grey to coral red, the most popular being beiges, tans, and rich golden colors.
If there is a downside to travertine, it is the price, typically ranging from $25-$35 per square foot. Travertine is laid in that same fashion as concrete pavers with a gravel base and a layer of leveling sand. Unlike other natural stones, travertine is always installed with the joints butt-tight, meaning without mortar.
Another beautiful option for pool decks is natural stone. The stones are typically either left in their natural random shape or cut and installed in a rectangular fashion. Natural stone can either be dry-set or mortared into place, each application giving its own look and feel. Natural stone typically costs between $25 and $90 per square foot depending on the cost and availability of the stone.
Fiberglass Pool Coping Options
Once again, the coping is the transition from the pool to the pool deck. The traditional method with fiberglass pools is to pour the concrete flush with the top of the pool, leaving the top of the fiberglasspool shell exposed. Frankly, that's an easy installation method...but it's hideous looking!
Today, the most popular coping around fiberglass pools is what's known as cantilevered concrete coping. This image is cantilevered concrete that we stamped. Outside of the concrete, the customer laid bluestone to complete the patio.
Cantilevered concrete is poured all the way to the water's edge of the pool, covering the top of the shell, and forming a bull nosed coping. Although this is a difficult procedure and should be done by experienced craftsmen, it is a beautiful and budget-friendly option. Consequently, this is what we typically include in our base package unless the client requests othewise.
Other Types of Fiberglass Pool Coping
Cantilevered concete coping is unique in that it is one continuous concrete pour, where other coping types are set in place with mortar or industrial adhesive. Paver Coping, Travertine Coping, and Bluestone Coping are three popular coping upgrades and will typically cost between $35 and $65 per linear foot. Even though you cannot see it when alternative forms of coping are used, every fiberglass pool must have concrete poured around the perimter of the shell. This serves to lock the pool in place and gives the coping a foundation to be laid upon.
We call this paver coping because the product is manufactured by the same companies that manufacture concrete patio pavers. These are made of concrete and have a bull nosed edge. They can be laid on a mortar bed or bonded to the pool shell and concrete collar around the pool with specialized construction adhesive. Paver coping usually costs between $35 and $40 per linear foot which equates to an average upgrade of $3,500 and $4,500. The image shows paver coping which is mortared in place and bordered with a soldier course of red brick. The patio is pennsylvania bluestone.
Travertine coping is a great alternative because it stays cool to the touch and does not become slippery when wet. In this picture, the same travertine was used in the coping as the patio. If the client wanted to create a border around the pool to accentuate the shape, they could have simply used a different color travertine for the coping. Travertine coping typically costs between $45 and $55 per linear foot at an average total cost of $4,500 to $5,500.
Another alternative is bluestone. Bluestone, when used as pool coping, is usually 2" thick and 12" wide, although other sizes are available. It is typically mortared in place and laid on a mortar bed, and is about the same price as travertine coping.
Here is some other Patio info you might find helpful:
- How much Pool Patio do I need?
- Swimming Pool Patio Q & A: Will My Concrete Patio Crack?
- Stamped vs. Broomed Concrete: Which is Better?
- Pavers vs. Stamped Concrete: Which is Better?
- Pavers and Fiberglass Pools: A Slideshow
Other Fiberglass Pool Coping Info:
- Inground Pool Coping Cost and Idea Guide
- Fiberglass Pool Coping: Cantilvered Concrete vs. Paver Coping Comparison
- How NOT to Install Paver Coping on a Fiberglass Pool Video
- Why is Pouring Concrete(Cantilever Coping) Around a Fiberglass Pool so Difficult? (Must See Photos)
- How to Form and Pour Cantilvered Concrete Coping Around a Fiberglass Pool Video