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.
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?
Most folks need between 600 and 900 square ft. of patio around a pool. That's enough room for a table and chair set, some chaise lounges, and a comfortable walking space around the perimeter of the pool.
You can probably get by with less if you’re planning to install the pool next to an existing patio or deck.
You may need more if you’re planning to accommodate large groups of people or incorporate other elements such as an outdoor kitchen or fire pit.
Patios, Budgets, and the Principle of Consolidation
When trying to adhere to a budget like everyone does, 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 aesthetically pleasing.
For example, let's say your budget allows for 800 square ft. of patio around the pool.
The very worst use of that space would be to evenly distribute 8 ft. 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 ft. as possible into 1 or 2 areas.
You may have 12 ft. of patio along one side of the pool and have 8 ft. on the shallow end, and 3 or 4 ft. on the other two sides.
Or you could have 16 ft. on one end and 4 or 5 ft. 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 don't 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 they plan this 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 broom-finished concrete, textured concrete, and stamped concrete—and discuss the pros and cons of each, as well as general pricing.
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
- It's extremely durable
Consequently, it's what most pool builders include in their base packages.
It typically costs about $8–10 per square foot.
To achieve the best look, pour cantilevered coping (which we'll discuss later) in conjunction with the broom-finished pool deck to cover the 6”-wide fiberglass structural beam as shown in the picture.
If you mention "textured concrete" to another pool builder, they will most likely give you a strange look.
We developed this method and coined the term ourselves, so it's not a universally known finish by any stretch.
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
- It eliminates the maintenance burden of resealing the concrete every 2–3 years
- It is very budget-friendly
It typically costs more than brushed concrete but less than stamped concrete.
This is a great patio option if you 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.
Advantages of Stamped Concrete:
- Many stamped pattern options
- Many colors to choose from
- More affordable than the natural stone it imitates
Disadvantages of Stamped Concrete:
- There are problems associated with colored concrete
- It needs to be resealed every 2-3 years
- Like all concrete, it cracks
It costs usually between $12 and $18 per square foot.
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 the colors from 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.
For whatever reason, adding grey color to concrete is very consistent. Often we'll add gray color to broom-finished pool decks just to deepen the color a bit, and we have had great success there.
Concrete and Cracking
At this point, we need to make the distinction between shrinkage cracks and structural cracks.
Shrinkage cracks are not covered under our 5-Year Limited Warranty. However, structural cracks in concrete are.
Structural cracks in concrete
The differences between a shrinkage and structural crack are pretty evident. 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.
Shrinkage cracks in concrete
Now we'll share our concrete guarantee: your concrete will crack.
And that's a fact.
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 for 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 1/8 inch every 15 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 of a graham cracker.)
These are called control joints. They're 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.
It's also not unheard of to see them within the first 24–48 hours after the concrete is poured.
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 hairline 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 inches of compacted gravel with an inch of leveling sand on top.
They interlock 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: 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 inches 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 that weeds will likely spring 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 3–5 years.
The cost of pavers is typically between $16 and $24 depending on the region. This 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 are beiges, tans, and rich golden colors.
If there is a downside to travertine, it is the price—typically $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 joints butt together tightly, 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 method gives its own look and feel.
Natural stone typically costs between $25 and $35 per square foot depending on the cost and availability of the stone.
Fiberglass Pool Coping Options
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 fiberglass pool shell exposed.
Frankly, that's an easy installation method...but it looks hideous!
Today, the most popular coping around fiberglass pools is what's known as cantilevered concrete coping.
Cantilevered concrete coping is unique in that it is one continuous concrete pour.
Other coping types are set in place with mortar or industrial adhesive.
Paver, travertine, and bluestone are three popular coping upgrades. They will typically cost between $35 and $65 per linear foot.
Even though you cannot see it with alternative forms of coping, every fiberglass pool must have concrete poured around the perimeter of the shell.
This locks the pool in place and gives the coping a foundation to be laid upon.
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.
This is a difficult procedure and should be done by experienced craftsmen.
As a beautiful and budget-friendly option (typically $6–$10 per linear foot), it's a popular choice in our fiberglass pool packages.
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 $40 and $50 per linear foot, which equates to an average upgrade of $4,000 and $5,000.
The image shows paver coping that 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 clients 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 $6,000.
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.
If you'd like to learn more about pool patio and coping...
More 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 info on fiberglass pool coping:
- Inground Pool Coping Cost and Idea Guide
- Fiberglass Pool Coping: Cantilevered 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 Pour Concrete Coping around a Fiberglass Pool Video
Editor's note: This page was updated on October 24, 2018.