There are so many factors and considerations when it comes to installing an inground pool, it seems like there’s no end to making decisions. 

One of the key elements you need to choose is your pool’s coping, but many people don’t even know what pool coping is, let alone what it does or why it’s necessary. 

Today, I’ll be giving you an overview of pool coping, so you understand how it works, what it’s made of, and how to choose the perfect coping for your pool.

Pool Coping Explained

In architecture, “coping” is the capping or covering of the top of a wall, to prevent water damage and make it look more attractive.

In the same way, pool coping is the decorative edge around an inground pool, covering the underground wall of the pool. When a person sits at the edge of a pool to dangle their feet in the water, they are sitting on the coping.

Coping protects the upper edge of the pool wall, and does other important jobs as well. It’s needed for the safety and operation of a pool, and is part of what makes a pool look and feel inviting for swimmers.

Why Pool Coping is Necessary

Pool coping protects the pool wall, and directs spilled or splashed water away from the pool. It’s necessary in two important ways:

Aesthetically

  • Improves the pool appearance. Pool coping can be made of a huge range of materials in nearly any color or style. It completes the visual design of the pool, and ties it in with other landscape and design elements.
  • Improves the pool usability. Some people find that the edge of a pool gets more action than the middle of it. People will sit on the coping, or hang off of it with their bodies in the water, or lean on it while resting. Because it’s the threshold for entering the pool, the coping makes the pool edge comfortable, inviting, and enjoyable.

Functionally

  • Protects the pool shell and wall. The coping prevents water from seeping in behind the pool shell and causing damage over time.
  • Directs water flow. The coping causes water to flow away from the pool and toward your deck drains. The edge of a pool may collect water splashes and drips, but the coping keeps water moving away from the pool.
  • Improves safety. Coping makes the pool edge less slippery, making it safer to enter and exit the pool.
  • Reduces debris. Coping reduces the chance that leaves, grass, and other debris will get into the pool.
  • Provides access to pool maintenance components. Pool coping can cover a pool’s less attractive mechanical components at the water’s edge, while still providing easy access for maintenance.

Know Your Options for Pool Coping

Now we know all the critical jobs that coping does, it’s time to look at how it’s made.

Pool coping can be made of tile, brick, stone, cement, composite, and even wood and other materials. Pool coping can be part of your:

  • Pool design. DIY inground pool kits or professional installers will offer a wide range of coping options.
  • Landscape design. Companies that create pavers and design for paths, patios, and retaining walls can also offer pool coping options.
  • Deck and patio design. Companies that make decks and patios for pools will also offer options for pool coping.

In fact, the huge range of options and considerations can be a bit overwhelming, so let’s break it down step by step.

Things to Consider When Choosing Pool Coping

When you are thinking of the style and materials for your pool coping, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Your overall pool landscaping. Certain coping styles work better with stone, concrete, or other materials. If you want your pool to blend in with your existing deck, patio, walkway, or landscape, you will want to choose the materials and style that match. 
  • Safety and comfort. Some pool coping materials are rough and textured, others are smooth and even. Will your pool area become wet and slippery? Will you want to sit comfortably on the edge and have a smooth surface? Consider how you will be entering and using the edge of your pool when choosing materials. You may also want to add a non-slip coating to your pool coping, so that you can have the look you want, with less risk of slips and falls. 
  • Lip or no lip. Some pool coping styles create a soft, rounded C-curve at the edge of a pool, which can prevent some splashout and give swimmers a grip to hold on to the edge. Some coping styles are just simple right angles, or have a curved top edge only. Do you want a lip or overhang at the edge of the pool? And how much? 

The 5 Common Pool Coping Styles

Before considering pool coping materials, here are the most common pool coping styles.

  1. Top-mount. Top-mount pool coping is the most common style. At the top edge of the pool, it forms a gentle, rounded protruding edge for comfort and usability, and then slopes downward away from the water. Also called “C-channel” or “half-round” coping, it finishes the edge of a pool for a poured deck.
  2. Flat-mount. Flat mount coping is a track that secures the pool liner, and forms an installation platform for stones, pavers, and other surface materials. 
  3. Cantilevered. Cantilevered coping uses foam to provide a finished edge for concrete. Also called “square edge” coping, it allows the deck surface to blend seamlessly in with the pool’s edge.
  4. Rough-cut. Rough cut coping is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a pool coping where stones are used in a more natural, organic, textured state.
  5. Bullnose. There are several types of bullnose coping. “Full” or “half bullnose” coping refers to the rounded edge at the lip: full bullnose has a full, 180-degree C-curve at the edge of the water, creating a lip, while half bullnose rounds only the top edge, leaving the bottom edge flush with the pool wall. “Flat” or “raised bullnose” refers to the top edge: flat bullnose is flat edge-to-edge, and flush with the deck, while raised bullnose is raised at the water’s edge to provide another lip and direct the flow of water. You can get “full raised bullnose”, or “half flat bullnose” coping, etc. depending on your preference.

Common Pool Coping Materials

Once you have some ideas about the style and shape of your coping, you can choose from different pool coping materials and finishes. Here are the most common coping materials: 

Poured concrete

Poured concrete can create a seamless edge between a deck and the pool, for a unified design. 

Pros:

  • Blends in seamlessly
  • Makes the pool look larger

Cons: 

  • Can be expensive
  • Susceptible to cracking in temperature extremes

Precast concrete

Precast concrete is available in a wide range of patterns and textures, and blends in with other stone and concrete materials. 

Pros:

  • Less expensive than poured concrete

Cons:

  • Not as seamless as poured concrete
  • May also be susceptible to cracking

Concrete pavers

Concrete pavers are also available in a wide range of colors and textures, and are an affordable alternative to natural stone pavers. 

Pros: 

  • Can be replaced individually in case of cracking or damage
  • Less expensive and lower maintenance than natural stone 
  • More durable than poured or precast concrete 

Cons:

  • More expensive than poured or precast concrete

Natural stone

Natural stone can be visually stunning, and is a very popular pool coping. Among natural materials, travertine is a favorite because it stays cooler in the sun, and is naturally slip-resistant. Some natural stone can be very durable as pool coping, able to withstand ongoing exposure to chlorine, while some types of stone are less durable, and require more maintenance in a pool environment. 

Pros: 

  • Very attractive

Cons: 

  • Very expensive

Brick

Brick is a great choice for pool coping, particularly if your home or existing landscaping includes brick. Bricks are naturally weather and water resistant. 

Pros:

  • Durable material
  • Easy to replace individually

Cons:

  • None

Wood and Composite

If you have a wood deck or want a very natural look, wood and composites can be gorgeous pool coping.

Pros:

  • Beautiful 
  • Very versatile design possibilities

Cons: 

  • Wood is extremely high maintenance in a pool environment, so composite is recommended 
  • Even composite is not usually as durable as other materials 

Porcelain tile. Porcelain tile or pavers are increasing in popularity, as porcelain is naturally more water-resistant and stain-resistant than natural stone, but with a very similar look. 

Pros:

  • Do not need sealing and are low maintenance
  • Scratch and stain resistant

Cons: 

  • May require a non-slip coating 

That’s A Wrap!

With all this in mind, you now know (almost) everything you need to know about pool coping. 

Keep this guide in mind when selecting your coping style and materials, so the edge of your pool can be beautiful, durable, functional, and inviting.