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What Are The Best Types of Pool Finishes? (Comparison)

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There’s been many advancements in swimming pool design, and new models can more or less be tailored to your exact specifications.

One such area of advancement is in pool finishes, which were once limited when it came to things like building materials and color options.

Now, a greater choice of finishes allows for a wider range of looks, as well as a longer lifespan.

Pool Finishes: Why It Matters 

Any old finish will do, right?

Wrong.

Due to the porous nature of concrete and gunite pools, and their constant exposure to sunlight, water, chemicals, and natural wear and tear, they need to be properly sealed and protected.

The finish you choose for your pool will:

  1. Eliminate water leakage
  2. Determine the look of the pool
  3. Determine the longevity of the pool

Aesthetically, a pool’s finish is what makes the water look unique.

You may have noticed this, as the water in one pool might be a tropical, light aqua, while another pool’s water could be dark blue, resembling a lake.

Additionally, the finish helps when it comes to maintenance, with some of them having a longer shelf-life before they need to be fixed or entirely replaced.

Lower quality finishes naturally break down over time, and will require replacement.

The 3 main types of pool finishes are:

  1. Plaster finishes
  2. Aggregate finishes
  3. Tile finishes

1. Plaster Finishes 

Plaster finishes have been around since the 60’s and are the oldest method of pool finishing. They’re a mixture of white cement and crushed marble, and trowelled by hand to create a smooth finish.

They’re also the cheapest option available, hovering around $5,000.

For those that are looking for more of a classic look, or want to replicate a Santorini-style of pool, plaster finishes offer a tried and true option at an affordable price.

However, they do have their downfalls, particularly when it comes to maintenance and lifespan.

If the pool uses standard white or grey plaster (or a similarly light color), this can result in more noticeable stains, scaling, and shading from regular wear and tear. Dark colored plaster finishes will hide these imperfections a little bit better. 

Additionally, plaster as a finish just doesn’t hold up in the long run. It requires constant attention to pH level, as well as regular acid washing to get anything more than 10 years of use out of them.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Smooth, classic look
  • Tried and true

Cons

  • Tend to look “cheap”
  • Requires a lot of maintenance
  • Short shelf life 7-10 years

These are the 2 subtypes of plaster finishes:

Standard Plaster

Image by Reyes Pool Plastering

Image by Pool Care Solutions

Standard plaster is usually white, or a light grey. The benefits of using this color is that it gives the pool water a classic design look, and tropical, aqua water that so many people want.

This is a budget-friendly option, but does require more maintenance than more upscale options.

Colored Plaster

Image by Generation Pool Plastering
Image by Generation Pool Plastering

Providing the same functionality as standard plaster, colored plaster is usually tinted a bit dark (usually grey or blue), and gives the pool water more of a natural lagoon or lake aesthetic. 

This darker plaster works better to hide water stains, but as with standard plaster, you’ll most likely have to re-finish it every 10 years or so.

2. Aggregate Finishes

The step up from traditional plaster interior is an aggregate pool finish.

Aggregate pool finishes use a mixture of cement-based, pigmented plaster with naturally-occurring products like pebbles, stones, and crystals.

Aggregates are applied by hand and either polished for shine, or power-washed to expose their surface. Quartz and marble are polished aggregates, while natural pebble and glass beads are exposed.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

Won’t walking on pebbles and crystals hurt my bare feet?

While they look rough, aggregate pool finishes are surprisingly comfortable under foot, and provide an anti-slip quality at the same time.

Due to their non-porous nature, they’re resistant to chemicals, as well as algae growth and staining.

Cost-wise, you’re looking at around $15,000 for this option (3 times the price of plaster), but you also get substantial longevity (30 years) .

Pros

  • Low maintenance
  • Excellent longevity
  • Visually unique with plenty of choices

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Will need resurfacing after 10 to 20 years
  • Can be prone to calcium buildup

These are the 4 main subtypes of aggregate finishes:

Quartz Aggregate

Image by Gemstone Pools

Quartz is the most cost-effective pool aggregate finish and the first step up from a traditional plaster finish. 

A mixture of cement, colored quartz, dyes and additives create this look.

Colored quartz is achieved by coating crushed quartz with ceramic. It’s then polished to bring out a smooth, dazzling, patterned finish. Quartz can also be used as an accent to give a bland pool some “pop”.

Marble Aggregate

Image by Luxury Pools

Marble is another polished aggregate that can be used in traditional or modern pool designs. 

Once this plaster is applied, polishing it brings out its shine. 

Due to the variegated look of marble, polishing it not only makes it smooth but also affects the look of the water’s color and texture.

Pebble Aggregate

Image by Monica Group

In contrast to polished aggregates like quartz and marble, pebble aggregate is exposed. A mixture of cement with smooth stones, pebbles, and dyes create this blue-lagoon look.

Pebble aggregate infuses the cement with river pebbles and small quarry rocks for a natural feel.

A variety of colors and texture are available, and it provides a non-slip surface with an emphasis on a pebble beach aesthetic.

Glass Bead

Image by CL Industries

Also exposed, this aggregate mixes cement with glass beads (and sometimes pebbles) for a glittery effect. 

They’re the high-end aggregate option, as they add a 3-dimensional element to the pool, which is perfect for contemporary designs. The sparkle of glass bead aggregate also makes it a prime candidate for use as an accent.

3. Tile Finishes 

If you gravitate toward the finer things in life, finishing your pool with tiles will be the only way to go.

Tile finishes are available in a few variations and are a high-end luxury with the price tag to boot. Depending on the model/size, tiles can cost up to $50 per square foot!

Unlike finishes that are poured and smoothed over, tiles are applied to the pool by hand. This intricate, personal touch is another reason for their price tag, but the final result makes it more than worth it. 

Most likely, they’ll never need replacing, however, if you don’t properly care for them, chipped/damaged tiles can occur.

Tiles come in a range of sizes (usually 1, 2, 3, or 6-inch squares), and allow for stunning mosaics in your pool. 

Additionally, if you’re on a budget but love their look, you can tile as an accent piece (ie. along the pool’s waterline, hot tub exterior, tanning ledge) to great effect.

Pros

  • High-Quality Look
  • Can last forever
  • Can create unique mosaics

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Prone to calcium buildup
  • Laborious installation

These are the 3 subtypes of tile finishes:

Ceramic or Porcelain Tile

Image by Hanse Ceramic Tile

Usually the least expensive pool tile option, ceramic and porcelain tiles still offer a high-quality look. Porcelain is a bit more durable than ceramic, and aesthetically they have a glass-like shine to them. 

Porcelain tiles can also be textured for an anti-slip grip, and are available in an endless array of looks and patterns.

Stone Tile

Image by Stone Bali
Image by Bigga Stone

Replicating a pool you’d find in a Balinese villa, stone tile is an excellent choice of pool finish. An all-natural option, it’s relatively affordable and long-lasting.

Popular choices are granite, limestone, travertine, quartzite, and sandstone.

Stone tiling is resistant to salt water, won’t be faded by chlorine, and provides anti-slip safety. Stone also absorbs heat easily, which is great for keeping your pool water warm.

Depending on the stone’s color, pool water can be light aqua or dark green, and you can blend the finish with coping and the pool’s deck to create a uniform look.

Glass Tile

Image by Thraser Pool & Spa

This type of is the most expensive option, and taking a look at this photo you can see why. From a strictly aesthetic standpoint, glass tiles provide a level of sparkle and luxury that no other finish can.

The water color can also be customized with glass – some are light colored, while others are dark (you can even get them in black) for a more contrasted look to the rest of your backyard.

The non-porous nature of glass tiles makes them a top choice, and they’re resistant to fire, heat, UV-light, and also frost-proof! They’re also notoriously easy to keep clean.

We’re Finished! 

As you can see, there’s a wide range of pool finishes to choose from – from budget-friendly plaster, to middle-of-the-road aggregate, to high-end glass tile.

While they all have their pros and cons, they can all provide a beautiful finish to help transform your backyard pool into something worth talking about.

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