The Critical Role of Pool Surfacing

Overview

Swimming is a social activity. Guests, family members and friends can gather around a pool deck to relax, play, socialize or enjoy the sunshine. These areas are also hot spots for a list of health and safety risks. From the potential for slip and fall injuries to the spread of harmful microorganisms, resorts and hotels need to analyze how their material and design choices affect their ability to create a clean, safe environment for their guests to enjoy.  It is with this commercial lens that we also approach residential installations, which are smaller in scale but offer the same challenges as large scale, commercial aquatic areas.

One of the most common – and most commonly overlooked – contributing factors to the health, safety, and enjoyment of guests in an aquatic environment is the pool surrounding surface material.

While many wouldn’t think to look beneath their feet to find five-star-worthy reasons to enjoy a swimming pool or spa, the quality and design of the pool ‘s surrounding areas and deck directly impact the safety, hygiene, and atmosphere of your aquatic areas.

We will define the critical role pool surround materials play in your aquatic area’s design and performance, as well as note the impact it has on your guests. This means carefully considering surfacing aspects like texture, hardness, color, coefficient of friction, chemical resistance, and other factors.

We will use four Key Factors as a lens for evaluation:

Z

Durability

As we analyze durability, we consider the strength of the material as well as its ability to maintain performance against a variety of factors. Durability is a key factor in the long-term performance expectations of your pool surround and associated costs of repair or replacement.

Cleanability / Maintenance

Efficient and thorough cleaning of pool surround areas is critical: if a surface is not properly cleaned or drained of standing water, pool and waterplay areas become a prime site for bacterial growth. The surface material’s design and makeup will contribute heavily to your resort’s ability to properly clean, drain, and maintain the pool deck area. This contributes to guests’ visual appreciation of the area as well as protection against spreading a virus or microorganism.

Safety

Pool surround safety is paramount given the serious injuries guests and families can incur around water. While slipperiness of the material is a top factor in analysis for safety, we will also analyze other safety concerns such as tripping hazards, unsafe heat transference, and attenuation on impact. Thoroughly analyzing products for safety not only protects your guests and preserves their vacation experience, but also protects your company from liability.

Aesthetics

Your resort’s pool, spa, and waterplay areas present key amenities that influence a guest’s experience with your brand. Having a beautiful, well-designed pool can be the difference between a 5-star review and a brand disconnect.

Comparing Popular Materials for Durability, Safety, Maintenance, and Aesthetics

Concrete / Pavers

Durability:

A concrete pool deck is strong, but rigid, and not necessarily durable on the surface. Natural factors (UV rays, temperature extremes), and everyday wear (pedestrian traffic, furniture use) play into inevitable cracking.  Replacement is costly and bothersome.

Cleaning / Maintenance:

Concrete’s porousness is a trap for bacteria and viruses, chlorine, and cleaning chemicals which can cause cracking and lifting. Staining from chemical use and hard water is another factor.

Safety:

Concrete presents safety issues. A wet, slippery surface may cause falls. Cracks in concrete create tripping hazards, resulting in possible serious injuries or abrasions, and blistering hot concrete burns feet, all of which may expose you to a lawsuit.
Aesthetics:
Concrete allows for colorful designs, but that process (staining, coloring, painting) varies in quality, price, and wear-resistance. Chemicals cause discoloration. Proper maintenance of the concrete color is essential for safety and when indicating information such as pool depth and exit points.

Tile

Durability:
Pool tiles come in materials which vary in durability. Glaze chipping and cracking may occur with inferior quality tiles, as well as damage from the dropping of heavy items. If tiles are porous, they may absorb water and contaminants. The most important factor with tile is proper installation. Sub-par, improperly maintained grout may cause shifts and movement, resulting in damaged tiles.

Cleaning / Maintenance:

Tiles are easy to clean, but calcium or a faulty pH balance in the pool water may leave white buildup. Maintenance of the grout is of utmost importance. Sealing grout keeps away moisture, stains, and fungus. If there is a breakdown, bacteria and viruses may breed.
Plastic interlocking is easy to rinse off, but water can get trapped under there and create an ideal place for mold and microorganisms to grow.

Safety:

Hard surfaces like tile are slippery when wet, and may cause painful falls. There is no possibility for padded layment, so a solution might be slip-resistant plastic tiles. Ceramic and porcelain tiles are heavy, possibly sinking or cracking, and creating an uneven, hazardous surface for guests.

Aesthetics: 

Tile is a popular choice because of many design, texture, and color options. Professional installation is costly. Plastic tiles eliminate professional installation, but are not aesthetically appealing. They are more a “locker room shower look”. Tile’s square or rectangular configuration limits your design options. More geometric patterns are the general result.

Rubber (TPV/EPDM)

Durability:
Rubber can be used over solid substances like concrete and is flexible, but that flexibility, with heat, may lose its shape and begin to smell. Overtime, it may become brittle and break, especially if the subsurface shifts, or if there is pressure on it. The bond make break from chemical use or excessive heat, and pieces may break away. Microscopic pores may fill with dye, preventing good adhesion.

Cleaning / Maintenance:

In addition to cleaning and sanitizing the surface, a top sealer must be applied once in a while to keep the surface healthy. UV rays degrade polyurethane binders used to hold the rubber granules together during the initial install. Over time, these binders need to be replenished. If they are not, foot traffic can dislodge them, causing holes and cracks to appear, leading to an eventual system failure, where you have to replace the entire wear layer, or in some cases the base layer as well. Damaged areas are possible to repair, but due to the degradation of rubber from UV over time they are hard to match and patches can be noticeable and unsightly.

Safety:

Rubber is a skid-resistant solution because it is rubber-like, making it safer for children and adults. It also lessens impact from a fall. Darker colors absorb a bit more heat, but not as much as concrete or tile.

Aesthetics: 

Rubber (EPDM / TPV) provides options for color and adaptation to different shapes and designs. However, because they are not UV Stable, the colors tend to fade with UV light. Rubber requires additional layers of protective binders to keep the color. In addition, repairs are highly noticeable because of the fading. If an aromatic binder is used, it will cause the yellowing of lighter colors, including blues and greens; that layer will fade with time as the binder burns off.

AquaFlex

Durability:
Normal abuses on a pool surround include UV-light, chlorine, cleaning chemicals, power washing, pool chair movement, and pedestrian walking. AquaFlex is specifically designed to handle the normal wear conditions of pool and water play areas. It does not break apart in the heat. It is flexible and can withstand shifting sub-surfaces, unlike concrete which may crack. AquaFlex flexes over cracks. We have certain installs that have lasted for over 10 years without degradation of color, which helps when it comes to repairs and reduces downtime on commercial pool decks.

Cleaning / Maintenance:

AquaFlex is easy to clean with approved chemicals and power washing. It is made to withstand frequent washing, and does not require resealing unlike rubber products. AquaFlex has low-maintenance costs because it is resistant to chemicals, UV-stable, and chlorine resistant. The binding holds due to a chemical bond between the thermoplastic pebbles and proprietary binder. This prevents an ability for cracks or gaps to form and trap water and contaminants. The high UV-resistance of the product allows for color matching, which once cleaned properly helps to blend in for patches and other repairs, as needed.

Safety:

AquaFlex is top of the line when it comes to measuring for safety. This anti-slip surface meets ASTM 1028-2007 Coefficient of Friction Test and OSHA recommendations for wet walking surfaces. It is perfect for pool areas. AquaFlex lessens the possibility of accidents, and reduces impact in case of a fall, unlike concrete and tile.

Aesthetics: 

The colored pebbles in AquaFlex have 100% color saturation and are UV-light stable. No fading from the sun or cleaning. This is a very long-lasting aesthetic solution even with heavy use. Flexibility comes also in the wide-ranging choices of patterns and design.