As if deciding the type and size of the pool itself isn’t enough to boggle your mind, the next most important decision we make as pool owners is figuring out how we will use and enjoy our backyard retreats, which leads us to the selection of deck size and material. Today’s consumers have a huge amount of choices when it comes to decking, and our decisions are based on several important factors, not limited to cost, size of area, typical use, and appearance.
The first rule of thumb in pool decks is to buy as much as you can afford. We have all heard this, and for good reason, as it will never be cheaper or easier to add square footage to your decking than it is when you build. If you do not do it now, adding deck later adds extra cost, it means giving up your yard again, and it can lead to potential problems matching materials installed at different times. We understand that following that recommendation is easier said than done, since you are already spending plenty of money on the project, and adding a couple thousand dollars more can be quite a strain on the budget. Decking can be a tough decision and one that may have you trying to decide between using a less expensive material and creating a larger deck, or using a more costly option and covering less space. It really is a personal choice that you alone must make for yourself. While by no means an exhaustive list, some of the most common deck options are concrete pavers, stamped concrete, exposed aggregate concrete, Sundek, LifeDeck, broom finish or acid washed concrete and wood.
Concrete pavers may vary wildly in price, and can be on the more expensive side due to the amount of labor involved. However, as pavers become more common and more installers appear, you can have a beautiful deck for the price of some of the other mentioned finishes. Concrete pavers can vary from simple layouts to intricate patterns, and most pavers are weather resistant, non-slip, and very durable. One of the great things about pavers is that if one gets cracked or you need to work on the plumbing underneath, the pavers can be removed and later replaced. Concrete pavers are often set upon a road base material, which is compacted, and then a sand base for the final grading and setting. This provides a very stable setting bed and allows for some movement without cracking.
Stamped concrete has grown in popularity over the past few years. Simply put, stamped concrete is concrete that is stamped-or textured-to look like patterned stone, pavers, or just about any other material. One of the benefits of stamped concrete is that is can be made to match virtually any house type or setting. One of the big things to consider when using stamped concrete around a pool is to be sure to add a textured surface to prevent the stamped surface from becoming too slippery. Sometimes the stamping itself provides adequate slip resistance, while other times a coating with slip resistant properties is added. This coating may enhance the surface appearance or may soak in and just provide additional slip protection. Stamped concrete pricing, like pavers, will vary based on the complexity of the design and amount of labor involved.
Exposed, or seeded, aggregate decking is usually made by putting down a base of concrete and topping or “seeding” it with pea gravel or other stones. Once added, the pea gravel or stone is then washed to expose the various shapes and colors of the rocks. Many people appreciate exposed aggregate, as it can have a very natural look and be an excellent compliment to other natural materials. Exposed aggregate is also among the most affordable and durable deck options, and tends to provide a more “upscale” appearance without much additional cost. The one downside to aggregate is that it can be hot on the feet when in direct sunlight, and depending on the type of aggregate used, the surface can sometimes be uncomfortable to those with sensitive feet.
Another popular choice for pool owners seeking the natural look is flagstone, which has grown in popularity recently as both a coping and decking material. Flagstone has a wide range of natural colors that are able to fit in to almost any color scheme, as well as a naturally rough texture to prevent slipping. Laying flagstone, somewhat similar to pavers, is fairly labor intensive process which adds to the cost, and usually requires an underlying layer of concrete as a base. Don’t forget that when using porous, soft stone-like flagstone- around pools, it may be necessary to use an approved sealer to protect the stone from chemicals associated with pool use. Darker colors of flagstone can also be hot in the sun, and due to it’s naturally variant surface can sometimes cause small puddles of water on the surface. Flagstone is a sandstone based stone, so it does tend to flake easily, which some find part of the charm, while others see it as deterioration. Only you can decide how you see this characteristic of flagstone and decide if it is the right choice for you.
Sundek, LifeDeck and Kool Deck are concrete coatings. They use a combination of concrete and man-made materials to form a deck coating and come in a variety of colors and textures. As the names suggest, these products are excellent in areas where hot climates make for very hot surfaces, as they can be significantly cooler on the feet than concrete or other decking materials. These have been in widespread use for many years and fall somewhere in the middle of the price range of decking options. Sundek tends to be slightly more expensive, but will typically wear better and be a bit more stain resistant. These options can be used on new concrete or existing concrete that is still in sound condition. If you do decide to use one of these finishes and add more decking later, you do have a pretty good chance of matching coloration, unlike that when adding other strictly concrete decks.
Brushed, or broom finished concrete, is basically just what it sounds like; concrete that is brushed or “broomed” to give it a better texture and appearance. You will know this in its most common application, which would be a sidewalk or driveway. However, some of the more skilled installers can take this simple, cost effective material and turn it into something much more appealing. By using various type of brushes, sponges, trowels and custom tools, brushed concrete can be formed with a variety of unique patterns and finishes, all while remaining one of the least costly deck options. Adding more concrete later makes this finish very hard to match, however, as is also the case when making repairs. This is where the initial cost savings of this deck choice may come into play later on, so you will want to consider this before making this choice.
Lastly, you can’t have a conversation about decks without talking about wood. Wood decks have been around forever, and have several advantages; they can be built by anyone with average carpentry skills, can be customized to fit nearly any yard or situation, and are ideally suited for use around above ground pools. The main drawback of wood is, of course, weathering. For starters, using inexpensive, untreated lumber can lead to headaches when used around water. Water exposure causes warping, cracking, and rotting. Another drawback to wood is the additional risk of pests like termites. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent or minimize these affects and extend the life of the deck. Wood decks can be sealed, or painted, annually to prevent rot and weathering, or you can use pressure treated lumber like “Ultra-wood”, which can last for many years, resisting both rotting and pests. Another material gaining popularity is the use of wood composites, such as “Trex”. “Trex”, and other such wood composites, bind wood fiber with recycled plastic resins for a deck that can last for decades with no need to seal or otherwise maintain, other than an occasional cleaning. Composite decks are also resistant to pests and come in several colors, and sometimes even textures. While the cost of the composites are quite a bit higher than wood, the trade off in reduced upkeep and replacement costs mean that composites can be less expensive in the long run. Like wood, composites can be installed by the homeowner with average skills and few tools.
So there it is! Now it is up to you as the homeowner to determine which decking materials and options best fit your budget, style, features and needs. The one thing that we can guarantee you is that no matter which material you ultimately choose, it will be much better than walking around in mud around your pool!