Tough Decisions

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Since the hardscape around a pool plays a major role in determining the look and feel of the entire space, picking an appropriate deck material is critical. Recognizing that this is an important decision, some clients take a long time determining just what they want this hardscape to be — sometimes they even hold up construction. By fully explaining all the decking options and why they might want one as opposed to another, you can help them finalize this step of the process, and keep the project rolling along on schedule. A few of the critical factors to consider are aesthetics, cost, safety, maintenance and temperature of the surface.


Aesthetics will vary from o ne project to the next, but the goal is to attractively connect the pool with the house. "I'm a landscape designer by trade, so the aesthetics come into play first in my opinion," says Tom Fitzsimmons, president of Artisan Pools/Chux Landscaping in Pine Brook, N.J. "For example, if the clients want a natural look, most of the time we're using either an irregular Tennessee graystone or an irregular quartzite because the quartzites re.ect most of the light and they get warm, but not hot — it's walkable.

"For an architectural or geometric look, typically we'll reflect a tile pattern inside the house, so we're doing more squares and rectangles; and there can you can do patterned bluestone, patterned quartzites or some of the limestones. There are also some great new products on the market now coming out of China and Turkey. They're a travertine product, but look like a tumbled marble. It's really beautiful, and it holds up well in the Northeast. We're doing a lot of that."

Along with the aesthetics, the client's budget also plays a big role in determining what deck material to use. Wet-laid natural stone is beautiful, but as the most expensive option, it's just not something all pool clients can do. Dry-laid stone is a nice, more affordable alternative. "When you take the masonry component out of it, then you're going to save somewhere between $5 and $8 per square foot," says Fitzsimmons.

In the mid range, stamped concrete, exposed aggregate, pavers and colored, textured concrete are all attractive options. Broom-finished concrete may be the best choice for the most-price-conscious clients.

Ultimately, though, each project is a little different, and to achieve a particular look, you might, for instance, use a colored concrete on a six-figure pool. Not every high-end pool will call for a wet-laid natural stone deck. By the same token, clients installing a relatively inexpensive pool may be doing so in order to allocate more of their budget to a pricier deck. Ideally, this is all discussed and determined in the planning and design stage.

Visuals can help. While thoroughly explaining all the deck options, you can show customers how what they choose will look like around a pool. A portfolio of your work can help clients choose not only their pool, but also the deck. Displaying samples of the different deck materials is a good idea, as well. "We've got these 5-by-5foot squares and they go halfway around our building," says Clark. "We've got about 30 samples of different things for them to look at."


With their heart set on a particular color or style, some clients will forget to consider the sun's effect on the different materials, so it's important to remind them that the darker the color, the hotter it's going to feel. "Bluestone is probably one of the worst for heat," says Fitzsimmons. "But the travertines don't get hot and most of the quartzites do not, so we're doing a lot of that."

Mike Clark, sales manager at Pulliam Pools, an AQUA 100 Hall of Fame builder in Fort Worth, Texas, tell his clients: "Temperature is all about two things: color and texture. The lighter colors will be cooler than the darker ones, and then texture also creates coolness. This is because when you place your foot on something that's perfectly smooth, your foot will feel 100 percent of that surface and you'll feel that it's hot. But if you have something that's textured, when you place your foot on it, you don't feel all of it. You only feel about 50 percent of it, so it'll appear to be cooler, even though if you were to put a thermometer on it, one is just as hot as the other."


In terms of safety, the main consideration is the slickness of the surface. "Typically," says Fitzsimmons, "for stone, if you have a natural cleft face on it, it's going to be a lot less slippery, and that's what you want to look for, particularly around a pool. Anything that is honed can be very slippery. Honed is where they actually polish and finish the top of the stone, and a lot of stones come that way because people like the look. It's a very polished, finished look, but a honed finish is one that can be problematic."

Sealing deck surfaces also used to be problematic. Often in the past, sealed deck surfaces were slippery, but "today there are additives that you can put into sealers to make it so that it is not slippery," says Ron Fronheiser, owner of Fronheiser Pools in Bally, Pa. "You can basically make any stamped concrete or stone so it has a texture to it, and so it can be non-slip around a swimming pool."

Fronheiser encourages sealing a broom-finished concrete deck, as well, "because sealing the concrete protects it from moisture getting in and from frost damage, which we can get here in the Northeast. It also helps prevent staining because the stains can't penetrate into the concrete. A stain on the sealed surface can be easily removed, but when you get stains in the concrete itself, they're sometimes difficult to remove."

However, not all pool customers want to have their deck sealed because then they have to be re-sealed every few years. Says Janet PozzuoliVallin, owner of Belle Terre Landscape in San Diego, "Whenever you're into sealing, that's a maintenance thing, and a lot of time people don't want to maintain it afterwards."

The maintenance involved may be one reason why many of Fronheiser's clients don't opt to seal their concrete decks. Another reason may be that Fronheiser offers a non-sealed concrete deck that still provides a relatively smooth, non-slip surface. "We finish with a sponge," he says, "and a sponge finish is a much more uniform, foot-friendly finish. Some people can finish with a broom very well, but it's going to be rougher than with a sponge. With a sponge, you're bringing the sand up to the surface and creating a finer texture on the surface, somewhat similar to the finish that we're getting by using that sealer with the additive in it."


If the clients want stamped concrete, keep in mind there are a lot of different stamps available today, says Fronheiser. "You can do cobblestone and all kinds of things. With some of the stamps you have to also be careful, though, because some of them make a very deep impression into the concrete and if people want to put a lot of furniture around their pool, they've got to be careful they don't have a stamped deck that's got too deep of grooves in it such that the furniture will not sit level. These are issues that I think we as the professional need to make sure the customer understands before we sell them that finish.

"Providing these details is what I think separates the really professional pool builders. You've got to care about the customers and the end result. And the happier you make the clients, the easier it is to sell a pool to one of their friends."

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