Tile - Pool / Spa
Prerequisites for Tile:
Decking concrete completed, but before
final Acrylic surface is put down. For Kooldeck, the tile should be
installed after Kooldeck is completed.
Pool Tile is extremely versatile. The most common
application is to put standard 6" ceramic tile at the top of the bond beam
and have it descend 6" down into the pool. Since the water line is
about 3 inches below the top of the bond beam, this would insure that the
waterline would always be in contact with the tile instead of the Pebble-Tec or
Because tile is a lot less porous than Pebble-Tec or Plaster,
cleaning off scale is much easier to do on tile than it is on Pebble-Tec or
Plaster. Regardless of tile or no tile, scale will build up no matter
what. Having tile just makes it easier to clean it off with standard
cleaning products. Besides the practical
application of helping to keep waterlines easy to clean, there are a myriad of
artistic applications in brightening up an otherwise drab pool. You can
put Tile Deco pieces around fountains, scuppers, entry steps, pool floors,
walls, just about anywhere you want. Also, something that has gotten quite
popular here in AZ is using tile to create colorful and bold Mosaic designs to
make the pool come alive. The more popular pieces today are shaped like
animals (e.g. dolphins, geckos, kokopelli's, birds, ... you name it). A
lot of people here in AZ feel it adds a little southwest flare to their pool.
With all that said, I decided not to go with tile on my
pool. It was a tough decision and I had gone back and forth for
the longest time before making a final decision. I could have probably
debated the issue another few months, but I needed to move on. Basically
what it boiled down to was this: I want to create lagoon-style pool - as
natural and as tropical as I can make it. Being from Hawaii, I want to put
in a lush tropical landscape around the pool and I thought that putting tile
around even the waterline would ruin that look.
There were two camps of people who were giving me advice:
Tile people - they said
that if I didn't do tile, it would make it darn near impossible (or at the
very best difficult) to clean off the scaling around the waterline.
They also offered that tile colors nowadays are so versatile, that I could
find a virtual match with the color of Pebble-Tec I was planning to use.
No-Tile people - they
said that for sure tile would ruin the tropical look of Pebble-Tec and that
scaling is going to occur no matter what. Being in AZ where the water
is as hard as a rock, its going to happen whether you do tile or not.
People in this camp said, "Why ruin the look and still end up with
scaling anyways? You might as well had done nothing and get the great
Almost from the beginning of the pool project, there were a
couple of Pebble-Tec colors that kept coming up in conversation when I told
people I was after the tropical lagoon look: Tahoe Blue
and Caribbean Blue. I was told that these
two colors do more to bring out a deep blue color than any other Pebble
Color. Most said that the Tahoe Blue was actually a better choice. I
kept this tucked away in my mind through the course of the project. As far
as tile was concerned, a lot of people (including tile subs) told me that a tile color called HR
Blue was a good match to the Tahoe Blue for those would like to
have the tile blend with the Pebble as much as possible. When I first saw
it, I didn't think the match was all that great. For sure there was a lot
of blue in it, but there was a lot of reddish brown in it as well.
Supposedly, it matches the brown color of surface select granite found in the
pebble aggregate. You can see a sample of standard 6" HR Blue above.
Even more than the question of whether the tile color matched the pebble color
was the question of whether I should use tile at all.
Before I made my decision, I wanted to find out:
What colors are really out there and how close can they come
to matching my Pebble-Tec color?
How well will tile aid in making it easier to clean scale
off the waterline?
How difficult will it be to take scaling off Pebble-Tec?
How much scaling is there really - on a no-tile pebble
I knew I had to make up my mind fairly soon as the tile phase
typically comes in between the concrete pour and the Acrylic application stages
for a pool deck. I had the tile catalog that Mike (BBQ sub) gave me
earlier, so with an address on the back, I purposed to pay a visit to the
National Pool Tile Group in Tempe on Saturday to get my questions answered.
I was actually going for two purposes. The other was to pick out a tile
color for my BBQ, which Mike was also doing. He wanted me to have
something selected by Monday AM, so that he could order the tile and start work
on Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest.
Saturday, November 2, 2002 - 10:45am
With the catalog in hand (and a map on the back of it), I made
my way over to the National Pool Tile Group (NPTG) showroom in Tempe. I got there
about 10:45am or so. When I walked in the door, I noticed that there was only one other
customer in the store. One of the gals walked out and asked if I needed
any help. Her name was Gerise (sounds like Grace). She was really helpful and showed me
the layout of the store and how things worked. She's the one on the right
in the picture below to the right. Typically, the way it works is tile subs
and pool builders will send their customers to NPTG's showroom where they are shown
all the tile choices they have to pick from. When people pick
out the tile that they want, they jot down the name of it and give it to their
pool builder or tile sub. The pool builder/tile sub will then pick up the
tile from NPTG and do the installation. I found out that
keeping with their namesake, they really do have stores all over the
country. In fact, they have a great
website where they have picture samples of all their tile choices and you
can see what it looks like against an image of a pool to get an idea of how it
looks with a pool behind it. They also have special software on a CD that
has their catalog and a bunch of tile viewing applications. They handed me
a copy before I left. Like the decking surfaces,
there are a dizzying number of tile color and design choices that a person can
choose from. On one side of the wall, they had all the standard/basic
colors, and on the other side were the fancier and more expensive upgrades.
I explained to Gerise that I wanted lagoon pool with deep
blue water and that if I decided to go with tile, I wanted something that
matched the Pebble-Tec color that I wanted. She brought out a couple of
samples of Pebble-Tec that she said would bring out the deep blue lagoon look
that I was after. She said she couldn't give me the Pebble-Tec samples,
because they don't see Pebble-Tec, but that I could use the samples to match a
tile color. She gave me a sample of the Tahoe Blue and the Caribbean
Blue. She said that a lot of people try to do what I'm doing -
make the tile disappear into a pebble pool. You can see both pebble colors
For the Tahoe Blue pebble, a lot of people like to
go with the HR Blue tile. She showed it to me side-by-side
and when I saw it, it didn't even look close (see picture above to right). There was a lot of
brown coloring in the HR Blue while the Tahoe Blue
pebble was this sort of consistent bland blue/gray. It looked like the
browns would really stick out like a sore thumb. She said that she had
even a better tile. She brought out a sample of a tile called FRP
Ocean and it was amazing. It was a dead-on match with the Tahoe
Blue. You can see the color comparison in the picture above to the
right. However, when I ran my fingers across it, it was like
running it across a piece of fine-grit sand paper. This was somewhat
disconcerting because the HR Blue
on the other hand was much smoother - not glossy smooth, but smoother.
Great - I find a tile color that I like and it turns out that the surface is so
rough/porous, that it may not make any difference in making it easier to clean
the waterline. I asked her about it and she said
that certain tiles will be naturally more porous than others just due to the
manufacturing process and there was not a whole lot they could do about it.
She agreed that it would be harder to clean scale off the FRP Ocean
tile than the HR Blue tile.
So here's the dilemma: my goal is to still achieve as
natural a lagoon pool as possible. The pebble color that will achieve that
is Tahoe Blue. I want to use tile to make cleaning the
scaling off the waterline easier, but only if I can find a color to closely
match the pebble. If not, I'll probably forgo the tile. I thought I
had found what was possibly the best match in tile color (FRP Ocean)
to the pebble color I was going with, but the tile was so darn porous, it seemed
liked it wasn't going to do much to prevent scaling. I needed to think
about it a little more. I tucked away all the tile samples she gave me and
continued on with the next task - picking out my BBQ tile.
When I was done, I thanked Gerise for her time and left.
On Monday AM, I was still no closer to a decision, although at this point, I was
leaning towards no tile. After all, to do the tile around the waterline
was going to cost me $600. I wasn't going to throw that money away if it
wasn't going to achieve what I wanted it to achieve. I called National
Pool Tile Group again and I inquired about the porousness of the tile I had
looked at over the weekend. I wanted to know if the FRP Ocean
came with a more glossy finish. The gentleman who spoke with me agreed that
the more porous the tile is, the harder it will be to clean when scaling builds
up on it. He also said that the way the FRP Ocean is
made is how they sell it. They didn't have a "glossy" version
per se. What you see is what you get. Thats it. End of story.
Man, thats too bad - because the tile color was perfect. I wish there were
a way to show you how scratchy/porous the tile was. You'll just have to
take my word for it.
At that point, I decided to find out just how bad scaling gets
when you have a pebble pool with no tile. Fortunately for me, I work with
a lot of folks who have pebble swimming pools. I was able to find a couple
of guys who also decided not to do tile on their pools. I had asked one of them, Scott, a few weeks
earlier if I could be nosy and come over to see how bad his scaling problem
was. He gave me a standing offer to swing by anytime and go into his
backyard to check it out. I decided to drive by on Monday morning before work
and have a peek.
Monday, November 4, 2002 - 7:40am
Bright and early on Monday morning, I drove over to Scott's house. When I
got there, I decided to knock just to let him know I was there. He was
working from home that day and took me through to the back to show me his
pool. This is what I saw when I got out there.
He told me that he had never really tried to clean the waterline
or do anything special to get rid of waterline marks. This was exactly
what I wanted to see. I wanted to know how bad it really got - left to
itself. Scott said that he had purchased the home used. He had been
in there only a few years, but he said that he thought the pool was about 6
years old. Judging by the age of the equipment, I had estimated that the
pool was at least 8 - 10 years old.
As you can see there is a uniform band near the waterline.
It was definitely noticeable, but I actually didn't think it was that bad. When people told me about
scaling, I thought about the ugly powdery calcified buildup around faucets that
has thickness to it. If this represented anywhere from 6 - 10 years of
build up, I didn't think it was all that to be concerned about. The thing
that made it somewhat acceptable was that there was no thickness to it.
And it was very uniform in color, just a tad bit lighter than the dry pebble
above it. As we talked more, Scott said that his pool guy had suggested to
him a good acid washing or sand blasting. He said that would take it right
off. I don't know how much it costs to do either, but I figured that doing
that every 6 - 10 years to remove that band was no big deal. Here are some
other shots from a different part of the pool.
When I drove into work, I mentioned to some of the guys what I
had seen that morning. One of those guys, Murali (who's in the white shirt
in front), said that he also had a pebble pool with no tile. He said that
he had not really had any problems with scaling. He offered to drive me
over to his place at lunch (and feed me too!) to go check it out. It was
only about 5 minutes away from our office. I agreed and off we went.
When we arrived out in his backyard, I couldn't believe my eyes
- there was no scaling at all! I asked him how old the pool was and he
said it was exactly 6 years old. I asked him if he bought his house new
and he said he did. He said that he had the pool installed himself, so he
knew that it was for sure 6 years old. I asked him if he had ever cleaned
the waterline and he said that his wife did most of the pool maintenance.
She was home at the time and came out to join us after awhile. I asked her
if she had ever cleaned the waterline and she said she didn't. All she did
was brush the walls of the pool for dirt. Hmmmm - that's a great data
point. If you look closely at the enlarged pictures above and below, you
won't see much scaling at all - on a 6 year old pool!
At that point, I figured that either Scott had severely
underestimated how old his pool was or his water hardness levels were way
different than Murali's. I couldn't really believe that because they just
live less than 3 miles apart. However, I don't know much about pool water
chemistry and I don't know what kind of additives they each have put into their
pools. However, from what
people have told me, there isn't a lot you can do about reducing water hardness
by just adding chemicals. They say that you can prevent the water
from getting much harder than it already is by adding soft water to it (via
auto-water-leveler) but there's not a whole lot you can do to significantly
reduce it from its current levels.
A few days later, I was at home, and my next door neighbor John
was out in the yard. As I was driving out of the garage, I pulled the car
over to chat with him. I started to tell him about my tile situation and
interestingly, he told me that he also had decided not to put tile on his
Pebble-Tec pool. I asked him about the scaling and he said that he hasn't
noticed a big problem with it. John said that his pool is about 3 years
old now. He had it built when his house was being built. He also
said that his wife does most of the pool cleaning. He said that she does try
to brush the waterline occasionally. I asked him if I could go around back
some time to take a look at it and he said sure. This is what I saw:
Even though it didn't look too bad, It actually looks like
Murali's pool (which is twice as old) has less scale than John's pool. I
guess differences in water chemistry in different areas within the same city
make more of a impact on scaling than on age alone. I don't know what else
it could be. I'm actually concerned more about John's pool since he's my
next-door neighbor and we have identical water sources. I know that for
all these pools that I viewed, regular (extremely hard) tap water is being used
to feed their auto-water levelers (AWL). I'm seriously considering using a
soft water source to feed my AWL to help out with the scale. If I can
determine for sure that soft water won't throw anything else out of whack (pool
water chemistry), I'll probably tap off the soft-water spigot next to my
equipment and put my mind at ease.
At this point, I've decided not to tile. I'll be able to preserve
the tropical look of the pool by going tile-less and deal with scale at some
future point when I was getting ready to cross that bridge. Maybe the $600
I'm saving in tile installation costs will buy me a few acid wash treatments
or sand-blasting rounds when the scale gets to the point where it becomes enough
of an eye-sore.
For now though, I'm ready to move on. So no tile for the pool or spa, but I still
have a BBQ to tile. Next up, Mike returns to finish up the BBQ and wrap things up with the deck structures.
Problems with the Tile Phase / Things I would have
- I will probably be forever debating in my mind whether it was the right
decision to tile the pool or not. For now, the data I collected tells
me that it would be best not to. Time will tell whether I made the
right decision or not ...
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