When people think of summer, they often imagine relaxing by a swimming pool. That experience can be even more enjoyable when the pool deck has been enhanced through the use of decorative concrete.
Why decorative concrete?
Decorative concrete is not the only available material for pool decks. But decorative concrete offers significant advantages. "Most people use it to save money," explains Mike Logsdon of Land Design, Boerne, Texas. "It's a budget-conscious alternative to laying natural stone or cut tile. If you lay cut stone, it can be $15 to $20 per square foot. I can do the same thing with decorative concrete for $6 to $8 per foot. It's also a quicker process. We can do a pool deck in half the time because we still have to pour concrete. If you use stone, you have to bring in a stone mason. Good subcontractors are hard to find. It takes more people, time and resources from materials to labor if you use another type of decorative material."
Mike Speach of Tropical Toppings, Winston, Ga., likes decorative concrete because "it's cool to the feet. It protects and seals your concrete, giving the concrete a longer life by putting a decorative coating over it." He also points out that tile breaks, while decorative concrete can be used to fix cracks or hide other problems in existing concrete.
Decorative concrete's durability and flexibility appeal to Cindy Coy of Showcase Concrete, Inc, Neenah, Wis. "You can create a real work of art using concrete," she says.
Mike Ganos of Ganos Decorative Concrete, Oconomowoc, Wis., points out the long-term picture. "It's permanent," he says. "There's little to no maintenance. It drains the water well, so no moss grows. It's a nice clean product."
A variety of techniques
Several different decorative concrete techniques can be used on pool decks. Most contractors offer color, which can be integral, acid stained or a color hardener on the surface. Unlike natural stone, which only comes in a few colors, decorative concrete can take on any color imaginable.
Techniques used to create the designs include stamping, texturing, saw cutting to create patterns and shapes, engraving and skinning without patterns. Results can look like brick, stone, abstract or geometric shapes, or even fanciful designs.
Speach often uses a technique called either knockdown or kooldek. He uses the biggest tip on a hopper gun to shoot out big dots of concrete on top of a plain slab. A second worker then flattens the dots with a trowel. The textured concrete is then covered with a xylene-based sealant containing color. Aggregate is placed on top of this to create a nonslip surface before a second coat of sealant is applied.
To create stone shaped or other patterns, a grout coat is placed in a base color using paper stencils for the design. Spraycrete is shot straight down over the entire surface. Speach says by doing it this way, the spraycrete does not run under the stencils and crisp lines are created.
Caution is required for retrofit jobs. "You have to be really careful with the removal of the existing concrete to be sure you don't wreck the pool," Ganos says. "You have to have the right machine for the job." He uses a mini-excavator with a thumb attachment.
A patented process just coming onto the market is called Lithocrete. This involves adding all types of materials into the concrete surface like shells, glass beads and colored aggregate which can be ground smooth. Logsdon sees this as the biggest current decorative concrete trend.
There is demand for residential and commercial decorative concrete pool decks at most price points for both retrofits and new construction. "Most of my work occurs when someone has damaged concrete and needs it repoured," Speach says. "My products hide any imperfections and enhance the value of the house to the homeowner. Realtors will use me to go in and fix up a bad concrete slab."