From slip resistance to heat reflectivity, pool and decking expert Lucas Congdon weighs in on everything you need to know about getting your most stylish, comfortable pool deck.
The first thing to consider when picking a pool deck material? A hot pool deck, bare feet, equals major regret. "It's important to look for a material that won't get too hot, or to put a material that will get hot in a shaded area," says Lucas Congdon, owner of .
Regardless of the material, lighter colors are always be better for avoiding the hot-foot. "Even if you stain it, certain materials like white-based cement pavers are going to be cooler than a grey-based cement paver," Congdon explains.
To avoid sliding off the deep end, you'll want to pick a material for your deck that is textured and slip-resistant even when soaked. "A lot of materials feel fine, but as soon as they get wet, they become slippery," says Congdon. "Polished concrete, for example, is very popular indoors now but can be extremely slippery, especially if it's sealed. Leave it unsealed or apply a stamped pattern that adds texture to it."
Whether you're building a pool deck yourself or recruiting a landscaper, make sure you take drainage into consideration. "You have to think about where the water is going to go," says Congdon. "It's important to ditch everything to get the water away from the house. Proper drainage preparation is the key to a successful deck."
To keep your deck in good shape, placement and foundation play a pivotal role. That large, stately tree may be a few feet away from your proposed deck now, but in years to come those burrowing roots could lead to buckling. Likewise, if you live in an area with freezing temperatures, Congdon advises laying a foundation of gravel rather than sand beds so water in the soil doesn't freeze and upheave the deck.
You may install lighting, sprinklers, and audio systems last, but think about them first. "A lot of people leave an area for plants but forget about irrigation, so then they have to hand-water those plants all the time," says Congdon. "Whereas if you run all the conduits for lighting, irrigation, and outdoor speakers to those areas before you do your deck, it's much easier."
Your choice of material may be dictated by geography. "Up north where there are elevation changes, wood decks are great because they are an inexpensive way of creating a level area," says Congdon. "In a place like Florida, however, everything is already so flat that it would be cost-prohibitive."
Wood can add a relaxed aesthetic to your pool deck, but varies greatly in price. "When we do a wood deck, we usually a Brazilian iron wood called ipe," says Congdon. "It is very durable and beautiful, but it is very expensive. You can do a regular wood deck, but it's not going to have a high-end look, so it depends on what you're after."
Artificial wood and wood-composites (decking comprised of wood fiber and plastic molded into a natural-looking woodgrain pattern) can also be a good option, according to Congdon, but be aware that it may be likelier to settle and warp over time, especially if you live in an area that experiences extreme temperature shifts.
"We use a lot of travertine because it gives you a high-end look, but it's still a pretty good price point," says Congdon. "It's a natural stone, like marble, but softer. It's pretty much our go-to product." Travertine comes in a wide variety of colors, making it easier for you to opt for a heat-resistant hue.
Because concrete can be stamped, it's easy to personalize it with a pattern like cobblestone. "Concrete is the most durable and most low-maintenance material," says Congdon. "It may crack over time, but the key to preventing that is installing expansion joints so it can move." Concrete is also less likely to give way to weed growth than other materials.
If you're looking for an economical option, opt for pavers. Although concrete is also affordable, it can get expensive once you start stamping and coloring it. "Pavers are probably the least expensive option, and they have so many different varieties that it gives you a lot to choose from," says Congdon. "You can pick anything from a brick paver to something that looks like cobblestone."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best installation may also be the most expensive — but it could be worth it depending on how long you plan to use the deck for. Consider this a good rule of thumb: If you see yourself wanting to move out or redesign your pool area in the next five years, your money is better spent on maintaining a less expensive deck, but if you envision yourself in this for the long haul, committing the cash for a deck that you can enjoy for years to come will be more efficient in the long run.
Pushing for pavers? Keep them in good shape by starting out on the right foot. "One of the biggest mistakes people make is not having proper compaction," says Congdon. Compaction is a process where the area for your deck is dug out and leveled, then layered with sand, gravel, or a mix, all of which gets compacted by a special machine that evens everything out and helps prevent shifting down the road. "Take time to prepare the area right, rather than just throwing down pavers or sand. Over time, things will sink or move around if you don't take the time or expenses to make sure everything is compacted and fits right."
As for longer-wearing decks, maximizing your years of use starts with crack prevention. "The best thing you can do is a concrete base with a crack suppressant, then mud set a travertine or other material on the top," recommends Congdon. "That's going to be the most solid, low-maintenance deck, but it'll be about four times the expense per square foot of the standard sand-set paver."