Pool coping is an element that many pool operators may overlook in the first instance. However, it is an essential part of building a swimming pool, and understanding the various types of pool coping available, as well as the materials that can be used and their features, is really important for building a durable, stylish pool.
What is pool coping? How can you choose among the various finishes and materials available for a swimming pool?
This quick guide will cover:
- The definition of pool coping:
- What you need to know when choosing a pool coping;
- The various types and materials available.
The term “pool coping” applies to the area and material used for the capping or edging around the basin of a swimming pool. It is actually an essential component of the finishes and aesthetics of a pool facility and can rightfully be thought of as an essential ornamental part of it, too.
Coping separates the swimming pool shell from the surrounding surface area and helps to protect the pool structure. It is designed to stop water from getting behind the pool shell and, if installed properly, will make the water that is splashed out flow away from the pool, down into the nearby overflow channels or drains.
Finalising the construction of a swimming pool therefore includes pool coping as both a functional and aesthetic last step, as it determines the style of the pool.
Pool coping needs to be thought of as part of building a new swimming pool or renovating an existing one, and it takes time and planning.
Whether for a single small leisure pool or a big scale complex project, we should take into account multiple aspects beyond the installation of the pool basin. All additional elements, such as the type of pool water, its fencing, heating systems, water treatment installations, hydraulic circuits, lighting elements and ornamental finishes are part of the construction project.
Pool coping integrates into the project and interacts with each of these elements. During construction, the coping material is laid on the swimming pool beam (the width of concrete around the pool). During renovation, only specific products can work with the existing shape of the pool.
In both cases, it should be considered how much room there is available around the pool and how much space there is before reaching the existing pavement (or surroundings).
Pool coping is available in several finishes or profiles to suit a variety of needs and tastes. There are generally three styles (or shapes) of pool coping:
Choosing the pool coping style depends entirely on the facility or business brand image and the desired appearance. The square edge is a straight finish, while bull-nose presents a flat surface with a rounded edge. This pleasant, softer look is often preferred by pool designers, with a rolled edge finish that is flat and smooth and the edge is turned up at the end.
Alternatively, a rebated edge is typical for coping made of stone and has a more textured look. In all cases, the coping has to be smooth and without any sharp edges which may cause scratches or injuries to bathers, since it should protect swimmers as they get in and out of the pool.
You should consider how the coping will enhance the look of the swimming pool, whether it can withstand the salt or chemicals (for example, in saltwater pools treated with salt chlorinator), and whether it provides a non-slip surface. Anti-slip surface is actually a key element of choosing a pool coping material, as it will avoid falls and potential injuries.
Another element to consider is resistance to heat from the sun during the summer peak season. Some pool coping materials don’t absorb too much heat, allowing users to walk barefoot around the pool without the risk of getting burned.
Finally, another key feature of your pool coping finish and surrounding deck is how the overflow system of the pool will be integrated. This can be a downward-sloping pre-deck system consisting of a single piece, in which blocks provide the slope and support the overflow grate. Alternatively, a hidden longitudinal overflow system makes it possible to keep the water below the deck level. This stops the water from spilling out of the pool and swimmers can also grip onto it.
Another practical and functional solution for overflow pool projects with limited deck space is to place the water level above the deck, which creates an attractive mirror effect. Additionally, there is also the option of perimeter overflow above ground pools, with an invisible channel integrated into the decking. Finally, a fashionable option is the infinity finish in which the water falls into a hidden overflow channel below the water level.
Note: In sports club pools, sometimes the pool coping makes an almost unnoticed pendant to the water, to facilitate the swimmers’ grip.
Another aesthetic aspect to take into account is the color and material of the joints between tiles (mostly Epoxy materials). In pools constructed with panels, there are fewer joints and the existing ones are covered with a PVC liner, which makes them more watertight. These are quick to install and very reliable, which makes them an excellent choice for competition events where pools need to meet stringent timing schedules when getting built.
One final decision is the choice of different grids for the edge of the pool, which cover the overflow channel to recapture water. They can be visible or hidden.
It is worth making a special mention of the panel system of building swimming pools, especially favoured by competition and sports clubs. Modular panel systems such as Skypool and Bluespring are very useful for the pool basin, but also for the coping finish. They both provide sleek aesthetics, a quick installation and significant resilience in chlorinated and corrosive environments.
The same panel can integrate the coping and the overflow channel for easy assembly and even better reliability. The coping is made of ceramics and/or PVC liner, which provide great efficiency and an anti-slip surface for athletes’ and sports club users’ safety. The modular system allows it to be used with different grill and tile sizes.
The adaptability and easy installation of panels makes them perfect for swimming pool renovation projects, too. Alternatively, there are renovation panel models especially designed for remodelling, as they are easy to fit without the need to demolish the entire pool basin.
Panel systems are also an ideal option for indoor pools and rooftop pools in hotels, resorts and real estate developments thanks to their light weight, versatility, easy assembly and the possibility of including innovative overflow finishes, such as the infinity effect.
Pool coping comes in a large variety of materials – poured concrete, brick, natural stone like limestone, sandstone, slate, flagstone, travertine, granite, precast concrete, tile, pavers, wood, liner, ceramic etc. Each of these has different colours, patterns and visual appeal. Whatever the material, it is essential that it’s sealed so that water does not damage the coping or leave unsightly marks. It is best if you choose a non-slip coating to increase the safety of users.
To choose pool coping materials, their key features need to be considered: durability, safety, comfort, and visual appeal. It has to work in harmony with the deck and the surrounding style. In addition, it is essential that the material is resistant to cleaning agents like chlorine, acids or, in some cases, salt. Some materials get hot quite easily and may be unpleasant to bare feet, which is also an important issue to consider.
Ceramic or porcelain
Porcelain or ceramic stoneware enhances a pool’s design and embellishes its finishing. It is an ideal self-protection solution for sports club pools and competition pools thanks to its hygienic properties, as it eliminates bacteria efficiently. With anti-slip features, it is a perfect option for both outdoors and indoors, it is a high quality material that minimises smells, but it has less customisation than other options. It can be also used for the whole pool deck and changing rooms.
Liner type of coping is made of a PVC vinyl sheet. It is common in many pool rehabilitation projects, helping to restyle old-fashioned pools while also boosting their durability. Its adaptability allows many customisations and it has highly hygienic, resistance and anti-corrosive properties.
You can bring out the natural beauty of a pool and enhance its longevity with natural stones. Stylish and sophisticated, this type of coping has charm and adds character to the pool design.
Typical options for natural stone coping range from limestone and sandstone to granite and travertine. They may cost more than the other materials, but they require little upkeep. These landscape stones can also give the outdoor area a stunning visual appeal overall.
Natural stone pool copings have recently become extremely popular in hotels and resorts due to their durability and anti-slip nature. The decision which stone to use depends entirely on the pool owner preferences, visual aesthetics and the overall scheme of the project:
- Travertine coping is a popular choice as the material is valued for remaining cool to the touch and is very porous, absorbing water quickly. When used as a pool coping, it should be sealed;
- Limestone is a beautiful material used not only for pool coping but also for decks. It is durable and will retain its appearance for many years, and it can be easily personalised in many shapes;
- Sandstone is very hard wearing as it is made of quartz grains. It adds colour, sand resemblance and texture to the design. It is durable and reliable, anti-slip and salt-tolerant;
- Granite is extremely long-lasting. This coping offers a consistent look with durability and reliability. Elegant, classy and versatile, granite coping is a good choice for almost any design style, but needs to be sealed;
- Slate is installed easily and can be cut in varying lengths and widths, which makes it popular. It is durable and comes in many colour options.
These pool coping materials are versatile, can withstand chlorinated water, and are readily available. Bricks also come in a variety of colours and sizes. You can easily replace them when damaged, although they do need to be caulked and sealed after repairs. Brick coping looks very natural and can be used in many design styles. Moreover, they are durable and will last for decades. Bricks also are very low-maintenance.
Concrete comes in two major varieties – poured and precast. The advantage of concrete coping is that it can easily fit any style and is the most affordable option compared to natural stone, tile, etc.
- Poured concrete involves the use of a mould which is placed all around the edge of the pool. The cement is poured on-site, giving the coping a seamless appearance. Poured concrete is solid and durable and you can choose a variety of colours as well as the type of coping edge. Sealing the poured concrete coping after installation is strongly recommended.
- Precast concrete coping comes in prefabricated blocks and you can choose from a variety of textures, patterns and colours. This is the least expensive option, as multiple pieces can be bought and installed around the pool using mortar and caulking between individual sections. Unlike poured concrete you can combine precast concrete coping units in different colours and have more design opportunities. The coping must be sealed with a weatherproof, pH neutral sealant.
Pavers come in various sizes and finishes. They are sturdy like bricks and need little upkeep while also being available to replace as and when needed (individually). Moreover, they are water-resistant and ideal for salt-water swimming pools. Paver coping can transform the look of your pool and comes in many types and a wide array of colours, shapes and sizes. It is installed easily and offers a consistent finish.
In addition, pavers are very durable, slip resistant and can provide the look of natural stone. Pavers are very dense and nonporous, and chlorine will not affect their colour as they are salt resistant.
Composite materials are very affordable. They are also easy to modify, cut, and shape. You can find this coping material available in curved sections, corners, and straight lengths. You can even have each piece mortared and then sealed to achieve a cohesive look. Additionally, composite materials are salt and water-resistant, as well as extremely durable as long as you use a good sealant when installing them.
Wood is very stylish, but it requires a lot of maintenance. Despite its appearance, it is better to opt for composite materials, as they are water and moisture proof and do not absorb water, while also not having the disadvantage of being vulnerable to pests and insects. Ultimately, wood is mostly used in wellness spaces or residential pools.
The choice of pool coping is extremely important as a finishing touch to any swimming pool, from practical and aesthetical viewpoints. While there is a wide range of pool coping options available, each has its own advantages and drawbacks, so care must be taken to understand what best fits your pool design and wider environment, as well as what the best maintenance options are in the longer term.