A Guide to Choosing a Surround for a Hot Tub and Pool

The hardscape area around your swimming pool is called a surround, deck, or decking, even though it isn’t always made of wood or composite, like traditional outdoor decks with which we most often associate the words. Traditionally, most in-ground swimming pool decks are made of concrete. Other materials, like pavers and brick, are also popular choices.

Pool decks and paved surfaces in the garden such as paths, patios, or steps are functional landscaping elements, adding usable space, creating a smooth transition from one area to another, providing drainage, and covering the bare dirt.

When it is near or surrounds a pool or spa, decking creates a frame while providing a safe path around its edge. If back garden space allows, the deck can be enlarged to accommodate poolside furniture for relaxing or dining.

Things to Consider When Choosing Materials 

Choosing deck material shouldn’t be just a matter of going with what you think is the most attractive. Important things to consider:

  • The material must be safe and not become slippery when wet.
  • Make sure the decking material isn’t coarse, bumpy, or uneven.
  • Choose a heat-reflective material to keep the surface cooler on hot days — think about bare feet!
  • Select a material that blends well with other paved or hardscaped areas in your garden.
  • If possible, find out if the material is resistant to algae, chemicals, acid, mould and mildew, and frost.
  • A modern solution: for a seamless look, carry out the copingmaterial to the surrounding deck or patio.
  • Safety fences and barriers should be considered and integrated into the pool and deck design. Check city or local laws or guidelines regarding pool barriers—most should be at least 4 feet high and be positioned between the pool and areas of access.

Take a look at the variety of pool deck materials, along with their pros and cons:

Concrete Poolside Patio 

Concrete makes a smooth surround that is available in a variety of colours besides the familiar light grey. Certain types of architecture, like Mid-century modern and contemporary, call for the clean, uncomplicated lines and even surface of concrete. Pool decking or a surround made of concrete should be poured by a professional unless you are an expert do-it-yourselfer or have lots of help from capable assistants.

Pros: It’s easy to maintain and feels good underfoot. Doesn’t get too warm when the temperatures rise.

Cons: If it doesn’t have a textured finish or is brushed, concrete can become slippery when wet. Aggregate (small pebbles or rocks) can be added to concrete for a slip-resistant surface

Brick Patio Near the Pool 

Brick has been around for more than 5,000 years, so it’s a proven material and surface for a pool deck. 

Pros: Durable, easy to maintain, available in colours other than terra cotta—like grey, for instance.

Cons: Moss has a tendency to grow on cool bricks, so you have to regularly maintain it. If not, mossy bricks can become slippery when wet, and can potentially create a dangerous falling zone.

Pool Decks and Patios with Pavers 

Pavers are a popular type of hardscape for paths and patios and come in many different materials, sizes, shapes, and colours. Paver materials for poolside patios include stone, concrete and aggregate.

The increasingly popular interlocking concrete pavers are a good alternative to plain concrete and are designed to resemble cobblestones, granite, tile, or traditional bricks. Keep in mind when using interlocking pavers for pool decking that patterns formed from lots of small units can appear busy. Step back and assess the entire space, along with colours, textures, and patterns, before buying.

Pros: Easy to find and easy to replace if a paver gets damaged. A good, budget-conscious choice. If installed correctly, many manufacturers claim that interlocking pavers are frost proof.

Cons: When installing, requires a permanent border or frame to prevent shifting. Concrete pavers can look industrial or commercial, which isn’t necessarily a negative thing if your home and garden are modern.

Wood Pool Decks 

Decks constructed of wood look quite attractive next to an in-ground swimming pool or spa. 

Pros: Depending on your budget, there are lots of wood varieties available. The design options are wide open, with many patterns and styles possible. Because wood is a natural material, it’s going to look…natural.

Cons: Wood decks in any location require seasonal maintenance, including cleaning, sanding, and sealing. Because of its proximity to a body of water, maintenance is especially important. You don’t ever want it to get to the point where it is splintering; can you imagine sitting on the edge of the pool and getting splinters in your thighs? Ouch!

Stone Poolside Patio 

Stone is a natural looking material for patios and paths, has enough texture to make it slip-resistant, and enhances landscaping and architectural features. Many types are available, and prices are often determined by what’s offered in your region; stones from local quarries will cost less than those shipped from across the country. Flat stones are used for paving purposes; known as flagstone that is usually made of:

      • Quartzite
      • Sandstone
      • Limestone
      • Granite
      • Porphyry

Pros: Available in an assortment of shapes and sizes: square, rectangle, triangle, and irregular.

Cons: Can be expensive if you choose a flagstone that is not readily available in your area. Darker colours or shades can become hotter than lighter ones. Inexpensive stone might actually be faux stone, which can look cheap or fake.

Tile Pool Surround 

A highly glazed tile surface that gets wet could create a dangerous scenario for anyone who walks near the pool. Since tile is graded for slip resistance, play it safe and look for something like unglazed terracotta (Saltillo), or vitreous and water-impervious porcelain tile that will withstand frosts and freezes.

Pros: Can create a seamless indoor-to-outdoor transition if the same tile is used.

Cons: Tile can be slippery, especially when wet. Choose something with a “tooth” that will prevent you from sliding and provides better traction than smooth-as-glass marble or granite.

Mixed Materials 

Examples: adding tile mosaic medallions that can be inserted into a paved concrete area while it’s being poured or laid; river rock or pebbles set in a narrow groove adjacent to another material, like concrete. 

Pros: If you like variety or can’t narrow down your choices, combining two or more will give you an opportunity to use both. 

Cons: The look can get too busy or surfaces may be uneven. Less, even with mixed materials, is more.

Artificial Turf 

If you love the look of a freshly manicured lawn but live in a region affected by drought, synthetic grass might be the best material for your poolside deck.

Pros: Because it isn’t real and doesn’t grow, there’s no mowing involved. It also never gets brown or dry looking, unlike the real thing.

Cons: The padding of some artificial turf is made of recycled rubber tires, and the fake grass is often made of a petroleum-based product. Check the “ingredients” used to create that fake grass.  Another downside—some synthetics can get hot to the touch, especially if exposed to full sun. Unlike real grass, fake turf is not biodegradable. And it still needs to be cleaned if it gets stained from dripping popsicles or dog poop.

Synthetic Decking 

Synthetic or composite decking is a popular alternative to wood, without the maintenance and weathering issues.

Pros: Synthetics are durable and can last a long time. They are also made to be resistant to insects and harsh weather conditions.

Cons: Some brands can become slippery and aren’t resistant to mould and mildew.

By Lisa Hallett Taylor