Pool Coping 101

Pool coping is an essential part of protecting your pool. Here is everything you need to know about it.

What is pool coping?

Pool coping is the material that surrounds the edge of the pool, often with a small overhang. Most pool coping has a faintly rough surface on the top to provide grip for wet feet, while also being sturdy enough to protect the top edge of the pool from damage.

Why you need it

Pool coping serves many purposes. Here are some of the most common:

  • It Prevents Growing Damage: A small crack in the top of a pool could escalate into a much bigger crack that breaks your entire pool apart. By protecting the top, which is one of the most vulnerable areas, the risk of this happening goes down significantly.
  • It Looks Better: Pool coping offers an attractive, finished look to pools. Without it, your pool may look like there’s something out of place. We’ll get into some of the materials and designs you can choose from below.
  • It’s Safer: Pool coping stops people from hitting their heads on hard structural support items, and it also makes it less likely that people will slip and fall at the edge of the pool. Coping is especially important for safety in areas where people may enter the pool from anywhere, rather than from a simple ramp or staircase.

The types of coping materials you can choose from

Here are the most common types of coping materials currently on the market.

Bricks

Bricks are easily one of the most popular choices for pool coping. They’re affordable, versatile, and aren’t easily damaged by chlorinated saltwater. Most bricks are reasonably durable and can withstand anything likely to occur around a pool. If they are damaged, replacing them is relatively simple. In short, bricks are an excellent option for just about any pool.

The main drawback of bricks is their styling. Most of them aren’t bad, but they don’t look quite as good as choices like natural stone.

Concrete pavers

Photo credit: titanpavers.com

Concrete pavers are similar to bricks, although they’re usually a bit tougher and tend to be square-shaped instead of rectangular. Like bricks, concrete pavers require little or no maintenance, though you may occasionally need to replace damaged ones. Pavers aren’t exposed to as much water as the interior of the pool, so concrete pavers could realistically last the entire lifespan of your pool.

However, while concrete pavers are reliable, they can also be a little too rough for people to walk on. Their solid gray coloring is also less attractive than natural stone, though most concrete pavers are available in multiple colors.

Natural stone

Natural stone is noticeably more expensive than bricks or pre-cast concrete, and that alone can be the deciding factor for homeowners. However, they provide a natural aesthetic to the pool and are among the most durable options, so you may never need to replace them.

The main drawback of natural stone coping is that not all stones are equal. Some, such as granite, are exceptionally durable and resistant to penetration by water. Other stone materials like travertine and flagstone are porous, which means you’ll need to apply sealant and otherwise maintain them.

Composite materials

Photo credit: summerhillpools.com

Composite materials are similar to concrete pavers, but they have a different chemical structure that makes them a little smoother and tougher. Notably, composite pavers are often sold with curves, straight lengths, and corners that you can put together to match the outside of your pool and get an even look all around. This is harder to do with most other materials.

Composite materials tend to be about the middle of the price range, making them a reasonable option for most buyers.

Cast options

Here are the most common cast options for coping. Each cast can come in a variety of shapes, including different curves and overhangs for your pool.

Flat-mount coping

Flat-mount coping places coping along the track that helps secure your swimming pool liner. This is usually a solid installation platform to start with, so placing coping on top requires minimal added materials other than concrete or another appropriate adhesive.

Rough-cut coping

Rough-cut coping works best with natural stone because it provides an organic, slightly unfinished look to pools. This works exceptionally well with pools that have areas where you aren’t planning to enter from, such as edges that are near plants or fences. Rough-cut coping isn’t quite as safe as traditional curves, so you may want to refrain from using this material anywhere that people may use to enter the pool.

Cantilever-edge coping

Cantilever-edge coping is a process that involves poured concrete into molds at the edge of the pool. Unlike flat-mount coping, this usually includes a small overhang over the pool to protect its edges. In general, I prefer overhangs like this because they offer an additional way to hold onto the pool when you’re pulling yourself out of the water, and more options are always better.

Cantilever-edge coping has reasonable durability. The edge isn’t far out enough to make the concrete break, and even if it does crack, you can usually reseal it and get close to its original appearance.

Top-mount coping

Top-mount coping is the most popular option for vinyl pools, although it’s also viable for many other types of pools. Sometimes known as half-round or C-channel, top-mount coping involves placing a curved aluminum edge all around the pool. This aluminum comes with a weather-resistant finish and is extremely durable, making it ideal if you don’t want to replace your coping more often than necessary.

Bullnose coping

Bullnose coping has a slightly sloped top surface that returns water to the pool and a curved front that can sit flush against the pool wall. This is a gentle overhang for most pools, making it both attractive to look at and easy to use when getting in or out of the pool. Notable, bullnose coping also makes it possible to replace a vinyl liner without removing the coping, which is a distinct benefit.

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Extending your pool deck in case you don’t want separate coping

If you don’t want to add separate coping to your pool, one alternative is expanding your decking. Some people expand decks over or even into the pool itself, supported by either concrete pillars or flotation devices.  There are two things to consider for this.

First, how far do you want to expand your deck? Some people extend their deck around the entirety of the pool, with stone or wood edging that’s just durable enough not to require constant replacement. Other people extend a deck over just part of the pool and use separate coping for the remaining areas. Only you can decide how far you want to continue your deck; consider talking to a professional designer.

Remember that your deck material affects its weight and that, in turn, affects the kind of support structure you’ll need for the deck.

Second, consider the maintenance needs. Most deck materials are not as durable as coping. This is particularly true for wood and other organic materials. If you have a stone deck, this is less of a concern for you. However, having to shut down and drain your whole pool so you can replace your deck is a significant added expense.

Related: Pool deck drainage guide

Surprises with pools tend to be expensive, so be sure to evaluate and budget for these issues if you want to expand your pool deck.

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