What is Coping? A pool coping repair guide.
Coping is the border area around your swimming pool, which acts as the barrier between your pool and your deck. Unless you’ve had to install a new pool or repair an existing pool, you might not have even noticed it, or even realize that pool coping repair was necessary.
Coping can be constructed out of various materials, but is typically made from concrete, pre-cast concrete or aggregate material, tile, or natural stone. This guide to swimming pool coping covers coping repairs, construction, and styles, and provides information on maintaining this vital border around your pool.
Common Issues with Pool Coping
Water Intrusion Behind Tile
A flexible, waterproof transition is necessary where the tile siding of a pool meets the coping above it. If the coping around your pool was not installed correctly, or has been subjected to several seasons of normal wear and tear, water can seep in and eventually cause problems with your pool. Some installers mistakenly use grout or other rigid materials for this connection, which results in cracks as the pool components independently expand and contract. Other times, the urethane sealant bead simply fails after many years of use.
Either way, once water seeps through this joint behind the tiles, the concrete and mortar begins to deteriorate and the tiles will eventually loosen and start to fall off. Catching this issue early will reduce maintenance and repair costs in the future, as you can repair or replace the tiles and the sealant. A qualified pool professional can help you to determine if a more involved pool coping repair is required to avoid a recurring failure.
Water Intrusion Underneath Coping
Water may also seep in and gather underneath the coping – between the coping and the beam (also known as bondbeam). This may delaminate the coping from the beam or delaminate the tiles. Most qualified pool pros can run a test to determine the source of the water intrusion prior to performing the repair.
Rupturing Expansion Joint
There is continuous tension occurring between your coping and your pool deck. Think of it like tectonic plates on the Earth’s surface: your coping belongs to the “Pool Plate” whereas your deck is located on the “House Plate”. Each plate expands/contracts independently based on heat and moisture. If your installer did not create an adequate and flexible joint to separate the deck and the coping, the two will rub against each other and cause cracks and crumbles (just like earthquakes).
While simply re-paving or applying pool plaster to a cracked area may temporarily address the cosmetic damage, your pool will continue to show new damage over time unless the expansion joint is fixed by either expanding it or using a more flexible sealant. We typically recommend a water-based silicone caulk.
Cracked/Distorted Pool Edge from Concrete Pouring
While concrete coping has many advantages (see below), it requires a highly experienced contractor to set up and break down the foam molds used to set the concrete’s shape. Sadly, many contractors or DIY folks run into trouble here and the edging comes out misshapen once the foam mold is removed. Other times, pieces of the concrete edge will actually break off when the mold is removed, and unless they are replaced correctly, this can cause additional problems. Our experienced professionals will be able to re-set the molds and concrete in the damaged area and get the new concrete to match as close as possible to the original.
Poorly Sealed Concrete Coping
The biggest problems with swimming pools are caused by seeping water, and expansion/contraction due to heat/humidity differences. After installation of concrete or paver coping, a layer of sealant is typically added on top of the coping to reduce the water permeability of the coping surface. For pool owners in sunny or humid climates, this is especially important. Depending on the sealant and wear andtear of the pool, homeowners should re-apply sealant periodically. Failing to do so allows water to seep through the concrete like a sponge and will eventually begin delaminating the coping from the bondbeam or tile.
Common Pool Coping Types
As with most swimming pool installation decisions, there are plenty of choices to consider when it comes to materials. Here are the common coping materials we are experienced with servicing and installing when performing pool coping repair services:
- Travertine, limestone, sandstone, slate or granite coping – while the most expensive of the traditional coping methods, these luxurious stone materials create an authentic look for upscale, refined buildouts. While more slippery than other materials, some find natural stone to be more pleasant to the touch than other materials.
- Paver/Brick Coping – an alternative to natural stone with plenty of color and texture selections; more authentic (and expensive) than concrete, the paver coping style can be a good compromise for some families who want the upscale feel but are not ready for the upscale price tag.
- Precast Concrete Coping – similar to pavers, this style is typically the least expensive of the precast options. The concrete is also slip resistant and eliminates the danger of a disastrous concrete pour by an inexperienced installer. Precast concrete is also thinner than poured concrete and thus exerts less pressure on the bondbeam and earth below.
- Poured Concrete Coping – the least expensive option for large projects, where the entire pool’s coping can be done with one big pour. Concrete coping is also entirely flexible design-wise and preferred for modern or custom builds where intricate shaping is preferred. Like precast concrete, poured concrete is slip resistant.
Common Coping Edge Styles
While our contractors are happy to repair or install non-traditional styles, we find most coping falls into two categories:
- Bullnose – round edge used in traditional aesthetic architecture. This edge may be better for children’s safety and feel better as it meets the natural curve of your palm. Bullnose coping is also common on hot tubs and spas, where people often rest the backs of their necks on the edge.
- Square – straight edge coping is often used for modern pool decor as it creates a minimalist, scandinavian architecture style.
Why Do You Need Coping Around Your Pool?
Customers often ask us why coping is required. After all, why can’t the pool deck area extend all the way to the edge of the pool?
Some modern pool styles may get creative about addressing structural issues without using coping, but most traditional pool installations use coping for the following reasons:
- Structural – as explained in the Rupturing Expansion Joint section on this page, your pool and your pool deck must be free to move independently of each other. The coping and the expansion joint allow the pool to naturally expand and contract based on temperature and humidity without causing major structural damage to your pool deck.
- Aesthetic – coping is the ornamental picture frame around your pool, making your pool appear more substantial and beautiful.
- Comfort – depending on the material and edge style, coping can provide grip for your feet or a backrest for your neck. This is especially true in hot tubs or spas.