Cool by the Poolside

Winter 2016

Installing long-lasting and low-maintenance concrete paver decks

by David R. Smith



Cool by the Poolside

A Familiar Start: Compaction

Pools made with a flexible liner or fiberglass require much excavation and soil backfill against them. This soil is almost impossible to compact adequately because there is a high risk of compaction equipment damaging the pool wall, the metal “knee” wall/wing wall supports, and/or pipes. Pools made with gunite concrete or poured concrete can have walls of sufficient thickness and support where backfill soil against them can be compacted. However, the soil directly against the wall will be difficult to compact, again because of the risk of damage to a plate compactor or to the pool wall. Therefore, settlement can occur here as well.

Some paver installation contractors claim that installing and compacting the soil backfill and aggregate base can reduce the risk of settlement. That may be true assuming that maximum density is achieved for both materials during compaction. However, the places compaction equipment cannot reach will be at risk of settlement. If a contractor uses a compacted aggregate base, then a warranty should be included in the price to cover the cost of returning to the site a few years later to inspect and lift settled paver areas. Given unpredictable future costs and hassles for the contractor (not to mention the owner), it’s better to complete a job that doesn’t include a return visit.

To avoid returning for paid (or worse still, unpaid) callbacks due to settlement issues, use a 4 in. (100 mm) thick concrete pad as a base. Placing a 2 in. (50 mm) thick layer of free-draining compacted aggregate such as ASTM No. 57 stone under the base enables water to drain from below. Figure 2 illustrates this material placed over a compacted, crushed stone base. The concrete base surface should slope at least 1.5% to allow water to drain.

A key aspect of all pool surfaces is no settlement or undulations that present walking or tripping hazards, or slipping hazards from birdbaths. By providing a rigid, sloped foundation, a concrete deck under the concrete pavers helps maintain safety. This should be the first priority and result of all pool projects.

Wear an Apron or the Full Dress?

When a concrete base is used, should it be built as an apron covering only areas of settlement-prone compacted soil and aggregate base around the pool perimeter? Or should it extend as a full dress under the entire area of the concrete pavers? A dress is preferred. The problem with apron construction is differential settlement of the soil and base next to the concrete base under the concrete pavers will almost always occur regardless of diligent soil and base compaction. Slideshow images show installation and a completed concrete full dress surrounding the entire pool area, as well as installed coping attached to the concrete base structure. In this case, the coping is not resting on the pool wall.

Overlays on Existing Concrete Decks

Installing concrete pool decks with an overlay of concrete pavers is less expensive than removing and replacing the entire concrete deck. To qualify for an overlay on an existing concrete deck, the concrete should not be heaving or faulted, as this often indicates severe settlement of the soil beneath or expansive clay soils. In these cases, subsurface drains can remove excess water from the soil. Expansive soils can be stabilized with lime. Both should be done after demolishing the concrete deck and before pouring a new one. The advice of a professional civil engineer familiar with the local soils should be obtained in such situations.

Cracks in the existing concrete base can be filled with a cement-based patch to prevent migration of bedding sand into them. The junction of the concrete slab with the pool wall should be sealed with a neoprene or urethane sealant (often applied with a caulking gun). This keeps water from getting behind the pool wall and saturating the base and soil.

There is a growing trend toward using paving slabs, generally 12 x 12 in. (300 x 300 mm) or larger. Sometimes these are mixed with smaller units. All units should be at least 2 inches thick. They require a thin, coarse (drainable) bedding sand layer, typically no thicker than ¾ in. (20 mm), screeded smooth, ready to receive the paving slabs (or pavers).

Slabs and pavers should be compacted with a plate compactor with rollers on the bottom to reduce the risk of cracking slabs. Joints are then filled with sand, and sealer is applied. Prior to placing and screeding the bedding sand, 12 in. (300 mm) wide geotextile strips should be applied over concrete deck joints, placed and turned up at joints against structures, and placed along coping to prevent bedding sand loss.

Prior to applying the pavers, all area drains must be raised to the new finished elevation of the installed pavers. Holes must be drilled into the vertical drain pipe directly above the concrete deck. This drains excess water from under the pavers. The holes should be covered with geotextile to prevent ingress of sand.

Many overlays use thin, tile-like concrete pavers placed directly over a concrete deck. Thin pavers typically range between 1 to 1½ in. (25 and 40 mm) thick and are generally about 4 in. (100 mm) wide by 8 in. (200 mm) long. Unlike sand-set slabs or pavers, concrete pavers are directly applied to the existing concrete deck without bedding sand after cracks are patched. Edge pavers are secured with a polymer adhesive or mortar (in non-freezing areas).

Fine sand is swept and washed into the joints until they are full. Using thin pavers as new construction of course avoids bedding sand as well. In new or rehabilitative projects, washing sand in the joints enables it to flow under the pavers so no rocking or clicking of pavers occurs when walked upon.

After the surface is completely dry (usually in 24 hours), it receives sealer to hold the sand in the joints and reduce water ingress. The sealer is typically reapplied every three to five years to maintain the sand in the joints and protect the surface. Even with this maintenance cycle, overall costs are well lower than replacing the entire concrete deck. Sealers also greatly reduce the risk of mold and bacteria, thereby addressing concerns of health officials regarding public pools.

Advantages of Pavers

Tie-downs for pool covers can be installed below the pavers with high-strength grout-filled sleeves. Tie-down caps should be even with the paver surface. Should pipe or wiring repairs be needed, concrete pavers can be removed and reinstated with no ugly patches. The units resist chlorine and bromine, as well as freeze and thaw cycles. Concrete pavers offer a slip-resistant surface even when sealed. Salt-water pools can attack concrete surfaces, so be sure they are thoroughly sealed.

Besides their unmatched beauty compared to other deck surfaces, colored concrete pavers reduce the glare often associated with cast-in-place concrete pool decks. Almost every paver pool deck in warm climates consist of beige, coral, or buff colors that reduce glare from the sun. Because the units have joints, each unit has some opportunity to release heat faster than a cast-in-place concrete deck. Therefore, the units can be cooler underfoot than other surfaces. So a paver surface feels as well as looks cool.

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