Apr 26, 2017 4:10:00 PM / by Claude Kershner IV

Do you notice a white film covering your pool tile that requires constant care but never goes away? Are pool tiles popping? Do you notice darker tiles that indicate areas where groundwater is leaching into pool?

Unfortunately, poor pool tile installation reveals itself months and even years after a job is complete. By then, you have invested thousands of dollars in materials and labor—and your pool is in use.

There are a number of pool contractors in South Florida that bring in tiling subcontractors who do a fine job of tiling bathrooms, kitchens, floors and backsplashes. But the process and materials required to correctly apply tile in a submerged application like a pool are completely different. The pool tiling process is sophisticated, requires ongoing training and an understanding of pool tile and manufacturers’ tiling requirements. (Don’t expect a manufacturer to uphold a warranty if tile was not installed according to their specifications!)


Inferior pool tile is such a problem for many property owners, so Reef Tropical has focused resources on developing a pool tiling process that is designed to maintain the beauty and integrity of tile. Our process may take longer and cost a bit more than competing pool contractors, but the difference is, you won’t be calling us six months or several years later with tile problems that require expensive renovations.

We can’t emphasize “buyer beware” enough. If the price of tiling your pool sounds too good to be true, it is. We educate general contractors and architects about the proper pool tiling process so they can include the time, cost and materials in the overall scope of work. (For example, you cannot rush the curing process, unless you want tile problems down the road.)

What is the pool tiling process at Reef Tropical, and what does this mean for your pool project? Let us fill you in…

Pool Tile Problems Caused by Improper Installation

If your pool contractor tells you a subcontractor “does tile all day long” and is a pro at finishing bathrooms, kitchens, you name it—then beware. Installing pool tile is a different ball game. Tiling interior applications like a backsplash or floor usually means using thinset, tile, grout and sealer. If this same process is used when installing pool tile, you’ve got problems. Here are some of them:

Efflorescence: This means “to flower out” in French, and it refers to when salt migrates to the surface of concrete and tiles and forms a coating. In a pool, you’ll notice calcium deposits that continue to return no matter how much you clean the surface. Efflorescence occurs on pool tile when a pool contractor does not waterproof behind the tile. (We’ll explain more below in Reef Tropical’s Pool Tiling Process.)

Popping Tiles: When the proper sub-base and waterproofing is not installed during the pool tiling process, then pressure from groundwater can cause tile to pop.

Discoloration: When building a pool you have to consider the water table way below your pool bottom. Without proper waterproofing, groundwater can seep into the pool through the concrete. In an all tile pool, that’s where you could see the popping. With pebble sheen or aggregate finishes, you might notice a darkening/discoloration of the surface. That is because certain areas are moist from groundwater.

Excessive Wear: Pool tile is constantly submerged and subjected to fluctuating water temperatures and a range of chemicals. Some pool contractors make the mistake of using tile that is not specifically manufactured for pools. This tile will not stand up over time.


Reef Tropical’s Pool Tiling Process

Pool tiling has evolved over the years, and the process has become increasingly more sophisticated with more steps (such as two layers of waterproofing) to improve the appearance, integrity and longevity of tiling. Because technology is constantly changing, we recognize the importance of partnering with pool tile manufacturers to get the latest training and information. That way, we can properly install pool tiling so it looks amazing, lasts through its expected life and is covered by warranty. (Again, improper installation will cancel out the warranty.)

At Reef Tropical, we use the 7-step process as follows:

  1. Primary waterproofing
  2. Mortar bed bond coat and mortar bed
  3. Secondary waterproofing
  4. Tile bond coat
  5. Pool tile
  6. Grout
  7. Perimeter and movement joint sealant

Many pool contractors cut corners and eliminate many (or most) steps in this process because they want to save time and money. Homeowners want projects done quickly, and they are interested budget. And, general contractors and architects may be facing project deadlines and request that a pool contractor speed up the process. But, pool tiling requires this complete process—and that means allowing time for waterproofing and properly curing the sub-base.

We never agree to cut corners on our pool tiling process because we are concerned about the best interests of property owners’ and ensuring that they receive the best product for their investment. We know, waiting for 7 to 28 days for curing can be frustrating. (Who doesn’t want to jump in the pool now!?) Including double waterproofing does increase the cost. But, it’s all about doing the job right the first time and getting a quality, stunning tile finish that will truly make your pool a focal point of your outdoor living environment.


How We Train Tiling Subcontractors

To uphold the integrity of Reef Tropical’s pool tiling process, we are very selective about the few subcontractors that we partner with to complete installation. In fact, we work exclusively with a couple of subcontractors who are trained in-house at Reef Tropical and by our pool tile manufacturers. They understand the latest pool tile technology, installation techniques and how to troubleshoot issues that can crop up in the field. Our tiling subcontractors focus specifically on pool tile installation. They are not general tile guys that put in pool tile on their days off from installing tile in bathrooms and floors. This is important because pool tile is a specialty and it demands an experienced professional who is up to date on modern installation materials and best practices.


The Results of Quality Pool Tile Installation

A high-quality pool tile application looks flawless and has a vibrant glimmering sheen that catches the eye. It cleans up easily (no efflorescence) and stays in tact in spite of being constantly submerged and subjected to chemicals and the underlying water table pressure. It lasts for decades. Pool tile installed properly lends a pool the “wow factor” that makes the final project look like a luxury setting on a magazine cover. And, you don’t have to spend a fortune to achieve this result. There is pool tile available at a range of price points. What you do need to ensure is that the pool tiling installation process is one of high integrity, performed by professionals and backed up by an experienced pool contractor like Reef Tropical.

Let’s evaluate your existing pool tile, or talk to us about the pool project you envision on your South Florida property. We have ideas, expertise and proven systems to ensure your investment will result in a high-end, high-quality pool or spa. Contact us any time at 305.367.2005, or fill out this contact form and we’ll get in touch with you.

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Topics: Pool & Spa Construction

Claude Kershner IV

Written by Claude Kershner IV

President Reef Tropical • Pool & Landscape

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