Pool tile is a lot like grass on a golf course – you don’t absolutely need it, but it’s not the same without it. It is an extremely important element when it comes to the overall maintenance, longevity, and aesthetic of your swimming pool. Most commonly known for its use as waterline tile, the 6” band running along the top perimeter of the pool certainly serves a purpose! Where the surface of the water touches the wall is known as the scum line. This is where minerals, debris, and algae collect.
Unlike the plaster and aggregate, pool tile is much smoother and is also non-porous allowing for easier cleaning this scum and debris that otherwise would collect and be more difficult to remove from the rough, porous surface of the plaster or aggregate. Algae love porous materials as it provides a home to grow. So it only makes sense to use a material that repels these unwanted elements. This ideology also holds true in fiberglass pools. Fiberglass pools do not require waterline tile, but most do utilize pool tile for the waterline for both practicality as well as the finished look. Pool tile is available in both porcelain and glass, and in many different formats.
Not just for waterline… Pool tile is also used to accent steps, create accent walls, beautify a spa or fountain. And for those seeking the ultimate pool finish, there is nothing better than a completely tiled all-glass mosaic pool finish! Today’s most popular trend in pool finishes is in fact glass mosaic pools, and for good reason.
Glass tile can light up your pool like a beautiful smile. Unlike traditional porcelain pool tile, glass offers a much broader variety of reflective colors and iridescent finishes allowing light to reflect when the sun hits it just right. Glass tile may also be translucent, or semi-translucent giving the material a much greater sense of dimension and depth. The material is also the most durable of any pool finish as it is frostproof, UV resistant, and impervious to water. Glass tile pool finishes indeed come at a premium, but this is outweighed by the beauty and durability of the material.
There are certainly long-term cost savings. A properly installed glass tile finish should last indefinitely with proper care and maintenance, whereas traditional plaster finishes and aggregates tend to be replaced or repaired every five to ten years. This is when signs of etching and chipping start to occur. On average a homeowner could expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $30 per sqft for the installation of glass tile. Pricing will vary based on location, application, and the level of expertise of the installer that is hired – keep in mind that glass tiles are considered a luxury finish and will also improve property value.
On that note, here are four things to think about regarding the care and maintenance of your pool tile to make it last as long as possible:
Pool Chemistry Maintenance
In order to keep your pool’s pH, alkalinity and chlorine at the optimum levels, check twice a week – or more. A balanced pool chemistry-wise will go a long way in keeping pool tiles looking great. If you fail to perform consistent pool maintenance, be prepared for algae and/or scale formation due to low pH.
And a high pH isn’t any better for your pool and pool tiles. Grout will degrade (as in staining, fading and eroding) if the pH is at the upper levels.
To help you with a maintenance schedule, here’s a handy timetable to follow:
Once a Month – Check for calcium hardness as well as total dissolved salts (TDS). If you have a salt pool, it’s also a good idea to make sure you have necessary salt levels required for the particular water volume of your pool.
Once a Week – It’s extremely critical to check for total alkalinity (TA).
It’s also important to clean the entire pool weekly or more regularly. There’s also pool chores like vacuuming, brushing and skimming that are normally accomplished daily or weekly. This usually depends on how much time you have and how badly your pool needs it.
And don’t forget about those non-ordinary occurrences. A giant blowout pool party can move up your normal maintenance. Storms, unusually windy conditions and temperature spikes also mean extra maintenance.
Notice unusual odors coming from your pool? This also usually indicates more maintenance. Murky water, growth of algae usually means the same thing. If you find your pool water burning your eyes or irritating your skin, give your pool an extra maintenance massage.
Hard water is also hard on your swimming pool tiles as well as equipment. Scaling occurs from hard water as the elements of magnesium and calcium become problematic in combination with normal water evaporation. Fortunately pool additives exist to soften the water. These commercial additives will also control calcium levels.
Calcium buildup is also managed with products that help with scale and stains.
Waterline Tile Care
The wind blows, leaves and dust enter your pool. And where do they go? You can pretty much count on leaves, oil and most floating debris to eventually cling to waterline tiles. A nylon scrubbing sponge or bristled brush of nylon should be used to remove dirt from ceramic or porcelain mosaic tile. Pumice stone may have to be called into action to carefully remove stubborn scaling.
Glass mosaic tiles for your waterline tend to require less maintenance. But when grime and dirt do become a problem, homemade cleaners are often the best weapon. Pool owners have used everything from water and vinegar to vinegar and baking soda cleaners for glass tile. Dish soap and even toothpaste have also been called upon to get rid of unsightly deposits.
Pool professionals believe waterline tile could actually survive three quarters of a century with the best care possible following professional installation. At the very least, you can expect great looking waterline pool tile for quite a few years with timely maintenance and routine cleaning.
If you live in a region where it’s far too cold to swim throughout the year, you should carefully prepare your pool at the beginning of your area’s swim season as well as at the end of the season.
Whether filling your pool or draining it, the key is go slowly. When the changes in pressure are gradual, pool tile will generally not be affected. By filling or draining too quickly, damage often occurs to tile on account of contraction or expansion.
You should aim for one-inch per hour when it comes to draining or filling your pool on a seasonal basis.
Your swimming pool’s tile grout should also be inspected at the start of pool season – and on a regular basis if you live in an area where swimming is pretty much a year-round pleasure. It’s usually recommended to seal pool tile grout every three to five years. This extra protection for your grout will help your tile to look its best, not to mention staying in place.
A pool cover also is a very good idea when your pool is not in use. This keeps your tiles and pool in tip-top shape. Additionally, a good quality pool cover helps prevent children and pets from slipping into the water. A pool cover also dramatically reduces the rate of pool water evaporation. Remember, a high evaporation rate is primarily responsible for waterline scale.
During the day when exposed to temperatures, humidity and winds, water will evaporate faster if not protected with a pool cover.
A bonus to using a pool cover to help tiles last longer, you will find that pool covers normally reduce the costs of heating. It’s possible to reduce heating costs 70% with pool covers.
Start With Professional Installation
Having a professional install your waterline tiles will inevitably extend their usefulness for more than the normal life span of five to 10 years. Want proof? Take a look at what happens to tiles when they’re not initially installed correctly – they simply fall off.
Swimming pool tiles should never just fall off. This generally happens when industry standards are not followed during the installation process.
For one thing, using the improper thin-set while attaching tiles can make them fall off down the road (or in the pool as in this case). Another installation issue that results in tile fall occurs when the installer uses an inferior grout that is not meant for applications under water. Using a homemade concrete mix or thin-set are not good substitutes for industry standard grout designed for water use.
In general, if you want problems with your pool, cutting corners is a sure way to bring them on.
The degradation of the cement bed behind improperly installed tile can also occur. This commonly happens due to shoddy workmanship during the laying of the tiles, which permits the seeping of water via cracks in the tile or grout.
Tile damage is also the result of poor water chemistry. You want calcium hardness levels of 200-400 PPM. This level of calcium hardness puts a stop to corrosive water. You do not want corrosive water, which will react negatively with any metals in your pool (such as swimming pool equipment) as well as with tile grout.
When designing some of the more challenging pool mosaic tile patterns, you especially want a pool tile professional to handle the work. Compelling but challenging patterns include glass subway tile and hexagon tile.
When To Replace Tiles
There are several other telltale signs of tile problems in addition to tiles just falling off. This includes:
- Stained Tile – When minerals emerge from grout and adhere to a tile surface, staining will occur. If the tile isn’t ruined, you can expect white spots or just a general downgraded appearance.
An acid wash can usually fix this problem if the stained tile is not beyond repair. It’s not recommended for do-it-yourselfers due to the presence of acid. However, for around $40 you can buy the necessary chemicals. Protective clothing is also required to do this somewhat potentially dangerous job.
Expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $250 to have a pool professional eliminate the tile stains with an acid wash. You will find that the cost to do this varies considerably depending on pool size as well as pool accessibility and the particular company handling the project.
- Cracked Tile – A cracked tile is also fixable if the damage is not all that bad. There are tile patching kits available for this job. Most tile patching kits allow you to create an adhesive material with water and mortar that comes with the kit.
Removing the cracked tile can be a little tricky. First you need to use a screwdriver or even a chisel to take off the cracked tile. When you do this be very careful not to damage tiles that aren’t cracked. Then, once you have the patch kit adhesive ready to go, just spread the adhesive onto the wall behind the tile (called a beam). It’s important the beam is completely covered with the adhesive before leveraging the new tile in place. Wait a good 24-hours or so before attempting to re-grout.
- Grout Corrosion – Never underestimate the importance of good grout. If the grout is worn down, don’t be surprised if pool tiles fall off next. Inspect grout regularly for possible corrosion issues. It could definitely be the right time to replace tiles if grout between your tiles is in bad shape.
Also, be aware that tile gaps caused by degrading grout can become a hazard for swimmers who may receive scrapes and cuts if they come in contact with grout gaps.