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Thaumas P. Ehr, Landscape Architect

Trusty Old "Kool Deck " is Still Cool

It used to be that every backyard swimming pool looked just about the same—because everybody relied on the same product, Keystone Kool Deck, to keep the concrete deck around the pool comfortable under bare feet.

In fact, if your concrete pool deck was built before the mid-1990s, it’s probably topped with that familiar, mottled beige concrete. Today, though, Kool Deck installers skilled in what one of my friends in the swimming pool business calls “artistic professionalism” have become few and far between.

And Kool Deck, which used to surround nearly every new backyard swimming hole in Arizona, now covers just about 15 percent of new-pool decks, estimates the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals.

Taking its place are surfaces from natural stone to plain or stamped concrete to acrylic Kool Deck lookalikes, which, like Kool Deck, are textured so they’re not as slippery as other floors.

Homeowners who want a high-style outdoor space and don’t mind a super-hot or slippery-when-wet surface are springing for flagstone and other natural stones around the pool.

Gaining in popularity, though, are the acrylic concrete coatings, which can be mottled to prevent slipping and lower the surface temperature a bit, or fashioned into faux stone to mimic flagstone and other popular styles. Their appeal: simple maintenance and easy-to-match replacement patches. A Kool Deck-coated deck can look like a patchwork quilt after a number of years because it’s hard to match the color during repairs once the sun has faded the surface.

Kool Deck is also a bit trickier to install than acrylic. And acrylic is more reluctant than Kool Deck to absorb stains, my friends in the pool industry tell me.

Still, an acrylic-covered concrete pool deck is likely to be at least 20 degrees hotter to the touch than one topped with Kool Deck, which outshines all other products when it comes to keeping your bare feet from burning. That’s according to Mortex, the Tucson-based company that has made Kool Deck since the 1960s. 

Whichever deck covering you choose, keep a few simple guidelines in mind:

  • The lighter your deck’s color, the cooler it will be. That’s why so many Kool Deck-covered pool decks are sand- or buff-colored. Some dark surfaces may look great, but your feet will regret the choice on our first 100-degree day.
  • If you want Kool Deck, make sure that’s what you’re getting. Kool Deck has become synonymous with “pool deck,” just as Kleenex has become just another word for “tissue.” Kool Deck is a brand name and a specific kind of product.
  • Likewise, make sure your installer is experienced and trained in working with Kool Deck, which requires different skills than an acrylic deck.A smooth deck surface will be slippery when wet. A mottled surface is less slippery.
  • Prices for installing Kool Deck or acrylic vary widely, depending on the condition of your existing pool deck. Don’t trust an installer to quote you a price over the phone. Find someone who is willing to take a look at your pool and judge the amount of work that’s needed before giving you an estimate.
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