Most in-ground pools are built with a plaster finish. That’s because plaster is tried-and-true and economical, so plaster finishes are the “standard” option when it comes to pool finishes. Some downsides are that they require more maintenance, and don’t last very long if your upkeep isn’t consistent.
For people who want something a little different, you may want to have an aggregate pool finish. Aggregate finishes, or pebble finishes, are much more durable than plaster and arguably look more aesthetically pleasing. The biggest downsides are their high cost and hard surface. If you’re in the market for a pebble finish, then look for no further than PebbleTec finishes.
Both a PebbleTec finish and plaster finish have their pros and cons, some of which I already mentioned above. In this article, I will go over the advantages and disadvantages of each option in more detail so you can make an informed decision.
What is a plaster finish?
Before we begin, it is imperative that you understand what exactly is being compared. So let’s start with what a plaster finish is exactly.
Plaster finishes have been used as early as the 50s and 60s. It is an affordable material that results in smooth surfaces. The plaster can be dyed so that you can get various solid colors. For instance, some pool owners want a black finish so that their pool will absorb more heat from sunlight. Others prefer a blue or white plaster finish so the water can look more blue or clearer respectively.
Plaster is a combination of these materials: sand, cement, and calcium carbonate (plaster dust). They are mixed together and the resulting mixture is then evenly spread on the pool structure (walls and floor) with a trowel until a “cream” is brought to the surface.
This cream is cement and calcium carbonate that has separated from the sand, and when it dries it hardens into a protective layer surrounding the pool structure. The protective layer is not very thick; approximately as thin as 2-3 sheets of paper.
Since the protective layer is so thin, that is why improper water chemistry, acid baths, or draining the pool and leaving it empty for a long time can be so damaging to the plaster finish. These scenarios can cause the protective layer to separate from the sandy cement underneath, causing cracking and popping.
What is a PebbleTec finish?
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PebbleTec is the company responsible for making the first ever aggregate pool finish. An aggregate finish is basically a plaster finish that also contains small pebbles, pigments, and other additives (e.g. crushed sea shells, quartz, or glass beads for more color).
The aggregate is mixed on-site, pumped to the pool structure through a hose, and an applicator will apply the mixture on the pool structure. After application, the top layer is removed to expose the pebbles underneath. Then it is left to cure for 24 hours, and acid washed afterwards.
Out of all the brands offering aggregate finishes, PebbleTec is the most popular worldwide, and their Original finish has become synonymous with the company’s name. PebbleTec (the company) offers other products such as PebbleFina, PebbleSheen, and PebbleBrilliance.
What makes an aggregate finish so unique is due to the pebbles. They are sourced from all over the world, selected based on size, color, and how smooth the shape is. This results in a very ethereal look, with the pebbles providing a wide range of colors that can change the water color.
Since 90% of the finish that is exposed to water is stone, which is unaffected by water chemistry and impervious to acid, only 10% of the exposed material (cement) will be negatively impacted by the water.
This ultimately makes pebble finishes much more durable than plaster, where 100% of the exposed material is vulnerable to an unbalanced water chemistry.
Pebble Tec vs plaster
In this section, I will be comparing Pebble Tec and plaster finishes head on to see which one comes out on top.
Advantages of plaster
- Plaster is economical. If you are on a tight budget, look no further than a plaster pool finish. Plaster finishes cost about half as much as aggregate finishes.
- Plaster has a smooth finish. If you want your pool to feel easy on your skin and swimwear, this is it. Wait, other pool finishes don’t have a smooth finish? That’s right, if a smooth finish is important to you, stick with plaster.
- It is easy to apply. Since plaster is so commonly used, everybody who works in the pool industry can apply it. Heck, you might even be able to do it yourself. That’s not necessarily true for aggregate finishes.
- Available in multiple colors. You don’t need to stick with white plaster. How about blue plaster? Or green, grey, purple, or even all black? Plaster can do it.
Disadvantages of plaster
- Plaster is not very durable. It is prone to discoloration and cracking and having algae grow on it.
- You need to re-plaster your pool every 5 years. To patch up any damage, you need to re-plaster your pool and this is a recurring expense, especially if you’re on a payment plan. That said, fixes can be cheap relative to the other pool finishes.
- You need to be on top of maintenance. You can’t slack when it comes to maintaining your plaster pools. Stains and discoloration is commonplace with plaster since it is a porous material. An imbalance in water chemistry can also damage it.
Advantages of PebbleTec
- PebbleTec looks aesthetically gorgeous. It comes in a variety of colors and patterns thanks to the combination of pebbles, pigments, and additives used. You won’t just have a solid, artifical color; it will look extremely natural as if you’re actually swimming in a riverbed or at a beach in the Bahamas depending on which color option you go with.
- Longevity. Unsurprisingly, stone is very durable. PebbleTec is expected to last anywhere from 15-25 years. It also comes with a 5-year limited warranty.
- Low maintenance. Just brush its surface at least once a week and that’s about it. It is relatively unaffected by acid washing or an unbalanced pool.
- Unlikely to stain or collect mildew. Expanding on the point above, aggregate finishes are not as porous as plaster, with 90% of the exposed surface being stone. You can feel pretty safe about it looking as good as the day it was installed even years down the line.
Disadvantages of PebbleTec
- Texture can be rough and bumpy. You’re literally standing on a bunch of pebbles. It’s not exactly the greatest feeling on your feet. Some people are more sensitive to this than others. PebbleTec offers various options to deal with this such as smaller pebbles or buffing the pebbles to make it smoother.
- Expensive. PebbleTec costs at least twice as much as plaster. Many people say no simply on the basis that they cannot afford the premium price. That said, it can also last twice as long as plaster, so in the long run the value may even out to be roughly the same.