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Tiled Swimming Pools and Why everyone loves them

They look the Best!

The only reason nowadays why anyone would choose to install a tiled pool is that they look the Best and are the Dogs Bollocks of the pools business

There is simply no doubt that from an aesthetic point of view nothing compares with a beautifully built ceramic tiled pool.

Mosaic tiled pools never ever seem to quite cut the mustard in this respect

But Why do Tiled Pools so often leak?

The question posed above can be answered with the simple statement "Most tiled pools leak because of faulty design and installation procedures"

Let's take look at what is required in ensuring that a tiled pool does not leak and then compare the technology with Vinyl Liner Pool Technology.

In the UK things are different because there are firms that specialise in sprayed concrete that can be used to successfully build water tight tiled swimming pools using a modern process called Shotcrete.

The design and construction of tiled pools

Tiles can only be placed on walls and floors that are structurally rigid and that do not flex under water pressure, ground pressure or temperature change. If flexing occurs the tiles will come off. The tiles themselves are not water-proof and so the structure itself has to provide the water-proofing.

Across the globe such structures are often formed with Gunite that involves projecting concrete pneumatically at high speed onto a natural ground surface or onto a formed surface using shuttering. Reinforcement consisting of steel wires or rods is put in place before so that the gunite surrounds them and becomes "reinforced concrete". The method of construction allows both curved and flat shapes to be formed and is in common usage in Australia and the US. It does require good ground conditions because it is impractical to build thick sections using this technology.

Gunite is a process that uses quite dry concrete and is now being replaced by shotcrete where wet concrete is pumped onto similar formwork under high presssure.

In SW France the Ground Conditions are too poor for Gunite

In SW France the ground conditions are often too poor at pool sites to use Gunite and so conventional reinforced concrete construction would be required. This involves the construction of a heavily reinforced slab base (250 to 300 mm thick) and walls (180 to 200 mm thick).

In either case the structure must be designed by an experienced fully qualified civil / structural engineer who will take all the ground conditions, pool size, pool depth etc into account.

The most important construction issue relates to the joint between the heavy ground slab and the walls. The slab obviously has to be cast first. The shutters for the walls are then erected and the walls concrete poured a day or so later. This results in a joint that is virtually impossible to water-proof in a 200 mm thick wall.

Hence the water-proofing is provided by a water-proof membrane that is applied to the surface of the very expensive pool structure. The quality of the membrane and the leakiness of the pool relies entirely on the materials used, the mix proportions, the mixing and the skill and integrity of the plasterer.


Other ceramic tiled pool construction issues

There are various other construction issues that need to be taken into account in the design and installation of a ceramic tiled pool and these include:

1.) The concrete base slab and the walls will need to be cleaned by water blasting, shot blasting, grit blasting etc to ensure that the render / screed sticks on - these are all very dirty processes that take a lot of time to undertake
2.) The concrete base slab and the walls will need to be levelled with render / screed to get the necessary flatness for tile installation (< 3mm in 3m) - this may also need cleaning before the membrane is applied
3. ) After leveling the waterproof membrane will need to be applied - this will be a proprietary latex based product mixed with Portland cement that will stop moisture penetration, moisture expansion, chemical attack by chlorides and efflorescence. The membrane will need to cure for 7 days at 20 + degrees C.
4.) After curing the pool will need to be flood tested for leaks - this will involve filling at a slow rate of 600 mm in 24 hours. Fugitive dyes and a scuba diver will be required to locate any leaks
5. ) Mosaic tiles will need to be paper faced ceramics as back mounted mosaics can come off the wall following saturation and pool water chemical attack
6. ) Tiles must be impervious or vitreous to reduce the effects of moisture expansion and to eliminate freeze / thaw problems
7. )The tile mortar bed must be latex based to reduce chemical attack and improve flexibility to withstand moisture expansion and shrinkage or epoxy based (expensive and can be difficult to use)
8. ) The grout can be latex based or epoxy based - epoxies can discolour under sunlight.
9. ) Movement joints must be provided in the tiling in strict accordance with the grout manufacturer's installation instructions
10. ) The latex based beds and grouts will need to cure for 14 days at 20 degees C (10 days for epoxies)
11. ) Pool to be filled at 600 mm per 24 hours to prevent excessive water pressure, thermal and moisture differentials. Filling should not proceed in direct hot sunlight or with very cold water

Through the wall pool equipment and main drain items in PVC are not compatible with the surrounding concrete

There is another major potential problem with tiled pools that relates to the "through the wall equipment" and the main drain. These items are made in high quality PVC that is not suceptible to corrosion from the chlorinated water in the pool. But whilst the plastic is excellent from a corrosion point of view the concrete that is cast around the plastic inserts like the skimmers and main drain etc tends to shrink away from it and it is virtually impossible to stop leaks occuring, particularly around the main drain where the water head is highest.

In a liner pool mechanical joints with high quality gaskets are installed - these virtually never leak and if they do because of faulty installation - the joint is easy to repair.


So It is no wonder that tiled pools take so long to build and are so susceptible to leakage!!


Ceramic tiled pool operational issues

The control of pool water chemistry is very important in ceramic tiled pools:

1. Chlorine uses and depletes calcium and so calcium balance is essential to prevent deterioration of cement based grouts and mortars
2. If the pH is too high mineral deposits will form on the tiles and grout - they can form under the surface of the ceramic tiles causing the surface to come off the tiles
3. If the pH is too low acidic etching of the grouts and mortars can occur
4. If the calcium hardness is too low the pool water will etch calcium from the grout and if it is too high calcium deposits can form on any of the pool surfaces
5. At normal pH values iron and copper metals will come out of solution and can then be deposited as stain on tiles, grout and pool fittings

Another common problem is that the skimmers become loose in the concrete wall in which they are built. This results in leakage that can only be cured with putty that is unsightly and likely to be picked out by small fingers!

PVC liner pool technology is more cost effective

When everything is taken into consideration it is difficult to understand why anyone would want to take the risk of building a ceramic tiled pool - except as we established above - they look the Dogs Bollocks!

PVC liner pools:

  • Will not leak even under quite large structural movements in the pool walls and floor
  • Vinyl liners can be renewed comparatively cheaply (2000 to 4000 euros) and easily on a DIY basis
  • Allow leaks to be easily located and repaired (this will be the subject of a future article)
  • Are virtually impervious to chemical attack (calcium deposition can occur but PVC is much easier to clean than tiling and grout)
  • And last but not least they look good - but not as good as a ceramic tiled pools!

Tiled ot vinyl liner?

PVC liner pools cost half of what ceramic tiled pools cost and are superior in just about every way. They are based on the latest material technology and are environmentally friendly because of the reduced requirement for energy intensive cement and steel products.

Ceramic tiled pools are based on 40 year old technology and rely on modern chemical additives to work- but they still look better

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