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Everything You Need To Know About Pool Tile

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

In our previous blog post we covered the best decking options to consider for your outdoor living project and why decking is the first material we recommend selecting when designing your pool. After this decision you have to move on to the next big decision: What pool tile is going to complement your gorgeous deck? With glass, porcelain, ceramic, and stone all as tile materials, it may feel overwhelming trying to find an option to match your unique style!

With over 17 years designing and building luxury outdoor living spaces, we are going to give you all the information you need to know about pool tile, the pros & cons of the different materials, and unique ways to incorporate tile into your outdoor living space!

How Does Pool Tile Differ From Interior Tile?

Pool tile is very similar to tile you would find in your kitchen or bathroom but with one crucial difference: pool tile is a more durable product. While your backsplash or shower tile can sustain exposure to low moisture levels, they would not be able to hold up to being constantly submerged under water and to have direct sunlight constantly beating on them. Pool tile has been graded to: withstand being under water all the time, face harsh UV rays, withstand pool chemicals being applied, and handle extreme temperature changes. Because of this pool tile can be used on the interior of your house but it is not good practice to use interior tile outdoors.

If you have seen an interior tile that you love the look of, it is very possible to find the same (or very similar) style in a pool tile. This is because pool tiles are available in a variety of materials, colors, patterns, and you can even combine different tiles to achieve a unique look! Our showroom in Clearwater Beach will have a wide variety of pool tile samples for you to see in person before you make your decision.

Check out a quick tour of our showroom!

Pool Tile Materials

Pool tiles have come a long way from the simple white or blue porcelain tiles that used to dominate pool building 20-30 years ago. Improvements in the fabrication of pool tile has led to more patterns, sizes, textures, and shapes available for you to choose from. During your in person consultation, your designer will provide you with tile recommendations based on the look and style you are looking to achieve in your outdoor living space!

Ceramic & Porcelain Pool Tile: Ceramic and Porcelain pool tiles have been used since the start of pool building. These tiles begin as a clay and then are heated in a kiln: which hardens the clay while also waterproofing them. The way this process is undergone is what creates the differences in ceramic and porcelain tile: the density of the clay used and the temperature it is heated to in the kiln. Porcelain tiles are denser, allowing them to hold up to the elements better over time.

Ceramic and porcelain pool tile have been a staple to use because they are durable, versatile, and are an affordable option. Properly maintained porcelain or ceramic tiles should remain structurally sound for a very long time, especially if you go with a timeless option. Choosing a classic color, pattern, or style is not for everyone though but; that does not mean you shouldn’t consider porcelain tiles if you fall into this category. Improvements have made it so that you can find porcelain or ceramic pool tile in almost any color, pattern, style, and design imaginable. They can even mimic the look of other materials, giving you the look of natural stone or glass tile at an affordable cost.

While ceramic and porcelain pool tiles are versatile and can look amazing when used in the right design, they do not always give off an elevated look like glass or natural stone does. The look of ceramic and porcelain tiles is going to wane over time quicker than a glass tile. They remain durable for a very long time but visually they do not hold up the best. They are prone to chipping on the face, patterns or color fading over time, and cracks as well. Because of this typically you will want to consider replacing porcelain pool tiles after 7-10 years purely for an aesthetic reason. Of course proper pool chemistry and maintenance will help with the life span of your pool tile!

Glass Pool Tile: Glass pool tile has become one of the most popular selections due to them coming in a wide range of colors, them being extremely durable, and their water reflective properties. Glass pool tile is our personal favorite at Island Way Pools. While many companies charge an upgrade cost if you decide to on any glass option, we include a wide selection of glass tile in our “Tier 1” material selection. Providing you an elevated, luxurious feel at not upgrade cost!

Glass pool tile is made by mixing glass powder with pigment and then heating it to fuse the glass powder together. The pigment or other additives are what allow the tiles to come in a variety of colors and offer unique effects: such as shimmer or being iridescent. As the manufacturing process has improved, new shapes and patterns have been introduced as well!

This wide selection of styles and colors paired with the luxurious look that glass pool tiles give off has made them extremely popular. Not only is the tile beautiful but it also has a beautiful effect on the water as well! Throughout the day sunlight will create gorgeous reflected light displays off your pool tile. This is especially exciting on your project if you incorporate more tile with a water feature, a spa, or tiling the entire interior of your pool (stay tuned for our next pool breaking down pool finishes)! In addition to providing a luxurious feel to your outdoor living space, glass pool tile is the most durable option to choose. They are essentially impervious to water, meaning they will hold up for 15+ years if your pool has been maintained properly. Many glass tiles are made from recycled materials and your glass pool tile can be recycled when you decide to replace it in the future!

Glass pool tile does come with a premium cost compared to porcelain oftentimes. While we do include options in our “Tier 1” material selection, we offer many glass tile options that are an upgrade to our “Tier 2” or “Tier 3” material selections as well. Do not worry though, we put the "Tier 1" glass tile options front and center in our Clearwater Beach Showroom. This way you don't immediately fall in love with a tile option that is an upgrade!

This cost premium has not stopped glass pool tile from becoming the most popular of selections for residential pool projects. This popularity has led manufacturers attempting to make the installation of them easier. Which is not an issue for a reputable pool contractor but, this ease of installation has made it easier for them to be installed improperly. Leading to water getting behind the tile, being more prone to algae growth, or pieces popping off. It is important to ensure that your pool contractor has samples of their work and purchases from reputable vendors.

Natural Stone Tile: Natural stone is the least common pool tile option you will see and oftentimes when you think you do see it out and about, it is actually a porcelain or ceramic stone mimicking the look of natural stone. It used to be extremely popular in the first pools being built but due to it being porous and expensive it fell out of use inside pools. If you are looking for a classic or Mediterranean look and price is not a concern, then considering a natural stone pool tile is not the worst idea. Even if that is the case, it would still be recommended to consider a porcelain option that could achieve a similar look and is easier to maintain.

Extra maintenance due to the natural stone affecting water chemistry and to prevent algae growth is another headache you will have to deal with. This paired with additional cost they come with, it hard to suggest this as an option for your pool's tile line. If you would like to include natural stone in your outdoor living space, it would be best to consider it for your decking or as an accent material on features included in your outdoor living space.

How Tile Is Incorporated Into Your Project?

You know all about pool tile, now you need to know how pool tile is incorporated into your pool and ways to include more of it in your outdoor living space!

When you receive your proposal from our design team, they are including a 6” tile line in your pricing. The tile line is a 6” band that runs around the perimeter of your pool. The tile line is there not only for aesthetic purposes but also helps keep a scum line from building up along the pool's waterline. It also helps in keeping your pool shell sealed and protected from the elements.

If you would like to show off more tile around your outdoor living space just let our design team know, they have plenty of ways to help you achieve that! Some of our favorite ways to incorporate tile are:

Jewelry Banded Steps

Flush or Raised Spas

Feature Walls or Water Features

Infinity Edges

Retaining Walls

Decorative Inlays In The Pool

Pro-Tips From Our Design Team

Choosing a large tile will provide your project with less grout lines; providing you a cleaner look and saving you a little energy with pool maintenance as well!

Choosing a tile that contrasts with your pool decking will really let your pool tile pop!

If you are flipping or plan on selling your house, consider choosing something with a timeless look to it!

Stay tuned for our next blog post covering the last major decision you have to make during the pool design process: picking a pool finish for your project. Are you ready to start designing your own outdoor oasis with the Island Way Pools team? Take advantage of your free consultation and 3D design today, (727)-488-2047!


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