A Functional, Purpose-Designed, DIY, & Totally DIFFERENT Pool Deck Coating

cool pool deck

A Functional, Purpose-Designed, DIY, & Totally DIFFERENT Pool Deck Coating

However, there are in fact some industries where the category dynamic has not significantly progressed in decades. These antiquated markets are locked in time begging for a breath of fresh air, the category is tired and stale. The overall offering hasn’t really changed, the products have improved marginally at best, and although new competitors continually enter & exit the space, the essence of the actual products never truly evolve into something greater.

There are perhaps many of these exceptional markets if you look hard enough, but in this article, I’ll do my best to speak to one of the more…. how should I say this? One of the more, “unassuming, yet utterly fitting, and perhaps boring-to-some” examples, Pool Deck Coatings.

This report is essentially a coalescence of thoughts, observations, and philosophy I’ve gathered over the last 12 years of living & breathing this space. It will shed light on the anatomy of the pool deck coating industry, where it started, where it’s been, where it’s going, and how I somehow ended up here writing this. Rather than this becoming some sort of formal “white paper”, I’d like to keep it real, not too uptight or overly technical, and honest. Without further ado, this is how COOL! became the most popular Pool Deck Coating in America.

I’ll break it down like this:

  • Pool Deck Challenges 101
  • The “Most Peculiar, and Perhaps Demanding Application in the entire Paint Category, and the Single Reason Why.”
  • The Anatomy of the Pool Deck Coating Space & The Dichotomy Within.
  • How COOL! Filled The Gap.
  • The COOL! DIFFERENCE. (A Functional, Purpose-Designed, DIY & Totally DIFFERENT Pool Deck Coating)

Pool Deck Challenges 101:

So if you’ve never owned a swimming pool and never plan to, and you’re still reading this for some reason, I guess you’ll need a brief lesson in “Pool Deck Challenges 101”. For the current pool owner experiencing these challenges, you’ve come to the right place, and this brief chapter may be all too familiar.

A pool deck can be a brutal, hostile environment. Remember this for later.

  • They get HOT and burn our feet. Until swimming in your cowboy boots becomes the cool thing to do, this remains a constant struggle.
  • They can be SLIPPERY. A visit to the E.R. absolutely kills the vibe every time.
  • They can be UGLY and outdated. No Instagram filter will make unsightly concrete or tired “knockdown” toppings look good. (You’ll learn about “knockdown” toppings soon).

These are the “Big 3” issues that have plagued pool decks forever, and they don’t exclusively apply to bare, worn out concrete. Many “concrete & patio” paints and/or exterior stain products can make things even worse. Most get hotter and more slippery than bare concrete. Although designed for horizontal walking surfaces and foot traffic, these paint and stain products have no business being around a pool. The general public is waking up to this hard truth. They may offer improved aesthetics after install (for a little while), but they aren’t logical solutions. Why? Because the pool deck is the most peculiar application in the entire paint category, haven’t you heard?

The Most Peculiar Application in the Entire Paint Category, and the Single Reason Why:

The demand for heat dissipation. That’s the single reason.

As a pool owner, the relationship between you and your pool deck coating is more intimate than you may realize; certainly more so than any other relationship with the paints, sealers, or stains applied elsewhere around your home. Think about it:

The paints on your interior walls simply need to suit your color scheme of preference (or your wife’s, at least). The exterior paint on your siding needs to resist UV and last an average of 5-7 years. The clear sealer on a wooden deck merely needs to repel water for a year, then you’ll be re-applying it again next Spring. This is what we’ve come to know, expect, and ultimately require out of these typical relationships. They’re relatively affordable, so we don’t really make a big deal out of it. Their obsolescence was expected long before they were actually expired, and most days, we simply ignore their existence entirely. Why?

Because in these typical relationships, no physical discomfort is imposed upon the homeowner should they choose the wrong product for the job. However, If you choose the wrong product for your pool deck, it doesn’t take 5-7 years to realize it, you’ll know it all too well the next time you use your pool.

A pool deck coating has an atypical relationship with the homeowner, it could potentially come with real baggage! The sole reason being we touch it with our bare, feeble skin each time we use our pools. Our comfort and safety are at the mercy of the material installed there, and this goes for any material you’d ever consider. Do you still think I’m crazy for calling this relationship “intimate”?

You: “Hey, don’t burn me when I touch you.
Coating: “I thought you’d never ask, I’m Functional and Purpose-Designed for you”.

There’s simply not many, if any, situations around the home where we demand such a special response from a paint or coating on a regular basis. Pool Deck Coatings are the exception.

It’d be easy to see these “special response“ coatings finding lifelong partners in the aerospace sector or military applications, and surely they have. But back home in the civilian world, pool deck coatings are overlooked and under-appreciated! That’s why the pool deck is the most peculiar, and perhaps the most demanding application in the entire consumer paint category. We require it to do more than simply “look good”. Additionally, do they actually look good?

The Anatomy of the Pool Deck Industry and the Dichotomy Within:

Note: Digesting this chapter is fundamental to realizing the significance of “COOL!”.

In the 1960’s, a company called Mortex saw the need for something that could protect, decorate, and reduce the temperature of a pool deck. Their solution, “Kool Deck”, would forever change the landscape of the pool deck topping industry. Key word there, topping.

*Kool Deck is a trademark of Mortex.

Kool Deck was the first of its kind, where a thick, mortar-like substance was projected onto a newly poured concrete slab via hand tools and special “dash” brushes. Eventually, the material is troweled by hand with concrete construction tools. The end result, the infamous “KNOCKDOWN” texture. Since the 1960’s, we’ve come to see this knockdown texture anywhere from pool decks to the bathroom walls at our favorite Mexican restaurant. Some often say the texture resembles a “bumpy” stucco.

The “knockdown” texture.

Although a breakthrough, one-of-a-kind product in the 1960’s, there are now many products that compete with the original Kool Deck. To be clear, when I say “compete”, I mean that in the heaviest way possible… I mean they look exactly the same, require the same demanding application techniques, and are composed of the same raw materials from a formulating standpoint (cementitious, “containing cement”).

Depending on the particular knockdown system, these products often require green concrete (barely dry enough to walk on) for a correct, long lasting installation. They come in several different colors, mostly shades of tan and light pastels. The mix is packaged in 65-pound bags that you mix with water, like concrete. Nowadays, “hopper guns” powered by air compressors are employed for efficiency vs. the traditional “dash brushes” of the 1960’s. The color is either mixed into the cement mixture itself before install, and other times color is applied like paint as a final step. The end result is always the same, a colored knockdown texture that reduces heat by creating air pockets under the contour of your foot.

Like I said, there are dozens of different knockdown toppings available to the general public nowadays. Well, sorta. You won’t find them at Lowe’s, or at your local paint store. You’ll have to look in specialty distributor outlets that are mostly open to the trade (B2B only). This is because knockdown toppings are labor-intensive and require skilled applicators to install, in case you didn’t catch onto that already. Therefore, if you find a knockdown candidate to review with your own eyes, it’s because a professional is at your home about to give you a quote (I recommend being seated for this).

These knockdown products, although tough and long lasting, come with a cost. Skilled labor isn’t cheap, but if you want something that actually makes sense to have around a pool, this was the only option pre 2012. After nearly 60 years of these products entrenching themselves into a “builder grade” bracket, millions of pools now have knockdown toppings installed. A vast majority of these were installed when the pool was first built, and many of them need a makeover by now, too! (Remember this).

NOTE: Of course there are always the luxury materials for pool deck surfaces such as tile, flagstone, pavers, natural tone, etc. These high-cost alternatives are exempt from this discussion, and just for the record, they get hot, too.

So, I say all of this to present to you one side of the “Dichotomy within the Pool Deck Coatings & Toppings Industry”: A colored knockdown texture that lasts a long time (when installed correctly), but can only be installed with skilled, expensive labor. After nearly 60 years, knockdown toppings have yet to be widely adopted by the (DIY) masses.

The other side of this paradigm is filled with DIY paint products that claim to be suitable for pool decks. They’re all packaged in the same generic, gallon-size paint can. They consume the shelves at your local home improvement store. Compared to knockdown toppings, everything from their packaging to their installation protocol is much less cumbersome. They contain no cement but are usually no more difficult to install than any other paint product. They walk like a duck, quack like a duck, and so on… We’ll just call these products “Ducks”. Somewhere on the catchy label, the Duck usually reads something like this:

“GREAT FOR: sidewalks, patios, porches, floors, pool decks, and more!”.

Now I know this may sound compelling at first glance, but is the product really for pool decks, or is the manufacturer attempting to sell the product into as many sub-categories as possible? You may think the Duck is Purpose-Designed for pool decks, but remember when we discussed how ordinary paints can in fact make things worse around the pool – hotter, and more slippery?

Additionally, remember when I mentioned, “the pool deck is a brutal and hostile environment”? This was initially stated to relay how easily we can burn our feet or slip and fall – but believe me, it’s a brutal habitat for pool deck coatings, too. So, was this Duck actually designed for pool decks? No. “Pool decks” was simply thrown into a group of applications that help sell the product.

Here are the challenges and considerations for any given pool deck coating:

  • Horizontal applications are highly vulnerable to UV rays compared to vertical applications.
  • Pools are highly exposed and rarely shaded.
  • A consistently wet environment with potential ponding water
  • Foot Traffic
  • Pool furniture
  • Chemical Attack from Chlorine and Salt

Are the Ducks really up to the task? Are they Purpose-Designed, or just another “one size fits all” exterior paint with a thickener and sand added for texture? While knowing a true solution requires heat dissipation, safety, and longevity… this is a brutal, very tall order for any pool deck product to deliver, Duck or not.

You see where I’m going with this… Although easy to use and DIY friendly, these Ducks have big shoes to fill.

In conclusion, this dichotomy is a highly polarized, binary catalog of products:

A. The first is long-lasting, and checks most of the boxes, but requires expensive skilled labor. Oh, and you better love the knockdown texture.

B. The other is filled with products that are easier on your wallet and your back, but will you regret the decision when you’re sprinting across the pool deck to save your blistered feet? Will you slip on the way there? Will they last? The function is hard to find.

“Do we have to choose?”

There are certainly DIY options to knockdown toppings, but hardly so, since Ducks rarely provide function. The dichotomy illustrates a clear contrast in choices. The aforementioned challenges and considerations can only be fulfilled by a Functional, Purpose-Designed, DIY, totally DIFFERENT Pool Deck Coating.

How COOL! Filled the Gap:

When Encore Coatings was incorporated in 2010, pool decks weren’t on our radar. By 2011, I still didn’t know anything about pool deck coatings. All this talk of pool deck dichotomies and Ducks was the last thing on my mind. COOL! was in its infant, formulary stages with all intentions of being another decorative concrete coating for contractors, or anyone who would buy it, really.

But in 2012, something incredible happened that would forever change our business. We had continually tweaked the formula within the first 2 years while it was being locally installed within our community. Thus, we were able to keep a pulse on nearly every job being done, which allowed us to monitor the product’s performance and the consumer’s feedback. These applications ranged from sidewalks, patios, and even asphalt parking lots.

Enter Kevin:

“You have to put this on the market as a pool deck coating!”. This was the first thing out of Kevin’s mouth as we answered the phone. Kevin was a Cartersville native, and a pool owner who, in hindsight, was clearly going through the motions of “Pool Deck Challenges 101”. Our response to him was a naive, uninformed, and generic: “Sooo, it worked ? You like it?”

It not only “worked”, meaning it bonded well, resurfaced pre-existing imperfections on the surface, and gave him a non-slip texture in his favorite color… it also gave Kevin a special response. “I no longer have to splash water onto the deck when I clean the pool, my feet don’t burn anymore, this stuff is incredible!”. At that moment, we knew we had hit our mark – a DIY pool deck coating that checked all the boxes and cooled the walking surface.

Kevin had previously fallen victim to a Duck, so he was well aware of the pitfalls associated with choosing the wrong product for a pool deck. When he found us, he was willing to try anything DIFFERENT, something he could apply himself, but something that was not another Duck.

A quoted $11,000 “knockdown” installation was of no interest to Kevin. The challenge for Kevin (because of the pool deck coating dichotomy) was finding a product that was DIY, safe and logical for being on a pool deck, and not a Duck. It simply didn’t exist.

He would’ve been better off hunting unicorns.

It must’ve been destiny for us to cross paths, as he finally found his solution, and Encore Coatings had fortuitously created a unicorn. We named it “COOL!” and immediately became students of the pool deck game. We made the product better each year, focussing on formula integrity and user experience. It was a slow grind, as we thought the path to success was chasing the contractors, convincing them, somehow, to change their ways and start using COOL! vs. traditional knockdowns.

Contractors are a special breed, creatures of habit to the ‘nth degree. They’ll always hold a special place in my heart and I’ll always be able to empathize with contractors more than any other group – but COOL! has since migrated into a different dimension, being warmly embraced by the DIY world.

10 years later in 2021, COOL! was the #1 product on Lowes.com across the entire Paint Category during the pool season (online only). They’ll be stocking it on the floors in 2022. We have a high velocity e-commerce operation on encorecoatings.com and via Amazon Prime partners, shipping a Purpose-Designed, totally DIFFERENT Pool Deck Coating to your front door.

The COOL! DIFFERENCE. (A Functional, Purpose-Designed, DIY & Totally DIFFERENT Pool Deck Coating):

“So what the heck does Functional & Purpose-Designed mean, and how is COOL! not just another Duck?”

COOL! is packaged in a 5 gallon bucket with a Part A (liquid) & Part B (powder) inside, see graphic below.

These two components each play a major role in everything EXCEPT color. Meaning, they are responsible for making this product the most performance-driven it can possibly be. It cools surface temperatures by up to 38%. It’s rock-hard durable once fully cured. It has a built-in texture that is easy to attain simply by rolling the product with a 3/4” nap roller (2 coats). The texture is ADA-compliant for commercial pool deck specs. We have adhesion, abrasion, and non-slip (coefficient of friction) testing available online if you want to check it out. Everything is water based & contains trace levels of VOC’s.

The texture is a consistent, refined, contemporary finish that, with the right color chosen, will modernize the aesthetic of any pool deck. Choosing your color is completely up to you, though. We want no part in that! (We’re looking at you, Mom). See screenshot above for texture.

As the graphic above illustrated, a gallon of paint is required for tint and activation. “Whoa, That’s DIFFERENT!”. This graphic was made specifically for Lowe’s, which is why there is a gallon of Valspar “Season Plus” featured. Valspar is the primary paint offering at Lowe’s, and we’ve found Season Plus to work best with COOL!.

So, let’s say you have 700 square feet of pool deck to resurface and you’re shopping at Lowe’s. This would require 4 buckets of COOL!. Therefore, you’d also need to purchase 4 individual gallons of Valspar Season Plus – tinted to any color of your choice. Once you’re ready to begin the application, you’d add 1 gallon of Season Plus to each bucket of COOL!, and mix it thoroughly into the Part A & Part B provided. This is done “on-site” and immediately prior to application. The final result is a Functional, Purpose-Designed Pool Deck Coating in the color you chose at Lowe’s. This Purpose-Designed feature allows you to intently match, contrast, or compliment whatever color scheme you’re trying to accomplish around your home. No other pool deck coating allows for this level of creativity and freedom! If I had a pool, I think I’d spring for a nice purple and gold theme, GEAUX TIGERS! Maybe not, but the point is, I could.

With COOL!, users are never confined to a pre-selected palette of colors chosen by the manufacturer. The pool deck’s aesthetic can now be a continuation and direct extension of the home’s current color scheme. COOL! is the first pool deck coating with unlimited flexibility in color choice, touting the same expressive capacity that typical house paint offers. The possibilities for pool deck colors are truly endless with COOL! That’s DIFFERENT.

Our “Recommended Paint Chart” can be referenced from bucket QR codes and our YouTube Channel/Website.

The full COOL! system consists of a 3 product family that includes Triple Crown (for cleaning and preparing the surface before application) and SealBack, a clear sealer that is applied after 2 coats of COOL!.

What you essentially have here is a Purpose-Designed system that was specifically designed for pool decks, and pool decks only. This is the opposite of the “one size fits all” Duck approach. Triple Crown can clean, de-grease, etch, and prepare any type of pool deck surface you may have currently. It’s easy to use and extremely effective as a concrete cleaner. The SealBack clear sealer was formulated with key insights in mind; it’s not too shiny, therefore glare is a non -issue. Its solids content was formulated knowing it cannot make the surface slippery and it must be easy to clean. This system was designed by pool deck people, for pool deck people.

When you call the Encore Coatings hotline, you’re connected with a real pool deck expert that will listen, answer your job-specific questions, and guide you through the entire process. Our goal is to educate and inspire the customer for the best possible outcome. Many customers have our cell phone numbers and communicate with us on a text and speed-dial basis for on-the-job technical assistance. That’s DIFFERENT!

Additionally, we’ve created an extensive collection of videos on our YouTube channel, “Encore Coatings University”, which allows users to self-educate at their own pace. This is a great tool that speaks to the critical topics involved in a successful application . This educational portal will transform the everyday homeowner into a battle-ready pool deck coating warrior!

Quite possibly the most significant “Purpose-Designed” feature of COOL! is its ability to resurface existing pool deck surfaces in a logical fashion. To the folks at home with old knockdown “Kool Decks”, you’ll want to pay attention here. Since correctly installed knockdown toppings can last 10-20 years, there will come a point where it becomes worn, faded, and tired. This is the part where you’ll be on google searching for something to easily make it look good again. You might discover that a new knockdown application would require a full demolition of the Kool Deck that’s currently there. This is extremely expensive, labor intensive, and often unnecessary (if you know about COOL!).

This google search you’re on is a critical moment where you could fall victim to a Duck, which would certainly turn your old Kool Deck into a HOT Deck, and potentially, a Slippery Deck. Yes, the Duck may provide ease-of-use and improved aesthetics afterwards, but only by way of sacrificing your comfort. A Duck also inserts you into a perpetual maintenance cycle.

COOL! is the only logical solution for resurfacing these existing toppings. It will remain at a comfortable walking temperature while providing safety and long-term performance. COOL! will not eliminate the original contours of a knockdown texture, but rather resurface it with a new sheet of armor (any color of your choice, of course!).

To conclude this chapter, Functional and Purpose-Designed means we’ve tried to digest (and respond to) every detail, concern, and need of the current day pool owner. This is reflected in the performance, features, and versatility of the product itself, and how we approach the “Most Peculiar Category in the Entire Paint Category”.

The COOL!, Hard Truth:

Every product has limitations (thus the Pool Deck Dichotomy). COOL! is no different. Although COOL! has fulfilled many deficiencies in a stale category, it’s not a “silver bullet” for a deck that is simply too far gone, nor will it withstand negligent preparation and/or application protocols. Cracks, patches, and poor concrete chemistry are prerequisites that should be addressed for best cosmetic results and long term performance. COOL! will always require a level of dedication from the homeowner to educate themselves before application (Youtube- Encore Coatings University). No matter how good any paint or coating may be, it will only be as good as who applies it, and what they apply it to.

Although many times more robust than “Duck paint”, COOL! cannot provide the 1/2” profile like that of a knockdown system. On certain pool decks, this is arguably the biggest advantage to a knockdown.

The bottom line – There will always be a place for knockdown toppings, and a place for COOL! to resurface them 5 years later. I suppose there will always be a place for Ducks, too, just not in the pool deck arena.

That being said, it’s clear that COOL! has filled a huge void within the pool deck market. Our functional, purpose-designed technology has unlocked many doors for the “DIY masses” who are searching for a logical, attractive, and cost-effective solution for hot pool decks.

Imagine a world where detailing your car was only possible by hiring a professional. The detergents, conditioners, tire dressings and glossy top-coats are only found at specialty outlets who only do business with professional detailers. Even if you could get your hands on them, they somehow require some sort of skillset that you haven’t yet mastered, simply because you’re not a detailer! In this alternate universe, there are a few products that are easily sourced and don’t require a special skillset, but they only clean your car to a degree, and come with setbacks and inconvenience. Then, one day, “COOL! Detailing Products” comes along and unlocks professional results to those who prefer to detail their own car, in their own driveway, at a fraction of the cost.

That’s a really corny example, but I hope it’s analogous enough. Although this market has been this way for 60+ years, it’s taken some time to paint the picture of “Ducks and Dichotomies” in my own head. I hope this article offered some clarity in yours as well.

A fun question would be: “How many pool decks remain bare concrete simply because a knockdown is out of the budget for an educated & informed consumer who doesn’t trust Duck products?”

This is the void where COOL! lives and excels.

There’s many topics in this article that could be unpacked further and with greater technical detail. For that, you can visit Encore Coatings University! If you are a homeowner or end user reading this, please know we are waiting on your call to discuss your project if you need us.

Be sure to look out for COOL! in Lowe’s stores beginning Spring & Summer 2022. Scan the QR code on the pallet display to be directed into our educational portal.

Here’s what I’ll leave you with – Encore Coatings and I will continue to improve on all fronts. We’ll continue to purvey the best possible products we can, and will always prioritize the user experience that surrounds them. We want to educate and help our customers. We will remain hyper-focused on pool decks and will never approach the market with another “one size fits all” option. The world has enough of those!

If you made it this far, thank you. Please reach out to us anytime.


Jeff Moreau Jr.