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Exposed aggregate has surpassed white plaster as the No. 1 finish for pools.

by: David Vogel on

A decade ago, white plaster, aka marcite, was king. Today, aggregate finishes such as pebbles, quartz and marble reign supreme--though plaster certainly still plays a major role.

Aggregate finishes are nosing out plaster as the most preferred finish, according to an exclusive Pool & Spa News survey conducted by Readex Research of Stillwater, Minn. Thirty-seven percent of respondents cite exposed aggregate as their finish of choice, while 34 percent say plaster.

"Ten years ago, it would have been more on the plaster side," says Dana Anderson, co-owner of Anderson Poolworks in Sherwood, Ore., and former chairman of the National Plasterers Council. "Marcite has its place. It still works fine, but it's starting to dwindle. The only place that we do it is in motels and apartment complexes."

The surge in aggregate pool finishes seems to have started approximately 10 years ago. When builders are asked when they first began offering exposed aggregate finishes, the biggest response (26 percent) is "five to seven years ago." The next highest response is "more than 10 years ago," getting the nod from 22 percent of those queried.

Aggregate finishes clearly have gotten a leg up on the competition. Our survey reveals the reasons that have made them such a favorite among pool owners and finishers alike.

Popularity contest

Those who market exposed aggregate like to talk about its value. Routine white plaster is less expensive than aggregate, but won't last as long. Thus, advocates say, you get more bang for your buck with aggregate.

"[Aggregate finish] products are getting better," says Rob Burkett, president of Burkett Pool Plastering in Salida, Calif. "Builders are upselling the products, with fewer problems involved. These are more forgiving products, better quality with additives that make them more durable than the standard white plaster."

In fact, "durability" is the leading response (26 percent) when plasterers give their main reason was for selling aggregate finishes. At 24 percent, "aesthetics" is the second choice.

For Scott McKenna, president of Gardner Pool Plastering in El Cajon, Calif., it is the beauty of the pebble aggregate finish that appeals to his customers. "It's taken a long time to educate the public to appreciate the value of aggregates; the aesthetics are so much nicer," he says. "The longer it is around, the more people see it. Then it becomes easy to sell."

Veteran plasterers say that each day brings more consumer inquiries about aggregate finishes. "It is demand-driven now, and [doing aggregate finishes] sets us apart," Anderson says. "Six or seven years ago, this market wasn't used to it. We had to market more aggressively explaining how durable it was.

"We don't have to take that tack anymore," he adds. "The customers are more educated about the products."

Aggregates exposed

When most people think of exposed aggregate pool finishes, pebble often comes to mind. But it's not the only commodity used. Quartz and marble are popular, too, and more plasterers are experimenting with glass as well.

Seventy-four percent of those surveyed say they use pebbles in their exposed aggregate pools. Quartz is a close second, with 66 percent saying that they use the product. Colored marble finishes a distant third at 18 percent.

Many industry veterans think pebble aggregate will always be a popular choice because of its toughness and striking aesthetics. But quartz is making serious market inroads, according to our survey.

"Actually, we are doing more quartz than pebble right now," Burkett says. "We did 800 quartz jobs last year and about 600 pebble jobs. Quartz is being marketed well and the builders are starting to push it. They like to point out that the pebble is more expensive than quartz."

Some customers don't take readily to the texture of pebble aggregate. "I've been doing [pebble aggregate] for two or three years now, but we still get more calls for regular plaster or color quartz," says Jay Hock, owner of J. Hock Pool Plastering in Anaheim, Calif.

One way to cut back on the roughness is to change to a micropebble. But according to our survey, plastering companies haven't totally embraced the idea yet. Standard pebbles are still the No.1 choice for pebble aggregate applicators. In fact, survey respondents use them 60 percent of time. On the other hand, plasterers say they use micropebble 29 percent of the time. Blending the two types of pebble occurs 11 percent of the time.

While some are wary of the standardsize pebble because of its roughness, others say that from an application and aesthetic standpoint, they prefer it over micropebbles. "Our numbers on [standard pebble vs. micropebble] are close to the Pool & Spa News survey," Burkett notes. "But I would rather that we do more of the larger pebbles. They give a more consistent look."

The color of pebble

To offer homeowners more options, some plasterers have devised custom color blends. Nevertheless, our survey indicates that the essential blues, grays and black still remain the most popular.

Fifty-one percent of respondents name medium blue as one of their top three aggregate finish colors. It's closely followed by light blue (48 percent), black (40 percent), dark blue (35 percent) and medium gray (31 percent).

"That sounds pretty close to what we do," Anderson says. "Our top sellers are three shades of blue. It's that sapphire water color that people like. We also do a few black aggregate pools."

Pebbles of various colors also are blended together. This can be done by the material provider or created by the applicator in his own shop. Pre-blended aggregates from the manufacturers still dominate the market, though many applicators are beginning to experiment with self-blended creations.

Seventy-six percent of the plasterers surveyed get pre-blended aggregates from their material providers. Only 14 percent use self-blended formulas.

The color of plaster

In an effort to keep pace with its upscale competition, plasterers are offering traditional finishes in more and more colors. Yet standard white is still the most common color used for marcite pools.

Our survey indicates that white is chosen 62 percent of the time vs. all other colors combined. While colored plaster can give the water an appealing appearance, it can be difficult to make these finishes look uniform, plaster veterans say. Thus, mottling and fading can become even more conspicuous.

"Black plaster is impossible to get uniform," McKenna asserts. "With gray, it can be the same thing: uneven in color, trowel marks and mottling."

Adds Burkett, "There is still a demand for colored plaster, and we do a lot of the Tahoe blue. But it's probably the most problematic finish [for us]."

When colored plaster is used, the top three hues preferred by the plasterers are medium gray (38 percent), light blue (33 percent) and light gray (31 percent). Grays are popular, they say, because when light and sky refract off the pool, it gives the water a pleasing blue appearance.

A pool and its surface

Does the type or style of a pool dictate what surface it will have?Often it does.

An exclusive Pool & Spa News survey conducted by Readex Research of Stillwater, Minn., reveals that exposed aggregate surfaces are the primary choice for lagoon or natural-style pools. Traditional plaster is more commonly found in contemporary pool designs.

Sixty percent of the suryey respondents say they use aggregates in their lagoon-type pools, Only 22 percent use plaster for the same type of vessel.

As for contemporary pools, the trend is somewhat reversed. In this case, 43 percent of respondents use white plaster, while 39 percent name exposed aggregates as their surface material of choice.

Dana Anderson, co-owner of Anderson Poolworks in Sherwood, Ore., is a big advocate of aggregate finishes. He believes it is the proper surface for any pool, regardless of style or design. "Just because you see a modern-looking pool doesn't mean it has to have white plaster," he says.

"If you see one of these pools [with white plaster], it says to me that they've left out the last piece of the puzzle," he adds.

In the end, it may be beyond the builder's control. "The style of pool will have an effect [on the surface choice], but it won't determine it," says Scott McKenna, president of Gardner Pool Plastering in El Cajon, Calif. "It's pretty much the customer's call."--B.D.

Warranty world

A few years ago, when aggregate finishes were first starting to heat up the marketplace, a war of warranties began between rival plaster companies. Customers would often hear, "His warranty is only for 10 years, but mine is for 25."

It became an odd little battle that many professionals found distasteful A residue of that conflict remains to this day. For example, Rob Burkett, president of Burkett Pool Plastering in Satida, Calif., offers a one-year warranty for his aggregate finishes on new pools, and three years for renovations. But he will reluctantly increase them if he has to.

"My take on aggregate is that it is as bullet-proof as you can get, and I am confident giving long warranties," he says. "If we have to, we will give limited lifetime warranties if that is what our competitors are offering, but it's an injustice to the consumer. If there is a problem [with the finish], it is likely to be a water chemistry problem and not one [with the aggregate finish]."

However, an exclusive Pool & Spa News survey, conducted by Readex Research of Stillwater, Minn. illustrates that some normalcy has returned to the world of warranties. When plasterers are asked about the average length of their aggregate finish warranties, the leading answer is five to nine years (25 percent), followed by one year (22 percent) and 10-14 years (20 percent).

Applicators of traditional white plaster offer warranties of shorter duration. This is because experience has taught them that even under the best circumstances, marcite finishes only last for so long. Of those surveyed, 32 percent say that they offer one-year warranties on white plaster finishes. Nineteen percent say three years, while 17 percent cite five-year guarantees.

"We warranty white plaster for two years and aggregates for five," says Scott McKenna, president of Gardner Pool Plastering in El Cajon, Calif.

"I am anti-long warranty" he adds. "I don't want my liability hanging out there for so long."--B.D.

Most Popular

Plaster Colors

Plasterers say that other than white, the

three most popular hues are in the blue

and gray ranges.

medium gray   38%

light blue    33%

light gray    31%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Plasterers' Preferred

Pool Finishes

Plasterers tell what percentage of pools

they build with the various finishes.



OTHER               29%

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Plaster Finish:

Average Warranty

Length of warranties on

plaster offered by plastering


1 year            32%

3 years           19%

5 years           17%

6 years or more   14%

2 years           11%

4 years            2%

no warranty        1%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Exposed Aggregate:

Average Warranty

Length of warranties

on exposed aggregate

finishes offered by


5-9 years     25%

1 year        22%

10-14 years   20%

15-19 years   12%

2-4 years      9%

20 years or    2%


Note: Table made from bar graph.

Natural/Lagoon Surfaces

Most popular finishes used on

lagoon-style pools.


OTHER               18%

PLASTER             22%

Note: Table made from pie chart.



Most popular finishes used on

contemporary-style pools


PLASTER             43%

OTHER               18%

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Favorite Exposed

Aggregate Colors

Top three most commonly used

colors for exposed aggregate finishes.

medium blue   51%

light blue    48%

black         40%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

When It Began

Plasterers note when they

started offering exposed

aggregate finishes.

5-7 years ago            26%

more than 10 years ago   22%

3-4 years ago            20%

8-10 years ago           15%

1-2 years ago            11%

within the last year      2%

Note: Table made from bar graph.




Most common types

of exposed aggregate

surfaces used by


pebble           74%

quartz           66%

colored marble   18%

other             1%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Pebble Sizes

The percentage of times plasterers

use the various sizes of pebble

exposed aggregate.




Note: Table made from pie chart.

White Plaster vs.

Other Finishes

Plasterers reveal the percentage of their

installations that are white plaster

compared with other surface colors.

OTHER   38%

WHITE   62%

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Why Offer Exposed

Aggregate Finishes?

Here are the main reasons given by plasterers

for offering exposed aggregate pool finishes.

durability      26%

aesthetics      21%

quality         12%

upsell to        7%


color options    5%

other            2%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

COPYRIGHT 2006 Hanley-Wood, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

Bob Dumas "The finish line: exposed aggregate has surpassed white plaster as the No. 1 finish for pools. Our exclusive survey reveals why—and more". Pool & Spa News. 09 Nov, 2009.

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