This article was originally published on Aquatics International.
Once stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, people will want to get into their local community swimming pools.
Homeowners associations, YMCAs and even residential pools will be in greater demand as children and adults venture out of their homes for some much needed aquatic recreation. Many of those pools will need painting before they can open.
Painting is one of the best ways to protect and beautify commercial and residential pools. In addition to adding a vibrant, fresh color, a new coat of paint can give new life to concrete, plaster, or fiberglass pool surfaces — in a cost-efficient way.
It is not as difficult as one may think. Proper planning, surface preparation, and best practices help ensure the best results. This article discusses preparation; the second installment will cover painting pools.
Choosing the proper paint
Paint selection begins by determining what type of coating is currently on the pool. Three types of coatings are suitable for aquatic surfaces:
Water-based acrylic: This can be applied over most types of coatings, providing they are in sound condition. Water-based acrylic paint also can be used on damp surfaces, which can be especially beneficial in certain situations. This cost-efficient painting approach, when done correctly, may last up to two seasons.
Chlorinated or synthetic rubber: The first of these options, chlorinated rubber coatings, provide excellent hiding, protection and coverage for previously painted chlorinated rubber surfaces. They also can be applied to bare concrete or plaster. They are designed to last four to five years.
Synthetic rubber coatings, on the other hand, can be applied over existing chlorinated or synthetic rubber systems, bare concrete, or plaster. They are intended for use where adherence to volatile organic compound (VOC) regulations is required. When properly applied, this finish can last up to three years.
Both work for fountains and ponds.
Epoxy: This paint creates a tough, durable finish with unsurpassed stain, chemical and abrasion resistance. It can be an excellent alternative to re-plastering: Two coats of a high-build epoxy will achieve a hard, abrasion-resistant surface costing one-third less than expensive resurfacing finishes. With proper preparation, a high-build epoxy finish can last up to eight years. Traditional epoxy will last approximately five years.
Unfortunately, professionals must deal with installations that have many, many layers of built-up paint — usually of more than one type.
Some pool suppliers offer a free paint-chip analysis, which can help prevent expensive mistakes. They can provide information such as thickness, number of coats present, and integrity of adhesion — as well as recommend the best paint for a particular application.
Always select the same type of coating to ensure compatibility. If the pool is currently coated with an epoxy, this paint must continue to be used, as other rubber and water-based paints will not adhere to it.
Some pro tips:
• Consider self-priming paints that reduce the time to complete the job and save money by avoiding the need for a primer.
• Check local VOC regulations before purchasing a coating product as regulations vary.
Inspect and prepare the pool surface
After determining the best type of paint, carefully inspect the pool surface and repair minor damage. All coatings adhere best to a solid, clean surface, so this is a very important stage. To do this properly, follow these steps:
1. Drain the pool and allow it to dry.
2. Clear away any debris left on the bottom.
3. Visually inspect the empty pool, scanning for peeling paint, cracks, chips, or surface defects.
4. Scrape any peeling, flaking, or chipped paint and sand smooth.
5. Repair any minor cracks or chips. A structural engineer should be consulted if any major cracks or surface defects are found. These areas should be thoroughly investigated as they may compromise the integrity of the pool.
Paint is not a solution for failing plaster. Some surfaces showing signs of serious deterioration should be resurfaced before painting. Acute flaking, chipping, or peeling may indicate a surface that is soon to fail. Paint placed over such conditions will likely peel and remove the plaster with it.
Clean the surface
The surface must be completely clean and free of loose paint, dirt, oils or solutions before taking on a new coating system. Products designed specifically for pool-surface preparation are highly recommended, as they usually save time by allowing the job to be completed in just one step.
Pros not using a specialty ‘clean and prep’ product should do the following:
1. Power wash the entire pool surface using a minimum 3200-psi power washer.
2. Once dry, sweep or use a blower to clear away leftover paint chips or debris.
3. Use a garden sprayer to evenly apply a preparation product to the entire surface, following manufacturer instructions.
4. Scrub the solution, which will begin to foam and etch. Continue until the foaming stops, paying extra attention to areas where heavy soil accumulates, such as the waterline and steps.
5. Flush the surface three times with a strong stream of clean water from a garden hose. Do not use a power washer, as it lacks the volume of water required to effectively flush the surface. All residual preparation solutions must be removed.
Some pro tips:
• A surface ready for paint should have the texture of medium-grade sandpaper.
• Always use rubber gloves and protective eyewear, and follow safety precautions on power equipment being used.
Let the surface dry
The type of coating will dictate how dry the surface must be before the process begins.
Acrylic paint can be applied to a damp surface. However, epoxy paint requires a completely dry surface. In any case, check instructions on the product label to determine dryness requirements.
Moisture may still be present when a surface looks and feels dry. Follow these steps to test for dryness:
1. Use duct tape to affix 2-square-foot sheets of clear plastic to three areas of the pool — the floor in the shallow end, the floor in the deep end, and a wall in the deep end that receives shade.
2. Wait four to five hours.
3. Check inside the plastic for signs of moisture from condensation.
4. If moisture is present, remove all three areas of plastic and let the surface dry for another 24 hours. Then, repeat the test.
Part 2 will cover the painting process.
Kevin Harrington is division manager of the Ramuc Pool Paint Company, in Rockaway, N.J. In the coatings industry more than 41 years, he holds a vast product knowledge and extensive experience regarding aquatic coatings.