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Specifiers Guide to Tile Selection Part II: Pool Surrounds

Northcote Aquatic Centre Pool Hall entry

In part II of our Specifiers Guide, we discuss the most important considerations when selecting surfaces for pool surrounds.  These critical considerations include safety, performance, cleanability and costs.

Architects and designers are tasked with creating spaces that harmonize both form and function, a complex balance that is never more crucial than when designing pool facilities. These facilities must boast aesthetic appeal while delivering robust performance against the demands of a wet, high-traffic environment.

Pools come in many varieties, each tailored to its specific use. There are sporting club pools, leisure and adventure pools, aged-care and therapy pools, learn-to-swim pools, hotel pools, and competition pools—each with its own design needs. Every type of pool demands careful planning and management to ensure it serves its intended purpose effectively. 

The safety and design of the pool concourse is a key element that contributes to both the overall satisfaction and safety the community experiences at these facilities and the successful management of maintenance and cleaning.  

By understanding the nexus between design, performance, and operational management, a solution which includes high quality, durable and appropriate materials can be delivered to the client. 

Slip resistance is one of the most critical considerations. After all, the aquatic conditions can easily lead to accidents and injuries. It is, therefore, crucial to incorporate slip-resistant tiles in pool surrounds that offer better traction and reduce the risks of accidents, thereby, creating a safe environment for pool users.

For slip resistance, guidance may be found in Australian Standard AS/NZS 4586 -2013 Slip Resistance classification of new pedestrian surface materials and the related Handbook HB 198 – 2014 An Introductory Guide to the Slip Resistance of Pedestrian Surface Materials. These documents provide guidelines for measuring slip resistance and minimum recommendations for specific locations including ramps and stairs leading to water, pool surrounds and communal shower rooms and changing rooms. 

Table 3B of HB198 – 2014 An Introductory Guide to the Slip Resistance of Pedestrian Surface Materials provides minimum recommendations for swimming pool surrounds.  

Location Wet pendulum test Oil-wet inclining platform test
Swimming pool ramps and stairs leading to water P5 C
Swimming pool surrounds and communal shower rooms P4 B
Communal changing rooms P3 A
Undercover concourse areas of sports stadiums P3 R10

See PDF of Table 3B – Standards Australia Handbook HB198 – 2014 

For flat areas surrounding a pool, ‘P4’ using the Wet Pendulum test method and ‘B’ using the Barefoot Ramp test method are recommended. For ramps and stairs leading to the water, the Handbook recommends  ‘P5’ and ‘C’  for the Wet Pendulum and Barefoot test respectively.  

The Barefoot Ramp test provides the best indication of the slip resistance of pool surrounds but it cannot be conducted in situ. The Wet Pendulum test method, on the other hand, is a portable testing equipment that offers the distinct advantage of monitoring the condition of the surface over time. It helps assess compliance with care obligations and demonstrates due diligence.  Therefore, it is advisable to obtain both classifications from your supplier if possible.     

To understand the difference between these two test methods please refer to the Testing Methods section of Specifiers Guide to Tile Selection: Part 1, Demystifying Slip Resistance on our website.

Swimming pool patrons unintentionally introduce bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other pathogens onto the floor surface. If the surface is not adequately cleaned and disinfected, it may become the center of numerous health problems and can be transferred to other pool users. 

For example, to clean organic dirt, alkaline cleansers are required. For urine and limescale, acid cleansers are required. Cleansers containing acids like hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, or sulphuric acid are not recommended as they can destroy the cementitious grouts and tile glazes. 

However, there is another significant risk to consider. 

ATTAR has investigated the effects of contamination on the slip resistance properties of a ceramic floor tile with a raised diamond pattern, typical of the type that may be found on pool surrounds. The investigation was conducted on uncontaminated tiles supplied from the factory, soiled with a contaminant sourced from a pool environment. Slip resistance was measured with the Wet Pendulum test method described in AS/NZS 4586. 

Testing was conducted in the new condition to establish a slip resistance measurement. To simulate the soiling of swimming pool surrounds from bodily fats and oils, after contamination, a visual assessment of the tiles showed no significant difference. However, Wet Pendulum results in the contaminated condition showed a significant reduction in slip resistance of approximately 30%.

To add to the challenge, when an incorrect cleaning methodology is administered, cleaning can be ineffective. On the other hand, cleaning with overly abrasive equipment will speed up the rate of wear and tear, which will also reduce the level of slip resistance of the flooring. It might seem like a delicate balance is required. However, in reality, the solution is not too complicated with the right cleaning methodology. 

ATTAR has tested several different cleaning methodologies. Their investigation reveals best results were achieved when hot (+90°C) water was used along with the alkaline cleaner containing added surfactant. The combination of alkaline cleaner with surfactant and hot water showed a significant increase in slip resistance over all other cleaning methods approaching that of the uncontaminated tiles tested as new.

The underlying lesson is that flooring with easy cleanability and the administering of correct cleaning methodology, are incredibly important to maintaining slip-resistance over the tile’s lifetime. 

Architects can only influence the selection of flooring material with easy cleanability and suitable slip resistance. Ultimately, though, it is the facility operators who must appoint professional and specialized aquatic cleaners who understand and can follow the correct cleaning methods of pool surrounds. 

Read:The Game-Changing Hytect Cermaic Surface: Lowering maintenance and Enhancing Well-being

Download Hytect: Perfect for Pools & Spas 

In general, highly slip-resistant, heavily textured flooring products are not only difficult to keep clean, but more expensive to maintain than smooth and more slippery products. Traditionally a compromise between adequate slip resistance and ease of cleaning is the most common outcome, however, with the advent of Hytect Technology, no compromise is needed.  

As discussed in  Specifiers Guide to Tile Selection: Part 1 Demystifying Slip Resistance a Hytect tile, with its natural resistance to bacteria and mold, provides easy cleaning even when slip resistance is high.  

In a recent quote from a reputable Melbourne-based aquatic cleaning company, based on an 1800 m2 aquatic facility, the cleaning cost per week per m2 is as below –

  • Exposed Aggregate $8.40/m2 
  • Monotek Flooring $5.46/m2 
  • Standard Ceramic Tile $3.27/m2 
  • Hytect Ceramic Tile $2.33/m2

That is over 3.5 times the cleaning costs/m2 from the most cleanable to the least cleanable flooring solution.  Over 5 years, for an 1800m2 facility, that amounts to almost $2 million in cleaning costs savings, when a Hytect tile is used.  Hytect is a proprietary system developed by German tile manufacturer Agrob Buchtal, containing titanium dioxide.

In an aquatic environment, commonly used surface materials for the pool concourse include ceramic tiles, applied MMA (e.g. Monotek), rubber, vinyl and exposed aggregate.

Slip resistance, cleanability and accumulative cleaning costs, and longevity of design aesthetic, are key factors that must be considered when selecting flooring for commercial pool areas.

The below information is primarily sourced  from the Aquatics & Recreation Vicotoria’s  “Pool Concourse Guidelines, Design Construction Management Maintenance Considerations”. 

Surface / Material Type Slip Resistance Possible Appearance Upfront Cost Durability Cleaning
Concrete – Portland Grey Medium to high slip resistance. Difficult to achieve uniform surface texture; therefore, variable slip resistance (e.g., brooming consistency, the application Average to good appearance. Inconsistent appearance due to several factors Low cost. Sealer additional Medium to high durability if penetrating sealer is applied to the concrete surface.  If no sealer, durability is low to medium. Sealers can reduce slip resistance Poorly finished surfaces can be challenging to clean. Sealer recommended
Concrete – Exposed Aggregate Medium to very high slip resistance- depends on the aggregate type Good to very good appearance with almost unlimited colour/texture variations. However, quality control is an issue Low to Medium cost. Sealer additional Medium to high durability. Applying the sealer will reduce the tendency to produce dust and increase durability of surface as above Medium cleaning difficulty. Sealer recommended
Ceramic Tiles Very high slip resistance. Up to R12/C and R12V4 (highest slip coefficient rating for bear feet in aquatic areas) Good to excellent appearance (subject to workmanship & tile selection) Medium  cost  High durability (subject to high-quality tile selection). Use of epoxy grout to increase durability Medium cleaning difficulty; however, it is easier if tiles has titanium dioxide surface  
Ceramic Tile with Titanium Dioxide (Hytect) Very high slip resistance. Up to R12/C and R12V4 (highest slip coefficient rating for bear feet in aquatic areas) No different to a normal ceramic tile  Medium cost  Exceptional durability and resistance to stains, bacteria and fungi Easy cleaning and maintenance
Applied MMA (Methyl Methacrylate) Resin Very high slip resistance Excellent uniform appearance  High cost Very high durability. High abrasion, ultra-violet, and chemical resistance. The use of a high-pressure wash will not damage the surface Medium to difficult to clean. More regular cleaning is required to remove dirt, grime, and stains. The higher ongoing cost of cleaning compared to other treatment
Applied Rubber Relatively low slip resistance. Soft underfoot Good appearance. Certain products are UV stable hence little discoloration when used outdoors. Comes in many colours. Cover all control joints   Medium cost Low to medium durability Difficult to clean since it is porous. Water can get trapped between rubber granules and substrate

 

The analysis of slip resistance and surface cleanability shows a significant relationship between these two factors. Traditionally, surfaces with high slip resistance, crucial for safety in aquatic environments, have been hard to clean and maintain, leading to higher costs. However, the introduction of Hytect Technology allows for slip-resistant surfaces that are also easy to clean, eliminating the need to choose between safety and maintenance. The cost comparison shows that Hytect Ceramic Tiles not only provide superior cleanability but also significantly reduce cleaning costs over time, offering a cost-effective solution for aquatic facilities. These findings highlight the need to consider both safety and long-term maintenance costs when selecting flooring for such settings.

Moreover, ATTAR research emphasizes the importance of regular cleaning to maintain slip resistance. Surfaces that aren’t properly cleaned can lose their slip-resistant qualities over time, compromising safety and the flooring’s long-term effectiveness. Regular cleaning ensures that surfaces like Hytect ceramic tiles maintain their slip resistance, keeping environments safer. This supports choosing materials that are high in slip resistance and easy to clean, as ignoring cleanliness can directly affect flooring safety.

When comparing Hytect ceramic tiles to other flooring options for aquatic facilities, the benefits in cost-effectiveness and performance are clear. Traditional options like exposed aggregate and Monotek flooring, while having some benefits, fall short in long-term maintenance costs and cleanliness. For example, exposed aggregate is slip-resistant but has high maintenance costs at $8.40/m2, making it the most expensive to maintain. Monotek flooring is slightly cheaper at $5.46/m2 but still costly over time.

Standard ceramic tiles are more affordable at $3.27/m2 but usually require a compromise between slip resistance and cleanability. Hytect ceramic tiles, however, with a cleaning cost of just $2.33/m2, offer both economic efficiency and optimal hygiene and slip resistance.

In conclusion, Hytect ceramic tiles are the best surface option for pool surrounds. Their advanced technology ensures high slip resistance and ease of maintenance, solving the traditional trade-off between safety and cleanliness. A five-year cleaning cost comparison clearly shows the economic advantage of choosing Hytect Ceramic Tiles, potentially saving almost $2 million in cleaning expenses. Along with their natural resistance to bacteria and fungi, Hytect ceramic tiles are an ideal, smart investment in safety and sustainability.

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