Can I Plaster My Own Pool?
If you are looking for information about how to plaster your own pool I want to warn you that I have plastered a few hundred pools. Or enough to permanently change the shape and function on my right forearm, however many that is. I was looking online for information relating to "DIY pool plaster" and "how to plaster a pool" and I came across a ton of information and links telling and showing pool owners how to do this for themselves. From the flow of the conversations that you can find in online forums on this subject you would think it is as normal as can be to do your own plaster. It's not. It's not at all!
I watched veteran pool plasterers push plaster around for a few years before I was ever allowed to try it for myself. I had to graduate first from tile cleaner, and then to trowel cleaner, and then to mixing the plaster myself on the back of the truck. Actually I fell into that role when the main plaster mixmaster (and company mechanic) fainted from heat stroke or cumulative exhaustion within an hour of starting a very large out of town pool build plaster. It was actually my very first plaster job on the truck and I was supposed to be the helper. Lifting and moving seven skids of 110 lb sand bags and 88 lb cement bags gets tiring. We had already started and we had to keep going. With the encouragement shouted at me from the guys in the pool I learned a lot about how to mix plaster that day...and even some new words. For example, I knew they really liked the hard work I was doing because they kept pointing at me and saying "È troppo bagnato! Più secco o ti ucciderò" which I understand to mean "keep it up, you are doing great!"
Can I plaster my own pool? - Look I am not trying to be a buzzkill here but plastering a pool is probably one of the hardest things that I have done in terms of how much I underestimated how hard it would be. It looks so easy, or at least the guys who are good at it make it look like putting peanut butter on a slice of bread. When you get in there and you start pushing the plaster around it takes about one flat second for you to realize that this is going to be vastly harder than you had anticipated when evaluating the potential for yourself to do this job. Essentially my general advice is unless you finish concrete for a living, or at least used to at some point in your life, then I do not see how you can produce a quality finish plaster, period. If you have a lifetime of experience finishing flat concrete, then you have a chance at being able to plaster your pool.
Let's take a step back here and compare apples to apples. Pool plaster is just white sand and white cement, with a little liquid acrylic in the mix and hopefully not too much calcium. You push it around until it is flat and approximately 1/2" to 3/4" thick. You let it set up for a bit to start hardening and then you trowel again on a final pass with what is known as a hard trowel. In reality you can go through all of these steps and "plaster your own pool" but if we had the two finished products right next to each other it would be clear that we have done two different things here. Plastering a pool takes skill and experience. Putting pool plaster in a pool takes a lot less. Perhaps something to be considered is that anyone can plaster their own pool so long as they are willing to live with the results of whatever they might get.
If you were to try to sell your services as a pool plaster company you would go out of business with the first one you did. A plaster is supposed to be as smooth as glass to the touch. Additionally a plaster looks almost perfect until you turn on your light at night and then you can really see the defects in hand crafted workmanship. This is important. Even the best pool plasterers can not make the plaster look perfect at night. What do you think yours is going to look like?
A new pool plaster should be glass smooth. A DIY pool plaster is often 200 grit sandpaper at best, and that is not a made up number, but a real world comparison by my best measure. So can you plaster your own pool? Sure, why not, but it will not be smooth enough, and it will be uneven and lumpy, and the termination details around your lights, returns, and along the tile line will look messy and amateur...but you know what, you still "plastered your own pool". I really don't mean to come off as elitist by saying you can't do it for yourself. I just want you to know how hard it really is so that you can set reasonable expectations for yourself and your project.
Where your pool plaster might fail - It takes experience to know when to trowel, and when not too, and too much troweling or overworking can burn the plaster, leave permanent marks, or deplete the plaster of the moisture it needs to cure well. At least the moisture it needs to cure until such time as you can get the plaster covered with water where it is more protected and can cure harder. The pool surface must be prepared well, acid washed and cleaned, saturated surface dry conditions to the substrate shell, a bonding slurry is needed and the timing must be spot on for when to apply your plaster over this. A lot can go wrong during a day of pool plastering. Your plaster can de-laminate, crack, craze or slough off the walls if you do not have a skilled hand, which you do not unfortunately. Most likely you will have some plaster up on the walls but the first stuff is already setting up too fast. The whole day can get away from you. I have come close to losing a plaster on a hot, hard day when things are not going right, and I had professional help and skilled helpers.
Your plaster might not look perfect, and it might not be as smooth as it should be, but you can plaster your own pool if you are willing and able to live with the results. If you can live with how smooth it is, and how it looks, then that is good enough I suppose. The plaster itself is water resistant, but is not designed to be waterproof so your pool lacking the hard troweled smooth finish (or at least a good representation of it) means that your pool plaster probably leeches more water than a professional pool plaster. However neither actually hold water and if you are worried about being able to waterproof your pool then that is a different process in a concrete pool that comes before the pool plaster.
Yes there are some builders who do not use additional waterproofing like Redgard, HydroBan by Laticrete or Basecrete however you can make no mistake that a concrete pool shell with 1/2" of white plaster leeches water readily. In that sense the plaster is nothing more than a cosmetic layer, and if you can live with the results then I guess so can I. I actually encourage pool owners to do more themselves, but DIY pool plaster is talked about like any person can just do this. It is hard, heavy work that must all be done in one shot and normally takes at least a few hard working people who know exactly what they are doing to accomplish well. With your expectations managed, by all means continue with your plan to plaster your own pool if that is the direction you have decided to move. I expect you will now have a more reasonable expectation for how hard this will be and what your results might look like. Good luck with your project!
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