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Swimming Pool Coping — A Complete Guide

We continue to create content that helps homeowners feel confident as they begin or continue the swimming pool design process. Earlier, we created a guide to the most common swimming pool tiles. Today, we are focusing on the second largest material decision—swimming pool coping.

Swimming pool coping is perhaps not as difficult of a material decision as choosing the right pool tile. Still, the choices you make for your swimming pool's coping affect its functionality and how it blends with the space. For example, coping that may be safe for adults may not be as friendly to families with many young children.

For everything you need to know about choosing the right pool coping for your brand new swimming pool, read on.

What is Pool Coping?

If you’ve heard the term pool coping thrown around by your builder and you’re feeling a bit lost, you’re probably not alone. Coping is a general term used to describe trim in various types of indoor and outdoor projects. Specifically, “pool coping” is a technical way of referring to the material used to cap the edge of your pool.

Pool coping is mounted atop your pool’s bond beam, or upper portion of the wall. It can be found finishing the area where the pool meets the surrounding pool deck. There are multiple options available when it comes to the kind of material you can choose to use to cap the edge of your pool. Pool coping is usually installed in a 12 inch width around your pool or spas perimeter. Every pool needs coping, and it is usually installed all the way around the swimming pool.

However, there are exceptions when pool coping is not needed. Edgeless features such as waterfalls, vanishing edges, and built in swim up bars all make pool coping unnecessary as they interrupt an edge where the pool wall meets the deck.

Three Styles of Pool Coping

Now that you’re familiar with what coping is, let's talk about the styles of coping available to you. When you are choosing coping you will need to make a choice in both materiality, and style. The style of coping refers to the shape of the edge it creates around your pool.

While there are many subtle differences between pool coping shapes, there are three main variations for homeowners to choose from. These include bullnose, straight or square face, and rock face pool coping styles.

Each style has its own benefits and drawbacks, and works to create different stylistic effects.


Bullnose coping is coping that lines the pool in a curved U-style shape, similar to that of a bull’s nose ring. The trim is formed at a convex, and can either feature a fully curved top and bottom lip, or a half curve. Coping with a half curved style is often referred to as “half bullnose”, as seen above.

Bullnose coping is popular in homes with children because of its elevated safety benefits. Sharp edges can be hazardous when you have lots of small kids entering and exiting the pool. Knocking knees, elbows, or even heads against sharp concrete coping can lead to injury.

Opting for this style of coping will help minimize the risk of injuries caused by sharp edges, allowing homeowners to feel more confident in their pools functionality for younger members of the family.

However, bullnose coping can look less elevated aesthetically. It also tends to look less organic, and can limit the materiality of the coping. This makes it difficult to match the surrounding landscape in some circumstances.

Rock Face

If you love the rustic, organic look or natural stone, you may be interested in rock face coping. Unlike bullnose coping, rock face offers a sharper, more chiseled character to your pool’s design.

Rock face coping looks great with natural stone such as travertine and bluestone. However, just as bullnose coping is popular for its safety feature, rock face coping has an opposite effect. Rock face coping’s chiseled appeal is great to look out, but won’t feel great when bumped.

If you are worried about the safety for yourself or your family, it may be worth talking to your contractor about alternative options.

Straight Face

The last popular kind of coping is straight face or square edge pool coping. This coping is preferred in modern-minded designs, as its sleek, no frills appeal looks great and lends itself to many applications. Straight face coping can be achieved using many materials including concrete, stone, and pavers.

This flexibility makes it undeniably design friendly. However, like the chiseled edges of rock face coping, straight face coping presents potential safety problems. Talk with your pool contractor to determine what the best overall option is for you and your family.

Kinds of Pool Coping Materials

So, we’ve covered the three main styles of pool coping available to you. But within these styles are a range of material options. From different concrete applications to natural stone, coping is not a one size fits all. Knowing more about each option will help you find the fit that is best for your backyard.

Natural Stone

The first material we’d like to draw attention to is natural stone. Beloved in outdoor living applications for years, natural stone or brick materials bring a warmth and texture to pool coping that is not easily achieved with concrete solutions.

If you have a pool or backyard living space that leans heavily on natural or organic designs, natural stone coping can feel like a no-brainer. Some of the most popular picks for natural stone coping include Travertine and Bluestone. Also utilized by builders are materials such as quarried granite and limestone.

When installed correctly, this is a durable, beautiful option. However, it may be more difficult to create some coping styles when using natural stone. While this material goes hand in hand with a rock face coping style, it may be harder to create the rounded edges of bullnose coping.

When contractors are working with a natural stone, it is critical that they specify coping thickness to avoid uneven coping results. Furthermore, incorrectly installed stone coping is prone to cracking, breaking, and may need repairs more quickly.

Precast Concrete Coping

If you’ve had a conversation about pool coping with your swimming pool contractor, chances are precast coping has come up. This is one of the most basic coping solutions on the market, and a lot of builders utilize precast coping to make their lives easier. Why?

Well, precast concrete coping has the advantage of offering a wide range of choices at a much lower cose. Precast coping can create an acceptable range of textures, colors, and patterns, without the price tag of either natural stone or poured concrete.

Even moreso, it is simpler to install, and easier to get right. There is not as much difficulty in creating uniformity of thickness and color. The easier a material is to install, the faster the process goes, and the cheaper it will be. That appeals to both builders and clients.

What is precast pool coping?

So what exactly is precast pool coping, and how is it different to regular, poured concrete? Well, precast coping is exactly that—precast. That means the coping is laid in ready made sections and then finished with mortar and caulking to create an airtight finish. It is thinner than poured concrete, and doesn’t require the same dry time and leveling expertise as poured coping.

Still, there is less of a high-end look when it comes to precast coping, and customization of your coping. But if budget is the most important element for your project, then precast coping could be the right fit for you.

Poured Concrete Pool Coping

If you aren’t sold on the affordability of precast concrete, then poured concrete is a nice alternative. While this coping is still cheaper than a natural stone or paver finish, it can create a higher quality finish than a precast solution.

In poured concrete coping, the coping becomes one with the pool deck. It incorporates from the deck, to the edge of the pool without a break in the horizontal plane. This can create an effect that your pool is larger than it actually is, and create clean lines on your pool’s deck.

For that widening effect, poured concrete coping is great for pools that are smaller than 30 feet wide or 30 feet long. However, there are drawbacks to this approach. As mentioned, poured concrete work is expensive when compared to precast. It is also more difficult to install. All of this adds up to extra time, workers, and yes, money, for a poured concrete coping finish.

Still, for some pool designs, this may be the best option available. If you are working with a small space, and want a high end finish, ask your designer about poured concrete companies they trust.

Paver Pool Coping

Last, but certainly not least, is paver pool coping. Concrete pavers are huge in outdoor living spaces. From patios to pool decks, they are an excellent way to get durability and flexibility into your outdoor space. As they have been used for surrounding pool decks for decades, it was only a matter of time before they began use in coping as well.

Paver pool coping is exactly what it sounds like. Concrete pavers are aligned to create a border of coping around the edge of your pool. This type of coping allows homeowners additional flexibility in the shape, color, and texture of their coping, as well as flexibility in the style. Unlike stone, concrete pavers are more easily beveled, smoothed, or squared off.

Still, pavers are not cheap. When compared to traditional or precast concrete work, custom pool pavers can be a pretty penny. Still, they are the best choice for many homeowners looking to create an elevated look, or for those looking to blend their copoing into a surrounding paver patio.

How to Pick Pool Coping

So, now that you have a background on the styles and materials of pool coping available to you, you may be wondering how to pick the best fit for your swimming pool. The best outdoor spaces come together when you think of the design as a whole, rather than a bunch of separate parts.

You can make your life easier by choosing elements that work together. From pool tile to the surrounding hardscape, let the rest of your swimming pool design help to guide your choice in coping.

Pick Hardscaping First

If you’re struggling to find pool coping you love, take a second and think about your hardscaping. The hardscaping in the rest of your space can inform the design choices you make regarding your coping. For instance, a pool deck or patio that is made of all natural stone might not look great bumped up against precast concrete coping.

Natural stone patios look best when that natural stone look is continued throughout the space. The same can be said for concrete pavers, which look best when paired with a paver patio or paver pool deck. If you have great concrete work planned for the rest of your space, then a bullnose concrete coping might be an excellent fit for your space.

Picking the rest of your hardscaping first will help guide pool-related decisions. This takes some of the pressure off of you as a homeowner, and can help your designer feel confident that you will love the design as a whole.

What Matters Most? Safety, or Style?

While aesthetics should be guided by the rest of your space, you do need to consider the functionality of your pool as much as you consider the overall visual effect. That is, who is the pool serving?

If you have a family of young, growing children who you envision splashing around on long summer days, then sharp, rock face pool coping might not make sense. There are some scenarios where emphasizing safety needs to take precedence over the ultimate aesthetic choice. Thankfully, safety doesn’t mean ugly. You and your contractor should be able to work together to find a choice that ticks all your boxes.

Look for Inspiration

Finally, if you’re really struggling to get a grip on what pool coping makes the most sense for your swimming pool, take a break and look for inspiration. Find backyards that you love, and see what designers are doing in those spaces.

How are they creating pools that are family friendly and modern minded at the same time? How are they tying together hardscaping, coping, and pool tile all at once? A good contractor or builder will be able to provide you with a portfolio of work that inspires you and speaks to your dream pool.

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