Saltwater Pool - Travertine with Concrete Coping or Porcelain Tile to Edge

DB-Cooper

Well-known member
Jun 18, 2019
56
Austin, TX
We're building a 30K gallon saltwater pool in Austin, TX. Despite every PB recommending against Saltwater, I forced the hand of one builder. They are ok with doing tumbled travertine, but they insisted on a concrete edge border due to salt. We were fine with that, but when working with the design department at the PB, a lady suggested a 24x24 Porcelain tile from MasterTile (ironically colored "Travertine Grigio"). She was really selling us on this stone. My wife liked the greyer and more subtle look, but I'm still a fan of the basic Ivory tumbled travertine.

A couple of things she said, some of which I can't seem to find factual evidence in being accurate, so I'm looking for more objective feedback.

Bullet = her comment, Sub-bullet = my research/comment. :

  • Salt is corrosive to travertine, but less so than other stones and outside of high splash areas it should be a non-issue even without sealing.
    • This appears to be accurate, however, even in splash areas, I've yet to hear an owner actually show pictures or tell stories of crazy worn/eroded travertine.
  • Porcelain tile will have no issue with salt water
    • I've found that most say porcelain tile is extremely hard and strong and it's definitely recommended for salt water pools
  • Travertine stains easily (red wine for example)
    • I imagine this is the case, but I don't think it's like a white carpet.
  • Porcelain more or less doesn't stain
    • There's some truth to this, it's not very pourous
  • Porcelain tile will offer more traction than travertine
    • I felt this to be the case, of course porcelain can be made with different levels of friction, but the one we looked at was definitely less slick, although travertine wasn't glass or anything.
  • Porcelain is cooler than travertine
    • I didn't find this true, I felt the ivory and thicker travertine was cooler after 10 minutes of being in direct sunlight than the thinner 3/4" porcelain tile. The colors were similar, but the porcelain was darker. The tile being thinner may have made my experiment less worthwhile and over a long/hot Summer, thickness probably doesn't change the heat too much.
  • Porcelain is more expensive than travertine
    • She actually said the porcelain is more expensive than travertine, and we were looking at upgraded travertine. She said this very specific porcelain tile is much cheaper than other brands they offer and is a relative deal. It's still about $1.50 more / sq ft than the Ivory travertine. That price premium is consistent with some of the other upgraded travertine we saw. However, every article I google shows travertine is more expensive than porcelain, so not sure why she's so adamant. She effectively said most of the porcelain they've offered in the past cost almost 2X this one.
  • All high-end homes/pools are using Porcelain now
    • This seemed like salesmanship to me. When google'ing, I just don't see that many references to porcelain. She made it sound like anyone building a $300K+ (not far off from what we're spending) pool is using porcelain and we should jump on the opportunity to get it at a pricepoint similar to travertine, especially with salt water, "it's a no brainer".

So that's where we are. I have no doubts that porcelain is less slippery, harder, less porous and less prone to erode, but I wonder how much is lip service and absolute worst case edge extremes. I do feel travertine will be more difficult to clean, and with the oak pollen and human traffic, I could see the decking turning dark like my limestone steps and even driveway do. So powerwashing porcelain is probably a much easier thing to keep clean. Knowing my personality, I'm also the guy that would see a kid splashing unnecessary amounts of water on travertine and get somewhat frustrated. I'd probably feel like I have to hose my deck after every major usage because I'm that kind of person. So the peace-of-mind with porcelain regardless of how severe the truths are is actually something compelling to me.

My wife is really after the porcelain for both its look and perceived lower maintenance. I'm ok with that, but obviously there's an elegance and warmth to natural stone. I do admit, the quality of the porcelain and design was very natural looking. When I hear man-made or manufacturer versus natural, I immediately feel like I want natural, but we're not talking about diamonds or beef here. Other things to consider, I can only get the porcelain in 24x24, whereas travertine I can get in assorted sizes including 12x24.

Here are pictures of the three we're considering. Disregard size, but I'll use size to explain each one. We'd like do 12x24 or 24x24:

24x24 = Porcelain tile (+$1.55 per sq ft)
6x12 = Ivory travertine (no upgrade)
12x12 = Haze travertine (+$1.50 per sq ft)
NOTE: pricing is per sq ft and not based on shapes shown above.

All three are from the same manufacturer (MasterTile). You can see a basic mock-up of our pool as my avatar. Would love thoughts/opinions as I trust anyone but sales people more.
 

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JoyfulNoise

TFP Expert
Platinum Supporter
May 23, 2015
15,888
Tucson, AZ
Your research is correct. I think it’s going to come down to a personal/subjective choice rather than anything technical.

One important point - how are they going to lay the tile or travertine?? If they plan to do it on a cement base, fine. If they are going to use a graded sand base, bad idea. Since you’re looking at a $300k pool build (that’s in the crazy-high-end territory of pool building), then I would assume they are doing the decking on a poured concrete base.
 

DB-Cooper

Well-known member
Jun 18, 2019
56
Austin, TX
Your research is correct. I think it’s going to come down to a personal/subjective choice rather than anything technical.

One important point - how are they going to lay the tile or travertine?? If they plan to do it on a cement base, fine. If they are going to use a graded sand base, bad idea. Since you’re looking at a $300k pool build (that’s in the crazy-high-end territory of pool building), then I would assume they are doing the decking on a poured concrete base.
Correct, it's a concrete base.

To clarify the statement of $300K pool, that was what she said, basically to try and make emphasis on the porcelain being so great. Effectively, it's a comment like, "people with no care of money and building $300k or $500K are doing porcelain." That said, as you can see from my 3D image as well as my build post (separate), we have a very complicated and regrettably expensive build because we basically live on a canyon. Our outdoor living area is quite large and it has an outdoor kitchen, cabana and fully finished full-bathroom as part of it. The larger outdoor living component and the massive superstructure being built above ground probably add $100K or so to the total bill, so we're not far from that mark anyways. Considering what we're spending, we don't want to cheap out on finishing pieces, so I'm not losing sleep over a $1/sq ft upcharge, I'm just debating the material choice both from a style, real-vs-manufactured and maintenance standpoint.
 

Flying Tivo

Well-known member
Jan 24, 2017
1,108
Monterrey, NL, Mexico
Did you try wetting the porcelain and step on it? I have porcelain and is hands free maintenance. I choose the most porous of them all, and its still "slippery when wet" . Nothing is going to beat natural stone for traction when wet.

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DB-Cooper

Well-known member
Jun 18, 2019
56
Austin, TX
This is the porcelain we're looking out. The sales person as well as another site that seems to sell it says it's Made in USA. Whether that's good or bad, I don't know in this context:

Our PB only uses decking/copying from Master Tile. Presumably they're more a distributor than anything else, but in everything we saw, nothing looked or was priced cheap. Of course there was nothing that was some ridiculous and crazy opulent product either. We could source our own, but frankly, I'd rather use what they're comfortable with and have them handle logistics and overages, etc.
 

DB-Cooper

Well-known member
Jun 18, 2019
56
Austin, TX
No, but I took it home so will try. The porcelain was notably stickier than the travertine.
Just tested it, it's really hard to tell. At first, it still feels like there's more traction on the porcelain, but I feel the travertine actually has a tiny bit more traction despite how it feels. My wife feels otherwise, but I think the porcelain gives you a sensation of traction because you can feel the grit/sandpaper like texture, but when you slide your foot, it still slides easily. The travertine feels super smooth but seems to be stickier without being spikey. The feeling of the natural stone versus the consistently sandpaper like finish of the porcelain is another thing to consider. Neither would I say are excessively slippery for a wet pool surface though, so I don't think that's going to impact our decision. However, the smoother feeling of travertine will feel better walking on than the slightly/fine-grit sandpaper like feeling of porcelain.
 

Louie956

Member
Jul 16, 2019
10
Palmview, TX
Looking for any more porcelain people to chime in (or anyone with knowledge/opinion on the subject).
Nice project you got going on. I would say to stick to the natural stone. I’m having a similar issue in deciding whether to go with travertine or marble. I had considered porcelain but ruled it out after feeling a few samples. It just didn’t feel right for me and felt more slippery when wet.
 

Rickster03

Member
Oct 13, 2017
20
Baltimore, MD
I used a travertine coping with a porcelain waterline that was about as close as I could get (when dry). There difference is more obvious when wet, but most people would never know the difference. We were aware that travertine would stain and we are OK with it. We have it throughout our house, too. The beauty of stone is that it is unnatural and there are stains and grain and pores and things like that. The hardest part was picking a porcelain that had enough variation to make it look like a natural stone. The key was to inspect each tile so that you don't get 2 or 3 of the same ones in a row. Then it's really obvious that it is a fake travertine look.

Now, the texture...the texture of the porcelain is a little rough, but easy to clean. The travertine is less rough, but not as slippery you'd think, or as a glass or polished tile. Our kids have not slipped on it yet, but I have. After you slip once, you remember it! If I did it again, I'd stay with the travertine. The porcelain is not worth the cost for the minimal amount of additional grip. Pavers and brushed concrete have much more grip, but the look is not something I would have been happy with.
 

DB-Cooper

Well-known member
Jun 18, 2019
56
Austin, TX
I used a travertine coping with a porcelain waterline that was about as close as I could get (when dry). There difference is more obvious when wet, but most people would never know the difference. We were aware that travertine would stain and we are OK with it. We have it throughout our house, too. The beauty of stone is that it is unnatural and there are stains and grain and pores and things like that. The hardest part was picking a porcelain that had enough variation to make it look like a natural stone. The key was to inspect each tile so that you don't get 2 or 3 of the same ones in a row. Then it's really obvious that it is a fake travertine look.

Now, the texture...the texture of the porcelain is a little rough, but easy to clean. The travertine is less rough, but not as slippery you'd think, or as a glass or polished tile. Our kids have not slipped on it yet, but I have. After you slip once, you remember it! If I did it again, I'd stay with the travertine. The porcelain is not worth the cost for the minimal amount of additional grip. Pavers and brushed concrete have much more grip, but the look is not something I would have been happy with.
If cost were the same, would that change your opinion on porcelain? Do you have any pictures of your setup?
 

dustin2471

Silver Supporter
Jun 19, 2014
112
Roseville / CA
Travertine owner here, no regrets and not slippery at all (now a kid running and turning is going to fall, only way to stop that is no running). We have peruvian coping/travertine and the saltwater does nothing and I mean nothing to it.... yet. I would be willing to bet money that any tile is warmer than travertine? Travertine is very low (if not missing) in iron, iron is what absorbs heat. My coping is installed wet as I would imagine most would be, however I installed the rest of my decking (~2500 sq ft, dry install) over gravel and sand base. We love it and wouldn't change a thing. My mom has an older pool with a concrete/pebble deck and absolutely hates it, its hot even when its wet and rough on the feet. Call me skeptical but I believe the peruvian travertine came from the ocean so salt water really has no effect on it. Turkish travertine, which is what our deck is hasn't shown any effects of anything yet either? Go with what you want and not what the "pool builder" wants as at the end of the day you have to live with it, the pool builder does not, they go home. Now if you want zero maintenance go with desert landscape and forgo the pool.
 

atxneedshelp

Member
Nov 3, 2018
12
Austin, TX
Hey there. We are in Austin so having a tile that stays cool was important to us. I originally wanted porcelain tile but I picked out several and brought them home and set them outside for an afternoon. Then I went to step on them and the light-colored porcelain tile was SO hot (too hot to walk from pool to a chair)! The travertine was cool as can be. We got our travertine from Materials Marketing in Austin from their "Pool Elements" line which is sandblasted to help make it not so slippery.
 

DB-Cooper

Well-known member
Jun 18, 2019
56
Austin, TX
Hey there. We are in Austin so having a tile that stays cool was important to us. I originally wanted porcelain tile but I picked out several and brought them home and set them outside for an afternoon. Then I went to step on them and the light-colored porcelain tile was SO hot (too hot to walk from pool to a chair)! The travertine was cool as can be. We got our travertine from Materials Marketing in Austin from their "Pool Elements" line which is sandblasted to help make it not so slippery.
I pretty much found the same thing regarding the temperature. We are more or less set on Ivory travertine in 12x24. Thanks!