Unusual issue with Pebbletec finish

Sam1234

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Nov 26, 2020
10
Santa Barbara, CA
We just had a new pool built and Pebblesheen installed - we were getting hurt in the pool so after a long process, ended up draining it and found numerous (20-30ish) pits up to 5mm (0.2") deep. There are also large rough patches (~4"x2" on average) of stones that are overetched and completely exposed - they're very rough and have been scratching up our kids too. There is streaking and waviness in the walls as well (pictures). The installer has assured us that they are fully confident that these are not at all serious issues, and said they are going to come in next week to fix them by patching and sanding. Is this something that could reasonably fix these issues long-term? Would a pool that's patched like this last as long as a brand new pool that didn't have any issues?
 

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ajw22

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Welcome to TFP.

Only time will tell. You need to let your builder try and fix the problems then see what warranty he gives you in writing.

@Dirk can give you an exposition on the fragility of pebble finishes and the rights and warranties with pool builders in California.
 

Dirk

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We of course can't give you a definitive analysis of the condition of your new finish based on a few pics. But here's a little background. Most pebble finishes are installed with a two-step process. They blow in the pebble finish and trowel it into place on day one. Then on day two they come back and acid wash the new finish. This acid wash burns away the plaster that is hiding the little pebbles. With just the right application (and subsequent neutralizing) of the acid, the amount of plaster that is removed is just enough to reveal the pebbles, but still leaves enough plaster to hold the pebbles in place. You can imagine how easy it would be, for someone that doesn't have the required amount of experience or skill, to remove too little or too much plaster.

Your pictures look to me to indicate that too much plaster was removed. In one pic, it looks a lot like you've got some missing pebbles, even missing clusters of pebbles. In another pic, it looks like all the pebbles are missing, and only plaster is left, with dimples showing where the pebbles were. Is that what you're seeing? And how deep have you looked? I had a similar disaster in my pool and the deep end was 10 times as bad as what I first saw in the shallow end.

The contractor's promise that this can be mitigated by patching and sanding is, at best, not ideal, and at worst an outright fraud. Sanding some of these areas would not restore the missing plaster, let alone the missing pebbles. I suppose patching could work, if that's possible. But will it match? Will it adhere? And for how long? There is no question that needing to patch and sand a brand new pebble finish is not standard, and I would say "sub-standard." Which means that alone is evidence there were at least SOME installation problems.

If this theory of missing plaster is correct, there is a bigger concern. Even if the contractor can somehow cosmetically repair the areas that have lost their pebbles, what's to be done about some amount (or all?) of the rest of the surface where the strength of the bond between the plaster and the pebbles may have been compromised, but has yet to reveal itself?!?

What you need to guard against is that they will perform this patching to hide what I think is a bad installation, maybe even multiple times in the coming years, to get them past their warranty period. And then when things really come apart after that, or you eventually realize that your pebble finish has deteriorated a decade before its time, you'll be out of warranty with no recourse. Now is the time to deal with this, even before the contractor does.

So... the first step, BEFORE the contractor is allowed to make any patching or sanding corrections, is to call in PebbleTec for a warranty evaluation. Or if you want to maintain a good relationship with the contractor, do him the courtesy of asking him to contact PebbleTec. If he refuses, or balks, then you make the call. If your contractor is a certified PebbleTec installer, your new finish should be backed by PebbleTec's warranty. They have been known to send out their own rep's to evaluate an installation. This needs to happen BEFORE the contractor can disguise his work. PebbleTec needs to see the problem, first hand. A meeting between you, your witness (important!), the contractor and PebbleTec needs to occur to ascertain best next steps, before any next steps are taken. Don't settle for less.

If that doesn't work, then we can talk about other recourses. In the meantime, try to have a person with you, ideally not a relative or spouse, for any meetings with the PB, the pebble installer or PebbleTec. You might need a witness at some point. This could very likely resolve itself as the installer and/or PebbleTec should do the right thing. But you don't want to be left hanging if they choose to act otherwise. After each meeting or phone call, follow up to all attendees with an email that accurately and dispassionately summarizes what was said. Just the facts. This accomplishes two things. It establishes a paper trail of events. And it sends a very clear message to all involved: that you mean business and are taking appropriate steps to protect your investment.

If you have not made all your payments for the construction, you can safely not make any more. Keep yourself some leverage. CA has provisions for this move. Don't push the how's and why's of executing such a step just yet, not until someone demands payment. Then I can better explain that part of the process. Hint: you are embarking on what is known as a "good faith dispute," but you don't want to fan those flames just yet. The best solution for now is for all parties involved to work cooperatively, without their hackles up.
 
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JoyfulNoise

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Who has been managing the chemistry of that pool and what were the chemical levels prior to draining??

Honestly at first glance, that PebbleFina finish looks terribly over-etched. The aggregate is severely exposed with very little plaster cream in between. If those images are representative of the majority of the pool surface, then I would say the plaster installer did a terrible job. If that condition developed over a short period of time, then I would say your water chemistry was too aggressive (low pH, low TA) and the water dissolved the plaster. That’s why I asked who has been caring for the pool.
 

Sam1234

Gold Supporter
Nov 26, 2020
10
Santa Barbara, CA
We of course can't give you a definitive analysis of the condition of your new finish based on a few pics. But here's a little background. Most pebble finishes are installed with a two-step process. They blow in the pebble finish and trowel it into place on day one. Then on day two they come back and acid wash the new finish. This acid wash burns away the plaster that is hiding the little pebbles. With just the right application (and subsequent neutralizing) of the acid, the amount of plaster that is removed is just enough to reveal the pebbles, but still leaves enough plaster to hold the pebbles in place. You can imagine how easy it would be, for someone that doesn't have the required amount of experience or skill, to remove too little or too much plaster.

Your pictures look to me to indicate that too much plaster was removed. In one pic, it looks a lot like you've got some missing pebbles, even missing clusters of pebbles. In another pic, it looks like all the pebbles are missing, and only plaster is left, with dimples showing where the pebbles were. Is that what you're seeing? And how deep have you looked? I had a similar disaster in my pool and the deep end was 10 times as bad as what I first saw in the shallow end.

The contractor's promise that this can be mitigated by patching and sanding is, at best, not ideal, and at worst an outright fraud. Sanding some of these areas would not restore the missing plaster, let alone the missing pebbles. I suppose patching could work, if that's possible. But will it match? Will it adhere? And for how long? There is no question that needing to patch and sand a brand new pebble finish is not standard, and I would say "sub-standard." Which means that alone is evidence there were at least SOME installation problems.

If this theory of missing plaster is correct, there is a bigger concern. Even if the contractor can somehow cosmetically repair the areas that have lost their pebbles, what's to be done about some amount (or all?) of the rest of the surface where the strength of the bond between the plaster and the pebbles may have been compromised, but has yet to reveal itself?!?

What you need to guard against is that they will perform this patching to hide what I think is a bad installation, maybe even multiple times in the coming years, to get them past their warranty period. And then when things really come apart after that, or you eventually realize that your pebble finish has deteriorated a decade before its time, you'll be out of warranty with no recourse. Now is the time to deal with this, even before the contractor does.

So... the first step, BEFORE the contractor is allowed to make any patching or sanding corrections, is to call in PebbleTec for a warranty evaluation. Or if you want to maintain a good relationship with the contractor, do him the courtesy of asking him to contact PebbleTec. If he refuses, or balks, then you make the call. If your contractors is a certified PebbleTec installer, your new finish should be backed by PebbleTec's warranty. They have been known to send out their own rep's to evaluate an installation. This needs to happen BEFORE the contractor can disguise his work. PebbleTec needs to see the problem, first hand. A meeting between you, your witness (important!), the contractor and PebbleTec needs to occur to ascertain best next steps, before any next steps are taken. Don't settle for less.

If that doesn't work, then we can talk about other recourses. In the meantime, try to have a person with you, ideally not a relative or spouse, for any meetings with the PB, the pebble installer or PebbleTec. You might need a witness at some point. This could very likely resolve itself as the installer and/or PebbleTec should do the right thing. But you don't want to be left hanging if they choose to act otherwise. After each meeting or phone call, follow up to all attendees with an email that accurately and dispassionately summarizes what was said. Just the facts. This accomplishes two things. It establishes a paper trail of events. And it sends a very clear message to all involved: that you mean business and are taking appropriate steps to protect your investment.

If you have not made all your payments for the construction, you can safely not make any more. Keep yourself some leverage. CA has provisions for this move. Don't push the how's and why's of executing such a step just yet, not until someone demands payment. Then I can better explain that part of the process. Hint: you are embarking on what is known as a "good faith dispute," but you don't want to fan those flames just yet. The best solution for now is for all parties involved to work cooperatively, without their hackles up.

This is so amazing. We have been very stressed by this whole process, which has been a long process of the pool finisher yanking-us-around and not doing the right thing. We'll go forward with your advice and if it's okay, check back in if needed for more guidance, since this is all very new to us. Thank you so, so much.
 
Last edited:

Sam1234

Gold Supporter
Nov 26, 2020
10
Santa Barbara, CA
Who has been managing the chemistry of that pool and what were the chemical levels prior to draining??

Honestly at first glance, that PebbleFina finish looks terribly over-etched. The aggregate is severely exposed with very little plaster cream in between. If those images are representative of the majority of the pool surface, then I would say the plaster installer did a terrible job. If that condition developed over a short period of time, then I would say your water chemistry was too aggressive (low pH, low TA) and the water dissolved the plaster. That’s why I asked who has been caring for the pool.


We think overetched too; these images are representative of the whole surface. It's been this way from day 1; we have a very good pool company taking care of the water chemistry which has been carefully monitored, so it seems pretty clear that this was a terribly botched installation.
 
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Dirk

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Happy to help. Feel free to reach out. Matt brings up excellent points. So glad to hear that you have this covered, as it is a real concern. The installer, and even PebbleTec, may assault the issue of the water chemistry during this time as a way to alleviate their culpability and liability. Securing the records of the water testing results since day 1 might come in very handy, so make backups or copies of whatever you can.
 

Sam1234

Gold Supporter
Nov 26, 2020
10
Santa Barbara, CA
Also, I meant to say -- the divots are all over the pool, particularly bad in the shallow end. I measured them with a pit gage and they're up to nearly 1/4", where you can stick your pinky in them. The overetched surfaces in the pictures are actually the 'better' parts of the pool -- there are other, much rougher, much more exposed areas. We haven't made our last payment yet, although they've been asking for it. I was also thinking the installer, after ignoring us for so long, was very eager to come in asap to patch the pool, and wondering why this was so; makes sense that they would feel an urgency to cosmetically cover up their mistakes. Again, thank you so much - you have no idea how helpful your reply is and how much we appreciate your thoughtful response and time.
 

Dirk

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In CA, if there is a dispute about a construction job, you can legally withhold payment. There are some caveats. I believe some sort of formal notice is required. In other words, you have to formulate a demand letter that states what's wrong, what you want done, and how long the contractor has to get it fixed. Once proper notice is given, you can cease payment. Should the ultimate resolution reveal that there was no fault by the contractor, you could be on the hook for not only the missed payment(s), but also a reasonable amount of interest. Which in reality is perfectly fair. But if he's at fault, then the cost of the fix is reconciled with the balance due and you go from there.

I've produced and delivered demand letters (yep, more than one!) based on my research on the internet. It's worked, but none have ever been called into question. You might be comfortable doing the same, or you might want an attorney involved to help you with that step. Either way, at some point, you'll need to address this. Until you formally notify the PB that you are disputing something about the job (and so the contract), a good faith dispute situation doesn't legally exist. One thing that usually initiates this part of the process is the PB demanding payment, so you probably shouldn't wait too long to get this going.

That said, be aware that when that letter materializes it will likely alter the relationship you have with the PB. If it's already contentious, then you don't have much to lose. But a spirit of cooperation can go a long way in these matters, so you have to weigh this option carefully before you blow things up. A properly worded demand letter must include a clause that states should the matter not be resolved, that you will be taking the matter to court. That's when things go south, so it's catch 22. You have to write the letter, but you also have to try to keep it civil. It's a tightrope.

IMO, this should be fixed at no cost to you. But the fix's cost will likely exceed the Small Claims dollar limit, so that mean Superior Court, and that is a whole 'nother dealio, one with which I don't have any experience. All my victories have been in Small Claims court. So if and when to bring in an attorney is a tough call. Others here do have Superior Court experience, so we can bring them into this discussion as needed.

If it were me, I would go to the PB and have a man-to-man (witness in tow). Maybe have the PebbleTec installer there, too, if those are two people. Explain that while the pool finish remains in this state, you don't consider the job finished, and so cannot in good conscious make the the final payment. Further explain that you want to discuss the finish's present condition with PebbleTec BEFORE any patching is applied. That is a very reasonable position to take. Do that before producing the demand letter. Keep things civil. How he responds will determine your next steps.
 

JoyfulNoise

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We think overetched too; these images are representative of the whole surface. It's been this way from day 1; we have a very good pool company taking care of the water chemistry which has been carefully monitored, so it seems pretty clear that this was a terribly botched installation.

I would suggest you ask your pool company to send you all of their logs from after the initial pool startup until you drained it. You are going to need a record of what they were doing. I clearly think this is a botched install but the PB/Plaster sub, and even a PebbleTec rep, will try to blame YOU for maintaining incorrect water chemistry. Given the short period of time the pool was maintained, there is no way water chemistry could have caused the issues you are seeing but you’ll need to prove that and shut off that line of “reasoning” right from the start. Otherwise they’ll blame you and the pool service company to try to wiggle out of responsibility.
 

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Dirk

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... but the PB/Plaster sub, and even a PebbleTec rep, will try to blame YOU for maintaining incorrect water chemistry.
... you’ll need to prove that and shut off that line of “reasoning” right from the start. Otherwise they’ll blame you and the pool service company to try to wiggle out of responsibility.
I've read about this tactic over and over here on TFP. And it's exactly what my contractor tried to perpetrate on me. It's practically "industry standard." Prepare for it.

I'll backtrack a bit on earlier thoughts. THIS should be your first step: get those logs and secure them before you start demanding anything from the PB, especially if your pool guy is affiliated in any way with the PB. (Full disclosure: I may or may not have been binging too many cop shows lately! Regardless, there's a strategy to a positive outcome in these types of matters.) 🤪
 

Neto

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Jun 10, 2019
290
Puerto Rico
wow those stones hurt by just looking at them! Could it be that the installer just threw these stones / pebbles on top of the finish and did not troweled them in place?
 

tomfrh

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Jan 30, 2018
484
Australia
They haven't done a great job exposing the pebbles. It is quite inconsistent, and they've blown out chunks in a few areas.

Are you getting hurt everywhere in the pool? Or just at the deeper gouges? Those pebbles do look fairly sharp.
 

tomfrh

Well-known member
Jan 30, 2018
484
Australia
wow those stones hurt by just looking at them! Could it be that the installer just threw these stones / pebbles on top of the finish and did not troweled them in place?
I'd doubt that. It looks more like sharp stones that have been overexposed. I did some pebblecreting last summer and it's a very fine art exposing the pebbles. Very easy to overdo it and end up with sandpaper - especially with sharp pebbles.
 

tomfrh

Well-known member
Jan 30, 2018
484
Australia
We of course can't give you a definitive analysis of the condition of your new finish based on a few pics. But here's a little background. Most pebble finishes are installed with a two-step process. They blow in the pebble finish and trowel it into place on day one. Then on day two they come back and acid wash the new finish. This acid wash burns away the plaster that is hiding the little pebbles. With just the right application (and subsequent neutralizing) of the acid, the amount of plaster that is removed is just enough to reveal the pebbles, but still leaves enough plaster to hold the pebbles in place. You can imagine how easy it would be, for someone that doesn't have the required amount of experience or skill, to remove too little or too much plaster.

Pebble are often exposed with a gerni when the cement is partially hardened. That would be likely here rather than straight acid wash.
 

Dirk

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Do tell. I only know my pool (and how others have described it here), and so only know acid washing to expose. What is gerni?
 

tomfrh

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484
Australia

Dirk

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Thanks! Looks to me to be a much more controllable process. Much better for the workers, too.
 

tomfrh

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Jan 30, 2018
484
Australia
Looks to me to be a much more controllable process.

It takes some learning. It's like any of those plastering skills, the mix needs to be just right, and you need to know just the right amount of pressure to apply. It's a very fine line between not enough and too much.

I did my spa and found the acid method easier. I couldn't get a satisfactory finish with the sprayer.
 

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