Ask the General– What’s the Lowdown on Tanning Ledges?

Dear General:

We’ve asked Santa for a new inground pool next year, and I think he’s going to deliver. We’re amazed at all the cool features available, and our friends with pools have told us how great tanning ledges are. Since we love both the sun and the water, it seems like a great option for us. Can you give us the lowdown and some recommendations on tanning ledges for different types of pools?

Signed, Leaning towards the Ledge Life in Lexington

Dear Leaning:

tanning ledgesYour friends are right. Tanning ledges are killer. If you like the concept of “the best of both worlds,” tanning ledges are for you. They give you the ability to enjoy the nice, cool water while still soaking up the rays. They’re also a perfect spot for the kids to play, in just enough water to cool off and still stay in the well within your sight. Additionally, they’re great for old guys (like me, for example) to get in and out of the water without navigating a bunch of big steps. Tanning ledges are available for most inground pools. (To the best of my knowledge, they’re not available for above-ground pools.)

The tips that follow are from lessons learned through conversations I have had with homeowners, installers and manufacturers of tanning ledges along with my own experience over the years. Bear in mind that you need to use a company that is well versed with tanning ledges, wading depth pools, fountains, benches, bubblers, all building codes, safety codes, and structural techniques. That said, let’s take a look at tanning ledge options for vinyl liner pools, gunite pools and fiberglass pools so you can decide what’s the best pool for you.

Vinyl liner pools

Today’s vinyl liner pools have many different configurations of ledges, steps, corner seats, benches and wading depths that at one time were thought to be impossible. So, if you’re feeling like a vinyl liner pool is for you, a tanning ledge is possible, but you need to be aware of some issues:

  1. Durability is a concern. One of the biggest joys of a tanning ledge is the ability to put a ledge lounging chair on it for maximum water-to-sun relaxation potential. The biggest problem with vinyl liner pools is the chance of poking a hole or tearing the liner. So, tanning ledge furniture is going to be a concern with vinyl liner pools. Also, if you were thinking of a tanning ledge on a vinyl liner pool as a nice spot for your pet, don’t. To avoid tears in your liner, it’s strictly “no dogs allowed.”
  2. Safety too. Another concern with a tanning ledge on a vinyl liner pool is their propensity to be slippery. So, if you’re looking for a tanning ledge as an easy landing pad on the way into and out of the pool, be advised that it might be a bit of a slippery slope.
  3. Water weight is key. Depth of water is crucial to hold a vinyl liner in place. The shallow water of a tanning ledge area may not carry enough weight to hold your liner in place. It can be very difficult to get the corners to pull in without ballooning or wrinkling.

Gunite (concrete) pools:

If your budget is unlimited, then the sky’s the limit for how you can configure the shape and size of your tanning ledge on a gunite pool. Gunite pools are completely customizable. If you’re feeling like gunite is the pool for you. Here are some things to think about when it comes to gunite:

  1. They’re durable, but can be costly. Gunite pools are extremely durable so there’s very little chance of damaging the pool surface with ledge loungers. However, in the Midwest, gunite pools are very expensive, and may be over budget for most homeowners.
  2. They can be high maintenance. There can be a lot of problems with plaster finishes, and in climates that require winterization, the tanning ledges should be tiled or painted (so make sure you take that into consideration when you’re planning).
  3. They’re safe (to the point of tough love). You won’t have to worry about slipping on the surface of your gunite pool’s tanning ledge. The plaster finish on a gunite pool is non-skid, often to the point of being rough on the feet your pet’s paws. It can also cause snags on swimsuits for those who sit on the ledge itself.

Fiberglass pools:

For me, a fiberglass pool with a built-in tanning ledge is the best bet. Built-in tanning ledges in fiberglass pools have come a long way over the last few years and manufacturers of fiberglass pools offer many sizes and configurations of tanning ledges. Here’s what I think is great about them:

  1. Low-maintenance durability. Recent innovations in fiberglass pool manufacturing now provide integrated structural support.
  2. Affordability. Particularly in the Midwest, a fiberglass pool with a built-in tanning ledge will be much less expensive than a custom gunite pool.
  3. Non-slip (but gentle on feet and paws). The surface of a fiberglass pool is a gel coat finish that’s the ideal combination of beauty, durability and smoothness. Of course, everyone needs to be careful when entering and exiting the pool, but it’s the best you’re going to find for comfort and safety combined.

So, in summary, when it comes to the question of a tanning ledge, my answer is a resounding YES. And when we consider durability, affordability and safety, I’m a big fan of fiberglass. So, Happy Holidays. Tell Santa you’ve narrowed down your wish list, and you’d like an inground fiberglass pool with a built-in tanning ledge. You’ll be loving the ledge life before you know it.

The General

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