The Pool Remodel (NOT a DIY)

Well, the day finally came. The day (actually, about two weeks) that we’ve been waiting for. The Pool was finally resurfaced. I am keeping Pool capitalized because it was just That Important.

Our entire spring and summer DIY projects were all centered around this moment. It felt like expecting a baby–all this prep and remodeling everything in the backyard for the big arrival.

First, a guy came out on a Friday morning to drain The Pool. The company asked us to keep gates unlocked and remove the pool fence, which we did. We also realized that our backyard looks sooooo much better without a pool fence around it. Dang kids. Oh well, safety first!

He hooked a hose to a pump and ran it into our sewer in the front yard. Took about a day to drain the whole thing. I should mention that I found a notice on my front door from the city, informing me that they came out and inspected my sewer and found it was in perfect working order. I guess that volume of water being drained raises red flags.

I couldn’t wait to come home from work and see The Pool after it was drained! Here are some pics. Looked like a ghetto motel pool, IMHO.


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We inspected the bowels of the deep end and were disgusted by what we found. You never really can see what lies beneath, in the deep end especially. Yeesh. Embarrassing.

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Ghetto pool

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So the pool was drained, and the tube sat there over the weekend. Then part of the next week. We called the company, and they thought we didn’t pick our tile out yet, but we did– months prior. So they arranged a date to come jackhammer the pool down to the substrate. I had no idea what that meant, till it was done. We warned the neighbors of the noise. The ones who answered the door, anyway. This process took a day. Here is what The Pool looked like naked:


Side note: our pool serviceperson is awesome. She totally and genuinely cares about customers and their pools. We have had her service the pool weekly for the last 12 years. She is so patient with us when we “forget” (or laze out) of performing routine maintenance on The Pool. She told us many times we need to empty the sweep regularly, especially because of the big ol’  tree in the neighbor’s yard that sheds all sorts of debris into The Pool. She also told us to regularly brush the pool (did it once in 12 years). She also declined to recommend any plastering companies, because she didn’t want to feel responsible if the deal went south. She said many companies give kick-backs to service people if they recommend their business, but she doesn’t want any part of that. Like I said, she’s awesome.

Anyway, she knows pool care inside and out, and is protective of “her” pools. When The Pool was stripped to the substrate, she noticed the broken rebar sticking out of the hole. She asked if they told us what the plan was for them. She was worried it would rust the new plaster over time. My husband asked the workers, and they said they spray with yellow….stuff…that prevents rusting, then plaster over it. Our pool serviceperson reluctantly agreed this was ok, but again, she only wants to make sure our pool (her pool) is up to par.


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Yellow stuff should prevent rusting


Ok, back to the Naked Pool. It was weird- lumpy and ridge-y. I was wondering how they’d plaster over it.

Next came the tile. That also took about a day for them to remove the old, 80’s, stained (I told you we didn’t brush the pool) tile. Don’t let the screen door hit ya, tile! When I came home from work, I felt like I was gazing at a newborn when I saw the new tile! It matched our newly remodeled yard perfectly!

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We totally sprung for the turtle mosaic


We discovered the company grouted over the filling hole–the hole that when we turn the faucet, it fills the pool. We sorta need that. So hubby called them back and they chiseled out the majority of it for us.

We also didn’t hear anything about our pool lights we asked for. We called again, and they sent the electric guy out. We got two new LED lights. We had the choice of colored or white lights, but we chinced out at went with the cheaper white lights.

Then came the day of plaster. This was about a week and a half after The Pool was drained. I  had hubby send photos to me throughout the day because I was so anxious! When I saw the photos I was worried the color was too gray. We chose the Diamond-Brite finish, and had originally wanted a darker color We told the company we wanted “Midnight Blue”. The owner warned us about it- he said some customers were not happy with the outcome, because they said their pools ended up looking like a “Dough-Boy” pool, especially in smaller pools. Plus, the Midnight Blue was significantly more expensive.

So, we went with “Manzanillo Medium”, which was a bright teal/cobalt color. Anywho, when the plastering was being done I thought it looked too gray. But I knew when it would be filled it would look different, so I didn’t get too hyper over it. As long as the 80’s blue was gone.

So I didn’t know this, but filling The Pool can happen right after plastering. What I did not know, was that one should not wander through a recently-plastered pool while it’s  filling. Sure, the instructions said for no one to get the pool for about 10 days after plastering, but I assumed that meant swimming. So here’s what happened to Amanda.

I got home from work and noticed The Pool was filling, and the floor return covers were left off from the plasterers. They did not tell us if this was intentional or not. We tried to call, text, and email the company to find out, but it was after 5 pm. No answer. It would be hard to replace them after the pool was filled, and I was freaking out! Screwing them in underwater? No way!

So we called our pool serviceperson. Left a message, and she called back immediately. I was already in the filling pool trying to get it on. The damn thing would not go on right-the cap screws on and regular screw hold it in place. I heard my husband tell our pool serviceperson “Yeah…Amanda’s in The Pool”….then to me: “She said get out of the pool right away!” So I hustled out.

The reason why people should not go into a newly plastered pool as it’s filling is because if your feet get wet, and you walk on the plaster, it leaves a perfect footprint that will remain on the plaster for all eternity.

I was devastated. We spent $11,000 on this remodel, and I ruined it on the first day. Our pool lady came by to look at everything that same evening, but I was too ashamed to show my face. My husband said she told him not to worry about it. It gives it character. A great big ol’ footprint. NOTE: Once the pool was completely filled, the footprints disappeared. YAY!!

Another note: We called the pool company the following Monday, and they said the floor return covers were left off intentionally. They tend to leave black rings as the plaster cures. Would’ve been nice to know before I almost ruined an $11,000 project.

Anywho, The Pool was filling via a garden hose. It was actually a calculated system, this pool filling process. I assumed we would just turn on the faucet and it would fill. Nope. The garden hose has to sit on the bottom of The Pool. They attached an empty water bottle to the hose to keep it afloat as it filled. The reason is so that it would not rest on the bottom or against the sides and mar the plaster. The splashing from the pool fill hole would also mar the plaster.

So the hose ran for about 19 hours before The Pool was completely filled. Have not yet received my water bill. However, I like what it looked like so far!


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Looks kinda like Lake Louise….

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We were eager to test the lights once the pool was filled. Lo and behold, they did not work. We emailed the company and they told us they left off the pool light switch on the main breaker, because many people go and try to test the lights when the pool is empty–a big NO-NO! He told me to turn on the breaker and reset the CGFI or GFCI or whatever it’s called. Well, I have about 5 of them in my house, and not sure which one went to the lights. Naturally, I tried the one newly installed by the pool pump by the company’s electrician. But it did not work. Tried the rest of them in my house. Did not work. I sent a snarky email to the company the following day asking them to please come out and check it. We are not electricians, and I didn’t feel comfortable dinking around with electrical circuitry. They agreed, but of course Murphy’s Law dictates that when you ask the chemical guy to try it, it works immediately. Like literally, flipping-a-switch-immediately. We may not be electricians, but we are not stupid either. We did what we were told. Arghhh.

OK, so lights work. Now: the Chemical Drama. We paid to have the company handle the startup for a month, which was a huge relief for our pool lady (but she still came by weekly, sometimes twice a week to check on “her” pool). We were responsible for brushing the plaster three times a day. This is to remove the dust from the plaster and push it towards the pump (which ran 24/7). The chemical guy came by every other day or so the first week after plastering. It looked good, only a little cloudy which I expected.

One day we woke up and the pool was green. Green! Green like Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe. Kinda pretty, but not normal. We called the chemical guy, who said he’d be back the next day. I had a coworker tell me it could be the heat causing the chemicals to get out of whack (we had temps over 100 degrees that week).  So the guy came the following day, dumped in some chemicals, and reset the pump to run 8 hours instead of 24 hours. He said it didn’t need to run all the time at this point. My husband texted the pool lady and she said that wasn’t right, and came over to check it out. We turned the pump back on to run 24 hours. Finally, after 2 days, the color was back to normal. I did email the plastering company to let them know the company they subcontract out to let our pool turn green. Thought they should know, and I was a little peeved.

Ok so finally, after 2 weeks of hiccups, worry, and brushing (a great workout, BTW) our Pool turned a beautiful, refreshing, crystal clear, BLUE sparkling oasis. The company did a great job with The Pool, despite the communication issues (not necessarily a surprise with contractors). We are very happy with the outcome.

I am hating my house less and less……

Before and after:



Backyard Fence Project

Ok- only three weeks left till my pool is resurfaced. The pool is the reason why we’ve gone all cray with other DIY projects in the back yard. Can’t have a beautiful new pool with an ugly backyard!

The pool deck is done. The patio is done. Fire pit, planters, patio table: ready to go. Ugly worn out graying fence…..ugh.

My fence was replaced about 10 years ago. I know nothing about fences, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t sealed or stained. Now it is graying, dingy, and looks like it belongs at the Addam’s family residence.

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Of course, I hit Google and YouTube to figure out my options. Painting? Staining? Replace?

Replacing was not an option- already have a huge pool project on the financial books. So, I decided to pressure wash first, then decide what to either paint or stain.

Pressure washing was a huge P.I.T.A. I got through about 3 fence panels before I realized I wasn’t standing close enough to it, so I had to move in closer and start over. Pressure washing isn’t really washing- it strips the outer layer of dingy, dry, damaged wood, leaving the nice natural wood color.


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It was not fun.


My Ryobi pressure washer (around $100 at Home Depot) came with a 15 degree tip, which was recommended for pressure washing fences and decks. I used that for the whole project, then later found I didn’t need to. A 25 degree works better and covers more area, but the 15 degree works better for tough to remove grit and grime. Ah well, what’s done is done (although it took longer). Tip: wear a hat and old clothes. The tutorials I saw warned against getting wet, but there was nothing I came across that warned of being pelted with soggy wood particles.

Power washing is very tedious work, and your hand and arm can get tired. I saw a tutorial where a guy stuffed a tennis ball in between the handle and trigger of the washer, which I thought was a great idea. However, since my chew- happy dog can’t keep a tennis ball for more than a day, I had to improvise:


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Thanks, ‘Mater!



Finally, finished power washing the whole backyard fence- after 2 days.


Then we got stuck deciding on a color and finish. We actually really liked this lighter, natural wood color, but wanted to do something a little different. I LOVE the look of black-stained fences- it makes any greenery pop, and I thought it would make the pool color pop as well. However, we decided against it because 1) we thought it would make the yard look smaller and 2) we get direct sun almost the entire day in the backyard- it would be way too hot.

Then we considered a basic brown, but then thought that would be too boring. So we settled on Behr’s Semi-Transparent Wood Stain and Sealer in Redwood.


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And so, we painted on the stain. I tried to give our garden sprayer a second chance (see the previously reported debacle in my Patio Refinishing Project), which again, didn’t work. The tutorials I’d seen recommended spraying on over a small 3 foot-or-so area and then back rolling with a roller or pad, so thankfully we had pads and brushes! The stain is thin, and a little goes a long way (depending on the wood). Some areas actually sucked up more stain, but overall it went pretty smoothly and lightly. The pad worked the best. Tip: be sure to use a tarp to cover greenery at the fence line, or use a hoe to pull rock or bark away from the fence line.

Along the way, my hubby and I named the long, straight, uninterrupted panel of the good neighbor fence the “good side”, and the other panels of the good neighbor fence (with the cross beams) the “crappy side”. We used the pads for any long, straight boards and brushes for shorter boards. We used a 2 inch brush to paint the sides of any boards that stuck out (hey- my fence is over 10 years old- some parts look like a row of crooked teeth).  Tip: The painting was exciting and fun at first- until we got to the crappy side of the good-neighbor fence for the first time. Applying the stain to the very bottom was difficult. Use a smaller brush and knee pads! Use pads for the cross beams.

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Fighting with the palm



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It took us about a week to get the entire backyard fence painted- we worked several days during the week after work as well. It was hot though, so we took lots of water breaks.

And the final look!

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Before and after!


I’ve already started on the front yard fence too…..

Pool Brick Makeover

When we got the estimate for our pool resurfacing, I asked for the bricks surrounding the pool and planter to be removed and replaced with flagstone. That alone would have cost $5000 extra, on top of the resurfacing cost. Gulp. I decided I could live with the bricks, but wanted to give them new life. We could have waited till after the pool was resurfaced, but we’d have new tile and I didn’t want to worry about discoloring them.


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“Before” photo of the pool brick. And the Fatal 4-Way Handstand Competition
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Note the sun-bleached and discolored brick

The poor, defenseless brick around my pool gets direct California afternoon sun, beating down on it, everyday, for the last 28 years. Most of it is sun-bleached. The brick-lined planters behind the pool gets more shade, and thus were a different shade of sun-bleachedness.

I googled brick painting and staining, and was admittedly turned off by painting. Probably because many sites I came across had brick painted white, and I didn’t like the flat, uniform look. I looked up brick staining, as I thought it would give me a more natural look, and found I needed to find out if my bricks were sealed or coated first. That would determine if it would accept a stain.

So, I performed a water test. I assumed (incorrectly) that the bricks would be unsealed, as they are right next to the pool. Sealed surfaces= slick surfaces, or so I thought. The water test proved me wrong. I poured a little water on the brick and sure enough, it beaded up rather than absorb into it. Fan-freaking-tastic.

The wonderfully robust internet yielded a few options- test a bit of lacquer thinner on it, repeat the water test, and see if it removed the sealer. Nope. The next step would be to try a commercial sealer remover. As I gazed over the 264 bricks surrounding my pool, I quickly decided I would go with paint. I was not going to even try un-sealing 264 bricks.

We took a trip to Home Depot, and the staff recommended a bonding primer first, followed by the paint. I had forgotten I already had bonding primer from my last project, and ended up buying another one (I’m not bitter).

Behr Bonding Primer

I pressure washed the bricks pretty thoroughly, and hubby trimmed the razor-sharp rosebushes and juniper branches in the planter. I took a regular nylon paintbrush and painted the bonding primer on each brick. Each. And every. Brick. Don’t panic that it looks like skim milk at first- it dries clear.

Now the color. Behr has a wide variety of concrete and masonry paint, and you can choose which finish you prefer. I wanted a low-gloss color, so I chose the “Low Luster” base and had it tinted to “Red Brick”. Pretty fitting, I think.

Porch and Patio Paint-red brick


Home Depot staff advised to use a roller, per Behr’s recommendation. I completely ignored this and bought a paintbrush as I thought it would give me more control of the color. I’m glad I did.

I taped around the perimeter of the pool, and then thought I would tape the grout in between the brick. I got through about 7 bricks when I thought “Nope. No more”. It would’ve taken me all day just to tape. So I pulled a classic Amanda move and told myself “just be careful”.

Then I painted. And painted. And painted. Then painted some more. 264 bricks. In the heat. It was the most tedious DIY project thus far. After about 50 bricks I got smart and used a cushion for my knees. Which promptly became spattered with paint. Some of the bricks had gouges and it was difficult to get the paint into, but I kind of liked the look- it looked more “aged”.

After I got all 264 bricks painted (but who’s counting?), I debated about the grout. Should I leave it gray? It didn’t look too bad, but I decided it would bother me to leave it gray. I have an earth-tone theme going in the backyard. It would bug me. Then I lightbulb fired in my exhausted brain- my leftover concrete stain! I had a half a gallon left from the patio resurfacing project. It was the lighter “Saltillo Tile” color, and I thought it would look great with the brick red color.


Behr Saltillo
Looks darker than it actually is

I started by using a 1 inch paint brush to apply the stain between the bricks. It colored the grout perfectly, and covered the “oops” paint I got onto the grout (I guess I wasn’t all that careful sometimes). However, the flyaway bristles were getting the stain on the brick. I switched to a foam applicator and it worked much better. Warning: a little concrete stain in a foam applicator goes a long way. Press the excess against the side of the can first.

Foam brush

This was the easiest part of the project, although also tedious. Per Home Depot staff, sealing is not necessary if you use bonding primer. I didn’t want to seal it anyway until after the pool is resurfaced, do I can touch up any dings the brick might sustain.

Here is the finished project!

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Enzo figuring out the pool sweep



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Fire Pit Makeover

My husband and I are like two peas in a pod. We (brace yourselves) hate the outdoors. We do not like camping. We feel dirty when we set foot outside. Not to mention, bees seem to dive-bomb my husband regularly, and without provocation. And don’t get me started on spiders.

However, with out pool about to be resurface and the resulting DIY Backyard Overhaul we’ve been working on, we can’t wait to chill with a glass of wine by our new (to us) fire pit, in our new (to us) backyard.

A friend of my husband offered his fire pit table and chairs to us for a cool $200. At first look, it was not in my color scheme and looked like it needed a little TLC. But considering his friend paid $1400 for the set new, I couldn’t pass it up.

The “before”:

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Frankly, I was worried about the chip- but I knew I could make this work. We decided we liked the black base, but I wanted to change the tabletop to a color more consistent with our earth-tone color scheme.

I researched the best way to touch up a fire pit, and came across Rustoleum’s High Heat spray paint- which can be used for fire pits, BBQs, etc. I picked up four cans of black, which was WAY more than we needed. We used only a can and a half. I found a bronze/ copper color (“Aged Copper” to be exact) but my local Home Depot and Lowe’s were out. I ordered 2 cans from Amazon.


We first cleaned the heck out of the fire pit. My husband hosed it out thoroughly, and used a duster to get all the cobwebs and dead spiders (OMG) out. After it dried, we placed it on a plastic tarp. Next, we taped plastic over the table top, as that was going to be a different color.

Then I went to town on the black spray paint. I used two coats. The chip on the rim was covered up nicely. We also spray painted the lid black.

The following day, we taped off the black rim and got to work on the tabletop. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

I liked the look, but it seemed something wasn’t quite done. The tabletop looked too…flat?

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Then I realized the “grout” lines and “tiles” were a uniform color. When we removed the tape after painting the tabletop, some of the black spray paint came off, and there were gaps between the copper and black color. Hubby had a brilliant idea to use a Sharpie to fill in those spots, which we did. Then I had the equally brilliant idea to use the Sharpie in the “grout” lines. Hey, it worked.


Just a few more Sharpie touch ups, and a fleur-de-lis stencil I’m not sure I like or not…

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Viola! A “new” fire pit!

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Before and after


Pool Deck Project


Several summers ago, we were swimming in our pool and I noticed a reddish brown stain on the wall in the deep end. I tried to scrub at it, I poked and prodded at it, and couldn’t figure out what it was. My pool serviceperson said “Well, you do need to resurface your pool”.  The 28-year-old plaster was crumbling and eventually would get into the pump system, ruining it. That mystery stain? Rebar coming through the plaster and creating a pretty magnificent rust stain.

The financial worry felt like a ton of bricks had fallen on my head. How much was this going to cost? Why the heck did I allow myself to buy a house with a pool? Of course, the frugal part of me was wondering if I can do it myself… HA! Nope. Long story short, we just now signed the contract for the resurfacing job to get done. Which led to the inevitable Backyard Makeover Domino Effect. After the initial sticker shock, we began to get super excited- no more decades-old 80’s pool/ pool tile! Maybe we CAN transform this dumpy backyard into an oasis! Maybe we can finally enjoy being OUTSIDE!

After cleaning up and getting rid of old backyard crap, we decided to figure out what to do with the concrete pool deck. It is exposed aggregate, which is beneficial because it helps prevent slipping when wet. So whatever we did, it had to maintain that same slip-resistant property. We couldn’t afford for it to be ripped up and replaced, and besides having a few rust stains it was in great condition with little to no cracks.

Concrete staining or painting would need to be sealed, which could get slick when wet. I did tons of research and decided to go with a product found at Home Depot, called Behr Granite Grip. It comes in 2 colors, gray and tan that can be tinted to several different shades. We had ours tinted to Copper Marble, and got two big 5 gallon tubs.


We chose this product because of the ease and cost. After prepping the concrete, you simply paint it on. I wasn’t sure it would work on exposed aggregate, so I bought a small can and tested it on my side walkway. It worked beautifully!

As part of the prep, the concrete needed to be thoroughly cleaned. There were several options I read about online- TSP, muriatic acid (which was pretty frightening to read about- it’s hydrochloric acid), Simple Green, and commercial cleaners and degreasers. The surface must be cleaned, scrubbed, scrubbed, and scrubbed again- otherwise the color won’t adhere properly to the surface, and can cause discolored areas.

Moreover, the surface needed to be etched. It took me time to figure out what etching was (finally just googled it- could’ve saved me time if I’d thought of that from the get-go). Etching basically roughs up the surface so the concrete will accept the paint or stain. I sent an inquiry to Behr customer service to see if exposed aggregate needed to be etched since it’s rough to start with. The answer is YES.

I finally came across a product at Home Depot from Rustoleum, which is one of my favorite DIY products. It’s a concrete and masonry cleaner and degreaser. It has to be diluted, so follow the directions on the container. As for etching, well, here’s where my newbie-ness comes into play. Rustoleum has a cleaner and degreaser, and also a cleaner and etcher (with added components to rough up the surface at the same time as cleaning it). The containers are almost identical. So I actually ended up cleaning the concrete, then having to clean and etch.  Note to all you DIY-ers out there- just get the Clean and Etch.

rustoleumcleaner                                             Rustoleumetcher



After applying the cleaner/etcher, you have to scrub with a long-handled scrub brush, using about 10 million tons of elbow grease. Trust me- my arms and shoulders were super sore the following few days! Rinse it a MINIMUM of three times, and let it dry. The surface should feel like 150 grit sandpaper. Just keepin’ it real though- I don’t know what 150 grit sandpaper feels like compared to other grit sandpapers, so I just felt it and yup, felt like sandpaper. Done. Just needed to keep the kids and a crazy dog off of it for a day.

We did not have any cracks or chips to repair, so if anyone out there has them, you would repair the cracks after the etching. There are a couple products out there from mixing your own concrete (in a small bucket- apply with trowel, putty knife, etc.) or premixed in a sort-of squirt bottle for filling cracks. Let it dry and sand down lumps or ridges.

Here’s a few pics of the concrete after cleaning and etching. There were rust stains on the concrete which did not come up. I didn’t worry too much about them because 1) the color we chose is similar to rust-color 2) they were small 3) I was too lazy to go out and buy the recommended Krud Kutter to try to get it up.


The next step was to tape off the areas we did not want painted. We used painter’s tape for concrete- which I never knew existed and probably have picked up in the past on accident and ruined an interior wall or two, but whatevs. It adheres well which I needed. We taped around the pool coping and bricks, and covered over the additional copings (is that what they’re called?) and pool deck drain (the horizontal black lines in the picture). We also taped over our current pool fence holes- we had the fence replaced a few years ago and new holes were drilled- the old ones we left uncovered.

Now the fun part. Well, not so fun. Keeping two young kids away from wet paint and a wide open pool was not fun OR easy. Not to mention the numerous interruptions we had  to break up fights going on inside. Regardless, we started by painting the Granite Grip with brushes alongside the taped areas and borders. This was super exciting- I knew from the first brush stroke I was going to love the color!


Then came the rest of the surface. Behr is pretty clear that one must use a 1/4 inch adhesive roller for the Granite Grip. We got a couple long-handled rollers as well. The problem: Not easy to get the first two coats on with a long handled roller on exposed aggregate. More pressure is needed to get the product evenly spread, so we ended up on our hands and knees covering about 800 square feet (just a guess) of rocky, sandpapery, jagged concrete. I’m not bitter.


A note about the first coat: The first coat of the Behr Granite Grip is NOT what the final color will look like. Behr is very clear about that. The second and subsequent coats are more accurate. We did 3 coats after the initial border-painting. Also, the surface became smoother after multiple coats. On the last coat, we were able to use the long-handled roller, giving our backs, butts, and quads a break!

This product dries fairly quickly- ok to have light foot traffic after 24 hours, can move furniture back after 72. We had to take the dog on walks and despite my neighbor behind me spraying a hose over my fence onto the newly painted surface, it went off without a hitch. Took us about a day to complete (after the surface prep).

And now, the final look! We keep looking dreamily out the window….and planning the next project. =)