Typically, a rough broomed finish is brushed on the concrete to promote adhesion. Tile and stone industry standards require a crack control membrane between the concrete and veneer. The added cost will reduce the chance that cracks in the concrete will migrate through the surface materials.
The denser the material, the less prone it will be to wear and stains. Soft Durango stone, Arizona flagstones, and some travertine marbles create beautiful surfaces, but are easily damaged by pool chemicals, salts, food stains, and physical damage. Sealers can provide some protection, but they require routine re-application to remain effective. These porous stones, however, remain cooler in hot climates due to their tendency to absorb moisture.
Bluestones, slates, brick, and granites make superior and durable decking. They can get hot to the touch, but once splashed with water, they will remain cool. Not all slates and stones are suitable for use outdoors, so do research and ask a professional for guidance.
Ceramic and terracotta tiles are attractive, but make sure they are “high fired” and warrantied to be frost-proof as this will prevent spalling and cracking during a hard freeze. Inexpensive and unglazed terracotta tiles are typically not used outdoors due to their porous and fragile nature. Ceramic tiles that look like stone are offered in varying sizes to create unique patterns and designs. Compared to natural stone, their consistent thickness will lower labor and installation costs; it is important, however, to choose ceramic tiles that are slip resistant.
Exotic hardwood, such as Ipe, Mahogany, Zebra, Rosewoods, Gemu, Ebony, Zricote, and Teak, make excellent splinter-resistant decking materials. The wood slats neatly conceal deck drains and concrete blemishes. Many of these hardwoods come in hardware-free systems, incorporating clips that eliminate visible screw and nail holes. Some are available in panels or squares that are installed directly on top of a concrete slab.
Photo courtesy of Group Works LLC, Wilton, Conn.