Selecting the best material for a patio depends on multiple factors. First, you want to give proper consideration to the style preference and budget of the client, as well as the climate, setting and available materials. As a landscape designer or contractor, you’ll also want to be informed about the pros and cons of various materials to address the concerns of your clients and determine which materials you want to add to your installation repertoire.
Jan-Gerrit Bouwman, senior landscape architect and partner with Grant and Power Landscaping, West Chicago, Illinois, has designed patios using myriad materials, but he is a proponent of natural stone (typically limestone, bluestone, flagstone or decomposed granite). “Flagstone is more irregular – not smooth on top, so it’s a little more informal,” he says, and so he often uses it on smaller, naturalistic patios.
For larger, more formal patios, he prefers a pricier stone such as bluestone, with a smooth, finished surface and cut edges. On the other hand, a casual, inexpensive approach may call for bluestone chips or decomposed granite (aka “rotten granite”). These finely crushed stones allow precipitation to percolate through to the compacted fines of the base material. “You can mix it with a polymeric sand and it becomes a lot harder [and remains in place better], but it makes it less penetrable for moisture,” he says.
Composite decking may be old news, but composite masonry is a newer development. Andy Vander Woude, chief executive officer, Vast Enterprises, says their pavers consist of about 95-percent recycled material, making them one of the greenest paving options available. Although new, Vander Woude believes composite pavers have a promising future.
“In testing, there was no significant discoloration or product degradation observed after three full seasons of in-field application of salt,” he says. “The product was subjected to freeze-thaw cycles 52 times over 75 days with no visual signs of cracking or warping.”
“Concrete pavers offer a wide array of textures, colors, shapes and styles compared with any other material available,” says Ken O’Neill, vice president, Belgard Hardscapes. “Concrete pavers can match any home style, whether the home is modern in Miami, a Cape Cod in New England, or an adobe-style home in Arizona. It’s also important to note these styles, colors and textures are all available locally.” Availability and ease of installation for concrete pavers also makes them a cost-effective option for landscapers. O’Neill notes Belgard concrete pavers are manufactured as high-density units that resist cracking and damage from freeze-thaw cycles.
One way to help the environment and earn LEED credits is to select permeable concrete pavers. Rather than running into drains, eroding streams, or become a problem for neighboring properties, these pavers allow water to seep back into underground aquifers. However, without proper site prep and subbase installation, the potential benefit is lost. “It’s the open aggregate [base] that makes the product work, along with wider joints,” O’Neill says. “With the benefits of concrete pavers and the base you have a great environmental system. The key word is ‘system’.”
One way to open up your color and pattern choices for a paving project is go with poured concrete. In the hands of a skilled contractor, dyed and stamped concrete can be used to create an attractive patio without the expense of installing traditional individual stones or pavers. You can achieve the pricier look of flagstone, brick and many other patterns with stamp patterns. It is particularly popular around swimming pools, where clients don’t want sand washing from between paver joints into the pool.
Although concrete production is under scrutiny there is one green aspect to concrete – it is easily recycled. Typically, the recycled concrete is crushed and used as granular fill, base course for new pavement, or as aggregate to strengthen new concrete pavement.
Conventional wisdom holds that old concrete, with cracks, surface discoloration or surface imperfections, must be removed and replaced. Another option available is resurfacing the existing concrete with polymer-modified overlay systems.
According to the ConcreteNetwork, an organization committed to promoting concrete, resurfacing runs between $5 and $12 per square foot. It also stresses the underlying concrete for a resurfacing project must be sound.
Ted Corvey, paver business director for Pine Hall Brick, maintains brick pavers are “like the Miller Lite commercial, less expensive, more durable.” He says bricks are less expensive because you have a flexible system (crushed stone and sand) without a poured concrete base and mortar. They are durable because the system is allowed to flex. “As I like to say, we build the cracks already in,” he says. “The key is getting a good solid base of crushed stone (road base). A common mistake is using a couple of inches of sand or screenings as a base. Over time, it doesn’t stay smooth and the pavers get blamed for the failure.”
Corvey also says brick has a green background. “Brick has a strong green message mainly because it lasts a long time,” he says. “Consider the Great Wall of China or The Indus Valley. It’s made from an abundant natural resource. Plus, it has many uses at the end of its initial life cycle, such as reclaimed brick, brick mulch or base fill.”
Brick salvaged from demolished buildings or old paving applications is in high demand for its antique appearance. Corvey suggests you investigate to determine whether the bricks were fired correctly when made to make sure they will survive in a freeze-thaw environment. He notes there are less expensive new manufactured clay pavers made to look antique (rumbled, textured or molded pavers).
Corvey concedes brick colors are going to be limited compared with concrete pavers, but points out his firm offers 14 different colors. He says initially clay pavers are also going to be more expensive than concrete pavers (more expensive process, fewer plants, less supply, more distance to ship). But over time – and adding in sealing costs for concrete – clay pavers may be less expensive.