Your paver patio project: What you need to consider befor you begin the process.

Are you thinking about getting a patio installed at your home? In this article, I will address the most important things to consider before designing your patio.

It is important to carefully look at three integrated aspects of your project. Form, Function and Scope. Form refers to the aesthetic appearance, feel and overall atmosphere of your outdoor living space. Function refers to what you plan to use your patio for. Scope refers to the budget that you are working with.

Although most people want to talk about form first, we really can’t start there. The very first thing to clearly identify is what function you would like your patio or outdoor living area to have. Determining function will give you more clear parameters for the form of your patio. For instance, if you are planning to have frequent parties of 20+ people out on your patio, you will need an appropriate amount of square footage to accommodate that. If you want to gather around a fire with a few friends on a regular basis, it would be a good idea to look at a built in fire pit with a seat wall. However, if you only plan to have fires on rare occasion, you might want to look at creating a space where a portable fire pit could be placed when desired. If you want to entertain and cook outside while hanging out with family or guests, you might want to look into a built in grill island or even a full outdoor kitchen. Of course, an outdoor kitchen is going to cost more than a grill island and a lot more than a mobile grill. This brings us to the next topic of budget.

Even though you might not have a clear idea what your budget is and probably don’t really want to think about money more than you have to, it is important to determine what your budget is and how much different patio features cost in order to design the right patio for you. If you really want to cook outside with family and friends but have a budget of $10,000, you should consider a mobile grill. If your budget is $20,000 - $25,000 you might want to look at a built in grill island and maybe a little built in fridge. If you have a higher budget, you could consider a full outdoor kitchen possibly under a pergola or gazebo. If you want to have a fire pit area that 8 people can sit around comfortably and have a $5,000 budget, you will most likely be looking at a built in fire pit with an appropriate amount of patio around it. If your budget is $10,000, you could get a built in fire pit with patio and a seat wall and pillars. With a larger budget, you could consider lighting and a full seat with a back. These costs are rough and many factors including site conditions, materials, specific contractor and installation process to name a few, play into the cost of every project. The purpose of the costs above is just to give you a rough ballpark and to make the point that your budget is going to play a huge factor in the design of your outdoor living area.

Lastly we get to talk about the form of your patio. I will discuss form in more detail in a future blog post but for now we will quickly go over some key aspects of form. As I discussed earlier, some aspects of form are byproducts of function and budget but there is a lot more to consider. You should ask yourself a lot of questions when selecting the shape, material and overall style of your outside living area or patio. Although pinterest and other inspiration sources can be great for getting your creative design ideas flowing, you have to consider your unique situation and personal tastes and preferences. Do you like clean lines and geometric shapes? Are you drawn to more organic shapes? Sometimes it’s good to think about what you like inside your house. If you prefer open format in your home with an island in your kitchen, you will likely want one large patio area with differentiated spaces through accent strips or perhaps a step down. If you prefer a galley kitchen and more clearly delineated spaces in your home, you might want to have a multi level patio with seat walls, plant/tree rows or other barriers dividing areas to create more intimate spaces. Of course, your landscape designer will be able to help you design the perfect patio for your unique situation.

Stamped concrete vs. Pavers. (A paver installers perspective.)

When determining whether to get a stamped concrete patio or a paver patio, it is important to think about long term value and risk reduction as well as aesthetics, versatility and cost.

 

The most important difference between pavers and poured concrete is a difference in flexibility. Poured concrete is a rigid paving surface. This means that the surface is unable to shift or flex without breaking. On one hand, assuming the rigid concrete patio doesn't crack, there will be no problem with the patio becoming uneven over time. On the other hand, all concrete patios crack (hopefully on score lines) when they cure and the vast majority will crack in undesirable areas over time if not right away.  When the concrete does crack, it is susceptible to movement. When this happens, leveling the patio can be difficult and it will be impossible to completely repair the patio to its original state.

 

A paver patio is a flexible pavement surface. This means that if any shifting or settling occurs, the surface will flex through the movement of individual pavers. Of course an uneven flexible patio surface is not ideal but corrections can be made by removing and reinstalling individual pavers. Because of this, flexible paver surfaces can be completely repaired without the permanent visible concrete cracks which are unrepairable in rigid pavement surfaces.

 

For both stamped concrete and paver patios, quality of installation is paramount. A properly installed stamped concrete patio will likely crack over time but it will still function as a pavement surface. A properly installed paver area will need minor maintenance but it will withstand the test of time. (My company backs up this claim with a 5 year warranty on patios with a maintenance program.)No other patio surface can offer this level of long term lasting quality.

 

Another major advantage pavers have over stamped concrete is versatility. Stamped concrete has a variety of stamp shapes and color options and has limited vertical application.

 

Pavers on the other hand have almost limitless versatility both in aesthetics and function. Pavers not only have a huge selection in visual aesthetic but also in long term durability. The classic pavers we are all familiar with are at the low end of surface quality. Paver surface technology has come a long way in the last 10 years. Now mid level pavers have concentrated cement and pigment with small aggregate in the surface for a tough long lasting surface and larger aggregate in the rest of the paver for increased strength. High end pavers give the homeowner many unique highly durable options. Some of which include granite and quartz in the paver surface, easily washable surfaces, and extremely strong and durable wet cast face mix pavers.

 

The topic of function is one that I am just going to touch the surface of. The primary function for most paver patios is pretty clear. Whether it is an area with a full outdoor kitchen and entertaining area or a fire pit area out in the backyard. Pavers can be used to build the vast majority of outdoor areas and structures but that is not where function ends for pavers. Permeable paver areas can be used for decreasing pollutant runoff. They can filter water and reintroduce it I to the soil or the water can be harvested for other use on the property. Pavers can be heated from underneath for to eliminate the need for snow removal. Lights can be installed in the surface of the pavers for different desired effects. Complex banding and inlays can define areas or incorporate any desired design into the patio surface.

 

To sum it up, comparing stamped concrete to pavers is an apples to oranges comparison. Properly installed pavers will last almost indefinitely as long as basic maintenance is performed. The home owner can have peace of mind that the project will never crack in a way that can not be repaired. Pavers also offer almost limitless options including possibilities which many people aren't even aware of. Cost is an issue with any project but your stamped concrete project is more of a gamble then an investment. If the stamped concrete becomes aesthetically or functionally undesirable  through cracking in 1 to 10 years, pavers just might be the best financial decision you can make for your outdoor space.

 

"Why do patios become uneven?" (a short explanation of base installation and frost heaving)

I get this question quite frequently and there are a plethora of possible reasons for an uneven patio but here in Michigan, the most common reason is that the water in the ground under the patio freezes in the winter. The ground expands when it freezes. This ground expansion lifts the patio. This is called frost heaving. Of course, Some areas under the patio will hold more water than other areas which is why your patio will become uneven.

You might wonder “Do all paver patios heave and become uneven eventually?” The answer to this is a resounding NO! A properly installed patio will have a thick enough layer of compact crushed limestone (21aa) or clean limestone to protect the subsoil from the effects of the freezing (expanding) ground. Of course, there are many ways that installation can go wrong which can lead to pavers becoming uneven..

How can you be sure that your contractor will be installing a patio that will not heave over time? There are a lot of things to look for in a contractor but the easiest thing to look for is a warranty on the work. The industry standard warranty is 2 years and covers the heaving of the pavers among other things. If the contractor doesn’t offer a warranty for 2 or more years, that’s a red flag. Time to look for another contractor. Certifications such as ICPI. SRW and others can give you more peace of mind that work will be done correctly.