Published: March 18, 2010
A broad selection of patio pavers accompanies increased demand for outdoor living spaces.
That variety is driven by considerable consumer demand. A 2009 Outdoor Living Trend Report by Researchandmarkets.com says that sales of outdoor living products accounted for more than 5% of all purchases at Lowe’s home improvement centers, and a whopping 29% of sales—about $2.1 billion–at Home Depot.
And there’s value to be had in a patio, too. Mack Strickland of Strickland Appraisal Services, Inc., in Chester, Va., pegs patio recovery costs at anywhere from 30% to 60%, depending on the region of the country and material choices.
Getting on base
Choosing patio paving materials begins with a decision about what kind of base to install. The base—the material that supports the pavers—must be firm, strong, and designed to stand up to years of foot traffic and weather.
The options include, sand, gravel, and concrete. Sand and gravel perform equally well, and cost about the same to install. Both sand and gravel bases are relatively easy do-it-yourself projects.
Both sand and gravel bases feature “dry set” paver installations—the paving materials are set in place, and then fine sand is swept into the joints between the materials to secure them. Every two or three years, fresh sand must be swept into the joints to replace sand that’s settled out, and pavers that have become loose must be reset. Expect to pay $2 to $3 per sq. ft. for a DIY job, and $3 to $5 per sq. ft. for a professional installation of the base alone.
A concrete base offers greater longevity and stability, with less potential for settling. On a concrete base, the paving materials are set permanently with mortar, and ongoing maintenance is minimal. Expect to pay $5 to $8 per sq. ft. for a professionally installed concrete base.
Brick pavers offer warmth and the possibility of intricate patterns. Thinner than typical “builder bricks” used on home siding, they’re formulated to hold up under heavy foot traffic. Brick pavers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and finishes, and can look old or new. Because they’re often smaller than other paver sizes, installation costs can be higher. Depending on budget, they can be installed in sand, granite, or over concrete.
Brick pavers: $14 to $20 per sq. ft., professionally installed.
Concrete is now available in numerous finishes (brushed, acid washed, scored, and stamped) and many hues. Its long lifespan and relatively inexpensive installation make it a popular choice. “For colder climates, consider adding $1 to $2 per sq. ft. for a specialized base preparation and concrete additive,” says Chris Fenmore, principal with Garden Studio Landscape Design.
Stamped concrete can add a pattern to your patio, simulating slate, brick, or stone, but also adds an additional installation expense of $1.50 to $2 per sq. ft. and can be prone to cracking. Concrete can also be scored to create patterns or borders.
Concrete: $6 to $12 per sq. ft., depending on finish and color.
Concrete pavers come in countless shapes and sizes, and can be fashioned to look like real stone. Unlike other materials, the concrete is molded, not cut, making them more cost effective, uniform, and stronger than many natural paver varieties. They’re readily available at home improvement centers and are well-suited to DIY patio projects.
Interlocking pavers, a variation of concrete pavers, have gained popularity in recent years for their relative affordability, minimal maintenance, and quick installation.
Concrete pavers: $13 to $20 per sq. ft.
Interlocking pavers: $15 to $20 per sq. ft., $20 to $35 installed.
Stone, slate, & marble
Although almost any stone can work as a paver, cost and practicality typically focus on sandstone, limestone, slate, and granite. The materials you select can be especially cost-efficient if they come from locally operated quarries; check your local stone supplier before looking at national home improvement chains. Avoid coating stones with sealers that will peel or chip over time.
Sandstone, slate, granite: $17 to $28 per sq. ft., professionally installed
Decomposed granite and pebble surfaces
Decomposed granite is comprised of very small pieces of granite, ranging in size from ¼-inch to the consistency of sand. Although an affordable option, decomposed granite patios may need to be replenished periodically as the surface can erode with time, presenting higher maintenance costs. This application may be a poor choice in climates with lots of rain and snow.
“Budget $1 per sq. ft. for maintenance costs every two to three years,” suggests David McCullough, landscape architect and ASLA board member. Also, decomposed granite isn’t solid and furniture legs may sink into the surface. Adding stabilizers that help bind particles together can strengthen the surface.
Decomposed granite and pebble surfaces: $1.50 per sq. ft. without stabilizers, $2 with stabilizers
Recycling hardscape materials, such as cast-off concrete sections from a neighbor’s old driveway or sidewalk, is a cost-effective and eco-friendly alternative to new materials. Check nearby construction sites for old materials (and be sure to ask permission before hauling anything away).
Although the materials are usually free, you’ll need to enlist helpers and the use of a pick-up truck to transport everything to your patio site. Expect to save $500 to $800 on a standard 12×12-foot patio versus newly purchased pavers, and you’ll be building a one-of-a-kind creation. Look for materials that provide uniform thickness.
Combining different materials—such as brick and concrete, or stone and rock trim, can create an interesting and customized feel. “Too much hardscape can be tedious,” notes Southern California designer Chris Fenmore. “I often like to use four-inch troughs separating masonry from concrete that can be filled with gravel, beach rocks, or ground cover. They provide a bit of relief from the hardscape and nice detail, adding to the custom look of the yard.”
Keeping maintenance low
Most paving options, with the exception of decomposed granite or gravel, require little maintenance. The key is a solid foundation, installation experts say. A poorly built base can cause your patio to become uneven and the stones or concrete to crack. “If your backyard is especially uneven, it may be easier to add a few steps than to level everything out,” advises McCullough.
“Be sure your paving product can withstand weather conditions in your area,” notes S. Penny Triplett, a real estate and appraisal expert with Pissocra Mathias Realty in Ohio. Also, because some minimal cracking may occur over time, especially around paver joints, “consider purchasing 10% more of the product you install, including grouting in the chosen color, in case you need to make repairs,” says Fenmore.
Andrea Nordstrom Caughey has been writing about home and garden stories as a magazine and newspaper editor and reporter for more than 20 years. Her specialty is outdoor living topics, including patios, decks, and garden structures. A Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism graduate, Andrea lives in a coastal cottage that she enjoys upgrading with low-maintenance, weather-hardy improvements.
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