Top 5 Reasons to Use Concrete Pavers in Your Landscape

Whether its for a driveway, a patio sitting area, a walkway or pool decking, concrete pavers should be considered as an alternative material choice in every landscape design. There are numerous reasons why they have captured such a huge part of the landscape flooring market and here we discuss what those benefits are that make them so popular.

Concrete pavers have evolved over the years from being used in many commercial applications to simulate the look of bricks to now simulating the look of real stone. They color blends and textures have now allowed designers to use concrete pavers in applications that call for an economical alternative to using real stone materials.

Concrete pavers cannot compete with real stone such as travertine flooring or random flagstone, but it is considered because of several factors. Lets see why concrete pavers are indeed so popular and why the manufacturers are coming out with more and more variations on the basic design.

1) Flexibility in Design

Pavers come in a variety of patterns, textures and colors from contemporary patterns to combinations of units that mimic European cobblestone. Because they are molded, texture can be created to not only resemble a brick but a rounded stone or even a piece of cut flagstone.

Pavers are generally smaller units and can be laid to follow the terrain. They can be installed directly on the contours of the land. If you have a driveway that dips down and then slopes back up, pavers will look natural over the topography. There is no need to have level sections such as when using wood.

2) Very Low Maintenance

Unlike wood or real stone, concrete pavers do not crack or react to absorption of water. Wood will rot if not sealed to resist the penetration of water. Real stone will also become vulnerable to constant moisture. Pavers do absorb water, but do not change their inherent structure. They do not flake or become weakened by the presence of water or moisture.

Debris that accumulates naturally simply needs to be swept or hosed off. Application of a sealer is optional and not required. Sealers are often used where someone wants the pavers to take on an enhanced tone. Sealers will also help to resist the absorption of stains as concrete pavers are porous just like natural stone.

3) Pavers Will Not Crack

Compared to regular concrete, pavers are crack free. Their inherent design allows them to flex and move because of their many dry joints between the individual pavers. No poured concrete is used in the installation, only a compacted aggregate base and sand. Edge restraints can be packed concrete along the outer perimeter or special plastic edge restraints designed specifically for pavers.

Tile, stone, flagstone or any other material that must be installed over a concrete slab is subject to cracking of the underlying slab. Poured concrete without stone on top will also crack because it’s the nature of concrete to crack. Expansion joints are intentionally placed in poured concrete applications to allow for this natural cracking. Unfortunately, concrete does not always crack along the expansion joints. And when it doesn’t the whole appearance can be ruined.

4) Paver Cost is Reasonable

A cost comparison of alternative flooring surfaces will show that  pavers are in the mid range of available options. Materials such as higher end travertine or flagstone are at the top along with premium wood or composite wood. At the low end of landscape flooring options, we have basic gravel, then loose flagstone pieces set in sand and then basic natural gray poured concrete which is why so many of our driveways and sidewalks use basic natural gray concrete.

But if you want to stretch your budget a bit and get something that has a completely more exciting look and feel compared to basic concrete, using pavers is a great option.

When you embellish basic concrete by adding color or perhaps adding aggregate for texture, you are adding to the overall cost, but remember, you still have the risk of cracking.

5) Innovation is Improving with Paver Technology

The styles and shapes now available in the market give the designer a lot of flexibility to emulate the appearance of natural stone. Travertine quarries have even created cut travertine stones that are typically 6” x 12” and thick enough to be used in lieu of concrete type pavers. Other natural stone is not conducive to being cut in this fashion. But travertine pavers are also popular for the application where a natural stone is preferred and the budget is a bit higher than for concrete pavers.

 

The case in favor of real turf grass

The Lawn Institute has an extensive list of benefits and value of maintaining natural lawns or real turf grass in our society. They point out a number of benefits including environmental, economical and even psychological issues to make the case in favor of real turf grass. They do not however, make a side by side comparison to the artificial grass alternative. So as you read through all of these benefits, think if artificial grass would provide the same benefits.

I  particularly liked the quote , “Surveys conducted by … bare out the fact that green space and especially green lawns may be as American as apple pie, hot dogs and baseball”. The issue is green open space.

The following survey results speak for themselves:

Psychological Health

  • 93% of homeowners rank green space important
  • 86% find that a nice lawn is a positive reflection on the homeowner
  • 63% of homeowners feel a landscape is an outlet for self-expression and creativity

Regional Economics

More than 90% of homeowners surveyed feel that having a well maintained lawn improves property values.

  • Roughly 74% of homeowners feel lawns and landscapes of neighbors are important when buying a house
  • 73% said the lawn is an important consideration when buying a house

The artificial grass alternative

I often bring up artificial grass as an alternative to real turf grass in most cases where the grass area considered is not too large. Since artificial grass costs much more than natural sod, homeowners often ask, “how much more is it?”. I have found that it is generally 2.5 to 3 times more in terms of initial costs. The maintenance costs including the cost of water should also be factored in over time.

Costs however may not be the only deciding factor and that is where the quote about grass being “as American as apple pie, hot dogs and baseball” is intriguing. I cannot cite an actual survey, but I do believe that all costs and environmental comparisons put aside, people would prefer the real thing over the fake alternative. People naturally will gravitate towards something natural when presented with a “fake” substitute.

Artificial is perceived as having less value and desirability. It’s also perceived as being inferior, cheap, less prestigious and not as sophisticated as the real thing. This is often true with plastic alternatives to natural materials such as stone or plants.  Fake indoor plants are lifeless substitutes for real indoor plants. So of course we would prefer real grass over something fake until we educate ourselves beyond this simple fake vs. real comparison.

Studies have shown that patients in hospitals and nursing homes that have view onto a natural landscape, perhaps one with a nice green lawn improve their conditions compared to patients who are not exposed to those same views. I wonder if those same benefits would be experienced if artificial grass were present. Given today’s technology of being able to make fake grass look as real as natural grass, I would guess that it would have the same psychological effects.

Americans love affair with the natural lawn

63% of homeowners feel a landscape is an outlet for self-expression and creativity (1)

Another psychological factor is the degree of enjoy-ability. Some people take great pride in maintaining their lawns even though they spend hours maintaining it. They see their lawns as an extension of their own identity, and if exposed to the public as in the case of the front lawn, may even be more sensitive of how they (and their lawn) are perceived by their neighbors. Artificial turf takes away any ego identification with how well it is being maintained. They may even be concerned about being labeled as “the guy with the fake grass”.

But as the technology to recreate the real lifelike appearance of natural grass improves with the synthetic alternatives, more and more people will be fooled into believing it is indeed real. And when that happens without the homeowner disclosing that its fake at the outset, they can only feel proud of their choice because almost everyone is usually quite astonished when they are told that it is indeed artificial grass.

Here is the laundry list of benefits of real grass as cited by The Lawn Institute.  and where you can find the citations made regarding the survey results.

Thought about having a small container water garden for your patio or deck? Water gardening is a great hobby, but a container with aquatic plants and perhaps some fish will also look great greeting visitors by the front door. Here are some container water gardening ideas that will help you decide just how to create one or more.

A container water garden can be created using any type of container provided it is water sealed. A container that is not otherwise considered or designed to function as a fountain, must be fixed up so it can hold water and not deteriorate form being wet. Large ceramic pots work well as long as the insides are watersealed. Probably the most popular idea is to purchase a kit that uses a Whiskey Barrel design with a pre-formed plastic liner that fits inside to hold the water while still maintaining the rustic outer whiskey barrel appearance.

The larger the water surface area of the container, the more aquatic plants you can have. So you may want to get several containers and group them, perhaps even create a tiered grouping to create more visual interest and variety of heights. These container water gardening ideas ares also used when dealing with traditional containers for plants alone. You can work them in with your regular planting containers.

A container water garden should be designed primarily around the kind of aquatic plants you would like. You may want to create a Zen like container water garden with a low profile container with a single Lotus or single Water lily. The design principles of arranging plants in a conventional container apply to a water garden as well. Groupings of plants that provide contrast, a variety of textures and colors will add to its appeal. Select plants of different shapes and size and make sure you read about how large they grow and their tolerance to freezing temperatures. Also consider the balance of water surface to the plants so it doesn’t look crowded or overgrown.

If you add fish to your water garden, the volume of water the container can hold will be important. The more the volume the better as the temperature of the water will not undergo drastic extremes which most fish do not like. Mosquito fish however, can tolerate warm water quite well. If your container holds more than 20 gallons of water you can add any type of goldfish.

With the addition of fish, along with the plants, you are creating a mini ecosystem and as such, a harmonic balance must be achieved between the capacity of the bacteria in the container and the debris and waste contributed by the fish. Adequate oxygen levels must also be provided and so a small recirculating pump that has some kind of way to aerate the water should be included. This could also provide the element of sound and splashing. It will also disturb the water’s surface and prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs.

If you have ever had a fish aquarium, you are probably familiar with feeding the fish, adding aquatic plants and cleaning out the aquarium’s filter from time to time. The maintenance of a container water garden outdoors is quite easy since the plants do much to keep the water clean. Just don’t add too many fish that exceeds the ability of the bacteria to break down the waste material. The water will evaporate over time so keep an eye on the level or better yet, install a float valve connected to a water source and you won’t have to worry about evaporation.

Don’t limit your ability to have more than just a container water garden. Consider other waterfeatures as well. Waterfeatures is a collective term that includes all types of fountain like designs such as tabletop fountains, container water gardens, stand-alone fountains, bubbling urns, rock waterfalls and ponds.

When it comes to outdoor living, a gas barbeque grill is a must for most homeowners and having a kitchen island makes it more entertaining and functional as an outdoor bbq cooking area.  Beyond the basic five foot long grill island, you can add a side burner, a refrigerator, sink, ice container, countertop grill light, drawers, cabinets, and other accessories. In order to simplify the process of determining your needs, lets go through this list below to help as a guide to barbeque grills and outdoor kitchen islands.

What need or desire does it fulfill?

Are you satisfied with a portable grill that you can move about? Or would you prefer a grill that is built into an island where it is integrated into your backyard patio design? Do you intend to socialize around the grill where you can entertain family and friends? Are you a gourmet chef and want all the bells and whistles that one thinks of with an outdoor kitchen?

Form vs. function.

If you primarily want a barbeque just to grill and then eat inside, the simplest form of grill station will probably do and functionality may be the priority. How will it look on your patio when not in use? How does it fit in with the other landscape elements you may want to include such as an outdoor fireplace, seating areas, pools, fountains and lawn areas?

Does it serve a purpose other than grilling?

Add a sit up bar to a basic island to allow guests to interact with you while you are cooking. A countertop also is a place to put beverages, plates and dishes like a table top. A refrigerator or built in ice chest adds a convenience factor in not having to make multiple trips to your indoor kitchen. It lets you hang outside with your guests.

How should it be situated on your patio?

The location of the bbq grill is always a major decision. But answer the above questions first to determine its form and function. These criteria will go into its design and configuration. If it’s a simple grilling station, which direction will the grill face? How close to the kitchen doors should it be? Is there adequate ventilation and separation from combustible structures? Will it be straight, L-shaped or angled? Is there adequate patio area for circulation around it, and at the bar seating area?

What design choices do you have? (custom vs. modular/prefab)

Barbeque islands can be either custom designed and built out of masonry block or they can be pre-manufactured using steel studs, cement board and finished with stucco coating or stone veneer. Today there are many manufacturers that build islands to your specifications and then either ship them to you to finish or bring them to your home in an almost completed form.

Infrastructure – electrical, gas, footings, waterline, permits

Regardless of custom built or prefabricated, you will need at the minimum gas which can be either propane or natural gas. A natural gas line must be underground and stubbed out to come up inside the island or come in through the back depending on how it is situated on your patio. Propane tanks are not as convenient as having a connection to natural gasline, but are much less expensive in terms of initial installation.

Electrical may be needed for a grill light, hood light, countertop light, rotisserie motor or for accessory outlets on the island. Not providing an outlet to an island is a mistake which is why many grill owners end up using battery powered clip on lights.

One of the benefits of a premanufactured bbq island is you do not need to pour a significant footing as you will with a custom built masonry island. Just a solid patio surface will do. Building permits may or may not be required for the island itself, but if you are running electrical and or gas, those items should require permits. Check with your building department to find out what is required.

If a sink is desired, a cold waterline will need to be connected as well as a discharge line for the wastewater. Most building codes require a sink to be connected to the sewer system, but is usually not feasible when building an outdoor kitchen after the house’s plumbing system has been built. Usually a small dry well is constructed to allow for the sink waste water to percolate into the garden or planting areas. Just don’t use your sink as if it were a real kitchen sink. Think about what is going down the drain.

Finishes – countertop and sides

The countertop surface can be tile, travertine, granite or stone. The sides can be stucco to match your house or a cultured stone veneer depending on how fancy you want to get or perhaps tie it in with another structure such as a fireplace. Don’t forget ventilation along the sides to allow gas to escape.

Accessories and Features

The size of the grill is the most important consideration when determining the size and length of the island as it will displace useable countertop space. How many people will you be serving? Side burners are available to place sauce pans and skillets. Here’s a list of some of the accessories that you may want to consider:

  • A smoker
  • A wood burning grill to accompany the gas grill
  • A backsplash with raised bartop
  • Cantilevered countertop with no backsplash
  • Refrigerator
  • Ice chest/beverage holder
  • Drawers
  • Access doors to inside the island to reach gas shut off valves or propane tanks
  • Shelving or Drawers for storage
  • A tilt out garbage holder

Spend a good deal of time thinking about what you really want in an outdoor kitchen island and barbeque grill and whether you need all the bells and whistles that are available. You may be able to figure out the cost online researching the premanufactured options, but a certain amount of onsite installation will be needed. Better yet, contact a local landscape professional to help you with either the design and or construction of your island to avoid overlooking anything.

 

Outdoor rooms extend the useable living areas of the home. Sometimes they are adjacent to the home itself as in a covered patio. Sometimes they are fully detached and separate from the residence and have their own roof structure.

So what differentiates a patio seating area from an outdoor room? The answer is by how many “indoor elements” are included in the design. What are those landscape elements that define an outdoor room? Here is a partial list:

  • Defined flooring such as an area rug,  stone, tile or wood with a distinct edge
  • Overhead cover to define a form of ceiling or canopy
  • Walls or enclosure defined either by solid walls, barriers or other form of containment which articulates the space
  • Furniture that allows relaxation and comfort or a place to serve and enjoy food and beverages
  • Outdoor kitchen accessories including grills, refrigerators, sinks and countertops with bar stools
  • Curtains or drapes that provide enclosure, privacy and an interior feel
  • Patio heaters, fireplaces, firepits
  • Entertainment elements that substitute for a family room such as big screen televisions and outdoor sound speakers

A simple shade structure may or may not be designed to create the feeling of an outdoor room, because it may only be designed for shade as the primary function. In this case, do we want total shade as in creating a solid cover, or do we want partial shade which allows light to filter through an open beam structure?

Most shade structures are not designed as outdoor “rooms” unless they have some kind of wall or enclosure that defines the area under cover. The furniture and other amenities that are placed in the space also define how well the ambiance feels like an true outdoor room.

Today, many pieces of furniture and fabric can withstand the elements including area rugs. Some outdoor speakers are also designed as water resistant.

This outdoor space pictured left has the essence of a room primarily because of the solid tile mosaic wall and the open beam patio cover above.

This ramada below forms the ceiling of this outdoor kitchen and seating area (pictured below). The space is further defined from the main patio level by two steps descending to the outdoor kitchen level. Can lighting, a ceiling fan and accessories complete the design giving it that indoor feel.  Although there are no walls as in the picture above, the room is defined by the four columns while the absence of solid walls mimics a great room indoors. Stairs lead to the view deck above.

This sitting area serves as an extension of the indoor living space because of the proximity to the transition between indoor and outdoors.

Defined by walls on four sides, an atrium that was big enough for sitting areas could also be designed as an outdoor room.

Outdoor rooms have been a trend among design professionals over the last several years mainly because of their relationship with architectural elements and the influence of interior designers who see the spaces more from a “room” perspective than from an outdoor patio perspective. Both however, led to the concept of landscapes being more appropriately defined as outdoor living areas whether they have defined rooms or more casual outdoor retreats.

Before the interior professionals began defining outdoor rooms, garden designers had always designed secret gardens, meditation gardens and other sanctuary spaces that could also be considered outdoor rooms. In retrospect, it seems that the architects and interior designers were trying to expand their design territories into the landscape of outdoor spaces.

Whether its an inside room or an outdoor room the design principles are the same for all the design professions and how the landscape elements are transformed into rooms is a reflection of our creativity.

 

 Page 5 of 11  « First  ... « 3  4  5  6  7 » ...  Last » 
/* */