The choices for paving surfaces outdoors in the landscape are many and most homeowners moving from another part of the country to Sedona may not be aware of the choices for patio surface materials used here in northern Arizona.

It’s easy to get confused with too many choices let alone what color to select. You should take away from this article some tips and pointers about the pros and cons among all the different patio surface options for your Sedona landscape.

Natural paving materials include flagstone, travertine, slate, Cantera stone, wood, adobe, clay, gravel, and river rock among others.

Manmade materials are mostly concrete based and include poured concrete such as colored concrete, salt finished concrete, exposed aggregate, stained concrete, decorative concrete coatings, stamped concrete, interlocking concrete pavers and tile.

There are many criteria that affect which material is “best” for your situation. These factors below are objective criteria that can be assigned to each patio surface option.


Cost is based on material cost and the labor to install it. Most all natural stone needs to be installed over a concrete slab with a few exceptions. Typically, individual stones or tiles are fitted together with grouted joints. These steps add to the overall labor costs for natural stone making it more expensive than most manmade materials.   

Random, irregular sized pieces of stone such as flagstone, river rock or field stone needs to be manually cut in order to fit together. Precut stone tiles such as slate or travertine are easier to install because there is less cutting.


Natural stone is inherently porous and should always be sealed to keep water from undermining the stability of the stone and the sub slab. Flagstone and slate are particularly prone to flaking. The more porous the material, the more likely it will be harder to clean off stains.

Manmade materials such as concrete, concrete pavers, porcelain tiles are not as porous and may or may  not need to be sealed to maintain their structural integrity but may be recommended for ease of maintenance and cleaning.


Most any natural stone is subject to cracking and poured concrete is also prone to cracking as well. In fact, hairline cracks in concrete are considered “natural”. It is only when the soil is expansive or there may be moisture and/or drainage issues undermining the concrete that the slab can show cracks that are unsightly. These cracks may get worse over time. Cracking in concrete can show through to tiles laid over the slab.

Cracks within a slab under a decorative concrete coating cannot simply be repaired sufficiently. The underlying cause of the cracking must be fixed. This is why reinforcing steel is used in many concrete pours and expansion joints built in to create stress points so if any cracking is likely, it will hopefully crack along the expansion joint and not be visible.

Concrete pavers have a real advantage over concrete and manmade stone in that they do not crack. They are manufactured to be placed over compacted aggregate with sand between their joints. No concrete is used except sometimes to reinforce the edges. Concrete pavers are designed to be flexible if there is some ground movement and can be easily removed and replaced if there is a significant issue with drainage in the underlying soils.


Manmade materials are not any safer than natural materials. What affects safety are issues of slipperiness, heat absorption and uneven surface leading to trip hazards.

With some exceptions, materials that are generally considered slippery when wet are manmade tiles, honed and filled travertine and any smooth surface that has been sealed.

The darker the material the more it will absorb and retain heat making it not only hot to walk on with bare feet, but the overall areas around will be hotter due to the radiated heat. Heat absorption is always an issue when deciding on the decking around a pool.

No one wants to intentionally create trip hazards in their landscape, but using uneven and rustic stone surfaces can do just that. Consider the surface texture of the materials in terms of who will be walking on them. Will you be hosting gatherings where everybody will be in high heels? Do you walk outside barefoot a lot? Do the corners of the natural stone you are considering stick up above the rest of the surface? Keep in mind the more rustic the material, the more likely it will cause you to accidentally catch a toe.

So which is better? There is one more criteria to consider and that is aesthetics. In my next article, I will discuss why aesthetics is the primary factor in the decision making process when selecting a paving surface material.

Climate Concerns

Here in Sedona, we average about 4500 feet in elevation and the low temperatures in the winter can drop below 20 degrees.  Therefore, freeze – thaw is an issue for any patio surface material that can trap water. This is especially an issue when laying natural flagstone over a concrete slab where mortar is used to set the pieces. If the mortar is not set and cured, and still has a certain amount of moisture, it can freeze and expand and lift the flagstone. Same with anything that is set on a mortar base. Do time of installation is important to consider.

Those more porous materials which include flagstone, slate, travertine, adobe brick all need to be properly sealed to keep water out.


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