Choosing Outdoor Walkway Paving Material

Choosing the right paving material for your walkways can make the difference between a fabulous house and garden and one that is merely ho-hum. Fortunately there are plenty of options out there today. When deciding which paving material to use, appearance is usually at the top of the list; however, durability, availability, maintenance and cost should also be considered. If plant to install a new walkway or revamp an existing one, you might want to consider one of these five options for paving materials.

Brick has been used as a paving material for walkways for hundreds of years. It blends in well with nearly every setting, giving your yard or garden a rarified feel. However, its elegance comes with a cost. Brick walkways are among the most expensive.

Bricks are uniform, but designers usually arrange them into interesting patterns, such as a basket weave or herringbone, in order to break the monotony. A well-designed brick walkway should not draw attention to itself, but it should be distinctive and pleasing to the eye. Managing this balance is a trick, and homeowners often hire contractors to install brick walkway.

The installation of brick is no snap either. Bricks should be placed on a bed of sand mixed with dry concrete, which allows them to move when the ground contracts and swells. When set directly into concrete, brick walkways tend to need multiple repairs. Since repair involves either pouring concrete into the cracked brick or replacing bricks entirely, frequent repair can ruin the look of your walkway.

For its versatility, durability and variety, stone is the most popular material for walkway construction. You can buy stone pavers that have endured various levels of machining: from oddly shaped virgin stones to precisely cut stone pavers designed to interlock with each other.

Get to know the varieties of stone. Consider your budget and sense of style when shopping for stone pavers. There is a material out there that will fit just right.

Sandstone. Sandstone comes in a number of varieties, most notably bluestone, which is the most common variety. Keep in mind that sandstone in browns and tans can be found, if that is what would work best with your garden. Sandstone will usually come precut in square or rectangular shapes; the larger the cut, the thicker the piece should be to prevent cracking. Sandstone is an extremely versatile paving material and should be considered by any homeowner.

Slate. Slate walkways have a certain rustic dignity, but the material isn't for everybody. It conveys a certain informality to your walkway, which charms many but not fit with an extremely formal garden. Slate does not do well in extremely wet or extremely cold climates, where it is likely to suffer significant wear. Walking on a frozen piece of slate is no picnic, either, and serious care should be taken before installing slate in a garden that endures frequent freezes.

Granite and Limestone. The most formal of the paving stones, granite and limestone can make your garden look like a luxurious retreat destination. But such elegance comes at a high price: Granite and limestone are among the most expensive paving choices, especially on the west coast, where limestone is in short supply. Both stones offer a uniformity of color and usually come cut to exacting proportions. In fact, neither stone looks particularly good when not cut into polygons. Both stones will provide exceptional durability for the money and will rarely require any maintenance.

One of the least expensive paving materials on the market is concrete. Concrete can be dyed, textured and tumbled to give it the look of genuine stone, but, unlike stone, the size and shape of concrete paving stones is not limited by the material itself. Thus, you can easily find concrete in a wide range of shapes and sizes. The downside is the appearance of concrete. Although manufacturers have gotten better at making concrete look precisely like natural stone, they will never be completely successful. On the other hand, concrete gives you the opportunity to choose from among a variety of textures and shapes. Poured concrete can look like anything, and designers have thought of it all. Concrete ranks among the cheapest paving materials.

Pea Gravel
Pea gravel is a great choice when you prefer an informal walkway or if you are replicating a historic landscape (think Williamsburg). It is also the traditional walkway material of Japanese gardens. Pea gravel consists of small, smooth round stones white to gray to black in color, approximately 3/8" diameter in size. Because pea gravel is loose, it's necessary to provide an edging material to keep the stones in place, especially if the walkway is adjacent to a lawn area. After a period of time it may also be necessary to top it off to maintain the correct level of the walkway for drainage and aesthetic reasons.

Cobblestone walkways have a rustic feel. Cobblestones wear extremely well, and streets that have been paved with cobblestones have withstood foot and vehicular traffic for centuries. They are available in a several sizes, the most common being 4 x 4 x 4 inch cubes or 4 x 4 x 8 inch rectangles. Pay attention to the finish, however, because smooth paving stones can be treacherous to walk upon. Look for finishes that have been split or sawn; those stones have a non-slip surface. Cobblestones are priced by the square foot and are one of the more expensive paving materials for walkways.

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