Choosing the right patio surface for your project can be one of the most important decisions you make during the design process. Because your new patio will typically be the place where you gather the most for dining, cooking, entertaining or relaxing, you will want a hardscape that is both durable and aesthetically pleasing.
In many suburban backyards, the patio is the linking point from the interior to the exterior. Keeping in mind your homes architectural style and your interior design choices, will help you make the right hardscape decision to create a seamless experience from inside to outside.
Pavers and Brick Patios
Paver patios are a popular choice for homeowners today. Not only are paver choices diverse with wide color ranges, sizes and patterning choices but they both durable and affordable. A well installed paver patio can enjoy a life span of 30 years or more. Since pavers are “dry set” with sand on a base rock and sand base, they are also permeable. Pervious pavers are good for drainage and help storm water stay on your property.
Brick patios can be installed with the same dry set method or with concrete. If concrete is used, you lose out on the permeability but you may gain longevity. This decision really depends on your site conditions.
Stone is also a popular choice for homeowners who want the look of a natural material. The price can be double or sometimes triple the cost of pavers, but the look is natural, rich and cannot be duplicated with a man-made product. Stone choices are very diverse since it is a mined product. From a sustainability standpoint, you may want to consider where your stone was mined from and what distance it had to travel to get to your home.
Stone patios can be mortared with concrete or dry set. For high traffic areas and for dining purposes (think about your chair legs), concrete mortared joints are usually the best solution.
Stones that I like to design with include travertine, flagstone, and cut stone. I usually take my design clients to a local rockery like Lyngso or a showroom so that they can see their stone choices in person.
Concrete patios are not as popular as they used to be for the simple reason that they crack. Although you can stain concrete a myriad of wonderful colors, a colored concrete patio ends up costing almost the same as a paver patio with materials and labor.
From a sustainable perspective, concrete is not an environmentally friendly surface because it is non-pervious and the process of making concrete creates an enormous amount of CO2 emissions. It is considered more environmentally sound to use fly ash instead of Portland cement when specifying concrete but this green option comes with an upcharge. Again, most homeowners choose concrete because it’s affordable or they are not familiar with alternative products.
Now that many clients are removing their cracked concrete patios, there is a new term for the by product called urbanite. You can build raised planter beds, pathways, seat walls or another patio out of urbanite.
Gravel is often an underutilized patio option. Again it may not be appropriate for every application but for those that want a budget friendly and permeable patio, it could be a good choice for you. Gravel typically costs about ½ of what a paver patio would cost installed.
A designer tip that I share with my clients is that if footprints are not desirable, choose an angular gravel or locking gravel that will shift less when you walk on it.
Decomposed Granite/ DG Patios
DG, decomposed granite, is another affordable and permeable patio material. If you have hard wood floors in your home you should not use DG directly near them. Allow a minimum distance of twenty feet between these two surfaces or else you run the risk of a scratched floor.
DG only comes in handful of colors (warm golds and cool grays) but you can mix these colors together to create your own custom blend.
While DG is not very expensive as a material is it labor intensive to install correctly. DG can be installed with metal edging, plastic bender board or without any edging at all by using a special stabilizer. DG is great for natural looking pathways too.
A wood or wood synthetic deck may also be a great option for your home especially is you have changes in grade levels. There are many different quality grades of redwood as well as synthetic woods that are made from recycled wood pulp and plastic like Timber Tech and Trex. Of course pricing varies widely between real wood and faux wood, but so does the maintenance.
A wood deck requires a yearly sealant and may need replacing if wood posts or planks begin to rot after decades of inclement weather. A wood synthetic product is more expensive but it will last forever (and is not recyclable), which is not a great thing if you think you may change your mind down the road. So you can see that there are trade offs for both products.
If you can afford a deck, you can usually afford a stone patio. Obviously these choices will give you two different looks and if you weigh all your personal consideration with your site requirements, one will come out the winner.
Hire a professional landscape designer! With all these choices, and your patio being one of more costly parts of your project, you can see why I recommend getting professional advice based on your unique requirements. He or she will be able to guide you and help you make choices that fit your lifestyle, and budget.
I’ve been seeing more DG in gardens–I’m not sure if it’s a trend or if I’m just starting to notice and appreciate it. I really like the look of the DG patio you show. It has a nice natural look to it.
Thanks James, I appreciate your comment. I do a lot of petscapes in my designs and dogs love DG. It’s a great surface to for them to lie on, run around on or to do their business. DG is a great hardscape.
Another great surface is permeable pavers, where the pavers themselves are permeable. Peninsula Building Materials is carrying the Ekopaver which I like a lot. Since the paver itself is permeable they don’t have the i/8″ space between them. we used this on one of my projects and it came out really nicely.
You are right Julie, that each hardscape comes with its own pros and cons. Not only pavers (like the Ekopaver Julia Powers mentioned), but now poured concrete is available in a pervious version. Water flows right through it to the soil below, which is where water belongs rather than in the sewer (best management practices for storm water management). It’s pretty exciting to have more options that are eco-friendly as well as pretty and practical.
Thank you so much, my two lovely mentors, Julia and Deva! I do need to give credit to these other two options: pervious pavers and pervious concrete. Perhaps I could interview you both sometime? i see another blog coming on!
I leave on the east coast. We do not use term decomposed granite. I am wondering if it is the same or similar to crushed stone with stone dust? We use it mostly as a subgrade for permeable pavers or gravel paths because it compacts nicely.
Awesome ideas! There are various ways to achieve a beautiful patio and decorative concrete is one of those. So glad I had my patio resurfaced with Stamped Concrete Overlay.
Thanks for sharing!
I’m glad you are enjoying your stamped concrete overlay. In my decade plus of designing only one client has chosen stamped concrete overlay and so we’ll need to see how long it lasts before it starts peeling up. Most word of mouth reports say 10 years only for our bay area weather.
Nice! Love the DG Patios. Just need a handy gardener to plant trees and bushes. But it’s not too difficult to do in my opinion. Thanks for sharing.