Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Building with Concrete Pavers

by Matt Goering

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Name the top 10 roads of all time, and the Yellow Brick Road in the Land of Oz has to be right up there with the best of them. Not only did it lead Dorothy and her new-found friends to the source of their salvation, the yellow brick road looked pretty cool, too. Unfortunately for homeowners looking to upgrade driveways, walkways, and patios, yellow bricks from mythical lands are hard to find at most home improvement supply stores, leading many to ask which alternative is the next best option. Traditional brick, concrete, and stone all have their champions, but if you're looking for a material that combines quality, looks, and flexibility, you might want to catch a ride on the next twister and check out the wonderful world of concrete pavers.

Concrete Pavers: A Primer
As often as concrete pavers come up in casual conversation, it's amazing how little most homeowners actually know about them. It's not that different than the mysterious Wizard of Oz, to be honest. Everybody in Oz has heard of the man in charge, but nobody really knows who he is or what he does. In case you're not up on your Ozian history, the real Wizard of Oz is just a funny looking old man with a big mustache. And if you're polishing up on your driveway, patio, and walkway surfaces, the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (ICPI) describes concrete pavers as consisting of a network of interlocking concrete paving stones laid over a foundation of aggregate stone and bedding sand. The pavers get all the press, but according to the ICPI, it's the entire "system" that really deserves to get all the attention.

Concrete Pavers: The Benefits
Why is the system so important? Because there's a lot more to interlocking concrete pavers than meets the eye. After all, if the cowardly lion was courageous, the tin man really had a brain, and the scarecrow actually had a heart all along, it shouldn't be that surprising that concrete pavers have more going for them than good looks. Matt Black, owner of Trails End Hardscapes in Fort Collins, CO, says that it's exactly that combination of individual interlocking paving stones and a flexible foundation that makes interlocking pavers so valuable, especially when it comes to longevity and repairs. He uses the example of a root growing underneath a patio to make his point. "With interlocking pavers," says Black, "you can just pull the pavers apart, remove the root, and put them all back in place again." Tearing out and repairing a concrete slab, on the other hand, is a much bigger undertaking. Add to that the fact that concrete pavers have a 30 year lifespan, and homeowners can rest easy knowing it's going to be a very long time until they have to worry about their patio, walkways, or driveways again.

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Concrete Pavers: The Possibilities
That said, concrete pavers are some of the most attractive paving solutions on the market. Pavers come in just about any design you can imagine, including pavers that imitate brick, stone, and those that take on a life of their own. Combine that with just as wide of a selection when it comes to size and shape, and there's a concrete paver out there to fit just about any installation need, whether you're trying to match the Technicolor wonders of a Munchkin patio, the tumbled stone in the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West, or the uniform Yellow Bricks used to build the Yellow Brick Road itself.

Concrete Pavers: Cost and Installation
If there is a catch when it comes to concrete pavers, it usually comes down to cost and installing them correctly. For starters, while big box home improvement stores often advertise them as a cheap alternative to natural stone or brick patios, that's not really the case. At $15 to $20 per square foot, a patio made from interlocking concrete pavers runs about the same as stamped concrete, a wood deck, or a patio made from flagstone. And if you try to cut your costs by cutting corners on installation, there's a good chance you'll end up regretting it. "Homeowners need to make sure pavers are installed according to ICPI (International Concrete Pavement Institute) standards," says Black, "or you're basically throwing your money away." The main reason being that without the proper foundation and edging, it's nearly impossible to maintain the firm, even, and long-lasting surfaces that have earned interlocking concrete pavers their stellar reputation to date.

Interlocking concrete pavers aren't for everybody. For some they will be a little too costly, and for others they won't have the rustic authenticity that comes with using genuine stone. If you're looking for a long-lasting, durable, and attractive paving alternative, however, they're worth looking into. Chances are you'll find a paver that catches your fancy, and you'll be able to build a yellow brick road, patio, walkway, or driveway of your very own!

Matt Goering, formerly a carpenter and house painter, is a freelance writer for the home improvement industry who has published over 600 articles.