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Understanding hardscaping materials and tips on installation

By Michael Willis

An interlock concrete paver patio.
An interlock concrete paver patio.

Paved hardscape surfaces are an integral component of nearly all landscaping projects. With the homeowner’s desire to extend their interior living space into their yards and the ever-popular ‘staycation,’ the era of the basic paver patio has all but disappeared. Hardscaping has expanded far beyond the poolside perimeter decking or simple rectangular patio. The myriad of paver materials available is constantly evolving as manufacturers and suppliers try to keep up with the demand of current landscaping trends. Designers and contractors now have at their disposal a palette of materials in a range of sizes, shapes, colours, and textures.

With so many options available, it can be a daunting task for a homeowner to select the ideal paving material. A designer or contractor can ease this process by educating one’s self with knowledge of the different materials. This is a valuable asset, which will not only earn confidence in the eyes of the homeowner, but also present an opportunity for builders to increase sales.

Selecting a paver material can be simplified by separating the most common types into two categories.

  1. Natural stone pavers.
  2. Segmental concrete pavers (i.e. interlock concrete pavers [ICPs], segmental concrete paving slabs, and permeable pavers).

Natural stone pavers

Interlock concrete pavers installed on an aggregate sub-base.
Interlock concrete pavers installed on an aggregate sub-base.

For centuries, natural stone has been used worldwide as a building material to construct architectural structures and pave roadways. Known for its durability, strength, and permanence, these pavers are one of the few building materials that have a timeless appearance. Not only valued for its structural use, natural stone is sought for its beauty, variation in colour, texture, and its natural occurring diversity.

Deposits of stone are quarried all over the world with materials originating from locations scattered across North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, and East and South Asia. Stone deposits vary from region to region with many variations unique to the specific geographic location from which they are found. This localized uniqueness is evident in the fact no two stones are alike. The appearance and colour of a stone can even vary from quarry to quarry located in close proximity to one another. Common types of stones used as natural stone pavers include granite, limestone, marble, sandstone, and slate.


Poolside interlock concrete paver patio and raised terrace.
Poolside interlock concrete paver patio and raised terrace.

Granite is an igneous rock that is formed when magma slowly cools beneath the earth’s crust and solidifies into a crystalized stone. Although some stone materials may be labelled as granite, they are in fact not true ‘granite.’ To be classified as such, the stone must be composed of at least 20 per cent quartz and 35 per cent feldspar. The commercial stone industry tends to classify any stone with large visible crystals and grains as ‘granite’ to simplify categorization of materials to the consumer. Granite is known for its hardness, permanence, and enduring colour. It is also not susceptible to staining or discolouration. For these reasons, granite is a popular stone for use in interior applications such as countertops and flooring. It is also widely used in exterior applications such as wall cladding material and paver for patios.

Granite has large visible crystals and grains of blended minerals. Varieties of colours are available ranging from white, pink, green, beige, and brown. Stones that are black and grey in tone are actually classified as gabbro, but for commercial labelling, they are considered granite.

Granite deposits are found throughout the world with the largest exports originating from the U.S., China, Brazil, India, South Africa, and Italy.

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4 comments on “Understanding hardscaping materials and tips on installation”

  1. I like the idea of using natural stone as a paver in my hardscaping project, and I agree that no two stones are alike. That unique style to each stone would really resonate with the rest of my yard, where I’m really trying to create a very natural woodsy feel with lots of trees and a fountain. I like how you break down the history and uses of each stone, and I really like the earthy tones you describe for limestone; I’ll have to talk to a contractor about paving with that.

  2. It’s very interesting to know what paving paths and walkways date back to well before the rise of the Roman Empire, even before they became ornamental elements to landscaped lawns. The difference though is in the type of stone pavers to use, which now can be made to the client’s choice of color, texture, pattern, and cost. I appreciate this fact because we’re planning to preserve our big lawn at the country house and paving stones would definitely help save our manicured grass lawns from getting trampled upon by wheels and feet. Comprehensive article for reference here!

  3. Thank you for explaining what hardscaping is. My husband would love to have nice paving in our backyard. I am sure that we could find a great company to install them for us!

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