Picture Perfect Concrete Brick Patios and Paths

Use durable paving bricks to create beautiful concrete brick patios and other outdoor spaces.

| December 2006/January 2007

If your vision of a perfect homestead includes beautiful, durable all-weather pathways and patios, then it’s hard to beat concrete paving bricks. They’re easy to handle and require only a few tools to install, and their classic beauty is timeless. That’s good, because they can last a long, long time with minimal maintenance.

There’s also never been a better time to add brick-paved features around your property. The variety and beauty of concrete brick is stunning. Designs have come a long way from the time when your only option was pink bricks, all of exactly the same size. Over the past 10 years, many different brick and stonelike products that vary in size, color and shape have appeared on the market. You can even get “tumbled brick” that offers a rustic, weathered look right out of the delivery truck.

Products, tools and techniques have been refined to the point that, with a basic understanding of brick-paving processes and the commitment to do things right, a serious do-it-yourselfer can create beautiful outdoor brick patios and paths. Installed correctly, paving bricks last much longer than wood, without the need for chemical preservation. You can install them flush with the ground, where wood deteriorates quickly. Brick paths and patios also have no impact on forest resources. Pavements are entirely recyclable — you can even pave with reclaimed concrete sidewalk slabs (see “Working the Urban Quarry” below).

Simple concrete pavers cost less than $2 per square foot, less than half the price of clay paving brick. They’re factory-cured and almost as indestructible as granite. They’re not kiln-fired, so they don’t require the high level of manufacturing energy that goes into clay bricks. Few other masonry products can withstand years of brutal freeze/thaw cycles without crumbling, and this is one reason why mortarless brick paths and patios last so long. The other reason is the small size of each brick. If the earth beneath the installation heaves during winter and spring (and it certainly does in Canada, where I live), pavers take it all in stride. The sand-filled gaps between the bricks lend an inherent flexibility to the overall installation that prevents cracking. They also allow rainwater to drain through, unlike impermeable pavements such as poured concrete or mortared brick.

There is a catch: You must install pavers correctly to realize their full potential, and this means doing more work than initially may seem necessary. If you take shortcuts while building the foundation, the inevitable uneven settling of the bricks could turn all this potential into an ugly, labor-intensive mess.

Three elements go into an attractive, durable paver installation. First, you need a solid, mechanically compacted foundation. On top of that goes a smooth, flat layer of moist sand that serves as bedding for the pavers. The best paths also have hidden side support strips installed along all pathway edges, including curves.

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