Pavers surface on patios, paths

Tumbled concrete mimics old-stone look


MINNEAPOLIS -- Brett Hanson wanted the "look of an old European courtyard" in his backyard. So instead of putting in a concrete slab, the paver distributor hired a landscape designer to create an "outdoor room" -- complete with a patio, seating area and circular fire pit. The material of choice? Cobblestone pavers. Made of tumbled concrete, the newest generation of pavers gives the illusion of weathered stone.

Hanson is among the growing number of homeowners who are rejecting cold, concrete slabs for warmer, more sophisticated alternatives to outfit the outdoor rooms they use for entertaining and relaxing. Natural stone and concrete pavers are not only being used for patios, they're shaping walkways. Pavers are even covering that gigantic welcome mat -- the driveway.

"The same way people are using more exotic woods indoors, they're using natural stone and concrete pavers outdoors," said Jim Sweeney, whose Minneapolis-area company, Mom's Landscaping, specializes in custom mosaics of natural stone in patios, courtyards and walkways. "People want the feel of European stonework. We can re-create that."

Natural stone and clay bricks have been used for paving surfaces for hundreds of years, but the fastest-growing segment of the hardscape industry -- concrete pavers -- has been manufactured in North America only since the 1970s.

Concrete pavers have caught fire over the past few years, in part because companies are churning out pavers that more realistically mimic Old World-style stone.

"The new aging techniques, such as tumbling, are like the second-generation paver," said Rob Burak, director of engineering for the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute.

Pavers also come in a wider range of shapes, sizes and blended colors -- from desert tan to charcoal. Because they fit together like a puzzle, they can be installed by the do-it-yourselfer.

The upscale look and eye-catching designs are also fueling paver popularity. "People see really creative patios and garden paths on TV shows and in magazines and want to copy them," said Matt Mallas, manager of Hedberg Landscape Supplies in Plymouth, Minn.

The flexible paver system can be more resistant to damage from extreme weather conditions, said Tim Oberg, a hardscape installer for Rush Lake Gardens and a member of the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association. When properly installed, they should last at least 30 years, according to the pavement institute.

Tumbled pavers are hot today -- but what will we see tomorrow? Eco-friendly permeable pavers. Oberg predicts that these concrete pavers -- designed to direct rainwater runoff into the ground before it flows into lakes and streams -- will take off in the residential market within the next 10 years.

Of course, paver companies will continue to finesse aging techniques and expand the color and size palettes of pavers -- all in the quest to make concrete blocks look like honest-to-goodness stone.



Concrete pavers generally cost $2 to $6 per square foot uninstalled, depending on style, shape and texture. Concrete pavers can be sealed to help retain their original color. To clean, use a product labeled for concrete or clay. To prevent weeds, use a joint sand stabilizer when pavers are installed, or you can sweep a layer of sand over pavers each spring. If a paver gets stained or damaged, you can replace it.

Natural stone

Uninstalled natural stone costs $5 to $8 per square foot for an irregularly shaped stone and $11 to $24 per square foot for a cut stone.

To prevent weeds, use a crushed granite mixture between the stones.

Menu for a backyard gathering

Watermelon gazpacho with grilled watermelon skewers

Grilled sirloins topped with blue cheese butter

Tomato and bacon salad

Corn fritters

Coconut cake

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