When meeting with a client for the first time to discuss a new patio, one of the most common questions asked by the client is whether to have pavers or stamped concrete installed. There is a great deal of misinformation floating around the internet fueled by concrete contractors, paver installers, and homeowners. Let’s make matters clear and concise so you know which product is best for you.
Cold winters and wet spring & fall seasons:
We live in Michigan. There’s no question we experience cold, long winters. Some years are drier than others, but in general, when it rains in October and November, the ground stays wet for six months because it’s not warm enough or sunny enough to dry it out. When that water freezes in the ground, melts on a mild day, then freezes again, the soil underneath your patio expands and contracts. This is what we refer to when speaking of the freeze and thaw cycles and how they affect structural integrity of hardscapes.
Pavers are unique in their ability to withstand these cycles for many more years than stamped concrete. The joints or small spaces between individual pavers allow them to “breathe” or move ever so slightly during freeze and thaw cycles, hence preventing them from cracking. Stamped concrete consists of a much larger, rigid unit that cannot distribute the stress of the ground movement. The pressure has to be relieved somehow, and it does so in the form of cracking the concrete, resulting in a displeasing appearance.
If a stamped concrete patio cracks or part of it begins to settle, you’ll have to hire a contractor to cut out the damaged area. A larger area around the damaged part will need to be cut out in order to keep the finished repair’s appearance clean. Oftentimes, it makes more sense to have the entire stamped concrete patio removed and replaced. On the other hand, if a paver does crack, it can be replaced individually without the need for heavy machinery and having your lawn torn up again. You’ll want to ask your paver contractor to set aside a full piece of each size paver used for your patio so that any future cracked pieces can be replaced by the same color paver that was originally used. Since the pavers came from the original pallet, the color will have aged the same, unlike pavers manufactured 15 or 20 years later. There is typically a small amount of paver product leftover when a job is finished that you can stash away.
Not only are pavers far superior to stamped concrete in withstanding Michigan freeze and thaw cycles, their actual material composition is typically much stronger than poured concrete. Stamped concrete’s compressive strength is typically about 3,500 – 4,000 psi when it is finished. On the other hand, many pavers are 2.5 – 3 times stronger with a psi between 8,000 and 11,000 depending on the product. This means that stamped concrete needs to be sealed often and tends to chip and flake, requiring more maintenance than pavers.
Although paver driveways are not all that common in the Kalamazoo area due to snow and ice control in the wintertime, pavers are the ideal choice for driveways because of their strength. Stamped concrete isn’t the most ideal product for load-bearing applications like driveways. Snow can still be removed from paver driveways with a special plow blade cover that will reduce or eliminate surface scuffing.
With stamped concrete, the surface pattern is limited to the available stamps. Pavers have endless possibilities in terms of color, surface texture, pattern, shape, size, and mixing and matching. When it comes to creating the perfect patio space that best suits your house and property, pavers are hands down the best option.
One of the downsides to stamped concrete is that the final product, after it is stamped, needs to be cut with control joints. You’ve probably seen these lines running through a sidewalk or concrete driveway. These control joints have to be cut into stamped concrete, too, and they disrupt the stamp pattern. Stamped concrete might resemble pavers at first, but once the control joints are cut in, the pattern is thrown off with unsightly lines. The joints or spaces between pavers are inherently part of their beauty and act as “control joints” by nature, so there is no need to make additional cuts running right through the pattern.
Overall, pavers are far superior to stamped concrete, especially in the Kalamazoo climate. Stamped concrete is much more common in the southern, warmer states where freeze and thaw cycles are not found. Kalamazoo Hardscape can provide you with numerous paver choices that best fit your home including High Format (formerly Rosetta) pavers, natural travertine pavers, and more! Let us design a paver patio that will exceed the value of stamped concrete for decades to come.