Outdoor living is always lots more fun when your favorite easy chair doesn't sink into a wet lawn. A patio not only acts as a solid base for furniture, but it can also act as the foundation for an entire outdoor kitchen and living area. Whatever your use, today's choices for patio material offer more than a simple slab of concrete. The design possibilities are literally endless. If your patio has fallen into complete disrepair or if there is a new patio in your future, then you may want to save this article.
If the choice for your new patio is concrete, remember that no matter which surface finish you select and no matter how much reinforcing steel is used, there is an 80 percent chance that your concrete will eventually crack. Concrete is brittle and doesn't flex when the earth moves. But there is no easier deck to maintain than one made of concrete. By the way, covering a concrete patio with tile or stone won't prevent or conceal cracks. When concrete cracks, the materials over it crack as well.
A wood deck is far more forgiving than concrete. Wood decks are very flexible. When the ground bulges, your wood deck won't crack into little pieces. In fact, in most situations, a wood deck will not be affected by shifting earth. Unfortunately, wood isn't as easy to maintain as concrete. Where concrete can be protected with a spray-on sealer, wood won't last without substantial protection from the elements. Oiling wood displaces water that would otherwise cause rot. But oil alone will not protect wood from the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays. Adding a colored pigment to the oil offers the needed protection. Unfortunately, oiling a wood deck must be performed every year or two. Yes, paint will last far longer than oil. However, when the paint begins to chip, peel and splinter, you will be completely overwhelmed by the incredible amount of work that will be needed to bring a painted finish back to life.
The best of both worlds would be a deck that is as easy to clean and as low maintenance as concrete but, like a wood deck, would be flexible enough not to crack. If you love stone, then we have the answer. Think for a moment about how pavers are installed. A bed of sand is leveled, and the pavers are placed evenly onto the sand. And certainly, pavers fall into the category we just mentioned. A tree root can grow beneath pavers, and a repair can be made in a day or so, without help from a professional, and when replaced the pavers look as though they had never been touched.
Pavers are great, but the four-inch sand base and the three-inch-thick pavers require a seven-inch-deep trough. An alternative to pavers, which doesn't require such a deep pit, is stone or tile.
Gaged stone, like tile, is stone that has been ground on one side to create a finished product that is uniform in thickness. Gaged stone measures about one-inch thick and can be laid on as little as two inches of sand. The reason for the need for less sand is the fact that each stone covers substantially more area than a paver. Hence, with larger pieces, less support is needed to maintain an even surface. Stone laid in sand is a beautiful finish that is easy to repair when "uprooted." Also, it is easy to clean. Maintenance consists of adding a little bit of sand to the joints once every couple of years.
The problem with stones or pavers is that they are more expensive and time-consuming to install, but we feel they are worth it because the life span is five times greater than concrete. As a matter of fact, a stone patio or walkway laid in sand will probably outlive all of us.
James and Morris Carey are nationally recognized experts on home building and renovation.