A Pavement With Pizzazz

Pavers (Pavimentadoras) can be either understated or a focal point depending on the design intent and the materials used in construction. When planning for paving in a landscape project, the landscape architect has a multitude of options to consider: porous versus nonporous, colors, strength- measured by Psi (Pounds/square inch), thickness, shapes, function, brick, concrete, asphalt, gravel, stone, wood, recycled materials and, of course, cost. It is possible, too, to combine one or more of these materials to complete the aesthetics of the project. If the budget allows, the landscape architect should consider specifying interlocking concrete pavers - "the pavement with pizzazz".

Categorically speaking, there is no better choice for paving than interlocking concrete paving units. They have so many positive features: an array of colors and finishes, different shapes, porous or pervious, two thicknesses, easy installation, and long lasting. The Appian Way in Rome, Italy, which was paved with granite pavers, has stood the test of time since the 5th century BC.

Basically, the word “pavers” is a generic term used to describe the individual paving units made of concrete, clay, asphalt, stone, or recycled materials. If these units are interlocking, it means that each unit has a small “nub” on all sides which creates millimeters of space between each adjacent paver. These nubs do two things. They make the units interlock; and, they allow a repairman access to pulling the units out if there is a problem below grade. After the repair is made, the paving units can be put back in place. This accessibility certainly speaks to interlocking paving units being cost effective.

Interlocking concrete pavers come in two thicknesses: 2 3/8” and 3 ¼”. The thinner one is made to withstand 8500 pounds of pressure per square inch (psi.) It is more for residential uses or applications that do not have lots of heavy vehicles travelling on them. For example, they can be utilized for all the typical paving treatments such as driveways, sidewalks, patios, stair treads, pool coping, and some light vehicular roadways.

The larger interlocking concrete paving unit is more for commercial use due to its 10,000 psi rating. They are used to pave airport tarmacs, shipping harbors, fire truck lanes, and areas where heavy vehicles will be making lots of turns or sudden stops and starts.

The pizzazz is injected into a paving project when the landscape architect plans the pavers’ colors, shapes and finishes into a creative, attractive design that compliments the architecture or highlights the surrounding area. Spirals, checkerboards, inlays, borders, and a plethora of other patterns can be accomplished with pavers. A monochromatic scheme can be laid using a tumbled and a smooth combination in the same color. On the other hand, juxtaposing light and dark colors provides an eye-catching combination, a focal point. The possibilities are endless.

Most companies that manufacture interlocking concrete paving units have many of the same shapes, colors, and finishes. There are, however, a few patterns that are patented. Colors can be solid or a blend of colors. Finishes can be smooth, tumbled, or distressed. As for shapes, suffice to say that there are many. Some shapes are discontinued for various reasons. So, checking with a sales representative prior to specifying or placing an order is recommended.

Although this page is intended to describe pavers and their uses, it is important to note that paving with interlocking concrete paving units is more time consuming than paving with traditional concrete or asphalt, and it requires skill. There are several steps involved. Building the proper base is the most important part of the process. If the foundation is wrong, the following safety hazards will occur: paving units crack; pavers separate; dips and bumps will develop. Therefore, hiring a crew that is certified by the ICPI (Interlocking Concrete Paving Institute) is best.

One of the primary reasons that a landscape architect might want to specify interlocking concrete paving units is that they help with stormwater management. As drops of rain fall, the water goes through the millimeters of sand-filled space between the pavers and penetrates the subsurface layers, which constitute the foundation. This dynamic is known as point source collection. Eventually, the water makes its way down to replenish groundwater or recharge aquifers.

There is another style of concrete paving unit called “turfstone” which can be used to prevent soil erosion or stabilize stream banks. These extraordinary blocks measure 2.5 square feet and are 3.25” thick. Each block weighs 70 pounds. After they have been installed, the 2” x 2” openings every 2” can be filled with gravel or plants. Turfstone can also be used to pave extra parking pads or boat ramps.

With the advent of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), porous and pervious pavers are now manufactured. Their main function is stormwater management. They allow water to be captured for reuse in cisterns below grade; or, the water that goes through the pavers prevents flooding and soil erosion. Porous paving units are made out of porous concrete. Water can penetrate the surface of these units immediately. Pervious paving units have spaces, measuring 2” to 4”square, between each adjacent paver which are usually gravel filled, but plants or grass will work as well. Both porous and pervious pavers are produced like a normal paver, which means that they come in different colors, shapes, finishes, and weigh 5-8 pounds. Also, LEED has given rise to paving units made out of recycled plastic bags, crumbled tires, and recycled glass. They can be used indoors around pools or in gyms. They can also be used outdoors for playground underlayment, trails, and sidewalks. These pavers are light, but durable, and they can be produced in various colors and shapes.

Installing any of the three products mentioned above will provide points toward LEED certification of a project. However, the other interlocking concrete pavers are equally good for the environment.

Although interlocking concrete paving units appear to be a panacea for controlling stormwater and soil erosion, or be a pavement with pizzazz, the one main reason that they are not used more often is that they are double the price per square foot to install than concrete or asphalt. However, in 5 to 10 years they will pay for themselves in property tax credits, their longevity, and in the lack of repairs.

Many landscaper architects would agree - "pavers produce the pavement with pizzazz"!

Olivia Munoz Mickalonis is a landscape architect who based in Atlanta and a “paver expert”. Olivia was certified by the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (ICPI) and has 25 years of experience designing and installing interlocking concrete paving units. If you have questions about pavers, simply use the Ask the Expert feature at the bottom of this page.

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