One trick to making a richly planted—or even shaggy—yard feel more manicured is to add a smartly defined piece of hardscaping. Patios and paths or an upgraded driveway not only define space but also provide the kind of contrast that makes a flower bed or lush lawn pop.
But if traditional surfacing materials leave you feeling as flat as poured concrete, consider pavers—concrete pavers. More affordable than stone, more colorful than brick, and more durable than asphalt, concrete pavers are a practical yet attractive option anywhere on the property. And because they're modular, they're easy to install and fix, even for DIYers.
Concrete pavers fall into two categories: interlocking and architectural slab. Interlocking pavers were invented by the Dutch after World War II, when brick, their traditional paving material, was in short supply. Billions of the chunky blocks found their way onto European roads, and many of the originals are still in good shape despite 50 years of traffic. Little surprise, then, that their consumer cousins often come with a lifetime warranty and make perfect driveway material. For all their practicality, however, interlocking pavers lack the natural look; the frozen-oatmeal texture and plain shapes strike many as unrefined.
Architectural slab pavers provide a more aesthetic alternative. Though these thinner cakes can't handle auto traffic like their interlocking kin (and are slightly more sensitive to the vagaries of the freeze-thaw cycle), they neatly mimic the look of brick or natural stone. Best of all, they do it for much less than the real deal.
Read on to find more information and plenty of inspiration on concrete pavers that will help you tackle your next hardscaping project with confidence.
The Two Types of Concrete
All concrete pavers contain sand, gravel, portland cement, and water, but their durability and texture vary depending on how they're made.
• Edge spacers create uniform joints.
• Made with stiff, very strong concrete mix.
• Thick; suitable for all uses, including driveways.
• No edge spacers.
• Molded from wetter concrete to resemble stone or brick.
• Thin; not good for driveways.
What's the cost?
Pavers typically run $2–$10 per square foot. A pro installation, including base prep and materials, is $6–$15 per square foot.
DIY or hire out?
With a little muscle, you can tackle a path or small patio. For driveways or large projects, hire a pro.
Do they hold up?
Interlocking pavers offer a lifetime warranty for structural integrity. But few architectural slabs have warranties.
Where can they go?
They're all suitable for footpaths and patios, but, in general, only interlocking pavers work on driveways. Where rain runoff is a problem, use permeable pavers
Easy to care for?
Absolutely—they're concrete. An occasional sweeping and weeding is all the care pavers ever need. If you want to keep that just-laid look, be prepared to scrub off stains or mildew. In snowy climates, use nonchloride deicers.
Are Concrete Pavers Right for You?
Consider these factors before you buy
1. Easy installation. Their flat bottoms, identical sizes, and tight-fitting shapes mean pavers go down more quickly than most natural stone.
2. Slip resistance. Driveway pavers offer better traction than poured concrete, especially on steep slopes.
3. Resilience. Pavers move independently, unlike poured concrete or asphalt, which can crack from ice heaves or invading tree roots. Repairs are simple: Pull up the affected pavers, make the fix, and put them back.
4. Weather resistance. Pavers can survive freezing conditions without splitting or crumbling if they meet industry standards for minimal water absorbency.
1. Color changes. Surface wear that reveals the underlying aggregate changes the overall color and appearance. Tumbled pavers are already worn but not as formal. Faced pavers have an added wear layer, but that boosts their cost.
2. Stains. Pavers absorb stains, especially oil, which require a thorough cleaning with a degreaser and pressure washer or a replacement. Sealers will stave off staining, but they must be reapplied every couple of years.
3. Repeats. Unlike real stone, concrete slabs have repeating shapes and textures—dead giveaways that they're faux. You may need a pro to do an installation that disguises these repeats.
4. Weeds. Anywhere there's a joint, weeds can sprout.
The Runoff Issue
Rainwater that washes over most paved surfaces, including many concrete pavers, has been known to cause downstream erosion and strain municipal sewer systems. But permeable interlocking pavers eliminate runoff. These pavers have extra-wide joints or molded-in drain holes so that water can flow directly into the soil, which recharges groundwater and traps contaminants. The pavers do require an extra-thick base of carefully graded crushed stone for optimal drainage, so installation is more complicated and expensive. But there's a bonus: no puddles!
Other Paver Materials
Concrete is a relatively recent arrival to the paving scene. Here are the more traditional alternatives:
Fired-clay pavers cost about the same as concrete ones: $2–$13 per square foot or $6–$15 installed. Color choices are limited, but that color doesn't change from wear. In moist shade, they readily acquire a slick film of moss.
The most costly option at $4–$16 per square foot or $14–$20 installed, but it has a timeless look. Dense stone, like the granite used to make these cobbles, is virtually stainproof and stands up to wear and weather. Porous limestones and sandstones are more vulnerable to staining.