The term cobblestone, when used accurately, refers to small blocks of paving material made from natural stone. Although it's become common for some manufacturers of cast concrete bricks to refer to their products as cobblestones, these products are more correctly known as concrete pavers. True cobblestones are always natural stone—usually granite, but sometimes basalt, limestone, or another stone.
The original cobblestone pavers were naturally occurring rounded stones collected from stream beds. They were different from the quarried and shaped paving stones now commonly sold as cobblestones, which are also known as setts or Belgian blocks. Today, the term cobblestone has come to mean any paver made from natural stone, especially the shaped Belgian blocks that are by far the most popular form. This type of cobblestone has the advantage of being relatively uniform in size and shape, making them much easier to install than rounded cobblestones.
Granite and other types of cobblestones have been used in roadways, driveways, and walkways for centuries, and many of those surfaces still remain in service. Granite cobblestones have many advantages and they have few drawbacks—other than the high price. A cobblestone paving surface will stand up better than almost any other material, and it creates a unique "old world" charm that can add substantial charm and value to a nice home.
Adds to home value
Attractive "old-World" appearance
Rough, uneven surface
Snow removal is difficult
Weeds grow in cracks
Cobblestone Paver Cost
Costs for cobblestone typically ranges from $10 to $20 per square foot for the stone itself; the price varies depending on the size and type of stone, and on factors such as transportation costs. For DIYers, various installation materials and tool rental can add another $10 per square foot. If you are having the pavers installed by professionals, plan on another $30 or so per square foot in addition to the cost of the stone. At an installed cost of $40 to $75 per square foot, cobblestone is one of the most expensive of all paving materials.
Maintenance and Repair
Cobblestone paver driveways and walkways require very little maintenance. Just give them a good washing once or twice a year and pull any weeds that grow through the joints. A well-built cobblestone paver driveway can remain stable and functional for as long as 100 years—and when failure comes, it is usually because the base fails, not because the stones themselves wear out or break.
On sandset cobblestone pavers, the sand in the joints may settle or wash away. When this happens, just spread more sand and sweep it into the joints. Occasionally, the underlying base of a cobblestone surface may settle, but it is a relatively easy matter to remove stones, lay additional base material, and reinstall the stones. This is most common with driveways that experience heavy traffic, but proper preparation of the paving bed usually prevents it.
Cobblestone paving that is joined with mortar is more likely to experience problems, especially in cold climates where frost/thaw cycles can cause joints to crack. Regular inspection and re-grouting can keep the surface performing well.
Stylistically, cobblestone paving is best suited for homes with vintage architecture that resembles the homes found in regions and historical periods where cobblestones were the principal paving material. For example, English Tudor or Colonial Farmhouse home styles are logical locations for cobblestone paving, especially when natural stone is used in the construction of the house itself. Original cobblestones were water-worn stones collected from stream-beds, so the more rounded and tumbled the stones are, the more authentic the paving installation will appear.
Because genuine cobblestones are so expensive, there is now a notable market for reclaimed cobblestones, which are not only less costly, but can lend an authenticity to the installation. Many stone merchants also sell reclaimed bricks and cobblestone pavers.
Cobblestone Paver Installation
Installing a cobblestone paver driveway is labor-intensive, but it doesn't necessarily require special skills or heavy machinery. If you aren't in a hurry and don't mind the challenge, DIY installation is a viable option. This is a project that takes time, however, especially if you are doing the work yourself. While a short walkway can be constructed in a weekend or two of work, for a large project like a driveway that requires excavation, expect the work to take at least a week or two—or more if you can't work on it full time.
Cobblestones, like other forms of concrete and brick pavers, can either be set in mortar or laid dry. The precise installation method can vary, depending on the type of stone you are using, but typically it begins with laying out the paving area with guide strings, then excavating down seven to 10 inches (depending on the size of the stones). The bottom of the excavation is smoothed, then a four- to six-inch layer of compactable gravel is spread and compressed with a power tamper or heavy roller. Over this, a two-inch layer of sand is poured, spread, and compacted.
Installation of the cobblestones is quite similar to how brick or concrete pavers are installed. Where a contrasting edging is part of the design, the edging stones are laid first, then the field cobbles are set into the sand, using whatever pattern you choose. When all the cobblestones have been laid, a roller or tamping machine is used to flatten the surface and drive the stones down into the sand base. The joints between stones are then filled with loose paver sand brushed over the surface, or with a cement-based liquid mortar.
Cobblestone Pavers vs. Concrete Pavers
The major drawback of true cobblestone pavers is their considerable price, and if budget is an issue, you can get a similar look by using much cheaper concrete pavers. Concrete pavers are available in a variety of colors, and many are tumbled to give them a good resemblance to authentic cobblestones. These look-alikes do not have the kind of lifetime durability found with true granite cobblestones, but you can expect them to last several decades.
Top Brands of Cobblestone Pavers
Natural stone sold at retailers tends to be a regional resource, and the cobblestones sold in your area will likely comprise whatever type of granite or other stone is prevalent in or near your region. The "brand" of the pavers will be whatever commercial quarry the stone came from. Because transportation costs are so high for these heavy materials, it's rare for cobblestones to come from far away; your selection will be from whatever quarry companies are found within a few hundred miles of your location. It's best to buy from a company with a long track record, since you may want to buy more identical stone if you ever want to add additional paving to your landscape.
Are Cobblestone Pavers Right for You?
Cobblestone pavers are extremely elegant and durable, but they are not cheap. If you are looking for a low budget driveway, you might be better off considering concrete pavers, gravel, concrete, or asphalt. But if you want a tough, attractive, and unique driveway, it's hard to beat cobblestone.
If you like the look of cobblestone pavers but can't afford a driveway full of them, consider installing a cobblestone apron or border, or a decorative cobblestone inlay in the middle of the driveway. Or, consider cast concrete pavers made to simulate the look of cobblestone.