Concrete pavers are a very popular building material used to pave driveways, walkways, patios, and other surfaces. Though they are often referred to as "cement pavers," that term is a bit misleading. Cement (usually Portland cement) is a primary ingredient in all concrete, but it is not the only one. Concrete also contains sand, aggregate (such as gravel), and water as well as various additives for color and specific performance characteristics.
Concrete pavers are made with a dry concrete mix containing cement, sand, gravel, and pigments. During manufacture, the wet mix is poured into molds of various shapes and sizes, which are vibrated to compress the concrete before it is allowed to cure. The resulting pavers are capable of withstanding at least 8,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, compared to about 3,000 pounds per square inch of pressure with standard poured concrete. The pavers are manufactured to high standards, creating a durable and uniform product that can actually create a stronger driveway than poured concrete. Concrete pavers often carry a lifetime warranty for integrity.
Concrete Paver Cost
Costs for a concrete paver driveway can vary significantly, with most of the cost coming from professional installation. A professionally installed job using top-quality pavers can run as high as $30 to $40 per square foot, but the pavers themselves may cost $3 to $10 per square foot, depending on the size and style. This is a labor-intensive project for which you can enjoy substantial savings if you do the work yourself.
Maintenance and Repair
Concrete paver driveways require very little routine maintenance. An occasional sweeping or hose rinsing will keep them clean enough. If weeds find their way through the surface, just remove them as soon as they appear. Stains can usually be removed with a concrete cleaner, but check with the manufacturer for recommendations. The smooth surface on concrete pavers can degrade over time, especially if subjected to anti-ice salt. The pavers can be protected from this to some degree by regular application of a sealer.
Should tree roots, frost heave, or settling damage a section of the driveway, it is easy to remove the affected pavers, fix the underlying problem, and put the driveway back together. A properly installed and maintained concrete paver driveway can be expected to last 25 to 50 years.
Although real stone pavers are regarded as the premium paving material, concrete pavers are a close second and are comparable to clay brick pavers in terms of prestige. Although not as strong as real cobblestone, concrete pavers are more durable than clay brick pavers, and concrete pavers come in many colors, shapes, and sizes. Concrete pavers can work well with almost any home design, but the looks tend to be quite uniform. Natural cobblestones or clay brick pavers are a better visual fit for older, more classic home styles.
Concrete Paver Installation
Installing concrete pavers begins with removal of existing paving or excavation of the grass and loose soil in the building site. Then, a gravel base is laid down and compacted thoroughly, followed by a layer of sand. A basic driveway will have 1 inch of sand over 4 to 6 inches of gravel, but for driveways that need to handle heavy vehicles, a base of 10 to 12 inches is recommended. The base is also graded with a slight slope to facilitate water runoff.
Once the base is ready, edging is installed along the sides of the driveway to contain the pavers and keep them snug. To install the pavers, simply set them in place and fit them tightly together. The pavers can be cut with a masonry saw to fit at edges and corners.
When all of the pavers are down, the entire surface is compacted with a motorized plate compactor to set the pavers into the sand base. Paver sand is swept across the surface to fill in joints between pavers, then the surface is compacted again to ensure that sand fully fills the joints. Additional sand is swept over the surface to fill any gaps. The entire process serves to tighten the surface into a rigid, more monolithic structure.
Although this is a laborious, time-consuming project, it is well within the abilities of DIYers, especially if they have helpers. The cost savings for DIYers is substantial, since most of the cost of a concrete paver driveway lies in the installation labor. But expect to devote several full days to do the job adequately.
Top Brands of Concrete Pavers
Because of their heavy weight, concrete pavers are generally not shipped long distances. Rather than being manufactured and distributed by national brands, concrete pavers are molded and sold by local concrete companies. To find sources, check online for local concrete fabricators and landscape supply outlets.
Concrete Pavers vs. Poured Concrete
Concrete pavers are available in a variety of shapes, styles, patterns, and colors, giving the homeowner plenty of choices to create a unique driveway that complements the house and landscape. Poured concrete slabs, on the other hand, are generally plain concrete, although there are some staining or stamping options you can consider. Unlike poured concrete, concrete paver driveways do not require a curing period. Once installed, they are ready to use. They also offer more traction when wet than poured concrete does.
Another benefit of concrete pavers is that individual pavers can be removed and replaced, if necessary. Poured concrete slabs that crack or heave can't be repaired as successfully; any repair efforts will be permanently visible. Properly maintained, concrete paver driveways generally outlast poured concrete, which typically lasts about 20 to 30 years, compared to a possible 50 years for concrete pavers.
Finally, because they are small and easy to handle and don't require heavy equipment to install, concrete pavers are a great material for a DIY driveway.
Are Concrete Pavers Right for You?
Concrete pavers can be an excellent material for your outdoor paving projects if you want something more elegant and attractive than poured concrete, but are not enthused about the high cost of natural stone cobblestones or clay brick pavers. And they can be a good choice if you are a DIYer willing to spend time in exchange for saving money on professional labor.