Paving Bricks and Why We Use Them

Great for Areas With Heavy Foot Traffic

herringbone brick pattern
David Beaulieu

Paving bricks are the type that is manufactured to be laid flat on the ground. They are different from the type made to be used vertically for walls and chimneys and other construction projects. They are designed to last when installed in the ground. They can withstand both hot and cold temperatures, snow and rain, and foot traffic.

But there can be an aesthetic difference, as well. Bricks used in chimneys, for example, are not as exposed to the scrutiny of the human eye as are those used in walkways and patios. For this reason, color and other visual factors come into play when selecting paving bricks. Moreover, they are frequently greater in size.

Why We Use Paving Bricks

Here are a few reasons why they are a popular building material:

  • Design possibilities. For a product that comes in relatively standard sizes and colors, they offer an enormous amount of design options. This is because there are so many ​brick patterns to choose from when laying them. You can build a walkway or patio that is either classic looking and formal or one that is more laid-back and informal, depending on the pattern you choose. The herringbone pattern and the basket weave pattern are two of the most popular.
  • Ease of installation. For the do-it-yourselfer, paving bricks are a good choice. It is relatively easy to install these pavers.
  • Durability. Before starting your project, make sure you choose a paving brick and not one that is meant to be used in a wall. If you use paving bricks, your project will be around for years and years after you are finished.

How They Differ From Concrete Pavers

When shopping, it is easy to become confused by terminology. You will hear about "brick pavers," "concrete pavers," and "concrete bricks," in addition to "paving bricks." Getting all of these terms straight before shopping will help you avoid making a mistake at the store.

All that people mean by "paver" is a thin, flat, stone-like material used to lay an even surface, such as a driveway. Paving brick is one such material; it comes from clay baked in a kiln. "Brick pavers" is synonymous with "paving bricks."

However, neither of those two terms is synonymous with "concrete pavers" or "concrete bricks." The latter term is especially confusing: Despite containing the word, "brick," so-called concrete bricks are an entirely different material (they are not made from clay).

To be sure, concrete pavers are similar to paving bricks and are used in similar ways. But the two products have their own distinct sets of pros and cons. For example, paving bricks keep their color better despite taking a pounding from UV rays than do concrete pavers, but concrete pavers are less expensive.

Where You Can Buy Paving Bricks

Paving bricks can be found at most home improvement stores. You can also find them at many local building supply stores and some stone yards.

If you are looking for a deal, be aware that private individuals often sell paving bricks that are left over from a DIY project. Their ad may appear online or in the classifieds of their local papers.

If you take this route, however, make sure you can tell one type of brick from another. If you can't tell the difference, then bring a friend along who does have such knowledge, so that you do not get cheated. Lacking such a friend, one idea would be to buy a paving brick from a reputable dealer first and bring it with you as an example of "the real McCoy," against which you can compare the merchandise in question.

History of Brickwork

Bricks of various kinds have been used going back to biblical times and beyond. Most historians think that the brick-making process originated in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq); to account for the origin being there, they suggest that this region lacked good sources of stone suitable for building projects (and so the people were forced to make what they needed, rather than mining it).

The practice then spread from there, throughout the ancient world. The Greeks, rich in building stone, did not use an especially large quantity of bricks. Their successors to power in the region, however, the Romans, relied heavily on brickwork until the emperor, Augustus came along. Alluding to his building campaign, Augustus famously asserted: "I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble."

Fun Fact

Asphalt overtook brick as the more common street paving material in the 1800s but some American cities—Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and others—have repaved several asphalt streets with brick.

Today, paving bricks are commonly used in public settings to construct sidewalks, whether in cities or small towns. Likewise, in private settings, they are used in building walkways and patios everywhere from on humble suburban properties to grand country estates. They have a timeless quality and can be used in almost any setting.