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Choosing outdoor paving

By Hosea Omole | July 28th 2016

The choice of which materials to use for finishing your paths and other outdoor surfaces is important. Each material you use has implications on the final outcome of the design. It determines the look and feel, level of maintenance and cost of the project.

It is therefore important to understand the qualities of different paving materials before picking one that suits your specific needs and tastes. Today we look at the pros and cons of some of the most common paving options.

Poured concrete

Concrete is an excellent choice for surfacing outdoor spaces. It is moderate in cost and is versatile. Almost any shape imaginable can be achieved with concrete. There is also a wide variety of finishes available, from exposed aggregates to coloured and impressioned walks that mitigate the aesthetic problem of plain concrete.

Properly installed, concrete is durable with low maintenance. It can be used in areas with vehicular traffic and in commercial and public areas. Highly-skilled labour is, however, necessary to ensure proper installation.

Unit pavers

Unit paver is a collective term that includes clay bricks, interlocking concrete paving blocks (cabro), precast concrete units and even open-cell grass pavers. Unit pavers are among the most desirable and requested types of paving materials because of their aesthetic surface finish.

This attractiveness is, however, not without a price; they are expensive and require expertise and effort to install. Properly installed, they produce a strong and durable surface. Otherwise failure of the base/subgrade under unit pavers can create potential safety problems and definite maintenance problems in the long-run.


Patios of limestone, mazera stone or granite are among the most aesthetically pleasing surfaces you’ll ever come across. The intricacy of shape, form, and pattern suggests a high level of craftsmanship. However, with increased aesthetics also comes higher costs and specialised skill requirements for installation.

Depending on the availability of specific stones, material costs can go either way with lower costs in areas where stone is commercially quarried and available. Maintenance and safety issues are similar to those for unit pavers. The joints between stones can be irregular, thus creating the potential for tripping and difficulty in cleaning. While the material for stepping stones can be selected from any stone, thick mazera stone is best for informal walkway applications.

Mortar-less stepping stones placed on earthen or thin, granular bases are inexpensive but are suitable only for private uses.

Granular paving

Granular surfacing is typically found in drives, walkways, trails and occasionally in outdoor living areas. They include such materials as crushed stones, crushed bricks, pea gravel and other permanent materials available as small pieces.

Selection of such materials requires a careful review of use and placement. Durability concerns may limit the application of granular paving to outdoor living areas and private walkways. They, however, provide consistent texture and colour although they do not require a high level of craftsmanship.

Installation is easy and costs are low, which provides an impetus for their use in residential settings. Maintenance is, however, high, with constant refurbishing of surface materials, levelling and clean up necessary.

 —The writer is a landscape architect

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