Topic: Hardscaping

Date Posted: Friday, December 11, 2015
Posted by: Tanya Zanfa (Master Admin)

Consider options, contractor installation for hardscapes

Consider options, contractor installation for hardscapes

If you're rushing to remodel your backyard before summer, slow down and think carefully about what hardscape will make your yard look as if you spent a million on it even if you didn't.

The hardscape can be the central feature in most Arizona backyards where plantings and lawns are often limited due to our arid climate.

Remember, the hardscape can include not just the flooring of the patio, but also the walls and benches, the edging for planting areas, the deck around the pool, the walkways, the materials for fire pits and fireplaces, built-in benches and tables. Because you may be installing so much hardscaping, even in a small yard, you want to get it right.

What are the choices?

Flagstone — Flagstone can create a durable surface that can last for many years. It can be cut in squares and rectangles to form a repeating pattern or laid with a more free-form, rustic look. It can also provide good drainage because of the joints between stones. Flagstone comes in different colors and can have different finishes. It has a natural look that goes well in the desert. But it's hot to walk on in the desert heat.

Because it's quarried in the Southwest and there is less freight cost involved in getting it to market, the price of flagstone should be cheaper here. There are some maintenance issues: It can be difficult, of course, to remove stains and discoloration from flagstone.

Pavers — In the past 20 years, pavers made from concrete have become one of the hottest sellers in the landscaping marketplace. In the beginning they came primarily in basic brick shapes in limited colors, but now they come in many shapes, shades and textures. Squares, stonelike pavers, have tumbled smooth surfaces or rustic surfaces. They can be interlocking, but permeable so storm water can percolate through the pavers. You can lay pavers over old concrete like a sidewalk or driveway, though you might have to build a transition area between the end of the paving and your landscape or garage floor.

Pavers can crack or deteriorate, but if properly laid, problem pavers can be replaced with new pavers. Pavers are relatively low cost for materials but require good knees, a strong back and a complete understanding of the critical importance of the sub-base material that must be laid before the pavers are put in place.

Concrete — Many of our homes have concrete-slab patios. Tearing up that patio to put in something else might sound messy and costly, but instead, you can refurbish that concrete floor with an epoxy or urethane coating. Or you can put an acid stain on it and seal it. Variegated, polished concrete makes for an intriguing, trendy finish even if you have a few cracks that show up when the concrete is redone. You can also lay new concrete flooring instead and make patterns in the concrete with stamping tools.

Travertine — A travertine patio can give your backyard an attractive, natural-stone look. It has become very popular in Arizona backyards in the past few years, but you will find that it will be one of the more expensive choices for a hardscape. Because it comes in lighter colors, it can stay cooler in summer. It's very hard and durable, but may take on a weathered appearance when used outdoors.

Other choices — Some choices are harder to maintain and need to be researched carefully before you install them, like Saltillo tiles.

Saltillo flooring has the Old World look that complements the Southwestern landscape. It tends to look its best with a sealer applied to it. But we don't recommend sealing Saltillo tiles installed outside in direct sunlight with no shade cover or it could fade and crack. A sealer can also make the surface very slick when it gets wet, which could be a safety issue.

But you can use Saltillo tiles outdoors and not seal them at all if you like a rustic style.

Slate is best when used only for walls or decorative areas because it splits easily and requires sealing to resist stains and reduce efflorescence. Efflorescence creates white, whiskery, powdery spots that sometimes appear on walls and flooring outdoors in winter weather.

It's OK to have two or maybe even three textures in a yard, like concrete pavers for the patio and flagstone pads that meander into other parts of your yard. But you don't want to get too carried away or your yard can turn into a hodge-podge, especially with limited space.

Can you do it yourself?

The DIY option is a possibility with most choices mentioned above, but just watching one of thousands of videos online may convince you to hire a licensed and experienced contractor to do the installation. Many materials mentioned are very heavy and moving them around can be exhausting. If you're paving a very small patio, it might be a job to do on your own.

"You can do the pavers yourself, for example," says Chris Wentland, co-owner of CYC Landscaping in the Phoenix area, "but you have to put down the right base. Some people try to lay them on top of a concrete patio using a bed of thin-set, which is a bad idea. If you glue down pavers that way, they can crack. They need to float on a bed of sand and concrete."

When hiring a contractor for work with pavers, we recommend using someone with certification from the Interlocking Concrete Paver Institute.

Take time to investigate your options and choose a hardscape that will suit your living style and home.

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