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Choosing your Surface

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As you begin thinking ahead about the spring 2020 season, you might be starting to consider which surface material could work best for your outdoor living space. While you love the fact that you have options, you may have no idea how to narrow down the selection. How do the materials differ and what will work best for your space?

We spoke with some of the area’s surface experts and asked them to fill us in on the different choices on the market today.

If it’s a patio that you’re considering, then you might be thinking about your different hardscaping options. In particular, you might be deciding between pavers or stamped concrete. Both can ultimately be good options for your home. But as with any choice, there are some pros and cons to consider.

We asked two professionals—one offering pavers and one offering stamped concrete—to weigh in on these options.

Pavers can be a creative choice for your hardscaping project. They are offered in a wide variety of colors and styles and can even be mixed on a job in order to give the finished project a much richer look, says John Leinen, hardscape manager for NJ Gravel & Sand.

Leinen says that pavers are also easier to deal with if a problem arises. They can be easily repaired.

 “If a problem should occur on a paving stone surface, the paving stone or stones can be removed and replaced and you are back in business,” adds Leinen, who says that you don’t have such an easy “fix” with concrete.

 “Poured or stamped concrete has expansion joints to allow for the freeze/thaw cycle,” explains Leinen. “These joints are either saw cut into the surface or a cushioned material is installed at the time of installation. These joints can be unsightly and often the surface cracks in areas other than where these joints are placed. Once the surface chips or cracks, it is there for the life of that surface.”

Stamped concrete has become increasingly popular due to its ability to mimic other hardscape materials like flagstone, block or brick, while being more cost effective. According to Chris McMahon, president and CEO of Architectural Concrete Design (ACD), it’s also “beautiful, durable and can come in any color or texture to complement the home.”

McMahon says that as much as people love materials like pavers or brick, they can lack in durability.

 “They don’t build bridges out of paver or bricks,” he says. “Concrete is used in structures of all kinds for its durability and its ability to take on any form.”

As the material has become increasingly popular, there have been more companies offering it—but you need to be careful. If choosing a stamped concrete contractor, McMahon says to make sure that they are ACI (American Concrete Institute) certified and have completed multiple projects that you can actually visit to see. In particular, says McMahon, commercial or public works jobs take a lot of knowledge to build so a company with this type of work under its belt is definitely going to be able to handle a residential job.

 “Anybody can buy stamps on the internet but stamped concrete is a process that takes years to hone in and architects know this,” says McMahon. “They won’t allow inexperienced contractors to work on their projects.”

Sometimes homeowners have an existing patio and they’re just looking for repairs. This is an option as well. As Leinen mentions, pavers can easily be lifted up and replaced if they become cracked. But if you have a poured concrete patio or pool deck and it’s beginning to sink, you might be wondering what you can do.

“If the homeowner has a problem with their concrete sinking, they’ll know it—they’ll have puddles and water that’s not draining or maybe they’ll have trip and fall hazards,” says Brian Quinn, owner of BQ Basements & Concrete Repair. “Most of the time unlevel concrete, or sinking, is caused by erosion or bad backfill when the foundation was poured. But we have a clean, fast, easy and affordable solution to level sinking slabs.”

Quinn says that PolyLevel concrete lifting uses polyurethane foam to lift the sinking slab back into place.

“The crews come out and drill 5/8-inch holes which they inject with the foam,” Quinn explains. “They are in and out in less than an hour and it is a fraction of the cost of replacing your hard surface. It’s a great option for anyone who is experiencing this problem but doesn’t want to go through the cost and the headache of jack-hammering it out and replacing it all.”

Of course, it might not be a patio that you’re interested in but a deck, instead—or at least want to learn more about this option. This can be another great choice as an outdoor living space.

 “My goal is to design the best outdoor living space that the homeowners’ budget allows,” says Sharon Shaw, outdoor living designer at Amazing Decks.

Shaw says that oftentimes, a combination of both a deck and a patio is the best possible option for homeowners.

 “Deck space does a great job expanding the living space of the house by bringing the inside to the outdoors,” she says. “And a patio does a great job marrying the deck space to the landscaping of the backyard. So, in my opinion, the best option is to have a combination of a deck and a patio.”

Shaw says that as a general rule of thumb, if the back patio door is less than 16 inches off the ground, a patio should be installed. Installing a deck with low clearance would require a portion of the framing lumber to be buried underground. This is not the best idea as the wood will eventually rot, Shaw explains.

 “On the other hand, if your patio door is nine feet off the ground as part of a walkout basement, a larger deck is necessary,” she adds. “There is no good way to marry the deck to the ground level so the majority of your backyard living space will be on your deck.”

Shaw says that maintenance for a deck can be easy.

“Just wash it like you would wash your car,” she says. “It requires a bucket of water with a small squirt of dish soap and a scrub brush and you’re good to go. But a patio can be a little bit more difficult requiring power washing and sealing. This is usually best done by a professional.”

In the end, the choice is yours. But no matter which option you choose, you definitely want to make sure that you select a company that is qualified for the job and will get it done right.

“With outdoor living spaces becoming more popular, it is almost a necessity to have a well-designed backyard,” says Shaw. “Just make sure you do it right the first time. Installing a patio requires the removal of six to eight inches of top soil and the installation of several tons of aggregate. If it is done wrong, all of that will have to be removed at great expense. In addition, decking and railing materials can be a significant investment. Choose products that have been time tested and backed by reputable companies. A backyard remodel can be very disruptive to a homeowner’s routine so make sure you choose the right company with qualified designers and installers.”

Amazing Decks
Serving Pa. and N.J.
(800) 220-3275

Architectural Concrete Design
Levittown, Pa.
(866) 956-2818

BQ Basement Systems & Concrete Repair
Serving Montgomery County
(800) 339-2070

NJ Gravel & Sand Co.
Wall, N.J.
(732) 938-5252

Select images courtesy of Architectural Concrete Design, BQ Basement Systems & Concrete Repair, and Amazing Decks.

Published (and copyrighted) in House & Home, Volume 20, Issue 6 (Spring 2020). 
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