Paver patios and driveways are popular choices for homeowners looking to upgrade or build a new space, but they're also one of the most labor-intensive and expensive options.
If you're planning to DIY-install pavers, this can reduce the cost significantly, but it may not be an option for large areas or difficult terrain, no matter how keen you are.
There are many alternatives to pavers that not only range in cost, but are more DIY-friendly, and eco-conscious. We'll go over other mainstream options, as well as some unique ideas to suit your space and aesthetic needs.
Poured concrete is one of the most popular paver alternatives as far as mainstream options go. People often choose between pavers or concrete based on the aesthetic they want to achieve, but there are a few differences between the two.
While someone with experience in masonry work could DIY a concrete patio or driveway, it's not an easy task, and most opt to hire a professional company.
This is more expensive than laying pavers yourself, but the cost of pouring concrete will be less expensive than paying someone to install pavers, so overall price will depend on if you plan on doing the work yourself.
Cost will also depend on the materials used, as some pavers are more expensive than others, but concrete may be harder to pour if the terrain is difficult. Both can be finished in a day or two once the site has been prepared, but concrete will take up to a week to cure.
Concrete offers more options than just a flat, gray surface, as modern pours can be stenciled, colored, or stamped in a variety of patterns to get a similar look to stone pavers like flagstone or granite.
Just note that the cost of pouring concrete goes up once you start adding coloring or pattern work. Pavers are also the stronger surface of the two and can support 8000 psi (pounds per square inch) whereas concrete withstands up to 2500 psi.
Asphalt is less expensive than concrete or pavers, but isn't as hard of a surface. This doesn't mean it isn't as durable, as other factors like proper thickness and base material are more important for longevity.
Pavers, concrete, or asphalt driveways are all built to last approximately 30 years, and can handle cars and heavy weight if done properly, so it comes down to other factors when considering asphalt as a paver alternative.
Some homeowners like the look of a sleek, black driveway or patio area, while others prefer the look of concrete or pavers. Asphalt doesn't come with any other aesthetic options like pavers and concrete do, so a smooth, black surface is your only option.
Black asphalt will get very hot in full sun and high temperatures, as the dark, soft surface absorbs the sun's heat. Concrete or pavers will stay much cooler, though darker colors will also absorb heat in full sun, too.
Laying asphalt isn't a DIY-friendly job, but it will cost a professional about half the cost of laying pavers, and homeowners can do regular maintenance themselves to keep it looking nice.
Asphalt can also be resurfaced professionally as needed up to a point of thickness, whereas poured concrete needs to be re-installed when any cracks happen. Pavers can be individually replaced.
Asphalt is easier and quicker to install, requiring only a few days of work if the weather is good. There isn't as much prep to do with asphalt, and it can be applied over a compacted dirt surface.
It's slightly more environmentally-friendly and uses around 20 percent less energy than concrete or paver installations. It can also be recycled and reused but still isn't considered to be the most "eco-friendly" alternative to pavers.
"House" bricks are made out of clay and generally used for wall construction, but they can be re-used to make patios or driveways, too. There are brick pavers that are made to look like bricks, so it's important to differentiate between the two.
Concrete brick pavers will be a lot cheaper to purchase and install than regular house bricks, however, house bricks are often easily salvaged or sourced for free, which would make them very cost-effective and 100-percent eco-friendly.
Bricks offer a different look than pavers, concrete, or asphalt and harken back to a more traditional patio surface. Most bricks are small and rectangular with a quintessential reddish-brown coloring to them.
This offers the homeowners a variety of patterns to choose from, which can be simple or intricate depending on the aesthetic goal. Laying bricks is DIY-friendly, but can be time-consuming because of their size, which also makes them more expensive to pay someone else to install.
Traditional brick patterns consist of linear or vertical layouts, staggered or "subway", herringbone, and double-basket weave patterns. You can get creative and make your own geometric patterns, or other objects and shapes, too.
Note that staggered patterns will be more durable than ones where the joint runs linearly over a long distance, but overall bricks offer a sturdy patio or driveway alternative to pavers that will last a long time.
Just like paver installations, bricks will need a solid, level surface to lay on top of, with four inches of drainage gravel and a layer of limestone screening underneath to prevent weeds and allow extra drainage.
Brick is very porous which allows water to drain well from the surface, and kiln-dried clay can handle extreme temperature fluctuations, including a freeze-thaw cycle.
Applying a general-purpose sand or polymeric sand between the brick joints will level off your project, help keep the bricks in place, and deter weed growth.
Bricks may damage easily if they are older, salvaged materials that have cracks or chips. This may not be an issue if you don't mind your patio coming with a bit of character, and individual bricks are easy to replace as needed.
A light pressure washing once a year to gently clean the bricks will keep bacteria, mold, and moss at bay, as sealing clay is not recommended.
Outdoor tile is another excellent option for patios or other exterior spaces, but would not stand up to the traffic and weight of a driveway. Tile is a better option for dining and pool areas or other casual outdoor living spaces.
Tile makes the outdoor area feel like an extension of the indoors, as tiles are considerably more attractive and polished looking. They create a finished look and are made from porcelain, clay, or other outdoor-rated stones like slate, granite, and travertine.
You can get the look of wood, marble, or granite without actually spending the money on these materials themselves, but keep in mind that tile is generally not considered an eco-friendly option due to the materials needed.
There's a lot of variety to choose from, but make sure you are choosing a type of outdoor tile that is slip-resistant and able to withstand the temperatures in your region.
The preparation needed to lay outdoor tile will be a lot different than prepping for pavers. Tile cannot be laid on top of gravel, screening, or dirt and needs to have a proper outdoor-rated substrate as the base.
Smooth concrete or cement is recommended, but you can also use waterproofing membrane products meant for exterior tiles like Tiledek. Backer board or cement board is only approved for outdoor wall tiles, not flooring.
There are other considerations when planning to use tile since they are not porous like clay or concrete, and will need drain channels to be installed so that rain and snow can drain away properly.
Laying tile is somewhat DIY-friendly if you have experience, but large projects would require a professional to achieve a perfect finished product, and pouring a concrete base is also tricky for the homeowner to do if one isn't already present.
Working with a designer and contractor will make projects go smoothly, especially if any architectural elements need to be considered. Smaller patio areas may be taken on by a seasoned DIY-er.
Mosaic tile is a variation of exterior tile installation and offers a unique approach to traditional layouts. It will require the same preparation and site considerations as other outdoor tiles, however, the actual laying of the tiles will be much different.
This job is more DIY-friendly as it requires creativity and patience to create a pattern or unique design. If you want something geometrically perfect, then a professional might be a better choice, otherwise, mosaics can be done by anyone who has a certain vision in mind.
Mosaic tiling is usually done by re-purposing old or broken tiles, and even glass, making it very eco-friendly. It can mix and match different colors and even thicknesses of tile as each individual piece can be set with mortar or wet concrete to create a level surface.
Mosaic tiling would not be recommended over large areas or driveways as it is prone to cracking under too much pressure but could be a beautiful addition to patios, and interesting places in the garden.
Gathering stones was the original way that patios were made years ago, but today this project is cumbersome when there are other options available.
This depends on the type of stone and what you may have available to you, as homeowners with a lot of material on their land may be able to use it for free and put it to good use.
Large stones would need to be dug into the ground quite deep. Smaller stones would take a long time to place, but using a combination of the two could provide a secure, and interesting-looking patio or driveway.
This would also be a very eco-friendly option as you are using existing materials in a sustainable way. Upkeep and maintenance would also depend on the stones, but generally wouldn't be much different than other patios.
All-purpose or polymeric sand could be placed between the stones to achieve a level, durable surface, and gravel could be laid underneath just like in traditional paver installation.
In similar fashion to using on-site stones, your yard may have a surplus of backfill or dirt. Not all dirt is made of the same elements or has the same consistency, so using this medium successfully will depend on these factors, as well as your region.
Dry, warm climates that don't experience harsh winds or storms would be an ideal place to use dirt as a patio or driveway, as dirt is a cooling material.
If the area is excavated properly and the dirt is compacted and tampered down to become a hard surface, patios or driveways could last 5-10 years and be re-surfaced as needed.
Dirt surfaces will suffer in wet, windy regions or areas that experience a freeze-thaw cycle. A rooftop or patio overhang can help to protect a dirt patio space, but generally, this option is only viable for Southern states.
Loose gravel is another cheap option but unlike dirt, can be used in a variety of climates. Gravel is versatile and allows for excellent drainage, but has a very basic aesthetic.
It can easily fill in areas that have been excavated properly and will benefit from being poured against a wooden border. Gravel should be laid at least four inches thick, and landscape fabric underneath can be an extra barrier against weeds.
As with dirt, gravel will benefit from being compacted down to provide a hard surface, meaning you may have to compact and fill a few times during the project.
Gravel will always have a certain looseness to it, however, table and chair legs may wiggle through, which is the main detractor for homeowners. Tampering will help to keep stones firmly in place.
If gravel is not laid thick enough, it can be a nightmare once weeds start to form, however it's easily kept clean with a hose, and new gravel can be added as needed so maintenance is minimal.
Laying gravel is very DIY-friendly and cost-effective. If purchasing in bags, it's not as eco-friendly as other reusable materials, but is more environmentally friendly than concrete or pavers.
These paver alternatives offer a unique design with drainage and environmentally-friendly concepts in mind. They come in various materials and certain products specialize in different applications to suit your aesthetic and land use needs.
Permeable pavers use wider joints filled with small stones and aggregate, or natural materials like grass or dirt. The wider joints and porous fillers allow for water to drain underground, keeping rain and snow melt from running off into sewers where it has to be treated.
Allowing water to drain into local aquifers brings rainwater to water basins, and there are often local government programs and rebates for installing these eco-friendly pavers.
These are excellent options for normal patios and driveways, but also specifically for areas that are prone to flooding, or have issues with slope and water run-off.
Permeable interlocking concrete pavers can be installed similarly to regular pavers, and require a gravel base and limestone screening underneath. You would not use polymeric or all-purpose sand between the joints, as again the point is to fill with materials that allow better drainage.
They are also available in plastic grids with options to use aggregate or turf as the porous material. Permeable clay bricks, pervious concrete, porous ashpalt, and permeable resin paving are other options.
If using a plastic grid, choose products that use 100 percent recycled material. These grids are good choices for extreme temperatures, and offer some of the best drainage options, as well as easy installation.
Some are more DIY-friendly than others, but all of them offer an excellent alternative to regular pavers when it comes to environmental impact. Cost will vary between what style you use, but are somewhere between $10-$40/ square foot.
Pavers are thought of as the only choice for patios, but all of these paver alternatives offer a variety of options to suit any space, budget, and style you might be after.
They vary in cost and DIY installation, but many of them offer a more eco-friendly way to enjoy the great outdoors, which is something we should all be considering.