When you are designing or building a surface, whether it is a patio, sidewalk, driveway, or any other surface, there are a myriad of product options available. Products used for these surfaces generally fall into two categories, pavers and slabs. The basic difference between the two categories is the difference in load that they can bear. The relative strength of each option is a result of the product’s thickness and surface area. The larger the size of the product, the thicker it must be to be considered a paver and not a slab. Manufacturing process also plays a role in the relative strength of the finished product. For instance, products made using wet cast manufacturing are inherently weaker and are nearly always considered slabs.
Pavers and slabs may look similar, and most manufacturers offer lines of both pavers and slabs in Bucks County PA. There are general rules regarding the use of these products. If the surface is designed for pedestrian traffic, such as a patio, sidewalk, pool deck, etc., then either pavers or slabs are suitable. If the surface application needs to carry a heavier (vehicular or commercial pedestrian) load, then pavers must be used.
Bucks County Pavers
Example of a paver
Pavers come in a breathtaking variety of designs, colors, and shapes. They can emulate many other surfaces, including brick, flagstone, cobblestones, and many more. They are made from a variety of materials, such as brick, concrete, and natural stone. Natural pavers are more expensive than the synthetic versions. However, in recent years concrete paver design has evolved in such a way that they can easily and convincingly emulate natural stone.
The home remodeling or improvement project that adds the most value to your home, behind only kitchen and bathroom renovations, is creating an inviting and functional hardscaped outdoor living space. If you have done work on your home recently, or if you are budgeting for an upcoming project, chances are you’ve searched the web for average project costs. Quite a few websites offer price ranges, most of which are loosely based on formulas, costs in your region, and average industry labor costs. Some even offer the dreaded “price per square foot” estimate that can leave you with more questions than answers.
When reviewing these websites, I found them to be severely lacking in both the information each provided, and the information each requested. They asked only for my zip code and the square footage (SF) of the patio. That’s it. Based solely on these two questions, I was given estimates ranging from $6 per SF to $15 per SF – not a helpful or informative range. No website asked me for my soil type and none seemed to care about the access to my property and to the project area (maybe they could just carry 50 tons of stone through my 3′ fence gate).
They didn’t specify, so I was left wondering if all paver types and styles cost the same. I also hope the fact that my yard drops 2 feet from one side of the house to the other side will not be a problem. In short, I was left with quite a few questions. Are there any special considerations because I am in a new home? What if I don’t want a square patio? Where will all of the runoff water go? What about adding steps, walls, stone pillars, or a fire feature? Do I need to worry about permits?
The bottom line is that dozens of questions need to be considered when budgeting and planning for your paver patio project. Only a qualified hardscape contractor is equipped to look at all the factors that affect price, functionality, and the feasibility of your dream outdoor oasis. An experienced, accredited contractor builds 50 or more projects like yours annually. He or she will determine what makes your project unique. And what makes your project unique will influence the price – never accept a generic estimate that is drawn up on a “price per square foot” basis. You want a unique project, so demand a unique design and a detailed price. Continue reading
Major manufacturers of hardscaping products, such as EP Henry and Techo-Bloc, first introduced packaged outdoor fire pit kits around 2009. Prior to that, fire features were limited to portable options, such as Chimeneas, and complex custom installations. Since the first fire pit kit was introduced, kits have evolved to offer a variety of colors, textures, fire options and even alternate use options such as water features.
CST Fire Pit
Techo Bloc Valencia Fire Pit
EP Henry Outdoor Fire Pit
Outdoor fire pits can be built from a wide variety of materials (see our article on fire pit basics for an overview). However, kits are definitely the easiest, fastest, and safest approach. Most outdoor fire pit kits consist of concrete manufactured wall material which assembles in to a circular “pit” and a set of accessories which contain the fire protecting the concrete. The accessories include a screen which can be placed over the dwindling fire to prevent sparks from escaping.
The wall material forming the outdoor fire pit comes in a variety of textures. Each manufacturer tends to select a finish and a set of colors that will match their major sitting wall products making it practical to add a fire pit to an existing patio or to build a sitting wall around an existing outdoor fire pit. The accessory kit usually includes either a bowl or a liner. The bowl option also includes a grate on which to build a fire generally suitable for warmth, ambiance, and perhaps toasting a marshmallow or making a s’more. The liner option shifts the fire down to the bottom of the pit making larger cooking projects possible.
The accessory package is usually at least half of the total cost. That is because the metal inserts are specially designed to dissipate the heat and protect the pit wall. The wall / pit may usually be purchased without the insert but in that case the wall must be protected with fire brick and fire mortar or fire clay. Although not expensive options, fire protection installed in this way can be messy and may detract from the appearance of the fire pit.
Fire pit kits are generally a perfect circle, meaning that once tightly in place, nothing is going to move the wall block. Consequently, no gluing is necessary. The insert sits on the top of the pit and can be easily removed. This presents the opportunity to use the “pit” area for other applications when summer heat does not inspire building a fire. Other outdoor fire pit uses include planting, installing a water feature, and creating a cold drink cooler.
Adding a fire pit to your outdoor environment is a perfect fall hardscaping project. Many design and material options exist. Read our article on fire pit basics for an overview.
Once you decide to build a fire pit, where are you going to put it? If you have a patio already, you might want to place it on the patio. Or you could create an addition to the patio just for the fire pit. Or maybe just off the patio, in a near-by but separate area. Or you may have a spot in your yard where it is hard to grow grass that beckons for a touch-up.
If you are considering placing a fire pit within an existing patio, you need to evaluate both your fire pit and your patio materials. Although some fire pit designs will support being placed on top of an existing patio, it is generally not the best approach. If your patio is made from manufactured or natural stone pavers dry set on sand or stone dust, you can remove the patio materials where you want your fire pit and place the fire pit directly on the patio base. If your patio is concrete or a wet set installation, you will not have the option to remove it. In that case, you will be limited in what type of fire pit you super-impose on top of your patio.
If the design of the fire pit places the fire on the ground, the fire pit cannot be built on top of existing patio materials without damaging the patio. If the material in the fire pit is not completely flat on the bottom and / or the surface of the patio is not completely flat, the fire pit cannot be built on top of the patio without being unstable, i.e., wobbling or potentially falling over.
If you want to create a new area, adding an extension to the patio or creating a nearby free-standing fire pit area can be the easiest options. If placing the fire pit on what is currently dirt or grass, the area needs to be dug out, lined with separation fabric, and filled with 4-6 inches of stone. (This will create a base for your fire pit very similar to the base that is placed under a paver or natural stone patio.) This base will create a solid underpinning for the fire pit so it will not move (wobble) or sink while also avoiding the risk of burning dead branches or roots in the ground.
One final thought on location: Avoid areas under trees or too close to your house or other flammable objects on your property. You don’t want your beautiful warm and inviting addition to produce a catastrophe.