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Tag Archives: Patio Pavers

Pennsylvania Bluestone Flagstone – Quality & Availability

In 2012, we first wrote about the impact of the Marcellus Shale mining activity on the availability of Pennsylvania Bluestone.  Since that time, as predicted, the issue has become more severe.  The original article with minor updates appears below.  The key factors are the reduction in operating bluestone quarries and cost of labor for those still in operation. The result is increasing prices and decreasing supply.

 


 

Marcellus Shale 264x300 Pennsylvania Bluestone Flagstone   Quality & AvailabilityBluestone is a fascinating and complicated natural stone native to Pennsylvania (for whom the material is named), New Jersey and parts of New York. Bluestone has many options to consider in designing and installing your outdoor living project.  But, if you have decided on the uniquely beautiful bluestone, you must also deal with the issues of quality and availability.

Quality: The primary quality consideration occurs in natural clef flagstone, both pattern and irregular.  Because the appealing unique surface of natural clef flagstone is formed by natural forces, the consistency of that surface is unpredictable.  Some pieces can exhibit huge variation in thickness, dramatic shifts in surface texture, even natural warping creating a bowed rather than flat piece.  Some people find this variation exotic and attractive, some do not.  If you are looking for flagstone with the flattest surface, the least variation in surface and thickness, you are looking for the rarest material.
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Pavers and Slabs – You Have Options

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

resizedimage250187 Steckel Front Paver Walk Pavers and Slabs – You Have Options

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.

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Pennsylvania Bluestone Flagstone – Thickness

Dry Set Thickness 20121201 150x150 Pennsylvania Bluestone Flagstone   ThicknessIn earlier articles, we have discussed the basics of Pennsylvania Bluestone flagstone, its shapes, textures and colors.  If you have read these articles or even simply reviewed a portfolio of pictures, you have a good feel for this wonderful natural stone. These factors, plus the process of installation are both important to its final appearance. Thickness is a key factor in installation options.

Two primary installation options exist for bluestone flagstone:  dry and wet setting.  Dry setting means installing over a compacted stone sub-base and a screeded stone dust setting bed with a flexible finishing joint material.  Wet setting means installing over a concrete base on a mortar bed with a solid finishing joint material.  Examples of flexible finishing joint materials include stone dust (aka screenings), polymeric stone dust, decorative stone, and topsoil.  The most typical solid finishing material is mortar.

Natural clef pattern and irregular flagstone are available in two major thicknesses: 1” and 1 ½”.  Because the thickness of these products results from natural separation along fault lines, the thickness is neither consistent nor exact.  The thickness of one piece will vary across the length and breadth of the piece.  If the thickness is generally between ½” and 1 ¼”, the flagstone is considered 1” flagstone.  If the thickness is over 1 ¼”, it is generally considered 1 ½”.   When flagstone is particularly thin, i.e., ½” or less, it is separated out at ½” flagstone.  Some quarries will separate flagstone that is 3” or over into “heavy” flagstone.  The extra thin and extra thick material are frequently included in 1” and 1 ½” categories.

For dry setting application, you will need 1 ½” material.  This thickness is required to provide enough strength to handle minor shifts in the base and setting bed caused by geological and weather conditions.  The wet setting application, you will want 1” material. This thickness has less variation within and between pieces making it easier to compensate for those differences in the mortar base. Wet Lay Flagstone Thickness 20121201 150x150 Pennsylvania Bluestone Flagstone   Thickness

Thermal flagstone is cut to a nearly exact thickness, usually 1” or 1 ½”.  For dry setting, use 1 ½”.  For wet setting, either thickness is acceptable as there is no variation in thickness to be absorbed in the mortar bed.

If you use 1” bluestone flagstone in a dry set project, you risk having the material crack or break over time.  If you are doing the project yourself and wish to avoid the weight of 1 ½” material, you can accept this risk and replace broken pieces later as necessary.  If you have a professional contractor installing your project, make sure 1 ½” material is used.

PA Bluestone Flagstone Colors: Blue, Gray, Green, Brown, Lilac, Rust

Lilac Irregular Color 20121115 150x150 PA Bluestone Flagstone Colors: Blue, Gray, Green, Brown, Lilac, Rust

Lilac Irregular PA Bluestone Flagstone Color

Pennsylvania Bluestone, also known as flagstone, comes in a variety of shapes and textures as discussed in an earlier article entitled PA Bluestone Flagstone – Shape & Texture.  All of these options also come in multiple colors.

When most people think of flagstone they think blue:  Pennsylvania Bluestone.  However, most flagstone is actually not blue in color.

The color of flagstone is caused by the minerals in the ground where the flagstone is formed.  Most flagstone is full color also called variegated.  This mean that a full range of minerals run through the quarry such that each piece from that quarry can be blue, gray, green, brown, lilac, or rust in color.  Most pieces will exhibit multiple colors swirled together in unpredictable patterns.  Many believe it is the unique combinations of color that gives flagstone its most compelling beauty.  Natural clef pattern and natural clef irregular flagstone have the most color variety and drama.  In full color thermal flagstone, much of the drama is removed by the flaming process.  Multiple colors still exist but appear more subtle.  And the rust color is nearly non-existent in thermal.  Tumbling also reduces the dramatic lines of color separation, although not quite as much as the thermal process.

“True Blue” Pennsylvania bluestone occurs less often in nature than full color. True blue flagstone comes out of the quarry in a consistently blue-gray color.  A range of blue shades can appear in true bluestone, but the variation is very minor.  A large blue flagstone patio may exhibit what appears as waves of blue shades similar to looking at water, but the variation will be negligible.  Blue flagstone appears the same color in all forms, i.e., natural clef, thermal, and tumbled.

Occasionally, a large section of a bluestone quarry will be deep reddish – purple.  The industry calls this color lilac.  Lilac flagstone may also have rust color veins but the underlying color is lilac rather than blue.

When choosing color for your Pennsylvania Bluestone project, be sure to see samples.  Samples will give you an idea of the range of variety and the core colors of the various options.  However, remember, flagstone is a natural stone.  Variety is inherent in the product and in the attraction of natural stone.  The material you purchase and its installation will be unique.  If you are looking for color consistency, you should consider a manufactured, simulated flagstone product.

PA Bluestone Flagstone – Shape & Textures

If you are considering PA bluestone flagstone as the material for your patio or other outdoor living project, you have several additional decisions to make: Shape, texture, color, thickness, and quality. This article discusses the options for shape and texture.  The range of shape and texture options is far greater than you might expect.Pattern Full Color Shape 20121101 150x150 PA Bluestone Flagstone   Shape & Textures

Two basic shapes are available:  irregular and pattern.  A piece of irregular flagstone is generally two to three feet wide by three to four feet long with a completely random amoeba-like shape.  Irregular flagstone is packaged in a pallet vertically or standing up which is why it is often called “stand-up” flagstone.  Pattern flagstone is cut at the quarry into squares and rectangles in a large selection of sizes.  Standard sizes (in inches) are 12×12 up to 24×36 in six inch increments (i.e., 12×12, 12×18, 12×24, 12×30, 12×36, 18×18, 18×24, 18×30, 18×36, 24×24, 24×30, 24×36).  Because of the range of measured sizes, pattern is also referred to as “dimensional” flagstone.  Larger pattern sizes are less readily available. Smaller patterns sizes are re-cut from broken pattern and used for tumbling only.

Thermal Texture 20121101 150x150 PA Bluestone Flagstone   Shape & TexturesThree textures characterize flagstone: Natural clef, thermal, and tumbled.  Natural clef is the irregular somewhat wavy surface that is created by nature when flagstone separates or splits along natural fault lines.  Thermal refers to the effect created when flagstone is cut and then flamed to remove any irregularities.  Thermal is completely flat but has a slightly bubbly surface (almost like a manufactured non-slip finish) created by the flaming process.   Tumbled flagstone is literally tumbled in a machine similar to a large drier.  The tumbling process smooths the top and bottom of the flagstone and breaks off sharp edges leaving a soft rounded edge.

Both irregular and pattern are available natural clef, thermal, and tumbled.  Perhaps obviously, these combinations of shape and texture result in a huge range of options.  And, options can be combined, e.g., natural clef pattern patio with irregular natural clef sidewalk.  Be sure to see samples of the textures and shapes of PA Bluestone Flagstone you are considering before making your final decision.

Pennsylvania Bluestone Flagstone – The Basics

With the amazing proliferation of manufactured paver and imported stone options, it is easy to overlook local flagstone for your patio project.  Flagstone is a generic term for flat stone usually used for paving applications such as patios and walkways. In Pennsylvania, we use the term, flagstone, to refer to Pennsylvania Bluestone.  This layered stone is found only in eastern Pennsylvania and parts of northern New Jersey and southern New York.    Flagstone Irregular 150x150 Pennsylvania Bluestone Flagstone   The Basics

Bluestone quarries produce a rich variety of stone which results from the variety in the stone as various depths in the quarry.

The upper crust of a quarry becomes Colonial wall stone used for dry-stacked or mortared stone walls.  In the next layer, the pieces of broken stone become increasingly larger resulting in what is commonly called garden path, or stepping stones.  As these pieces become larger and thicker, they are referred to as slabs, generally used for large natural steps or water features.

Once past these top layers, the most popular bluestone layers emerge.  First, irregular or stand up flagstone – large irregular pieces 1-3” thick.  These pieces are dense enough for paver applications but not yet dense enough to be cut into large rectangles.  Next, the stone becomes dense enough to be cut into huge cubes which separate naturally as they dry.  This is pattern flagstone, pieces cut into squares and rectangles usually from 12” x 12” up to 24” x 36”.  This natural clef flagstone is the most common patio product.  Pattern flagstone is sorted into 1” (which is really ½” – 1 ¼” thick) and 1 ½” (which is at least 1 ¼” but can be much thicker).

Pattern Flagstone 150x150 Pennsylvania Bluestone Flagstone   The BasicsBut, there is still denser stone in the quarry.  These final layers are cut into thermal pattern, treads, and steps.  In these densest products, a saw cuts the exact thickness desired producing near perfect thickness versus the variety caused by natural clef separation.

Pennsylvania bluestone is not always blue.  Depending on the minerals in the stone, bluestone may be true blue, lilac, or, most common, variegated or full color.  Full color flagstone offers a huge range of beautiful colors, each piece unique: blue, green, taupe, lilac, brown, and rust.  It is this beauty which generally draws homeowners to this amazing stone.

Irregular, pattern, thermal bluestone can all be used for patios, sidewalks, and other outdoor paving applications.  Even driveways are possible with the thickest densest stone.  Flagstone projects may be wet laid, i.e., set in mortar on a concrete base, or dry set (most common), set in screenings or stone dust in a process very similar to manufactured pavers.

The Appeal of Travertine Natural Stone

Travertine is a beautiful natural stone in the limestone family. It is formed from geothermal springs or geothermally-heated alkaline waters. Although travertine exists throughout the world, the best known sources of patio-grade travertine are southeastern Europe (e.g., Italy and Turkey), western South American (Peru), and Southeast Asia (e.g., China).

Travertine Walkway 150x150 The Appeal of Travertine Natural Stone

Travertine Walkway

Initially, travertine found wide use as an indoor tile. Its marble-like appearance created its initial appeal. Travertine use moved outdoors to become a compelling pool deck material when it was observed that travertine remains cool even in intense heat. And, when wet, travertine grips rather than slips. From pool decks, travertine expanded into patios and sidewalks, making it the perfect stone for patios.

Another appeal of travertine is coloring. The color of travertine is tied to whatever minerals happen to be washing through the water that the limestone is filtering when travertine is formed – generally light cream, gold, beige, pale grays. Shopping for travertine requires a high degree of flexibility. You will need to select a color family and then investigate what is currently available looking for the best match between your vision and what is currently in stock. If ordering material not yet removed from a quarry, you will be looking at 8-12 weeks lead time. However, most suppliers warehouse a good supply of beautiful material if you are flexible in your color choice.

Travertine Pool Deck 150x150 The Appeal of Travertine Natural Stone

Travertine Pool Deck

The downside to travertine is that it is very porous. The tiny holes that riddle travertine contribute to its cool characteristic but also make travertine highly susceptible to cracking. Small cracks along color veins are normal and part of the beauty of the stone for patios; but, travertine can also display serious damage if not properly screened and shipped. The higher quality travertine is carefully screened and packaged at the mining site prior to overseas shipping. It is cost of sorting and shipping high quality travertine that makes it one of the more expensive outdoor project materials. Note: Even the highest quality travertine is only suitable for foot traffic applications…no driveways!

One final observation: As beautiful as travertine is in its natural form, sealing travertine makes it even more beautiful. Sealing will explode the color veins revealing even more of the marble-like drama of the stone. Make sure you select a sealer that is not film forming. With travertine, the sealer bonds to the stone and soaks in, it does not coat the stone.

For ideas, take a look at a few pictures of travertine projects.

Sealing Your Paver Patio

To seal or not to seal your paver patio is a key decision affecting both the look and the maintenance of your outdoor living space.

Satin Look 150x150 Sealing Your Paver Patio

Note the distinct difference between sealed – unsealed patio pavers.

In terms of “look,” the range of options for sealing pavers has grown dramatically over the last two years. You can choose a “wet look,” a “color enhancing look,” an “invisible look.” Paver sealers can be water or solvent based. The look can be matte or gloss. Some sealers for pavers look great after one coat; some explicitly require a second application. There are pavers sealers that stabilize the sand in the joints of the pavers at the same time as enhancing the finish. Most dealers have displays or samples to show you what look each paver sealer will produce. There are no wrong answers here, pick what you like!

However, once you have committed to sealing your patio, sidewalk, pool deck or other outdoor paver area, you are also making a commitment to ongoing maintenance. A sealed surface can look great and require no re-sealing for several years. But the longevity of a sealed paver look can vary dramatically. How long the sealer will last depends on the use and the environment. Intense sun, salt water, heavy traffic, even damaging foliage can degrade the sealed look and force a shorter timeframe between re-sealing.

Some helpful hints (reminders) to consider when you choose to seal your pavers:

• Never seal pavers that still have visible efflorescence. This film is a natural occurrence which is part of the curing process for concrete pavers. If you seal before efflorescence has either worn off or been cleaned off, you are locking it into your pavers forever.

• Make sure you know how the sealer should be applied. There are a variety of application techniques. Some require very expensive, specialized equipment. If doing this yourself, pick something designed for DIY not something that requires a significant investment in application tools.

• Read the instructions. Check temperature requirements and check the weather forecast. Sealers do not apply correctly if it is too hot or cold or if they get wet too soon.

Woodward Landscape Supply Open House to Feature Free Do-It-Yourself Seminar

February 15, 2011, Phoenixville, PA

In recognition of the growing interest in do-it-yourself projects, Woodward Landscape Supply is holding an Open House on Saturday, March 19 which will feature a free “do-it-yourself” seminar on how to implement hardscaping™ projects.

The Open House will run from 11am to 3pm and will include several additional attractions including product displays, refreshments, special discounts, and networking.

The DIY seminar will take place from 11:30 to 1pm. This seminar will cover the basic techniques to install sidewalks, patios, and garden walls. Topics range from material selection, base preparation, cutting and splitting, setting and finishing, to use of tools and equipment.

Throughout this event, a free cookout will be available as well as access to all on-site product displays. Techo-Bloc Corporation, a major supplier to Woodward’s, will be supporting the event with their mobile product exhibit. This truck houses walk-through displays of many Techo-Bloc products, including 2011 introductions. In addition to this traveling exhibit, Woodward’s offers permanent indoor and outdoor displays which present products from EP Henry Company, CST, Versa-Lok, Techo-Bloc, as well as a huge selection of natural stone.

A Techo-Bloc representative as well as local professional contractors will be on-hand to teach the seminar and answer questions. No registration is required. Homeowners with questions about the event should call 610-983-9810.

Woodward Landscape Supply distributes all the materials needed to create patios, sidewalks, garden walls and other outdoor living environment projects. Woodward’s is an authorized dealer for several major manufacturers including EP Henry, Techo-Bloc, Versa-Lok, CST, and Andes Collection. Materials are available for pick up or delivery. Both contractors and homeowners are welcome to visit Woodward’s showroom and outdoor displays located on Route 724 in Phoenixville, PA. 19460.

Hardscaping is a registered trademark of EP Henry Company.

Paver Patios & Planning for Spring Clean Up

In eastern Pennsylvania, we are all tired of winter and snow even though February is only two weeks old. So, while dreaming of sitting on your beautiful paver patio and enjoying spring weather, what planning can you do to optimize this seasonal experience?

One wonderful advantage of a manufactured, interlocking paver patio is extremely low maintenance. Whether your patio is made by EP Henry, Techo-Bloc, CST or any other high quality manufacturer, pavers made from dense concrete are durable. Only two potential maintenance issues need to be considered each spring: cleaning and joint repair.

outdoor fireplace ledgestone veneer Paver Patios & Planning for Spring Clean Up

Paver Patio

Cleaning. If colorful vegetation falls on your patio potentially leaving stains, or you cook out and occasionally spill offensive materials (like grease), or your children decided the patio was a great place to do a school project that resulted in “oops”, you may need to clean the surface. Most environmental debris can be cleaned off with only water, or a power washer. If the stains are a bit more intense, mild cleaners such as Techniseal™ Hardscape Cleaner will work. If truly severe, the stains may require specialized cleaners for paint, grease, etc.

If your patio was new in 2010, you might be waiting for “new paver” efflorescence to dissipate. Efflorescence is a white film which sometimes appears on concrete pavers. It is a salt-based residue left during the curing (drying) of the concrete pavers. Salt does not bind into concrete so when there is salt in a raw material used to make concrete, e.g., sand, it will be released while the concrete is setting leaving the film. Normally, this will wear off in time. But when the environment is very damp, e.g., record snowfall, the natural disappearance of efflorescence may take longer than you are willing to wait. In this case, you may want to clean off any remaining efflorescence. This is done with a professional-grade cleaner. Several manufacturers make specialized cleaning agents which are available at your local landscape supply dealer.

Joint Repair. If the joints between your patio pavers are filled with compacted sand, a hard winter will erode some of that fill. When you can see the joints again (in other words, when the snow melts), fill low spots with sand. Joints are usually filled with concrete sand; however, it your pavers have very tight joints, playsand is finer and will be easier to brush in. If your patio was finished with polymeric sand, i.e., sand mixed with chemicals that cause the compound to become permanently hard, you should not need repairs. However, if you shoveled frequently, especially a paver sidewalk or driveway, intense shoveling could remove some of the stabilized sand. You can also refill this sand mixture; however, you may need to remove more first to make sure the new material is thick enough for the chemical process to work. You can obtain technical information from the polymeric sand manufacturer’s websites, ask the contractor who installed your patio pavers, or see your local dealer.