Are natural pavers really the best option?
Social consciousness is really important today. It’s why so many of us are drawn towards organic products, renewable energy, and green cleaning solutions. The world of construction isn’t far behind. There’s been a resurgence in demand for biodegradable building materials like wood and stone. But when it comes to hardscaping, is natural truly best?
Natural pavers here would refer to wood, stone, brick, porcelain, or ceramics, while artificial pavers include rubber, plastic, asphalt, and concrete. Some homeowners prefer natural options ‘just because’. They have no specific reasons for their preferences, it’s only a matter of principle. But if you want to make an informed decision regarding pavers, you’ll need more information.
While it’s nice to be protective of the environment, there are other factors that come into play, Natural pavers are generally more expensive than artificial ones, so if cash isn’t a problem for you, then you can go all out. In which case, you’d have to consider other decision drivers. Some of these include maintenance, aesthetics, and function.
Taking care of your pavers
Most people in the construction space use the term ‘paver’ for outdoor use. These can still be tiles or slabs, but because they’ll be used outside, their treatment is slightly different. Just as an example, outdoor pavers aren’t usually polished, because exposure to the elements will soon deplete the polish. Also, polish makes surfaces slippery, which is a bad idea outdoors.
This same line of thinking affects your paver maintenance needs. Inside the house, you don’t accumulate much dirt. There may be food stains in the kitchen and mold spots in the bathroom, but the average indoor floor just needs to be swept, mopped, or vacuumed. This gets rid of dust, dander, occasional spills, and basic indoor dirt.
Outside, pavers have to deal with rain, snow (in wintry regions), solar radiation, mud, animal droppings, and much more. So you either need a paver that doesn’t show dirt easily or one that’s easy to clean. For the latter, natural stone works well, because it just needs hosing down with high pressure water. Some types of stone even look ‘better’ dirty because of the vintage feel.
These include sandy-colored stones like travertine, limestone, cobblestone, or flagstone. Other types of pavers (like marble) acquire a patina with age, and that makes them more earthy and stately. So in terms of aesthetics, natural stone is a good choice. In terms of maintenance too. But remember, rubber and plastic are just as easy to keep clean, while wood is a nightmare.
Keeping your pavers perfect
If your floors are stone, then a routine wash will suffice. But if you have wooden panels on your patio or deck, you actually want to avoid moisture when you can. Instead, you have to treat the wood against insects and fungi. You may have to oil or stain it, and once in a while, it may need to be sanded down, re-painted, or waxed. This makes wood a high-maintenance paving choice.
Rubber just needs washing and rinsing, so it doesn’t need much attention. But it heats up in strong sunlight, so it can be uncomfortable in summer months. It might also feel clammy on sweaty bare feet. So if you’re paving in a tropical region that gets 200 or more days of sunshine every year, rubber may not be the best paving choice. Natural stone works better.
On the other hand, plastic paving can crack and chip. It may fade or soften in the sunlight, and it easily shows dirt. So while it’s affordable, it’s not advisable. Plastic may be easy to wash, but over time, it retains scents, and dirt gets between the cracks and abrasions on its surface. Once this happens, all the scrubbing in the world won’t solve your problem.
Of course the most basic decider for home-owners is style. Wood is fussy, but we love how it looks. Stone is easy to care for, but it can feel cold and detached. Rubber seems modern and contemporary, but it can give off that telltale smell when it gets too hot. Also, some may argue that rubber paving is the greenest choice, because it’s made from recycled tyres.
Nature vs culture
An even more basic comment is that rubber paving is essentially ‘natural’, because latex is derived from plants. So if you’re thinking of rubber and wood when you mention natural pavers, then natural paving is more hassle than it’s worth. But if ‘natural’ means ‘stone’, then you have a winner on your hands – or rather, beneath your feet. It’s all relative, as you can see.
Sometimes, your paving choices are driven by societal mores. If you live in a wooded area, your neighbors probably get their building materials nearby, which cuts costs. It just makes sense to deck your patio with wood. Similarly, if you live in a volcanic region, brick and ceramics are probably more affordable than imported rubber or poured concrete.
Again, if your community spends a lot of time outdoors (beach parties, neighborhood barbecues, storytime around the fire pit), then you need pavers that can withstand constant use. You also want pavers that are comfortable – for example, flooring that stays cool under your feet, even at midday. If you have a pool, you need resistance to salt and/or chlorine.
So at the most basic level, asking whether natural pavers beat artificial ones … that’s the wrong question. Why? Because it has vastly divergent answers. Natural pavers could be wood or stone, while artificial ones could be plastic or veneer. These examples are so diverse that it’s hard to realistically compare them. So let’s narrow it down further.\
Is there really a ‘best paver’?
No. Your choices will depend on climate, taste, budget, and available skills. You could import the most pricey marble and still end up with ugly floors if your installation team is unskilled. Or you could invest in the cheapest plastic and end up with a gorgeous floor, provided you use the right flooring team. So be wary of paving companies that make such broad pronouncements.
Instead, find a construction crew that’s willing to talk you through the process, exploring all options and carefully explaining the pros and cons of each. That way you know it’s not just convenient and pretty, it’s also good value for your money.