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Choosing the Best Paving Materials – Concrete Pavers vs. Stamped Concrete

Whether you are building a walkway, patio, pool deck or driveway, the options for materials are seemingly endless. It’s hard to know what makes sense for your outdoor project.

One of the biggest decisions to make is paving materials. For some homeowners, the choice is between concrete paving stones and stamped (also known as patterned or decorative) concrete. Let’s take a closer look at both.

Colors, Textures and Patterns

Paving stones come in many colors, patterns and textures like the natural cut flagstone look of Richcliff, the smooth texture finish of Umbriano, and the dramatic etched lines of Il Campo. The characteristics of each line are created during the manufacturing process giving you a unified, consistent look from stone to stone in your paver project.

With stamped concrete, the color, texture and pattern are added during installation. The concrete is poured, colored and stamped with a pattern to make it look like stone, brick or slate. This may mean that you get some variances between the picture in the brochure and the final product. Furthermore, stamped concrete must be sealed at regular intervals to preserve its look – otherwise it will fade over time.

Joints

Both pavers and stamped concrete have joints. Stamped concrete needs to be cut with expansion joints to help control future cracking. With stamped or patterned concrete, these joints can show up in the middle of a pattern, which disrupts the line and will eventually invite weed growth.

While paving stones are also subject to weeds finding their way between the joints, this can be mostly controlled by proper paver installation and the use of modern joint materials which contain a binding agent that prevents weed growth.

Installation

Installing stamped concrete requires getting the mix of cement and water right so you have a finished product that cures properly and won’t bubble or crack prematurely. For paving stones, it’s a matter of making sure the surface is properly compacted before the pavers are laid.

Regardless of the material you choose, you should always work with a professional landscape contractor to have your outdoor project installed. Our Find a Contractor tool can help you connect with a professional landscape contractor who can be trusted to do the job right.

Permeability

Many homeowners look for permeable solutions for their driveways or patios that allow rainwater to flow back into the earth rather than stressing storm sewers. In some municipalities, permeable solutions are required by law.

If permeability is an important consideration, then paving stones are your only option. Unilock permeable paver solutions are made with wider joints and are installed on a permeable base to encourage water to flow through. Browse our permeable pavement options.

Durability

Paving stones are two to three times stronger than decorative concrete. Pavers are designed to stand up to harsh freeze-thaw cycles and heavy loads such as the weight of a vehicle.

Decorative or stamped concrete often fades or chips away with time, especially in cold climates. When the temperatures drop to below freezing, moisture in the concrete can expand, creating pressure and stressing the surface layer.

In harsh winter climates, salt is often used to melt the ice on walkways. Salt is an enemy to concrete eating away at it over time. While paver stones can be damaged by magnesium-based de-icing products, calcium-based products or rock salt (sodium Chloride) are both safe as de-icing chemicals.

Samples of stamped concrete driveway applications showing typical wear and tear.

Maintenance and Repairs

Stamped/decorative concrete must be sealed after installation and then at regular intervals to maintain its appearance. When it comes to pavers, maintaining the joints is important for longevity. Topping up the joint material when needed is the best way to prevent weed growth.

While sealing is not required with Unilock pavers, some homeowners like the look of a sealed paver and may choose to do this, which can add to the maintenance schedule.

Paver repairs are fairly straightforward. If a stone needs to be replaced, it is as simple as removing it and replacing it with a new matching stone from the same line.

Repairs are more of a challenge with stamped concrete. A large area around the damage must be professionally cut, removed and concrete must be re-poured, which can be very disruptive. Moreover, because the color of stamped concrete fades over time, color-matching is difficult – if not impossible.

Cost

Homeowners will often choose stamped or decorative concrete because it is cheaper than paving stones. While pavers may cost more initially, they look better, last longer, and require less maintenance making your investment more worthwhile. Our transferable lifetime guarantee speaks to our confidence in the longevity of Unilock products.

Thinking about asphalt versus paving stones for your driveway? Read our comparison article.

If you are looking for inspiration for your outdoor project, visit our project gallery or a Unilock Idea Center.