Darlington Designs

A Winning Hardscape

It’s always hard, as a landscape professional, to meet with potential new clients who have either inherited a poor paver project or worse still, have learned the hard way about how to know what makes for a successful installation that will last for decades—because they currently have one that didn’t.

What makes a winning hardscape? Before construction even begins, it’s important to assess two often-overlooked areas: proper drainage and the age of the home construction itself. Drainage assessment means how water will move across the surface from the hardscape areas to where the water can reach soil for percolation, while also moving away from the house. Water should also move freely away from accessory features such as seat walls, stairs, outdoor fireplaces, and swimming pools. Depending on the elevations of the space, sometimes it is necessary to install either surface or channel drains to prevent water from pooling on the hardscape. Pooling hardscape will make puddling in temperate points of the year, but will be ice slicks in winter, creating areas of slip hazard. Downspout drains should also be buried and re-directed away from the hardscape in order that it water is not pouring onto the hardscape surface where it can erode joints.

With new home construction, the ground has been disturbed to allow for building. After construction is finished, the ground will continue to settle and can result in paver installation to simultaneously settle. One way around this is to wait about three years to install new hardscape to allow for the settling to happen, although most people would prefer a finished look to their home following construction and would rather not wait to compete the outdoor living spaces. Another choice is to reinforce the installation with a concrete sub-pour in the areas within about six to eight feet from the foundation of the home. At the end of the day, thoughtful, well-experienced design-build firms will the teams who bring the design and construction value to a project. As a home owner, it’s also important to know this when price-comparing different installers: the cost per square foot for an installation with a concrete sub-pour will be much more than that with a standard hardscape modified stone base. Drilling into all the details of the project will shed much light on who should receive an awarded contract. In addition, it’s important to consider the cost of NOT doing things correctly at the start—the cost of time and money do re-do a project again at some point—which is always a hard thing to stomach.

Quality cuts. One feature of a hardscape project that provides a visible distinction between a top-flight installation and a less-than-stellar installation are the cuts. A skilled hardscape crew can cut the pavers that form the edges of the project inside any borders and the smaller pieces that are throughout the project with near mathematical precision. When I meet with clients to assess an existing hardscape area, I always bring this to their attention.

Lastly, something that many homeowners don’t consider, is how a cleaning and sealing of a new paver installation improves the look—and the joint integrity—of a project. The cleaning removes the naturally-occurring efflorescence from the surface of the paver. (Efflorescence is the white, chalk-like appearance to a paver.) With the efflorescence removed, the color of the paver is more enhanced, richer still for with the subsequent sealing. Sealing the pavers helps strengthen the joint by simultaneously coating the polymeric sand that makes the joint and protects the finish of the paver from winter salt applications and sun fade.