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cracked concreteIt's Spring and, while wandering about the outside of your home, you are reminded of your very ugly driveway. Perhaps the frost heave got to it, or it's been slowly worsening every year; in any case there's a dictum (look it up, it'll be your word of the day) that covers pretty much all concrete -- there are two types of concrete, that which has cracked, and that which will. Fortunately for you, my friend, I have solutions.

Peruse the gallery to get an idea where I'm heading, and let's proceed.

Concrete or pavers or stone -- what to do?(click thumbnails to view gallery)

I want to provide you with the information necessary to make an informed decision whether or not to replace that cracked concrete with another gray slab or jump to something much more decorative. I'll note the approximate costs to install, a sense of DIY friendliness, and where the substitutes are most appropriately sited around your home. Additionally, in a future feature (say that three times fast), we'll go over the particulars of installing the various options.

Concrete: recommended for walks, driveways, patios, etc.

  • There are five types of concrete, but we concern ourselves with only Types I and III; Type I is used for your garden-variety, 4" thick, no rebar sidewalks and driveways and has a compressive strength of about 3000 psi (pounds per square inch). Type III is the same basic concrete, but is much more finely ground and hardens more quickly. Concretes with special additives (e.g. fiberglass "needles') achieve very high compressive strengths but you need this only if you have one of these in your garage.
  • Concrete can be stamped, stained, colored, sealed, topped with an epoxy finish, or ground and polished.
  • Stamping is a mechanical process wherein rubber mats are laid on the freshly finished concrete and gently tamped to impress the design in the top surface. A really good deal about stamping is that many of the following processes may be combined with it. The cost runs about $8-15 a square foot, including the new concrete; it does not include any demolition or removal of the old slab. This kind of job is really not DIY-friendly.
  • Staining is a "top dressing" that takes place after the concrete has dried. I wouldn't recommend this as a DIY project as the process is rather involved and is best considered for concrete that is less than a few months old. A contractor will likely charge $2-5 a square foot for basic stain work.
  • Coloring, at the site (color can also be mixed into the concrete at the batch plant for about $3-6 per square foot), is also a top dressing process that takes place during the final finishing of the work. Dry powder coloring is shaken onto the surface, troweled into the work and runs about $4-6 per square foot of slab. Another job best left to a professional.
  • Sealing can take place at any time and is definitely a DIY-friendly project, although it too has very definite rules for when and how the sealer is used; surface temperature and ambient humidity are both important factors in the application process. Additionally, the texture and surface roughness of the concrete will determine the application rates, so be cognizant of that. Hint: the material is not cheap, about $20 a gallon, so get the 5 gallon container if your slab is large enough; your project will cost you about $.50-1 a square foot.
  • An epoxy finish is, again, a surface topping best applied by an experienced professional, given that it involves detailed preparation, a choice of materials dependent on the location (indoors or outdoors), and the target surface. Epoxy coatings run $3-8 a square foot.
  • Polishing involves grinding the top surface to remove irregularities and then using progressively finer abrasives to finish the process, leaving a very smooth surface. It is definitely not a DIY job and can cost you $3-10 per square foot.

Concrete pavers: recommended for walks, driveways, patios, etc.

First, full disclosure -- I'm a big fan of pavers, but I'll try not to be prejudiced in my enthusiasm. That said, I LOVE PAVERS!

  • They are very Diy-friendly.
  • They are less expensive than stamped concrete.
  • They lend themselves readily to repair or modification for future landscape work (irrigation lines, landscape lighting wiring, underground piping, fence posts, deck supports, etc.).
  • Pavers are available in a wide variety of shapes, textures, and colors; they have excellent strength (similar to concrete) so they are great for both walkways and driveways (albeit more expensive for driveways, owing to more extensive base preparation).
  • They can be sealed, if you like.
  • They have a high friction coefficient so they are amendable to good footing in mossy/shady or wet areas.
  • I recommend pavers for walkways or patios upon which you place furniture, for their uniformity of surface.
  • Contractor-installed pavers will run you $13-18 per square foot, not including demolition of existing surfaces. HINT: you can do the job for less than half that cost.

Stone: recommended for walks, patios, and driveway accents. Because most flagstone has a relatively low compressive strength (about half that of concrete or pavers), I wouldn't recommend it for an entire driveway. There are three basic types of stone flatwork --

  • Stone on soil (see the gallery); the simplest kind of installation and the least stable -- put some rock on the ground and, perhaps, put some mulch in between the pieces. This is very DIY-friendly and will cost you about $2-3 per square foot, although I recommend it only for seldom used walkways, given the inherent instability.
  • Stone on gravel sand is a more common installation, some more stable and recommended for walkways and patios without a bunch of furniture, because the feet of the furniture tend to sink into the sand interstices (yet another word of the day and one of my very favorites!) Very DIY-friendly and will cost you $6-8 a square foot.
  • Stone on concrete (see the gallery) is the most stable, given that the stone is mortared to the new or existing walkway or patio. Depending on the quality of installation (a very flat and uniform surface), this kind of installation may well be suitable for patio furniture. Since flagstone, in general, has a relatively low coefficient of friction, it may not be the best choice for a shady/mossy or wet area. Stone on concrete is generally not DIY-friendly; it requires labor-intensive work, on your knees, on top of new or existing concrete in relatively good condition. It can be applied on previously cracked, but now stable, concrete, so that the mortared flagstone will not crack in the future. Mortared rock goes for about $13-16 per square foot, not including a new concrete sub-structure.

There you have it; if you are in the market for a new pathway, driveway, or patio, I hope that this primer was helpful. Put the information into your decision tree and go for it. (Did I mention that I really like pavers?)

Thanks to the good folks at Stone Forest Materials, Kennesaw GA, for use of their patios for some of my photos.

  • Concrete coating

    Your blog is very informative. However, it is pretty hard task but your
    post and experienced serve and teach me how to handle and make it more
    simple and manageable.

    Thanks for the tips… Best regards.

  • Bill Volk

    Thanks for joining in.

  • Kyle

    Concrete can also be a fine choice. However there is a likelihood of this material becoming cracked. Concrete pavers can be used on the whole of the driveway. However doing this will be quite costly. You can use natural stone in specific areas of the driveway like ‘edgings’.

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