Q&A / 

Brick Pavers

DEAR TIM: It’s time to replace our sidewalk, and I’m leaning towards brick pavers. Before I invest this money, I’d like to know as many pros and cons about this building material. Should I use clay brick pavers? I’m also interested in different brick paver designs and ideas. What brick pavers would you use and why? Leslie W. Tacoma, WA

DEAR LESLIE: I’ve installed my fair share of brick paver sidewalks in my lifetime. I’ve also used them with great success on large patios and steps. At my last home, every person who saw our front brick sidewalk and our two brick paver patios always commented on how gorgeous they were.

This brick paver sidewalk has endured severe frost heave, snow, ice and heavy traffic. It can take lots of punishment. PHOTO CREDIT:  Tim Carter

This brick paver sidewalk has endured severe frost heave, snow, ice and heavy traffic. It can take lots of punishment. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

I truly believe that brick pavers make a great sidewalk because they are so distinctive. The color, texture and sheen of the brick are so unlike concrete, perhaps the most common sidewalk material. Natural stone can also create a unique sidewalk look, but it’s often the most expensive paving option.

There are two primary types of brick pavers in my opinion: clay brick and concrete brick. Decades ago the rage was to install colored concrete brick pavers that required no mortar. They interlocked with one another and could withstand all that Mother Nature could dish out if they were made correctly.

This paving product is maturing and the designs, colors, shapes of the concrete brick continue to expand. One advantage of this material is that you can have a new sidewalk installed and completed in hours not days. That might be a major consideration for you.

But understand that the color of these concrete paving brick will change and fade over time. The color is achieved by adding pigments to the concrete mix. These pigments become part of the cement paste that coats the sand and gravel in the brick. But over time, this ultra-thin cement paste on the top surface of the brick wears off exposing the true color of the sand and gravel. You may not like that faded color in five or ten years.

Climate is a big factor with brick sidewalks. Brick pavers in Tampa, Florida, and other warm climates that never see freezing temperatures, will survive longer than brick of any type in a cold, freezing climate. If you use concrete brick, you should consider a brick paver sealer every few years to minimize water penetration into the concrete brick.

I prefer thin brick pavers made from real clay. The color of the material is solid through the entire brick. Purchase ones that have been made for cold climates, and they’ll last for possibly over 100 years. The hotter the kiln and the longer the brick are left in the kiln, the harder they get.

You can see paving brick used in roadways that are well over 100 years old in many cities. Athens, Ohio is one that comes to mind as my oldest daughter went to college there. While walking across the roads there, I had lots of images of the workers installing brick pavers well over a hundred years ago. Even after being scraped with city snow plows and abused by heavy trucks, many of the brick look like they just came from the brick manufacturer. This tells you that clay brick can last in your sidewalk.

Brick paver designs are as plentiful as cobs of corn in a farmer’s field. A clever installer can install a serpentine sidewalk for you. Curves are no issue. If you prefer a more geometric design like herringbone or crosshatching you might see in a cane chair, that’s also possible. Many brick manufacturers have great photography of how their brick can be used to create more patterns and designs than you can imagine.

If you want to go all out and make your sidewalk very distinctive, consider some engraved brick pavers. Companies use lasers to cut into a brick’s surface and etch any words, names or designs that you might want. You could engrave several or many brick that have a welcome message or even some poem that sets the mood as your guests walk up to your front door. The possibilities are endless.

As with any product, use caution when looking at wholesale brick pavers or discount brick pavers. Be leery as to where they were made. Brick made in China or some other foreign nation may not be up to our standards. Unscrupulous businessmen may not care if your brick sidewalk crumbles. Buy brick pavers from an established business in your town. Ask about the weathering index for the brick. Not all brick are made the same.

Cleaning brick pavers is easy. You can use an oxygen-bleach solution to remove algae, dirt and mold. Avoid chlorine bleach as it is highly toxic to grass, landscaping and trees. Pressure washing will erode the cement paste off of concrete brick, so use those machines with great care. A pressure washer will not harm a clay brick surface if the brick has a severe-weather rating. This rating certifies the brick is very dense and very hard as a result of being fired in the kiln for a longer time.

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2 Responses to Brick Pavers

  1. I had to walk to work for a couple of months across the brick-paved areas of downtown Boston and soon grew to loath the brick-paving over most of that area. The dips in each mortar joint created a constant source of twisting forces on each ankle and made waking more uncomfortable than running on smooth pavement. There were some walkways that had literally been sawed out and replaced with the concrete, interlocking stuff and they were fine. Probably the best of both worlds would be clay bricks that either interlock or have rebar woven through their perforations, to guarantee their alignment.

    • Some of the brick paving in Boston isn't the smoothest around, but one of the things to consider is how old a lot of it is - in some cases 100+ years. Many of the newer installations use brick that are smoother, more uniform and have smaller joints between them and are easier to maintain. It is very easy to see the difference the type of paver and installation method makes when comparing the different types of paving in areas like the Dewey Square near where the food trucks park. While both exist, it's just as easy to find areas of very smooth brick pavements in the city like at the Boston Children's Museum.

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