Peter Solti on March 6th, 2011

AS WITH MOST DECISIONS IN LIFE, there are many considerations in determining what the BEST is.  This is a review of all of the paving materials that can be used for a patio in Toronto and the GTA.  For the best patio paving materials, considerations such as: your aesthetic preference; what would go best with the style of your home; budget; the amount of maintenance you are comfortable with; how long you want it to last; environmental considerations; and what materials are available in your area.

SO WHAT ARE THE BEST CHOICES FOR PATIO MATERIALS? In a major metropolis like Toronto and the GTA, there really are a lot of choices to choose from including the following: local natural stone – flagstone – either in square-cut or random shapes; imported flagstones from India and China; precast concrete faux flagstones made to look like the real thing; cedar or pressure treated lumber decks; PVC or composite wood looking decks; precast concrete interlocking bricks; gravel; mulch; poured concrete with patterns imprinted into it; regular poured concrete; and imported southern pine wood decks.

AT GREEN APPLE LANDSCAPING WE GENERALLY PREFER REAL FLAGSTONE. The reason for this is that natural stone does not go out of style. Over thirty years ago when I started in the landscape industry, natural stone was highly desired and still thirty years later most clients consider it the best looking material.  There are different local flagstones that are available – some from the Owen Sound, Ontario area (grays and tans), some from the Kingston, Ontario region (a reddish/rust tone), and some from the Credit Valley (gray with some rust).  Flagstone can be dry laid on a gravel base with a sand swept joint, or they can be laid on a concrete base with a mortared joint.  The concrete base method of installation will last the longest.  The dry laid method may need some relaying from time-to-time due to frost heave in the ground underneath it.  Of course, the concrete based method is more costly and may not fit your budget.

Random Flagstone Patio

Owen Sound Pebbletop Square-Cut Flagstone Patio (Stone will fade to much lighter grays and tans)

MY SECOND CHOICE FOR PAVING ARE CLAY PAVERS. These are a classic material similar to flagstone. They are also natural, locally produced and beautiful to look at. They come in numerous color choices that match the house bricks in older parts of Toronto. If they are the proper clay brick that is meant for paving, they are fired at higher temperatures than house bricks, and will stand up to the moisture that is in the ground. They usually come in a 4″x8″ size and sometimes are available in an 8″x8″ square. Clay pavers can be laid in a parquet or basket-weave pattern, a running bond pattern, or a herringbone pattern.

Red Clay Brick Pavers

Tan Clay Brick Pavers

MY THIRD CHOICE FOR A PATIO IS A FAUX FLAGSTONE MATERIAL. These have been available now for about 9 years. The manufacturer is called Stone-Link and they are made locally in Woodbridge, Ontario. Made using a wet cast concrete, poured into molds that simulate the texture and feel of real natural flagstones. The advantage of this paver is that it costs much less than the real stones. Labor is the same to lay either real or faux stone, therefore the cost comes down to about half of real flagstone.

Stonelink Faux Flagstone Patio with Tumbled Interlocking Paver Surround

MY FOURTH CHOICE IS USUALLY INTERLOCKING BRICK PAVERS. They come in many colors/styles/shapes and the bricks will last a lifetime, the same as flagstones, and they cost about half of what flagstones cost. We often combine these types of pavers with flagstone to create a paving mosaic that helps to keep prices down, while designing in accents or banding in the higher end material.  There are many manufacturers of these types of stones, each having their own colours and styles although there is a lot of common products amongst them.  Some local manufacturers are Unilock, Hanson, Permacon, and Techo-Bloc.

Brussels Block Tumbled Interlocking Pavers with Old World Cobble Pavers

THE FIFTH CHOICE WOULD BE AN ECODEK. This material will possibly last forever as well.  The EcoDek has only been available for two years in Canada.  It is imported from the US and the wood has a combination of heat and steam applied to modify the natural wood. This modification creates a decay, rot, insect and mold resistant wood. This patented process turns natural wood into a low maintenance, weather resistant product. It is still wood so it gives you the softness of wood.  It does require some maintenance however in terms of oiling it every year, which is one of the reasons it comes in a fourth choice for me.  Also the fact that it is imported and trucked all the way up here from the southern US, keeps it lower on my list.

EcoDek


The other choices mentioned at the beginning of this article such as: imported flagstone; cedar; pressure treated lumber; gravel; mulch; poured concrete; and patterned concrete are the lowest on my list for the following reasons:

PVC DECKING. This decking material is made to look like wood, but it has, in my opinion, some very important negative features. They are believed to cause certain cancers in workers who work in the manufacturing of the compound and there are studies that found that the additives in it off-gas and mimic human hormones disrupting our natural hormones and also affecting various life forms including fish and invertebrates adversely. PVC is also potentially a bad material to use as dioxin is produced as a byproduct of vinyl chloride manufacture and from incineration of waste PVC in domestic garbage. PVC has the distinction of maybe lasting eons, which is good in one way but not in another way as it will persist and not break down in the environment even after it’s useful life. Another less important downside of PVC decking is that it heats up with the summer sun, so if you’re the type to walk around in bare feet, this may not be a good product for you.  If you end up choosing PVC decking I would recommend Azek brand.  Stay away from Trex as they have had problems with mold in the product since they use partly use recycled PVC from municipal recycling programs.  The idea of Trex is a good one, but unfortunately it has it’s problems.

PVC Azek Deck

Imported flagstones are a very nice material. They come in many colours including black/charcoal, blue gray, green gray, tan, and peach, etc.  It is more economical than local flagstones due to the cheap labor in India and China but of course being brought over from these far off lands, they are a poor choice for the environment in my opinion and I’m guessing the working conditions and wages are probably not up to the standards that we would agree with here in Canada.

Indian (Halton) Square-Cut Flagstone Patio

Cedar Decking (western red or eastern white) is a beautiful material to look at and traditionally has been a material that is in high demand for patios.  My opinion of it has changed in the last few years as I try to promote materials that will last a lifetime.  Unfortunately cedar will rot within 15-25 years; it can be left to gray and therefore doesn’t require staining, however in practice, most people like to maintain its golden hue and therefore it requires yearly maintenance of a new coat of stain; and lastly it is not a sustainable resource.

Western Red Cedar Deck

Pressure treated lumber decking uses wood such as spruce, pine, and hemlock that is chemically treated to make it last 15-25 years. I do not trust the chemical they are impregnating it with and suspect it is toxic to us. They are now using a different chemical than they used to but my cynicism of chemical companies have me believe that in time we will find out that the new chemical is just as toxic as the old one. This picture below is the natural color of the wood with the chemical treatment in it.  It can be stained any color although I recommend waiting a couple of months until the wood dries out, before staining.

Pressure Treated Lumber Deck

Gravel Patios can be made with different types of gravel with differing colors. It is an economical choice but it will tend to migrate and get kicked into the gardens, and it doesn’t give a level stable surface to place chairs on.  As well, if there are any overhead trees, the leaves that fall in the fall can be a nuisance to clean out of the gravel, therefore it will inevitably be contaminated with organic matter over time.

Pea Gravel Patio

Mulch is also considered a cheap and cheerful alternative but when leaves drop from the trees in the fall it makes for a difficult clean up of the leaves without stripping all your mulch off your patio away and then needing to top off the patio on a yearly basis with fresh mulch.

Bark Mulch Patio

Poured concrete and patterned concrete can look very nice. My criticism of this material is that with frost heave coming each winter in northern climates like in Canada, it is inevitable that the concrete will crack which now makes your patio look in disrepair.

Patterned or Stamped Concrete Patio

Well, there you have it. The plethora of patio paving materials reviewed according to my experience and hopefully reviewed showing all sides to the story. I wish you luck with your new patio. May you have lots of great times on it!

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