Hardscaping designs have surged in recent years, as more homeowners turn to paver patios, retaining walls, sitting benches, fire pits and other hardscaped surfaces when landscaping their lawns.
As part of that trend, permeable pavers are getting more recognition not only for their looks, but also for their purpose.
"It's such a hot subject right now," said Ian Forman of Premier Pavers & Hardscape Co. in Lincoln, Mass. "With traditional paving, the majority of the water that falls on the paving will sheet off the paving and go to the street, drain or yard, depending on the situation," With permeable paving, the water actually goes through the joints between the pavers, into a specially prepared gravel base system and then back into the earth."
And that's good for the Earth. Not only can storm water runoff lead to landscape-damaging erosion, it eventually finds its way into storm drains and bodies of water like rivers, lakes and oceans, bringing contaminates it collects from solid surfaces, like driveways, with it.
"By having the water permeate through the joints and into the specially prepared open-graded base system and then percolate back into the earth, you are preventing any runoff," Forman said. "There are many benefits to reducing runoff and pollutants. And, by directing the water back into the earth, you're actually replenishing the water table and helping to keep the earth that much cooler."
The gravel base acts as a filter of the pollutants, keeping them from re-entering the ground. Maintenance of permeable pavers is minimal.
"There's really only preventative maintenance," said Will Enoch of Envirostone Concrete Pavers in Houston. "You don't want to dump mulch on a permeable paver. You also don't want to discharge grass clippings across the surface if you can help it. Those can clog the system."
Both Enoch and Forman said vacuum trucks, commonly used for street and parking lot cleaning, are ideal for removing debris and contaminates from the joints in between the pavers for larger applications. Small wet/dry vacuums can work for smaller applications, like walkways. Some industry studies show, though, that most permeable pavers can go years without maintenance or repair.
"Typically, when we install any paver system for a residential application, we design the system to last the life of the house."
Permeable paver systems can even be designed and installed as a way to recycle rainwater.
"You can take it a step further and actually direct the water through the joints into the base and into holding tanks, and then that water can be recirculated and utilized for irrigation of landscaped areas and things of that nature," Forman said. "The water is actually redirected through tubing into a holding tank and pumped back out into the yard through the irrigation system."
Installing permeable pavers is definitely not a do-it-yourself project for the uninitiated. The preparation is extensive and can require the removal of hundreds of pounds of dirt. Look for a company experienced in installing permeable systems. The Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute offers certifications and guidelines for professionals. Look for that designation. Costs can range, but installed pavers typically run between $12 and $16 per square foot.
"Just to lay down a permeable paver, (anybody) can do that," Enoch said. "That's what people see, is the surface. It's the infrastructure that takes the most time. The excavation to accommodate a permeable paver system is deeper than a standard paver system. You have a lot of dirt to haul away. If it's not installed properly, their visitors will start to look at that product after a few months and won't want to buy that product. It has a negative effect on the industry. Let a professional handle a project of this ilk."
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, the nation's most trusted resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care. To find out more about Angie Hicks and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.