Pattern Imprinted Concrete vs Block Paving

16 Jan

If you can afford a better solution than plain old tarmac or concrete for your new driveway, patio, path or courtyard, you’re probably left trying to decide between pattern imprinted concrete and block paving (or the more expensive indian stone).

Purveyors of pattern imprinted concrete (also known as stamped concrete) solutions are quick to extol the virtues of their product, but is it all one way? Block paving has drawbacks, but does it also have its own advantages?

Let’s look at a few of the common issues and see how the two stack up.

Sinking

Over time, block paving can be prone to sinking. This is especially true on driveways where a car is regularly parked in the same place.

As the weight of the vehicle is pushing down on just a handful of blocks, unsightly grooves or dips may eventually develop. This can be avoided by laying a concrete sub-base, but doing so effectively nearly doubles your costs.

And if you’re going to lay concrete anyway, you might as well go the whole hog and have pattern imprinted concrete, as that forms a solid base with fibre-mesh reinforcement and is very unlikely to sink.

Of course, the quality of the workmanship comes into play. The depth of hardcore used and the efforts to flatten it out in the case of block paving and the thickness of the concrete used being fit for purpose in the case of pattern imprinted concrete.

An unsubstantial depth of concrete could cause your pattern imprinted driveway to crack under the weight of a vehicle, but you’d have to have employed a real cowboy for that to happen.

The scores then. Scores will reflect the overall likelihood of something happening following an average installation, rather than the worst or the best of each.

Pattern Imprinted Concrete 5/5
Block Paving 3/5

Spreading / Loosening

Dependent on regular maintenance and the quality of installation, block paving and indian stone are prone to spreading or loosening of individual blocks or flags.

As the pointing holding them in place erodes, they start to move or rock when pressure is repeatedly applied, for example on well used pathways or where a vehicle is parked on a driveway. Edges can also be particularly vulnerable.

As pattern imprinted concrete forms a solid base with fibre-mesh reinforcement, there is no risk of this.

Pattern Imprinted Concrete 5/5
Block Paving 3/5

Weeds

Face it, if you want to keep your driveway, patio or garden path looking as pristine as the day it was laid, you’ll have to combat weeds, including pre-emptive strikes with expensive water polluting weed killer.

Unless you live in permanent desert or artic conditions (in which case you’ll have other more pressing problems), weeds and moss will find the tiniest cracks to get a foothold.

And this really works against block paving and indian stone, as by its very nature, it has thousands of gaps ready to provide a home to plant life.

Regular brushing or hosing down is essential to prevent any build up of dirt and leaf matter for both block paving and pattern imprinted concrete. In the case of block paving though, you’ll also need to be careful over time that you’re not brushing or washing away the pointing as well.

With pattern imprinted concrete, the “crack control joints” or “expansion cuts” added to reduce the possibility of it cracking may start to need regular weed killer sessions, although on nowhere near the same scale as with block paving.

Ugly as they might be, with fewer opportunities for weeds to take hold, old fashioned flat concrete paths and driveways would win this round hands down.

Pattern Imprinted Concrete 4/5
Block Paving 2/5

Maintenance

As we see with the weed situation, both solutions require a degree of personal maintenance to keep them looking their best, with the weed killer bill for block paving and indian stone being much higher than for pattern imprinted concrete.

But which requires the most maintenance over time?

Well, to keep it looking new, help minimise weed growth and prevent spreading, block paving requires re-sanding, which can be expensive.

The frequency of this will depend on a number of factors, including the quality of the installation, your efforts to keep it clean and your environment. For example, using pressure washers can seriously reduce the lifetime of your pointing, as can regular heavy rains and frost.

Although concrete itself is much more durable, the finish on pattern imprinted concrete is achieved using a sealant, which needs to be reapplied periodically to keep the surface looking like new. Narrow driveways where a vehicle is regularly driven along the same route and parked will eventually show wear where the tyres have been.

Refurbishment of pattern imprinted concrete should be relatively inexpensive compared to re-sanding block paving, but the frequency may be similar.

In some circumstances, customers complain that the original finish on pattern imprinted concrete only lasts a few months, but this is down to the quality of the installation and the style of finish chosen. Even a matt finish will look glossy when first applied.

Pattern Imprinted Concrete 4/5
Block Paving 3/5

Pipework

Note, any decent driveways installer will examine your drainage and other pipework prior to installation and recommend and / or carry out any necessary remedial works. Beware of any rogue traders who don’t mention it!

However, the unexpected can happen and at some point in the future you may need access to carry out maintenance to water or gas supply pipes or to your drains.

In this instance, paving blocks and indian stone flags can be lifted fairly easily, although expect to lose a couple of the latter in breakages. The works can then be carried out, the area re-levelled and then the blocks or flags re-applied.

With pattern imprinted concrete, you’re looking at a far more costly job. The concrete will have to be broken through, rubble removed and then an attempt made to make good, which is unlikely to look as nice as the original finish.

The score here is based therefore on the need for access arising. As stated though, this would be highly unlikely if the installer ensured everything was in a good condition prior to commencing work.

Pattern Imprinted Concrete 1/5
Block Paving 4/5

Cost

We established at the start that both solutions are expensive. Over time, they represent far less value for money than traditional plain concrete or well-laid tarmac solutions, but that isn’t what they’re really about.

Block paving and pattern imprinted concrete are about equivalent in installation costs, whereas to be done properly, indian stone is significantly dearer as it requires a concrete base.

Block paving and indian stone are more expensive than pattern imprinted concrete in the long run with respect to ongoing maintenance and weed control.

Pattern Imprinted Concrete 4/5
Block Paving 3/5

Aesthetic

This is a subjective judgement, but well maintained block paving and indian stone wins with regards to aesthetics. After all, the purpose of pattern imprinted concrete is to impersonate them.

It does this well and looks nearly as good as the real thing. Nearly!

When considering the aesthetic though, consider what your block paving will look like covered in moss if you don’t maintain it well. Or your pattern imprinted concrete looking worn if you don’t have it re-sealed every now and then.

Pattern Imprinted Concrete 4/5
Block Paving 5/5

Conclusion

From the scores, pattern imprinted concrete emerges as the clear winner. It is cheaper in the long run, looks almost identical to the real thing, requires less maintenance and has relatively few ongoing drawbacks.

Where money is not an issue (rare in the current economic climate!) and you’re prepared to look after it (or pay someone to), block paving and indian stone are perhaps more attractive solutions, but only where installed to the highest standard.

And therein lies the rub. All the solutions rely on a good standard of installation from a skilled professional, so make sure you get references and choose a long established company with registered premises.

This is definitely not a job to give to a doorstep salesman or a tradesman who operates on a mobile number only!

The final scores are as follows.

Pattern Imprinted Concrete 27/35
Block Paving 23/35

Comments

Comments are welcome if you think that something has been missed or any scores have been allocated undeservingly.