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How To Restore and Maintain Stone, Brick and Block Hardscapes

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Hardscape surfaces have been part of landscape projects for centuries. Traditional masons worked with clay brick and natural stone to construct durable columns, walls, and patio surfaces. The distinction is that only the most affluent homeowners had direct experience with these architectural landscape features.

It wasn’t until the late 90s that these architectural hardscape features became accessible to a wider range of homeowners. In fact, it was this trend that was responsible for the use of the term hardscaping. Before then landscaping was plantings and hardscaping was more accurately referred to as masonry.

The methods for maintaining and restoring natural stone, clay bricks and pavers, and concrete paving stones and blocks have their similarities too. Regular care will extend the beauty of your hardscape surfaces for decades, provided you or the professionals you hire use recommended practices and materials.

It is important to emphasize that a seemingly harmless product, such as snow melting and deicing salts, can quickly deteriorate natural stone and clay brick surfaces. For this reason, when using a branded product, be sure to verify and understand its chemical composition is safe for the hardscape material finish you are treating.

What To Expect From Common Hardscape Surfaces

Here in Minnesota frost levels often extend as much as five feet below the surface and can cause considerable hardscape damage. One only needs to observe the ice jams that form in frozen lakes to have an idea of what can happen to brick and stone walls and patios.

The one measure that protects every hardscaping investment is a proper base. It turns out that there is no “one size fits all” solution. Some patios and walls require concrete or steel footings, whereas others perform equally well on a compacted granular base.

Edging is also important, but not always necessary. Any force to a sound brick paving installation, such as walking or driving, extends from one brick paver to the next, and then all the way to the edges. Those edges push that force back until it dissipates among the paving systems. These coordinated forces hold a brick paving system intact as a single dynamic unit.

While edging is typically not used with free-form flagstone walkways and patios, it can be used to secure specific portions that may be susceptible to movement, such as those near a slope.

Natural Flagstone and Wall Stone

Natural stone has been around for thousands of years. So you can expect it to last that much longer with minimal care.

As we’ve already discussed, be careful about bringing any chemical product in contact with natural stone. There are different types of stones used in landscaping projects, including granite boulders and pavers, limestone walls and flagstone pavers, and bluestone, which is a type of limestone that is typically much harder than lighter types of limestone.

Natural stone will wear with use, such as a limestone or bluestone patios or steps that have foot traffic. That shiny patina that results from visible wear is part of the charm of natural stone. Be proud of it.

Cracking or chipping is also common with natural stone. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to store extra pieces of flagstone whenever possible to have them available for repairs. An alternative is simply choosing a type of stone that local quarries are confident will be available for years to come.

Clay Bricks And Pavers

Clay bricks are a versatile, man-made product that has been around for a long time. Its use is considered synonymous with particular architectural styles, with Georgian architecture being the most notable.

You will find clay bricks and clay brick pavers in landscapes, but the products are different. One of the common clay brick problems is using a traditional clay masonry brick as a brick paver. Traditional clay bricks are intentionally porous to bind with masonry cement in the construction of walls, columns and similar features.

Clay brick pavers are notable for their rich colors. Being made of clay, they are not as durable as concrete pavers, but these solid pavers are the choice for discerning buyers who appreciate the rich colors that will not fade. Solid clay pavers also do not require sealing.

Greater skill is required to install clay bricks and pavers, but if you are looking for a low-maintenance hardscape solution, they are an excellent choice.

Concrete Paving Stones and Blocks

The most affordable hardscape products are concrete brick pavers and wall systems. The first North American paving stone manufacturing plant was established in Toronto, Canada in 1973, but they were used for decades before then in Europe.

Concrete paving stones and blocks are distinguished from garden variety concrete products by their low water retention and weight. You will seldom see concrete pavers crack because the manufacturing process creates a dense product with consistently low water retention, usually less than one-percent.

Typical concrete paving for sidewalks and driveways requires expansion joints to protect against movement due to forces from vehicles and freeze-thaw expansion and contraction cycles. These measures are not necessary with concrete paving stones and segmental wall products.

As the name paving stones suggests, these concrete paving stones have more in common with natural stones than clay bricks products, specifically, their weight. While clay bricks always require mortar, and clay pavers are often mortared, you will seldom see concrete paving stones and blocks used in masonry applications.

How To Safely Clean, Seal Hardscape Surfaces

As previously discussed, clay bricks and brick pavers do not require sealing, as the exposed surfaces are manufactured with a sealed finish. Additionally, the materials used to colorize these products are not subject to fading with exposure to sunlight.

Sealing concrete brick paving stones and segmental block products are sealed to protect the color of the product, but the practice is not necessary for durability purposes. Every brand manufacturer offers or recommends sealants that are either water-based or solvent-based.

Clean Surfaces To Restore And Remove Stains 

Sealing should not be performed on a new installation of paver stones or blocks. It’s important to give the materials time to cure, releasing excess moisture and volatile products used to manufacture them. Most manufacturers recommend waiting for up to a year.

Sealing too soon can encourage efflorescence, the migration of a white salt to the surface of a semi-porous material. That white coating is typically removed using a muriatic solution, a weak form of hydrochloric acid.

Powerwashing with a soapy solution is the recommended practice for restoring all hardscape surfaces. This will safely remove common stains, including dirt, mold, and mildew. Iron stains from fertilizers or well water can be removed by applying a weak oxalic acid solution followed immediately by powerwashing to remove resulting residue.

Choose From Water Or Solvent Based Sealers

Both water-based and solvent-based sealers use some form of acrylic that seals the paver or block from UV color degradation. Solvent-based sealers tend to deliver a wetter appearance that is more durable. Water-based sealers are more susceptible to breaking down from freezing conditions.

If you are prepared to seal your surfaces more frequently, water-based is the better solution because the product releases fewer chemicals that are objectionable to some people. Due to the differences in paving products and sealers, it is always best to consult with the manufacturer or the installing contractor for their recommendations.

Architectural Landscape Design: Helping Homeowners Enjoy Better Living

Here at ALD, our top priority is creating living spaces that are right for you. Our landscape design team will work with you from concept to construction to create the right landscape for your personal needs. Contact us today for a free consultation to explore your next outdoor living project.