Updated: Mar 29, 2021
As a hardscape designer and contractor, we are often asked "What is the best patio?". While we may have our own opinions, we prefer to answer with: "What is the BEST patio option for YOU". Many options exist and all have advantages and disadvantages. There is no "perfect pavement". Everything is subject to weathering; especially when installed horizontally. So you should weigh the pros and cons for your application and budget.
Paver Pool Deck and Patio
Poured in place concrete, either broom finish or stamped, is very permanent and tends to be less expensive. You won't have weeds or anthills between joints unless you get dirt filling up the control joints or future cracks. Poured concrete is typically installed between 2500-4000 psi and does not flex with freeze and thaw cycles. So even with the best installations it will eventually crack. Control joints are typically cut or tooled in to help control the cracking and limit it to the joint. If it does crack (and at some point it WILL), there is not much you can do to repair it other than caulk the crack to prevent water from entering and widening the crack. Also the surface is not really repairable if something is dropped on the patio and fractures or spalls the surface. You can try to patch it, but concrete is extremely difficult to match and especially so if it is dyed or tinted. If you choose concrete, be sure your contractor specifies and installs adequate reinforcement (wire mesh or rebar) and ask what psi concrete they are using. Contractors often use a lower psi concrete and don't color the concrete all the way through. This results in bright white patches when surface is fractured.
Cracked Concrete Pool Deck
Concrete pavers are essentially individual cast units of concrete, which allows a flexible pavement for freeze and thaw cycles. However industry standards (Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute: ICPI) sets the minimum concrete strength at 8000 psi! This also means more joints though and the possibility of weeds and anthills. A lot of advancements have been made in a product we use to sweep between the joints called polymeric sand. It is a modified polymer mixed with dry sand that is activated with water. Because this is an adhesive type of product and polymer, it is flexible with freeze and thaw cycles where mortar is not. However the product and polymers do tend to break down over time and have to be either pressure washed out and replaced or vacuumed out. We have some projects that are over 10 years old now and have needed zero maintenance on the polymeric sand joint. But just like formulas for house paint, the manufacturers are constantly changing and upgrading the formula. Another consideration for pavers and any concrete product in general is that it will weather and at some point in the lifetime of the product you are likely to see aggregate in the concrete begin to show. This can be minimized through the use of surface mix pavers (ie. Techo-Bloc HD2, Nicolock's Pavershield technology, Cambridge Armortec), sealants, and protectants. Manufacturers are really doing a fantastic job regarding options and styles and color blends as well. Many are textured or embossed to resemble stone and due to streamlined installation methods and consistency of the product, overall this product is very affordable. And they can be removed and reinstalled for repairs such as a broken utility lines or damage to the surface.
Elegant Paver Patio Pool Deck
Natural Stone is a beautiful and timeless product with many options as well but carries many of the similar issues as pavers when installed in a dry set method on an aggregate base. The big advantage is that it does not weather and show aggregate like concrete will. However it is a little more money up front due to material costs and installation method. You can also install stone mortared on a base of concrete with mortar joints. This is much more expensive up front but is very clean, permanent, and a classic look that never goes out of style. However the joints will eventually weather and need to be replaced or repaired. This can be very labor intensive and costly. Perhaps you have a historic home or most of the homes in your area feature natural stone? Consider flagstone for a classic look. Maybe you are installing a pool deck or are a family that prefers to go barefoot? Consider travertine for its natural dispersion of heat.
Travertine Pool Deck
A final consideration is if you plan or need to do the project in phases. Poured in place concrete, pavers, and mortar are all man made products that will vary in color as they are made in batches with varying aggregates and suppliers.