Whether you’re planning outdoor hardscaping projects (such as a pool surround or patio), paving a new driveway or building a retaining wall, one of the first questions to ask, once you’ve settled on a style, is what material to use. A well thought out project should help prevent erosion, encourage drainage and protect your property, which means the choice of material is crucial.
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For pavers, slabs and walls, the choice often comes down to natural stone or precast concrete.
Stone is one of the original building materials. From ancient pyramids to the Colosseum in Rome, stone definitely has an undeniable track record when it comes to durability and longevity. But today’s precast concrete products use advanced manufacturing and quality control techniques that make them equal to stone in terms of durability and longevity, while also offering some added benefits.
As a naturally-formed material, every quarried stone has natural color variations, both within each stone and from block to block. This gives every project a unique look. Classic stones like granite, travertine and marble come in a wide variety of colors that can be selected to match the rest of your design’s color palette. However, while natural stone can be a beautiful choice, depending on your climate and needs, you may need a product that is more durable.
Modern precast concrete is designed to mimic stone’s color variation, but without the potential for irregularities like mineral deposits. Plus, the pigments used when making precast concrete are UV-resistant, so the final product will stand up to sunlight, temperature changes and chemicals. This means you get a more consistent look from beginning to end, and over long periods of time, and will have access to the same materials years later, in case you need to replace an individual stone or add onto your project.
Finding natural stone that is a perfect match to older stones is a much harder undertaking.
In addition to these considerations, here are some other benefits for specific projects.
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Pavers, whether for a driveway or footpath, offer great aesthetic appeal, ensure proper drainage (if they are permeable) and can enhance your property value. While natural stone pavers offer proven durability against weathering, foot traffic and even vehicle traffic, precast concrete pavers have additional perks that make them an ideal solution.
Precast concrete pavers are designed to be interlocking, whereas natural stone pavers can only be carved or cut to fit as close as possible. This means your precast concrete paved area is better suited to vehicular traffic while still remaining flexible, allowing it to withstand the natural heaving and shifting of the ground below. Precast pavers are also designed specifically to be weather- and salt-resistant, so they stay looking great for years, no matter your local climate.
Plus, because pavers are designed to fit together, they allow for creative pavement designs that don’t require much customization of the paver themselves. To create specialty designs with natural stone requires expensive special orders or specialty cutting in order to take your design to the next level.
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Slabs for patios create a designated space for outdoor living. Both stone and precast concrete slabs come in a variety of colors and shapes to create eye-catching patterns. Both are also low maintenance solutions that don’t require more than the occasional sweep to keep it looking nice, although for natural stone, the application of a sealer is often recommended to prevent fading and spalling of the surface.
Where precast concrete really shines is in its resilience. For example, Techo-Bloc’s Travertina slabs are designed to look like natural travertine, which is made of marble. But travertine is porous and can absorb water, making it susceptible to cracking in freeze-thaw cycles. With Travertina, you get the same classic look, while being able to withstand those natural elements.
Precast slabs can also be safer than natural stone slabs. A natural stone patio can become slick when it’s wet. Whether the water is from a recent rain storm or wet feet fresh out of the pool, natural stone patios can quickly get slippery. But many precast concrete slabs are both subtly textured and naturally skid-resistant. And some companies, like Techo-Bloc, ensure their products are ADA-compliant for skid-resistance, so you don’t sacrifice aesthetics while staying safe.
And if your aesthetics lean toward complicated designs, precast concrete slabs can work together with pavers to create stunning and truly unique designs that can’t be sourced or created using natural stone.
Walls on your property provide structure and stability to landscaping and privacy to backyards and patios, along with transforming previously unusable sloped areas into high-value pieces of property. A stone wall is a classic feature that adds longevity to your property.
The challenge with using natural stone in a wall, though, is that you’ll need a lot of it, and costs can add up quickly. And needing more stone means your project is more susceptible to color variations. Plus, depending on your planned design, there are limits to the size of stone that can be cut and supplied.
Precast concrete wall blocks offer natural-looking color variations, while still maintaining that consistency from one end of the project to the other. And since they are designed specifically for walls, they can be molded with anchor points in mind.
Plus, precast concrete is made to fit together perfectly, unlike natural stone which has jagged edges and uneven heights. With precast, you’ll be able to build faster without any mortar, since the pieces will fit together without needing filler to ensure the stones are at the same height. This makes installation easier and safer, especially for taller walls, plus eliminates unsightly gaps or large amounts of mortar being seen.
Companies like Techo-Bloc also put a lot of thought and engineering behind each piece of their wall systems. Their precast products are engineered for use in segmental retaining wall systems, which are designed to be flexible. This is especially important in colder climates where walls are susceptible to consistent freezing and thawing and areas with expansive soils. The engineering behind every unit and component ensures a more structurally sound wall, without increasing costs.
So Which One Is Right for You?
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Modern precast concrete pavers, slabs and wall blocks offer a competitive and cost-effective solution for all your hardscaping and outdoor building needs. They’re beautiful, durable and designed specifically for their purpose, which makes installation faster and more seamless.
To ensure your project is successful from start to finish, and then throughout its life, always make sure you hire a professional with a track record of safety and quality.