When it comes to building the perfect patio, there’s a lot that goes into the design. First is the general layout, which includes the location of the patio and any walkways leading to it. You’ll also have to decide on its overall size and shape.

And finally, there’s the material.

This is where many homeowners are easily overwhelmed, and for good reason. There are dozens of options to choose from when it comes to creating your patio, and each material comes in an array of colors and textures. The material that you choose will set the tone for the whole project, so it’s important to decide on a look that complements your home and neighborhood while still creating a style that stands out from the pack.

For homes in the Northeast, there are definite do’s and don’ts when it comes to choosing a material that will look great and stand the test of time.

Paving Materials to Avoid in New Jersey

New Jersey experiences some wild temperature swings, from sub-zero winter temperatures to sweltering summer heat. Even worse, winter comes with ice and snow that can cause significant damage to porous paving materials and water expands and contracts with freeze-thaw cycles.

This means that concrete walkways are a poor choice for most New Jersey homes. Though stamped concrete can be attractive, the patterns pressed into the concrete unfortunately just don’t last. Most begin to chip or erode away within five years, and it’s impossible for contractors to warranty the work beyond the first year. Plain concrete can avoid these issues, but most homeowners find this surface too dull and institutional. When you’re planning a custom outdoor room or patio space, you want something that will boost your property value, not look like a cheap fix.

Best Patio Materials for NJ Homes: Natural Stone Vs. Pavers

With concrete off the table, most landscape architects recommend natural stone or pavers for patios, retaining walls and other outdoor projects. Each has pros and cons, and the right choice for your property is a highly personal one that takes into account your style preferences, budget and conditions on the ground.

Natural Stone

Natural stone is quarried, meaning it is dug out of the earth where it formed naturally over millions of years. From there, the stone is cut into blocks or tiles to use in outdoor projects.

There’s nothing that looks as high-end as natural stone because the rich color and idiosyncratic textures simply cannot be imitated: Natural stone guarantees a one-of-a-kind landscaping project because no two stones are exactly alike (though you can select for relative uniformity of color and texture). Natural stone can withstand snow, rain and ice because it would be subject to these extremes under normal circumstances anyway.

Natural stone is more expensive than man-made options, due to the expense of quarrying and cutting the stone as well as the greater degree of difficulty in installing blocks with natural variations in shape and size. Some natural stone is prone to becoming quite hot in the sun, which can burn bare feet on a summer day — an important consideration for pool surrounds and families with pets or small children.

Natural stone is also a versatile option, as it can be used in both wet-laid and dry-laid applications for patios. A wet-laid patio has a poured concrete base with natural stone applied over the top. Concrete joints between the natural stone tiles keep out weeds and provide a smooth, finished look. A dry-laid patio is constructed placing natural stone blocks or tiles tightly together over a bed of sand or crushed stone. Joints are typically filled with sand to lock pieces in place.

Pavers

Pavers are man-made paving stones made to imitate the look of natural stone. Because they are manufactured instead of quarried, there is a greater uniformity of size, texture and color. This makes them somewhat faster and easier to install, as contractors can get in a rhythm when working with uniform materials. Pavers also tend to be less expensive than quarried stone, though prices vary based on the style.

One advantage of manufactured pavers is that they tend to stay cool the sun. Even dark-toned pavers won’t burn your feet, so they are a good choice in locations where you expect to take off your shoes regularly.

Pavers are typically used in dry-laid patterns. While they can be convincing imitations of natural stone, their uniformity may look unnatural in large expanses. Consider the sight lines of the finished design to help you decide on which pavers will work for you.

Natural Stone V. Pavers: Which Is Right for Me?

Ultimately, the choice between natural stone and man-made pavers comes down to personal preference. Working with a qualified landscape architect will help you make the right decision for your property, and great designers will show you how combining different paving materials can create unique looks for your patio. For example, choosing a rough-cut stone block for texture on walls will create contrast with smooth bluestone on horizontal surfaces. Likewise, stones with golden undertones will create a warm vibe, while cool gray blocks will make a totally different look. Let a professional show you all the possibilities and guide your thinking as you narrow down the myriad choices to a few manageable options.

It’s also critical to work with a professional to ensure that your patio is installed properly. Without a good foundation and the proper thickness of stone, your patio could be upset by heaving during freeze-thaw cycles or crack under the pressure of ice. A professional will also let you know what ice melt products will damage your stone so you can maintain the look of your patio for years to come.

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