So you’ve decided you want a patio as the centerpiece of your outdoor living space. Now let’s look at the pluses and minuses of the various materials commonly used in patio construction.
Concrete- Has the advantage of low cost if there is easy access to the installation site. Drawbacks include plain appearance. If care is not taken to establish grade correctly low spots may fail to drain. Prone to cracking.
Stamped concrete- Slick when wet and takes a long time to dry after a rain. If the surface coating wears, spalls or cracks the effect is ruined. Quality of installations vary (all you need is a pickup truck, some buckets and stamps to get started in the business). Moderate cost but the drawbacks make stamped concrete the least desirable material choice, in my opinion.
Flagstone- Although we've all seen this on the DIY shows, thin pieces of flagstone floating in pea gravel does not make a proper flagstone patio. There are a couple of ways to do it right. That thin stuff is veneer. To properly install it a concrete patio must be poured first. Then the veneer is laid in a bed of mortar and the joints are grouted. This type of construction requires regular maintenance due water penetrating the surface, freezing, and cracking the mortar joints. Surface irregularities will be felt underfoot and may cause furniture to rock. Relatively high labor and material expense.
Dry-laid flagstone patios are constructed of thick slabs of stone which are individually leveled. It is common to leave larger joints which may be filled with creeping plants. This type of construction is great for less formal low-traffic areas.
Interlocking Concrete Pavers- There are a lot of pluses with this material. Formed under pressure, interlocking concrete pavers are three times stronger than poured concrete and will last practically forever. They have a non-skid surface and the spaces between the pavers drain water away quickly. Easy to repair with no ugly patches and allows for seamless expansion in the future. The better products have several different shapes and sizes on the pallet which can be laid in a random pattern for a more natural look. The random pattern works with the flowing patio layouts I tend to design and combines well with natural stone in retaining walls and water features. Installation cost is moderate but considering the durability and longevity of pavers in the long run they are by far the best value.
** A note on clay pavers- At one time this material was the only game in town and it is still in service in some older neighborhoods. Because it comes in one size it works best in traditional patterns such as basketweave and herringbone and in rectangular layouts. Biggest drawback is that it can make for a very slippery surface when wet.