A look at the enduring value and timeless beauty of genuine clay pavers
By Leroy Danforth
Americans have used clay brick pavers on pedestrian pathways and roadways since early colonial days, because genuine clay pavers add stature, character and long-term appeal. Can you imagine what Georgetown, Old Town Alexandria, Va., and Boston’s Beacon Hill would look like now, had the sidewalks been paved in a material other than genuine clay pavers?
Today, homeowners, designers and contractors still recognize that attractive landscaping increases the value and appeal of any project, and clay pavers are a popular way to transform hardscape projects. Adding paving products and services to your portfolio also can increase your profit potential. Whether it’s a utilitarian brick driveway, a newly built town center, or a sleek, urban cityscape, clay pavers provide aesthetic charm and a human scale that look good immediately after installation and, frequently, even better decades later.
Surprising product attributes
Many paving products customers, and some installers, don’t realize that genuine clay pavers significantly outperform other widely used paving materials. In fact, clay pavers offer the type of product attributes that can be downright surprising, including:
It’s not uncommon to think of various shades of red in a highly textured unit when clay pavers come to mind. However, with today’s manufacturing technology, clay pavers are available in more colors and textures than ever before, including some that are unique to clay brick and can’t be attained, or maintained, by other materials. For example, it is possible to get pavers ranging in color from polar white all the way to jet black that are extremely smooth and dimensionally precise. Clay pavers also come in a wide array of earth tones, pinks, oranges and burgundies, which work well alone or when blended together. At the same time, molded, red pavers are still available for those who want to recapture a timeless, traditional look inside and/or outside.
The relatively small size of clay pavers creates a pavement surface with human scale. And the wide color selection makes clay pavers an ideal material to blend with unique designs, bands, borders and panels. Additionally, many bonding patterns can be used when laying clay pavers. Some of the most popular include herringbone, running bond, stack bond and basket weave (See Figure 1). Note: When choosing a bond pattern, considerations should include the setting bed of the pavement and any horizontal loads.
Keep in mind that clay pavers also complement clay masonry well. Many of your customers anguish over finding the perfect color that fits their vision for a project. You’ll be surprised at how often the suggestion of a paving material that will harmonize the landscape into that vision will lead to additional work for you.
The unsurpassed durability and rich, intense color of a clay paver is one of its most desirable and enviable attributes. Amazingly, many of the brilliant, red pavers that people stroll on when walking through Boston’s Beacon Hill have been in service for more than 200 years. While lower, initial-cost options are available, this longtime track record speaks volumes about how long the product will last and the quality that your customers get for their money.
The reason for the superior color retention of clay pavers is that the color is from natural impurities within the clay, which means that color is consistent throughout the body of the unit and will not fade due to weathering. Other segmental paving products, like those made from concrete, have to get their color artificially from pigments or dyes and may require application of sealants to maintain their color after installation.
Many contractors and designers do not realize just how strong clay pavers are. In fact, clay pavers have an average compressive strength of 14,000 psi — stronger than the standard for both concrete pavers and poured concrete. Some clay pavers have a compressive strength of more than 36,000 psi. So, they are resistant to abrasions, stains, deicing salts, and other elements.
Research from the University of Pittsburgh proves that properly installed clay pavers can meet or exceed the American with Disabilities Act requirements and Public Right-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines by not increasing the amount of work required for mobility and offering less vibration than many poured concrete sidewalks. Ensuring that joints between pavers aren’t too wide and that differences in height between adjacent pavers are kept to a minimum reduces work and potential trip hazards. It also assures an ability to compete with other pavement options as an accessible surface.
Clay pavers are a strong contributor to green-building design and sustainability and are made from clay and shale — two of the most abundant natural materials on earth. The small size, modular nature and minimal packaging of brick result in little on-site construction waste. Pavers can be re-used or crushed and recycled for new uses, thus avoiding the landfill. Flexible or permeable clay pavements can reduce stormwater runoff and filter pollutants. In addition, light colored pavers can reflect a significant amount of solar energy, reducing the heat island effect. Brick paving can be used as part of several passive solar design strategies in interior applications to store heat and moderate temperature swings. Finally, flexible pavements allow relatively easy access to utilities or services that lie beneath the pavement, and the pavement can often be restored with the original materials with no change in appearance.
Specification and installation
Clay pavers can provide a durable walking or riding surface that is beautiful and smooth for an extremely long period. The key to success, as with any building material, consists of proper specification, installation and maintenance. Because the initial planning plays such a key role in determining the final ultimate success of a project, contractors and designers should take special care in determining which installation method makes the most sense for their project. Table 1 provides an overview on the strengths and weaknesses of each installation method.
This project won a “Best In Class” in the 2007 Brick In Home Building Awards competition in the “Paving and Landscaping Architecture” category. The brick is manufactured by Whitacre-Greer.
Brick Industry Association resources
No matter the product and installation method you choose, the Brick Industry Association can help you achieve your desired outcome. To find out more information on genuine clay pavers, visit www.gobrick.com/pavers. This site includes the latest technical information, including the Technical Notes 14 Series, a presentation on the municipal use of clay pavers, various case studies, a template guide specification, and a list of manufacturers who sell and distribute genuine clay pavers.
Leroy Danforth, EIT, LEED AP, is the architectural outreach manager for the Midwest/Northeast Region in the Brick Industry Association (BIA), providing technical assistance and educational programs on brick construction for architects, engineers, builders and other construction industry professionals. A former manager of BIA’s technical publications, Danforth also helps maintain BIA’s Technical Notes series.