The right external surface for your project

Where do you start when it comes to choosing the right external surface for your project?
Long gone are the days when your surface options were limited to concrete slabs, asphalt or grass. Add to that today’s environmental, accessible and safety considerations and the choice really is never-ending!

Whatever the reason for surfacing public or communal areas, driveways, footpaths, patios, terraces and swimming pool surrounds – when looking for the right external surface for your project you could start by asking the following question:

  • Is there adequate drainage for the dispersal of surface water?
  • Will the surface remain cool in the heat?
  • Is it accessible for wheelchairs, bicycles etc.?
  • Are there any drains to consider?
  • Does the surface require demarcation or an element of design?
  • Is it easy to maintain?
  • How long will it last?

Paving considerations for planning
Environmental paving

One effect of climate change is an increase in rainfall. Most drains were designed and built so long ago they cannot cope with the amount of rainwater we are now experiencing.

But flooding isn’t the only problem, conventional concrete and asphalt collect pollution from oil, petrol, brake dust etc. which is quickly carried by rainwater back to streams or rivers, via overloaded drains, where it adversely affects our wildlife.

Using conventional paving surfaces also add to the ‘heat island' effect. Caused by an increase in the amount of land being built on or paved over, conventional paving retains the days' heat and causes local temperatures to rise. To address this, planning laws have been amended to encourage the use of permeable paving.

Accessible paving

Another important consideration is accessibility. Making a surface accessible not only, and quite rightly, opens up an area to everyone, it also addresses many practical issues from moving furniture to putting the wheelie bin out!

Drains and manhole/inspection covers

On both an aesthetic and accessible note, you also need to consider drains or maintenance covers. Let’s face it, they are not very pretty. But what can you do about them?

Remembering that utility companies need them to be available at all times, there are ways to make them a little less of an eyesore.

By replacing existing industrial looking covers with a removable recessed (or inset) tray, you have the option to either blend them into the surface or make a feature out of them.

A recessed tray can be filled with your choice of surface or with grass, plants or flowers – probably the cheapest way to disguise unsightly drains and manhole covers.

Demarcation and paving design

Surfaces are no longer required to just be functional and practical, there is increasing demand for them to be cost effective, attractive and safe.

If the surface requires demarcation or includes a design element, you need to ensure that the surface you choose has the flexibility and/or colour range to achieve this.

Maintenance and guarantee

Look for a supplier that offers a substantial guarantee, which doesn’t diminish over time and find out if maintenance guides and technical support is provided post-installation.

It’s also useful to know if the supplier belongs to any recognised trade organisations or adheres to any national quality standards. So, look for companies who are members of organisations such as BBA, BALI, the Guild of Master Craftsmen or the Federation of Master Builders and are achieving and maintaining national standards, such as ISO 9001 (an independently accredited quality management system).
Types of paving options
As we said before, there is now a never-ending choice of surfacing options.

Below is a little more information about some of them…

Artificial grass gives a realistic appearance without the mud or the mowing. A soft cushioned base can be applied to provide protection from falls and artificial grass is even available in a selection of colours. There are various grades of grass/turf available which is very appealing when planning for multi-use games areas known as MUGA surfacing.

Concrete and asphalt paving are both low cost, durable and low-maintenance options – but honestly, not very pretty to look at.

When it comes to accessibility, although many asphalts should have enough slip resistance for most uses, if there is any doubt at all, apply an anti-slip treatment.  Concrete can be textured for extra grip and a non-slip finish applied if necessary.

Concrete and asphalt are also available in permeable versions which, although are more expensive, provide better drainage and help prevent the build-up of moss or algae.

In both conventional and permeable formats, concrete and asphalt are ideal bases for more attractive top layers such as resin bound paving.

Block paving (brick paviors) is usually made from moulded concrete, clay bricks or natural stone, which can also be permeable. While the choice of colours is not huge, you can create patterns by using complementary or contrasting colours.

The joints between the blocks will need regular maintenance to keep them free from weeds. Poor quality bricks can be slippery and if not laid properly will leave an uneven, potentially hazardous surface.

Resin-bonded paving (also known as ‘scatter coat’) is a non-permeable, single stone layer surface. Created by scattering clean, dry aggregate to a film of resin that has been applied to the surface. Because the aggregate is only on top of the surface it can be quite rough and there will be loose stone.

Resin bound paving consists of stone and resin thoroughly mixed together and laid onto a stable surface. The completed surface is permeable, durable, accessible and low-maintenance. Its flexibility also makes it ideal for reproducing logos and letters into a surface.

Rubber mulch is used a lot in muddy playgrounds; providing a natural look that complements timber activity trails and play equipment. Because it is loose-laid it does become scattered about and will need regular sweeping, but it does prevent excess mud from being walked indoors.

Wet pour  (also known as EPDM) is made from rubber granules and is the most popular for play areas due to the vast palette of bright colours and its bouncy texture.

Flexi paving made from the recycled lorry and car tyres. Now combined with natural stone, FlexiSet, to ensure durability. It eliminates the need for excavation work because it can be laid straight over the old surfaces; saving time and money.

Paving slabs are available in a variety of materials; from cost-effective concrete to luxurious natural marble and granite. The downside to paving slabs is that they are not very attractive, can be slippery when wet, are potentially hazardous if not laid properly and will require ongoing maintenance to keep the joints free from weeds.

Hoggin Loose Gravel is one of the cheapest options around and ideal for a quick fix - although time saved in cost and installation will be spent on maintenance. Loose gravel quickly migrates, sometimes to leave ‘bald’ patches on your surface and needs to be constantly swept back into place and in dry weather it creates dust. You could consider fixing in place loose gravel with a 'Pour On' binder, it's a clear resin that will hold existing loose gravel in place and still allow the water to pass through - becoming hugely popular.

Wood and decking falls in the mid-range price bracket and has an attractive, natural appearance. Unfortunately, in the UK’s lovely damp and wet climate, timber requires continual maintenance to give any sort of longevity.

To conclude, while the days of your paving options being limited to concrete slabs, asphalt or grass are long gone and the choice is always growing, one thing you can be sure of is that paving surfaces are definitely more fun than they ever were, so enjoy using them!

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