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Ask the Builder: What's the best brick paver for a sidewalk?

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By Tim Carter
Friday, October 15, 2010; 8:12 PM

DEAR TIM: It's time to replace our sidewalk, and I'm leaning toward brick pavers. Before I spend the money on this project, I'd like to know the pros and cons of brick as a building material. Should I use clay brick pavers? I'm also interested in different designs and ideas. What kind of pavers would you use and why? - Leslie W., Tacoma, Wash.

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DEAR LESLIE: Brick pavers make a great sidewalk because they are so distinctive. The color, texture and sheen of the brick are so unlike concrete. Natural stone can also create a unique sidewalk look, but it's often the most expensive paving option.

There are two primary types of brick pavers: clay brick and concrete brick. Decades ago, the rage was to install colored concrete brick pavers that required no mortar. They interlocked with one another and, if made correctly, could withstand all that Mother Nature could dish out.

This paving product is maturing, and the designs, colors and shapes of concrete brick continue to expand. One advantage of this material is that you can have a new sidewalk installed and completed in hours, not days. That might be a major consideration for you.

But understand that the color of concrete paving brick will change and fade over time. The color is achieved by adding pigments to the concrete mix. These pigments become part of the cement paste that coats the sand and gravel in the brick. But over time, this ultra-thin cement paste on the top surface of the brick wears off, exposing the true color of the sand and gravel. You may not like that faded color in five or 10 years.

Climate is a big factor with brick sidewalks. Brick pavers in, say, South Florida and other warm areas that never see freezing temperatures will survive longer than they will in a colder climate. If you use concrete brick, consider applying a brick paver sealer every few years to minimize water penetration into the brick.

I prefer thin brick pavers made from real clay. The color of the material is solid through the entire brick. If you purchase ones that have been made for cold climates, they might last as long as a century. The hotter the kiln and the longer the bricks are left in the kiln, the harder they get.

In many cities you can see still see roads with paving bricks that are well over 100 years old. Athens, Ohio, is one place that comes to mind, as my oldest daughter went to college there. During visits to Athens, I used to imagine the workers installing brick pavers well over a century ago. Even after being scraped by city snowplows and abused by heavy trucks, many of the bricks look like they just came from the manufacturer. This tells you that clay brick can last in your sidewalk.

Brick paver designs are plentiful. A clever installer can install a serpentine sidewalk for you. Curves are no issue. If you prefer a more geometric design like herringbone or crosshatching you might see in a cane chair, that's also possible. Many brick manufacturers have great photography of how their brick can be used to create more patterns and designs than you can imagine.

If you want to go all out and make your sidewalk distinctive, consider some engraved brick pavers. Companies use lasers to etch into a brick's surface any words, names or designs that you might want. You could engrave several bricks with a welcome message or even some poem that sets the mood for guests as they walk up to your front door. The possibilities are endless.

Tim Carter is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. He can be contacted through his Web site, www.askthebuilder.com.


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