The Fine Print: Like a Rock

Steven Pickering is one smart man. Last fall, the Basking Ridge, New Jersey, homeowner decided the time had come to redo his driveway, and he insisted on a heated path that would substantially cut down on snow-shoveling duties. A good thing, too, since the winter brought with it record snowfalls.

While his decision to heat his street may have been a no-brainer, it was only when Pickering began researching his driveway surface options that he really received an education. Like many homeowners, he originally wanted to upgrade his standard-issue blacktop to brick. What he found, instead, was a whole new range of middle choices that include stamped concrete, precut concrete pavers and imprint-ed asphalt. All mimic the look and feel of natural stone to varying degrees and each have specific benefits and downsides.

Pickering ultimately went with stamped concrete. “Someone told me about the product and after we checked out a few driveways, we were shocked at how much they looked like actual brick or cobblestone,” he says. The clincher was how much cheaper and more maintenance-free the concrete was.

“Stamped concrete costs about half what natural stone or brick does and brings with it all the durability of cast and poured concrete, plus it’s incredibly versatile,” says Chris McMahon, president of Architectural Concrete Design in Levittown, the company Pickering turned to for his new driveway. Pickering chose a British cobblestoned look, but the firm also offers concrete patterns that emulate anything from traditional redbrick to stately flagstone. “Not only can concrete be dyed in any color and laid in any pattern—from herringbone to cobblestone—it can also be textured,” says McMahon. “These days we’re seeing a lot of exposed aggregate finishes and sandblasted finishes so the concrete appears more aged.”

Stamped concrete typically is poured in any dimension and imprinted using various texturing tools. It is then saw-cut in 8-by-10-foot slabs to create control joints (as you might see on a city sidewalk), which discourage further cracking. Finally, the concrete is washed and sealed. The entire process typically takes three or four days; installation for a 2,000-square-foot driveway might run between $15,000 and $20,000.

“Since it takes the same-sized crew to do a smaller project, concrete slabs are not the best option for projects under, say, 800 square feet,” says McMahon.

For use in smaller spaces, such as an entryway, or to make a lasting impression, homeowners might consider interlocking concrete pavers. Just like poured concrete slabs, these pavers, which range from 4-12 square inches, boast incredible strength and water resistance, but are less prone to breakage. “Concrete can break because of expansion from cold or water,” says Mark Fuss, vice president of E.P. Henry in Woodbury, New Jersey. “But with pavers, you essentially have a joint at every unit.” That smaller unit size comes in handy should part of the work need to be lifted later for installation of power or irrigation lines. But the lack of extended cohesiveness also means that pavers can shift underfoot.

E.P. Henry’s 2004 catalog features 88 pages of patterns, colors and textures with names like Coventry Stone (a paver put through a tumbling process that distresses it) and Venetian Parquet. The company also offers a line of environmental pavers that deliberately encourage grass growth and allow rainwater to seep back into the ground. Installed pavers are $6-$20 per square foot.

The least expensive alternative to natural stone is imprinted asphalt, which relies on the same principle as the concrete methods—using embossed designs to suggest brick or cobblestone. “This kind of installation is often the easiest and quickest way to spiff up a driveway or pool area,” says Todd Silcox, office manager of Mike Silcox & Sons Paving Inc. in Trevose. “It’s laid down in just one unit and then imprinted the next day. You don’t have to worry about any joints so there’s no separation or cracks later on.”

The cost for this application normally is $4.50-$6.50 per square foot, according to Silcox, depending on any of the dozen or so patterns—from diagonal herringbone brick to ashlar slate—and colors the homeowner chooses.

Whatever the choice, one thing is clear: Just as the standard Model T (available in any color as long as it’s black, quipped Henry Ford) went, so goes the driveway used to bring it home. Customization, it seems, has finally hit the ground running.