Looking for a deck option that can ride out ground movement while offering stylistic flair?

Pavers may be just the answer. They come in all variations — from the basic model you might find at Home Depot to more deluxe versions that include weathered-looking tumbled pavers, concrete varieties with pebble and sea shells mixed in, or those cut from stone.

These pieces fit together into puzzles that vary in complexity from a grid pattern to intricate mosaics established by the designer. In between lay interlocking pavers, with a built-in decorative line.

Practically speaking, this material offers several benefits. Paver decks are less subject to cracking than monolithic slabs, says Irv Chazen, president of Miami-based Custom Pools. He uses them on about 75 percent of his projects. “Problems seem to have diminished when the pavers were used in place of concrete,” he says.

A paver deck has built-in joints throughout, so installers don’t have to try to predict where cracking will occur, says Dan Essig, president of Artistic Paver Manufacturing Inc., in North Miami, Fla. Essig, who also builds pools, adds that a heavy rain or ground movement can cause a piece or two to pop out, though they’re easily replaced. They also make for speedier installation, because the decks can be placed piecemeal. So you can interrupt the job during rain.

But like any product, pavers have their drawbacks. Some are very porous, making them rough on the skin and prone to staining, mildew, algae and even freeze/thaw problems when water gets trapped in the nooks and crannies. Pavers also may experience color variations from batch to batch.

A little forethought

If your client wants to use pavers, keep a few design considerations in mind.

First, make sure their choice is comfortable against the skin. After his clients select their favorite paver, Chazen has them walk barefooted on samples to make sure the surface isn’t too rough. “I tell them, ‘If you think it’s too coarse, then don’t pick it,’” he says.

Also in the interest of comfort, look for pavers with beveled edges, Essig advises. Individual pieces will lift slightly out of the ground from time to time. When this happens, beveled varieties are less likely to ruin the look or cause stubbed toes, because they lack a hard corner.

When choosing a product, keep the pieces to scale. Small to medium sizes work best for most homes. Reserve the largest pavers — say, 24-by-24-inches — for unusually large areas.

Smaller varieties also work best with smaller pools, because you can pitch them away from the vessel without having to cut around corners and contours. “When you come to a corner, one side might pitch to the right and the other to the left,” Essig says. “Paver doesn’t bend, so you can’t get it to pitch in two different directions. If you have a 24-inch paver, it could be difficult.”

Some manufacturers offer matching coping. If you choose this option, use shorter, narrower pieces when working with freeform shapes. They are easier to manipulate around the curves and require less cutting. When placed around a radius, thicker copings can spread too far apart at the edges, leaving large, pie-shaped joints.

Also consider the direction of the grid. If the pool will run parallel to the house, Essig recommends pointing the lines diagonally toward the vessel rather than perpendicular. “Either the house or the pool isn’t going to be perfectly straight,” he says. “If you run the [grid] straight to the pool, the paver cuts will show any imperfections in the house, the pool or both. But if you use a diamond pattern, or offset, you don’t see imperfections as easily.”

This is especially important with rectangular pools. Freeform decks allow a little more flexibility, because there’s no straight line to give you away.

You can also use the grid pattern to highlight architectural elements of the home, such as a living-room window.

If the brand your client prefers varies in color from batch to batch, try to order everything you’ll need at once, Chazen advises.

On the ground

Installing pavers isn’t just a matter of sticking them in the ground.

For one thing, the right preparation is crucial. “If the job is graded, prepared correctly and compacted adequately, you won’t have a problem,” Chazen says. Without it, the product can pop out, settle or move in the ground.

Stabilize the ground the way you would for a concrete deck. While grading the area — to slope slightly away from the pool, of course — make sure it is sufficiently compacted. South Florida, for instance, has a lot of organic material in the soil, which must be removed. Or, you may have to contend with an erratic clay. If that’s the case, dig out 4 to 6 inches of the problem dirt and replace it with an immediately self-compacting, well-draining substance such as crushed stone. Chazen uses a gravel that’s approved by the state of Florida for roadwork called SRD screenings. Different areas have their own stabilization soils, Essig adds.

Next, place a 1- to 2-inch-thick layer of sand over the gravel. This leaves a soft yet self-compacting bed on which to tamp the paver stones.

Finally, dig and pour a perimeter footing. This 4-by-4- to 6-by-6-inch footer outlines the deck and keeps it from separating from the pool. “It’s not what you’d call a structural footing,” Chazen says. “It’s just a little trench with poured concrete that prevents the outermost pavers from moving outward and developing spaces between the deck and the pool.”

Place the pieces over the sand bed, spacing them uniformly for even joints, Chazen advises. Next, pour a fine sand over them. Use a power tamper to secure the stones in place. The vibration will cause the fine sand to settle and compact between the pavers.

If you and your client have chosen a particularly porous type of decking paver, coat it with a sealer to protect it.