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