What is stamped concrete?
Stamped concrete is just a decorative concrete slab that has been imprinted and almost always colored to mimic a variety of textures and materials. Stamped concrete can be textured to look like anything from wood to flagstone. When the process is done right, the concrete slabs can look absolutely incredible. Stamping concrete is a more modern option than pavers.
So, what are pavers?
Pavers, or paver stones, are brick-like pieces of concrete, natural stone, or other hard materials designed to be interlocked on the ground to create a sturdy, decorative outdoor flooring option. Pavers have been used for hundreds of years to create things like courtyards and hardscapes.
What are my design options?
Pavers come in a range of colors, materials, shapes, and sizes. You can create simple and classic monotone looks, or you can go wild with brighter colors, shapes and designs for a unique aesthetic. You can mismatch patterns and cool borders and/or bandings. There is no doubt that pavers allow for a ton of creativity.
The design options for stamped concrete are essentially unlimited with such an abundance of stamp patterns, color options, and textures. You can make your patio, driveway, bathroom, etc. look exactly like brick, slate, flagstone, cobblestone, fieldstone, wood, and more. Custom stamps can be created for virtually anything you can imagine. Color options are also endless. Not only are there just a ton of colors to choose from, but there are so many ways to color the concrete, each product with its own benefits and style. Coloring can be done to be hyper-realistic, antiqued, layered, particularly bright, classically neutral, mottled, contrasting, and the list actually goes on and on.
Pavers have an unmistakably timeless and classic look. They are not a bad choice at all if that is what you want. However, if you’re looking for a real “wow” factor and want something wonderfully unique, stamped concrete is the way to go.
What is the installation process like?
Both stamped concrete and pavers require the installation of a proper, solid base. An experienced installer will be able to plan all of the details required for this step depending on the space being redone.
The installation of pavers is time consuming and meticulous. The stones must be installed one by one, and this has to be done very carefully. All the materials have to be 100% ready to go before being brought to the space. There is really no room for experimentation on site because pavers are too massive and heavy to haul back and forth multiple times.
Stamped concrete is much more time sensitive because concrete obviously dries and cannot be textured after a certain point in time. However, the concrete is poured on site and the tools used to decorate concrete are far easier to haul than carrying loads of stones back and forth, so there is room for change and experimentation during the creation process.
Concrete takes anywhere from a day to a few days to cure, depending on the weather, size of the project, etc. After that comes the surface coloring process, and then sealing. This means that the space is not usable for maybe a week or so, which is something to consider if that matters to you. Pavers take far longer to install than pouring and stamping concrete, but can be walked on basically immediately after. They do settle a decent amount the first few days, so the look will change a bit, but you can still walk on them.
Where can I install stamped concrete and where can I install pavers?
Paver stones are only made to be installed outdoors, but they can be used for driveways, walkways, patios, pool surrounds, hardscapes, and whatever other outdoor flooring needs you may have. Stamped concrete can be used for all of these, as well as indoor spaces and vertical projects. Stamped concrete can also be done over existing concrete using a good overlay (assuming the original concrete is not in horrible condition.)
How long will these things last?
Both pavers and stamped concrete can last decades if installed and maintained properly.
Which one is worse with maintenance?
Paver stones and stamped concrete each require some maintenance throughout the years, but neither need a ridiculous amount of attention. Cracking is the main concern for most people. Pavers can crack throughout time due to things like the ground settling or too much weight on them, but replacing individual pavers is not very difficult. Concrete is known to crack and stamped concrete will easily crack if not installed properly. However, knowledgable installers can limit this through a meticulous preparation process and the careful installation of control joints and saw cuts to control where the concrete will crack if it does. Yes, huge cracks though a concrete slab will be problematic and difficult to fix, but as stated earlier, a proper installation will prevent this. Minor cracks and imperfection are easy to either fix or disguise with things like patching or color manipulation.
A big issue with pavers is uneven settling and that weeds and moss can grow through the joints. This can be prevented, or at least limited, with polymeric sands which should be reinstalled ever few years. Settling is hard to avoid since in many climates the slight ground heaving from winters is a fact of life and the paver bed will follow the contour of the ground. Eventually, they may have to be removed, a new bed placed down and reset. Pavers should also be lightly re-sanded and sealed for protection every few years. Other than that, they just have to be swept and hosed to keep gunk from building up and damaging them.
Stamped concrete must be thoroughly cleaned and re-sealed every few years. Colors and stains can start to fade over time, but can be be redone to fix this, or even to change up the look every couple of years if you get bored. The cleaning process only involved a strong hose or power washer paired with a light detergent, so it is nothing extreme.
Pavers and stamped concrete basically cost the same. Everything really depends on the availability of materials in your area and the rates of the contractors/installers available. It is safe to say that you get what you pay for in terms of the labor costs for either of them. Having someone who does not know what they’re doing install either of these things is going to cost you a fortune in the long run. The cost per square footage and materials end up being very similar though, in general. A lot of people will say stamped concrete is cheaper up front, but costs you way more in the long run, but it’s just not true when either process is done correctly.
What else should I know?
Pavers are more naturally skid-resistant. Stamped concrete can be made more skid resistant with certain textures or by using sealer additives to give more grip to the surface. It is recommended to use something like Tru-Grip around spaces like pool areas or any walkway that may become slippery when wet.
Both concrete and pavers can handle heavy loads, but pavers are definitely better for extremely heavy loads. If you’re parking a semi on it, use pavers. They just naturally have a little more flexibility since they’re not a single slab.
So, which is better???
All in all, there is no “better” choice. It all depends on how much customization you want, what/who is available in your area to complete the job, and your personal preference.