Why are my pavers sinking?
Many homeowners have chosen pavers for their driveways, sidewalks, patios, and backyard entertainment areas. Pavers come in a variety of shapes, styles, patterns, and colors to compliment your home, and can offer increased entertainment space and function. When properly installed, pavers require little maintenance and will last for decades.
However, when pavers are improperly installed, the results can be devastating — both aesthetically and structurally. The improper grading of pavers away from your foundation and the substandard installation of a the paver base can cause shifting, excess settling, puddling and sinking.
Here are some of the common signs that your paver installation was not up to par:
Sunken areas indicate that the base was not properly compacted during construction. Puddling, settling and low spots in your pavers are an indication that your contractor may not have properly prepared for your project, or may have been unaware of drainage issues on your property. Precautions should be taken to compact the base well enough to hold up under expected traffic loads and the extreme change of temperature between seasons, while addressing the drainage needs of your property.
Settling can also occur where trees or tree roots were removed to allow for the paver installation. These areas should be filled in and the ground should be prepped to ensure it is compacted and level prior to the installation of the paver base. You can’t expect your pavers to be level, if the subgrade wasn’t level to begin with.
Shifting and settling can also occur when improper materials are used in the base. In regions like the northeast, soil and natural elements freeze in the winter and thaw in the spring, and so, these materials expand and contract – shifting your pavers. To avoid this type of shifting, a 3” to 4” layer of concrete should be installed under the pavers to avoid structural damage.
When installing a paver system, the border of the paver area should not be overlooked. The edges of paved areas require special attention, because they are not locked in on all sides. Without a structured border, any pressure put on the border or surrounding pavers can cause them to shift.
To avoid this situation, paver edges should be cemented in to secure the paver structure — a detail which a surprising number of inexperienced and unlicensed contractors neglect to do. A competent contractor will compact the subgrade far enough beyond the footprint of the project to ensure proper stability under the edges of the pavers.
Uneven pavers that shift out of place can be caused by a number of improper installation methods. One very common cause is a base that is not deep enough. A contractor can save a lot on materials by skimping on the base, but it will compromise the structure of the pavers in the long term.
When completing a paver installation, many contractors use a masonry sand between paver joints, which allows weeds to grow through within a year of installation. The right installation contractor will use Sandlock, known as epoxy sand, which locks in pavers, and prohibits weeds from growing through the joints.
There are many jobs where pavers are not laid properly, creating a sloppy appearance. The patterns look uneven, or there are large gaps between pavers. This happens most often with inexperienced workers, but rushing through a job can also bring careless results.
No matter what the cause, shifting or improperly laid pavers should be addressed immediately to avoid further damage. Not only does shifting or sinking pavers look bad, but they can also lead to pavers breaking or the base being further compromised, creating a structural break. Furthermore, broken, sinking or shifting pavers can become a safety hazard.
Some paver issues can be easily repaired. For instance, missing edge restraints can typically be installed without ripping up the entire job. However, if the base was not installed properly you may need to pull up existing pavers to correct the base by compacting and/or re-excavating, and re-installing the pavers. Such repairs may end up costing you more than the original job itself.
To ensure your paver project doesn't shift or sink, make sure your contractor has a proper drainage plan and a multi-step base installation process. Understanding drainage, pitch and code in relation to your home and yard, and planning the installation accordingly, is essential to your project's longevity. Ignoring this process or not performing it properly guarantees one thing - your pavers will sink and shift and you will be spending more money on your paver project in less than 5 years.
Pavers are crafted to last a lifetime. Even if a single paving stone, or group of stones, crack or chip, they can simply be replaced, which means the overall installation could last for future generations for your family to enjoy.
If you decide to hire a masonry contractor to install your dream paver patio, make sure they have the right experience. Visit the contractor’s website or ask him to send you pictures of projects he’s done that are similar to yours. If possible, go visit some of these sites in person so you can see how well the job has held up over time. Remember, a good contractor will stand by their work, and provide a written agreement detailing your project.
Also, watch out for low bids. No one wants to pay more than they have to, but a super-low bid is a red flag that the contractor is likely to cut corners on time, materials, and a quality installation, leading to project failure.
As with any home improvement or home service, use a reputable and insured company. Do your homework first, get at least two to three estimates and ask for references. Installing the right materials, in the right application, can provide an experience of a lifetime.
Giuseppe Noto, President Stellar Home Improvement Inc.
(646) 352-3453 www.stellarhi.com