Hardscape needs help to survive harsh reality
Greg Vozar says the biggest challenge in handling the test winter gives walks and driveways is to do as little as possible.
“Really, in this area, the best thing is to do nothing,” says the sales manager for Magnotti & Son, the Overbrook stone dealer.
He and other professionals in the home-building and surface business say shoveling and non-chemical cleaning is the safest way to take care of a walk or driveway. But they know salts and chlorides will be used to prevent slides, slips and possible lawsuits.
But the best ways to approach this winter task is to work with some care for the surface and make sure to seal it in the non-winter months, they say.
But that latter element is not always done.
Home builder Don Horn from Pine says he knows many homeowners avoid sealing, which can cost $500 or more. He says they “get tapped out” financially when they are installing a concrete driveway and want to avoid any extra.
But he says sealants will allow the use of surface cleaners but not let water from melted snow and ice seep into cracks, the source of trouble in Western Pennsylvania's wicked freeze-thaw cycle.
The freeze-thaw rotation is one of the big roots of hardscape problems, says Jeff Blunkosky, owner of Pittsburgh Stone and Waterscapes from Washington County. Water seeps into a crack, freezes and expands, causing that seam-like opening to widen.
Or it can get into a stone or under a paver, causing cracks or elevation of the paver, he says.
Then, he says, the final damage is done when those areas are hit by a shovel or lip of a snow blower, causing cracks and chips.
Sealing can help avoid those problem.
Marie Fallon, general manager of A.R. Chambers, a Strip District concrete dealer, says many homeowners think sealing is a matter of “one and done.” They think the sealing done at installation is enough, but it should be done once a year, she says.
She and Blunkosky say most post-installation sealing is done on colored or aggregate concrete projects because appearance of those is more important to their owners than poured concrete jobs.
But it is necessary, she says. The types of sealant for poured concrete is less expensive than the liquid for stamped or aggregate, she says, making the job even more practical.
Penetrating sealant for poured cement is about $94 to $145 a pail, which covers 1,100 square feet, while the sealant for stamped or aggregate is $145 to $180 a pail.
Fallon says the other factor that dissuades sealing is that the work needs three dry days with temperatures no lower than 40, which sometimes is tough to find in this area.
Horn says “in practical considerations, sealing is cheaper” because the protection of the surface can keep it from being repaired or replaced.
Blunkosky suggests the best way to avoid many of the problems in walks and driveways is to use pavers rather than concrete or stone.
While pavers need to be sealed, too, he says, they are much stronger and less susceptible to ice damage because they are condensed concrete. Poured concrete can withstand about 5,000 pounds per square inch while pavers are rated at 10,000 to 12,000 PSI.
That strength means less chance for cracking in areas of freeze-thaw risk.
Blunkosky admits that the many seams in the multiple pieces create some danger, but says damaged pavers or areas can be replaced.
“If installed properly, the maintenance for pavers is next to nothing,” he says.
One of his customers, Tom Aiken from Peters, Washington County, is in the first year of having a paver-made walkway that goes out to a paver pad near the front door.
In recent snow, he simply shoveled it clear and sees no sign of ice damage.
“We just cleared the snow off, and that was it,” he says.
Another client, Dominick Biangone from Robinson, has a paver-and-flagstone installation he and his wife, Sabeth, had installed two years ago.
“There's not a whole lot that needs to be done,” he says, adding they also use some calcium pellets as a deicer. He believes the mortar between the paver pieces seals it well.
Magnotti's Vozar agrees about the strength of pavers. Even though he sells stone, he says one of its problems is that it is layered. If water gets between the layers, it can freeze and cause cracking.
Care and caution seem to be the answer.
“There is no miracle way to prevent damage,” he says.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7852.