Until the past few years, we poured concrete, laid brick and pavers to create outdoor living spaces with safe uniform surfacing in all weather. This was the standard among landscape architects to ensure that humans, from toddlers to seniors with walkers, could get around the yard without risk.
Designers were careful to avoid serious liability from pedestrian accidents due to unorthodox surfacing. Slippery and irregular materials were the most common concern. Professionals know that should there be an accident, your homeowner's insurance coverage may be affected if that paving does not conform to the Uniform Building Code.
The current trend in paving originated from environmental concerns of storm-drain runoff into beach waters. Along the California coast, new construction or landscaping has to drain on-site, which means all water must percolate down through the soil without any runoff beyond the property line.
This resulted in the new trend of segmenting patios into smaller concrete squares with open gaps between them. Gaps use gravel, artificial turf or ground cover to create a uniform look, but each is a potential trap for the unwary or unsteady. This style spread well beyond coastal communities, then blossomed into a national trend. But a litany of problems has emerged, with modern paving designs that may look appealing but are functionally difficult. Here are the top five issues:
1. Seniors: Gaps between flags or pavers on the patio are a huge hazard to seniors who must step over each one as they walk across the surface. Even when filled with tiny gravel, these gaps are enough to destabilize a senior with a cane or especially a walker.
2. High heel obstacle course: If every male designer had to negotiate this paving in stiletto heels, he'd never approve it. Truth is, gravel in patio areas is brutal to nice shoes, particularly expensive women's heels that are scarred with each step. Backing into an unexpected paving gap while your attention is elsewhere makes them treacherous at cocktail parties.
3. Barefoot stone bruise: Fine gravel or decomposed granite around pools or anywhere else you want to go barefoot can cause a stone bruise. Even the smallest pebble under the heel can be incredibly painful. There is nothing like poured concrete or equal surfaces for barefooting around your house.
4. Unstable furniture: The blending of flags or irregular unit pavers with filler gravels creates the combination of hard and softer surfaces. Most furniture is not designed to sit on the ground, but on decks and solid patios. And if a guest's chair is so unstable they fall due to an unorthodox surface, then it becomes a risk.
5. Heaving and sinking: That cute new gravel patio you made last spring is likely a mess now after the mud and water and heaving soils have done their work. In expansive clay soils, the solid materials either sink into the dense ground, causing huge drying cracks, or vertical heaving as soil absorbs water. Sandy soils not so much.