When it comes to pathways and outside entertaining areas, the right surface can enhance your lifestyle and keep you safe, as well as adding significant value to your home.
Find the right surface for the purpose and invest in the best you can find and you’ll reap the rewards. Remember to choose a finish that works with your architectural style, your budget and your comfort level for ongoing maintenance.
Concrete driveways and paths
Walkways and driveways really do need to be level and non-slip but that doesn't mean they have to be boring as well. Straightforward concrete might not be high fashion right now but it's hard to beat for wearability. Old-fashioned concrete can be given a modern look with surfacing techniques such as stamping and stencilling. Both stamping and stencilling aim to make the concrete look more like pavers or laid stone, providing a hardwearing surface that needs minimal maintenance. Installation is the job of experts, however. Stamping tends to be a more successful 'nearly natural' look than stencilling when you are after that crazy paving look but it's a smoother finish and is not recommended for sloping paths where it might become slippery.
Paving with brick and stone
If you like a good jigsaw, laying your own brick or stone pavers may appeal. There are many brick options and even more natural stone options. While brick pavers are tough enough for driveways and most exterior paths, natural stone may not stand up to vehicle traffic. A fantastic feature in an entry area or near water features such as ponds and pools, it's wise to seal natural stone pavers to extend their life. Concrete pavers may be a tougher option for a big area.
Whatever stone or paver you plan to lay, preparation is the secret – get your surface level and smooth and the rest should be easy. You will need to consider the base you are paving and be prepared to dig it out, level it and, if necessary, lay a base material before you get started on the fun bit.
Polished aggregate surfaces
Just as polished aggregate flooring is fashionable indoors right now, it's also trendy outdoors. Looking a bit like the terrazzo of days gone by, this surface is a mix of different sized stones and gravels, generally mixed with cement. The cement is polished back to expose the aggregate, giving you a wide range of colour options to complement your decorating style. It tends to have a wet look when sealed and that needs to be taken into account when you are planning your overall look. Experienced DIYers could manage this technique – the experts advise you to start with a small area. Too much polishing and the surface could start to break up so the message is start slowly and gently if you're new to it.
Decking is a stunning option for large outdoor entertaining areas. Decking is durable and attractive and boards are available with a range of non-slip surfaces. You'll need to feed your decking with an oil solution each year to keep it at its best and check your local Council regulations for fencing on raised surfaces before you start. In some areas even just a single step up to the deck may require some kind of safety railing.
One great advantage of decking (and small pavers) is that they let the water through to the soil underneath. This can be critical if you live in one of Australia's many low rainfall areas. Getting any rain through to the subsoil will not only help the garden, it can be vital in preventing cracking and shifting of house walls during extended drought. A little advance planning with a deck area may also give you an opportunity to sneak in a state-of-the-art bladder water tank or conceal the workings of your grey water system.
Gravel and crushed toppings
And for a superfast and budget friendly pathway makeover, there's always gravel. Gravel and river stones are available in many shades and grades and give a fresh look to your garden paths. The harder gravels will also work in driveways though they tend to become compacted fairly quickly. Once again however, the underlying surface needs some preparation. If your soil is hard clay, you'll really only need to level it but if you have sandy soil, then a compacted stone base will be necessary to get a long life out of your gravel and a weedmat or other lining will help to dramatically minimise ongoing maintenance. You'll also need edging to keep your gravel from taking off into the garden beds. Other alternatives to gravel include crushed brick and crushed shell. Be careful about these materials near doorways though as there's more dust than with hard surfaces and you may find yourself tracking the path inside with you in wet weather.