Clay vs Concrete has been a difficult question for many Jacksonville homeowners and property managers for years. It can be difficult sorting through all the myths and misconceptions out there, particularly since there may be some loyalty or preference for the person or company you are working with in one or the other.
The truth is, there are valid advantages, limitations, and weaknesses on both sides of the coin.
In each case, installation skill and technique is a very important factor no matter what pavers you choose for your patio, walk, courtyard, or driveway. Choosing a skilled paver contractor who knows how to handle and install the pavers is crucial. When installed properly, either option will provide many decades of service.
The manufacturing process of concrete pavers will accommodate a much greater variation of colors, sizes and shapes than clay. By comparison, just in Jacksonville - concrete pavers can be made in more than 45 different colors and 25 different shape combinations. This flexibility creates an almost endless array of design options. With clay, more choices of color and shapes are slowly becoming available, however presently; you have the traditional 4 x 8 paver, and 2 piece cobble available in a dozen or so colors.
The strength and life cycle of the two pavers are still up to some debate. Both materials have the compressive strength and moisture absorption ratings to withstand 30 plus years of service under normal circumstances. Clay pavers are much more prone to chipping and cracking with a heavy loading such as a driveway application. You will almost never see a clay paver project that has been in place for some time that does not have corners missing and a slight “rough” feel to it. Concrete pavers will erode slightly over time, similar to poured concrete - if you have rain running off a roof or a drain pipe, a fraction of an inch of concrete will wear off the surface after many years, exposing some of the aggregate. Neither of these issues is considered to be serious problem or defect.
Color longevity, or colorfastness is another important factor in your choice of pavers. To correct a common myth about concrete pavers; every concrete paver manufacturer in Jacksonville uses a color through process with pigment mixed all the way through. So the argument of ‘color all the way through’ and wearing off the surface doesn’t apply. However, a viable point is the Ultra Violet resistant properties of pavers. The nature of a clay paver will resist fading longer than an untreated (un sealed) concrete paver. Some overall fading will occur in both concrete and clay pavers. The cost factor of sealing should be factored into the overall life cycle cost of concrete pavers.
Have you ever seen a driveway that was 30 or more years old? Did you notice how you could see a lot of the aggregate (stone) peeking out from the concrete? When concrete is poured, it has aggregate stone spread homogenously throughout the mix. As that mix is worked into the forms and flattened, a ‘cream’ comes to the surface, hiding that aggregate. Little by little, over a period of years, traffic on the pavement wears tiny particles of that top layer, exposing the aggregate underneath. This is what happens slowly over time with concrete pavers, too. That cream and pigment are slowly worn off the surface of the paver, exposing a sometimes white colored aggregate, giving the appearance of ‘fading’. Some manufacturers make their pavers with a darker aggregate so this is less noticeable. While this isn’t really fading, it is changing the appearance of the paver. This process can be slowed with the application of an acrylic sealer. Many of these sealers also help protect concrete pavers against UV breakdown of pigment, though this is much less of an issue compared to simple wear and tear.
Many clay paver makers sell pavers that do, in fact, have color throughout. And most of the time it's the same color as the one you see on the top of the paver. There are also times when the center is gray, while the rest is brown. And often in sand-molded clay pavers, the pigment is only in the top 1/8" of the paver. You can see the top color of these two pavers is very different, but the inside is virtually the same. So when choosing this type of paver we like to make sure the client will like it now, and later when the pigment begins to wear off.
Another topic is the texture options of pavers. Concrete pavers have surpassed clay in creating a palette of different paver textures such as tumbled, textured and antiqued. Until recently, you only had one choice with new clay pavers: smooth. Clay pavers are now offered with tumbled and textured edges and the new sand-molded clay pavers that look as though they were installed 100 years ago.
In general clay pavers are more expensive than concrete. While this difference can sometimes be substantial, in Jacksonville average paver choice affects the price of a project by 15% to 20%.