Slabs and pavers are some of the most common choices for pathways and in-ground patios in residential installations, but most people don’t even know the difference. And that’s fine! The average homeowner doesn’t really need to know how to differentiate between two seemingly-arbitrary concrete products.
However, if you’re thinking about hiring someone to add slab or pavers into your landscape, it’s important to be aware of the differences between them and which application is best suited to your unique needs.
Concrete in your Landscape
When many people think of landscaping, they don’t think to consider the inclusion of hardscapes: concrete, wood, or stone additions to their yard or garden.
However, these materials can significantly affect a given aesthetic either to add accents or functionality.
Hardscapes can include fences, pergolas, trellises, arbors, boulders, pathways, water features, patios, decks, sidewalks, lighting, and more. As most homeowners are aware, landscaping is more than just plants, turf, and soil – a well-balanced landscape should have elements of hardscapes too.
If you’re thinking about introducing concrete pathways or patios into your residence, your research may have led you to two different categories of segmental blocks: pavers and slabs.
Because concrete products come in such a broad variety of shapes and sizes, the difference between the two isn’t always immediately apparent, so the words “slabs” and “pavers” are often used interchangeably, despite being very different things.
According to the ICPI (International Concrete Paver Institute), a paver is defined as having a maximum aspect ratio of 4:1 (here meaning the pavers length that is less than four times greater than its thickness) with a minimum thickness of 2 3/8 inches.
Slabs, however, will have an aspect ratio greater than 4:1, but a minimum thickness of 2 inches. They also tend to be either perfectly square or perfectly rectangular, and are usually at least 12 inches in length.
To put it more simply: pavers are small and thick, and can generally be lifted with one hand, whereas slabs are larger, but thinner in relation to their overall size.
Applications for Slabs and Pavers
The physiology of slabs and pavers lead each to have its own set of applications to which it is well-suited. Despite their often-similar appearance, they tend to function very differently.
There are things you can use slabs for that you could never use a paver for; other applications that would likely break slabs would not break pavers.
A lot of skilled landscape installers and designers creatively find ways to use both pavers and slabs in landscapes, resulting in ingenious architectural forms that lend themselves nonetheless to consistency and functionality.
Let’s take a look.
Both pavers and slabs can work for pathways, but they would likely look and function very differently.
A pathway made of pavers allows for a much broader variety of patterns, curves, colours, and shapes. It tends to be quite strong and consistent looking, and can tie different areas of your landscape together.
A pathway consisting of slabs should be laid in straight lines or gentle, detached curves. A slab path might allow more unobtrusive access through a garden bed or softscape, and looks good when grass, soil, or rock (aggregate) are applied in the gaps between the slabs.
Both slabs and pavers work very well for patios, so making a choice between them will rely mostly on your aesthetic preferences.
However, slabs are generally preferred for standalone patios with simple shapes that don’t directly connect to other pathways or hardscapes. They can be a little quicker to install, and they’re well liked for their consistent, uniform aesthetic.
Paver patios on the other hand, allow for a greater variety of shapes and colours, and can be more easily customized to include curves or pathways. This is the more common choice for those looking for an outdoor kitchen or firepit design.
When it comes to holding the weight of vehicles, thick pavers laid on a deeper and more compacted base are an absolute must to prevent pavers from sinking or failing over time. Slabs are too thin and large to hold the weight of a vehicle without breaking, so they should never be used for vehicular applications.
More General Guidelines for Slabs and Pavers
As far as installation goes, here’s a quick rundown on some basic rules that every installer should know:
- Slabs should be laid on at least 4 inches of fully compacted crusher dust
- If a slab patio is fully surrounded on all sides by walling, the slabs can also be laid on top of birdseye rounds.
- Often, slab patios and balconies in apartment buildings, which are built directly onto concrete, can be laid atop pedestals or shims to assist with drainage.
- Paver installations designated for foot traffic should be laid on at least 4 inches of road base and 1 inch of concrete sand.
- Pavers used for driveways, parking lots, or roads should be laid on at least 8 inches of road base and 1 inch of concrete sand.
- Installers should always sweep jointing sand into the cracks between pavers, then compact across the surface using a plate compactor.
- Never use a plate compactor on slabs (they’ll break!)
Need a hand?
Para Space’s accomplished landscape services division is home to a diverse group of qualified and creative installers, technicians, and designers with a broad and varied body of work that stretches across hundreds of homes across the lower mainland.
So, whether your pavers or slabs are in need of repair or you’d like a big backyard overhaul, get in touch today for a consultation!