Green Patio Options: Brick, Stone, Gravel, Concrete and Recycled Materials

Create your own eco-friendly patio with sustainable landscaping options.

| May/June 2006

Adding a pathway or patio to your outdoor living area? Earth-friendly landscaping choices allow you to create a safe, healthy environment for your family and pets, as well as for birds, insects and area wildlife.

Most patios are made from concrete, cement or asphalt, with chemically treated lumber for borders and steps. These materials’ high embodied energy and the environmentally destructive production practices used to create them are cause for concern. Hard, nonporous cement and asphalt offer undeniable durability, but they also hinder stormwater-runoff absorption and add toxins to your environment during installation.

“The biggest problem with asphalt is one that it shares with concrete and all other forms of continuous-sheet paving: We use too much of it,” says landscape architect Kim Sorvig, co-author of Sustainable Landscape Construction (Island Press, 2000). “This makes very large areas of the earth impervious; increases runoff, erosion and flooding; increases local temperatures by retaining solar heat; and makes these areas inhospitable or deadly to plant and animal life.”

In addition, asphalt’s petroleum content makes it unappealing for use in any living space. “Like any petroleum product, asphalt can be somewhat toxic, and some people are sensitive to its fumes, either during installation or on hot days,” Sorvig says. “Most petroleum products also damage living soils.”

Soil cement—a mixture of Portland cement and local soil—offers an alternative to standard cement mixes. However, the resulting surface presents the same drainage and runoff problems as standard cement surfaces.

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