With a huge range of choice on offer for our customers, sometimes deciding what to go for can be a bit daunting! Natural stone comes in many shapes, colours and sizes – which also means there are often varying quality differences and characteristics that can be difficult to spot with an untrained eye.
At Miles-Stone we have over 40 years of experience providing the South Coast with high quality natural stone and landscaping materials. If you’re thinking about making some changes to your garden, patio or driveway, this guide can help to ensure you make the right choice and teach you some skills to check on the quality of the stone your buying.
This guide focuses on paving for driveways, patios and paths but generally the same factors are true when it comes to walling.
Why Natural Stone Is Better!
Though we might be just a little bit biased, we always say it’s best to buy natural. Concrete products like paving slabs are imitations of the real product. Though they can be formed into almost any shape, strength, aesthetics and durability is normally sacrificed. So why not buy the real thing?
Huge York flagstones might have once been the preserve of the wealthy, but modern quarried stone is affordable and in some cases the same price as the concrete imitations.
With the real, natural product, you’re ensuring a stronger, longer lasting, hard-wearing stone that your visitors will envy. Just take the natural dry stone walls and buildings in Devon, Gloucestershire and Yorkshire or the paving setts and cobbled streets created by the Romans and still being used today after being laid by past generations.
Concrete slabs on the other hand are likely to fade within a few years, are only available in one size and that’s all before you see it – natural stone is unique, each piece has its own character and has natural features, such as fossils and riven faces. It is much more versatile and flexible for landscape designs, making a nice change to the usual manufactured products that are all too common in cities.
So now you’re convinced that stone is in your build plans – there a few things to think about before you buy.
Wherever you’re looking, one important thing to check when it comes to quarried stone is calibration. Most reputable stone suppliers will offer a calibrated stone, whether you’re looking at paving or walling, and it’s also something your landscaper or patio fitter will be looking for.
Why? Simply it makes installation a lot easier – if all of the stones are calibrated to a certain size or thickness, they will lay flat more easily, the result will be much smarter and will ensure your outdoor furniture sits without rocking!
Minimum Orders and ‘Project Packs’ – Calculate the Saving
With lots of homeowners opting for the DIY route when it comes to small patio projects, if you’re planning on sourcing your own stone it’s important to remember that most suppliers deal on a bulk trade basis. If you only need a small quantity the lowest prices may not be the best value for money. Here are a few things that you should be looking out for when buying stone or landscaping materials:
- How heavy is your bulk bag? If you assumed 1 ton, you might be in for a surprise with most actually weighing 850kg. Make sure you check the weight when comparing prices.
- Many suppliers sell ‘project packs’ or a price per m2/ton when based on a bulk load – that could be anything from 15m2 to 25m2. This can be problematic if, for example, you need 28m2 – you could end up having to buy too much (maybe even as much as double!) to cover the area. So what should you do? Choose a local specialist supplier who can provide you with the exact amount you need. Long-term, it will be worth paying slightly more for a better level of service, and it will also be easier to go back if you need a top up!
- Apart from reclaimed stone, paving usually comes in modular sizes known as 560mm or 600mm series. Again, this can be problematic if you only want a certain size or a particular ratio of sizes, with many suppliers selling a fixed ratio. Project packs mean you lose control – if you don’t want a certain size, you’re going to be wasting up to 25% of your pack! Miles-Stone are happy to supply any ratio of sizes so it’s worth checking with your local specialist supplier to see if they do the same.
- What do we mean by series and sizes? It’s almost like a sweet shop – most suppliers will provide you with a readymade mixed pack of sweets, 20 flying saucers, 15 sherbet lemons… whereas at Miles-Stone you are free to pick whatever you like in whatever quantity!
- Unless you’re able to collect the materials yourself it is worthwhile thinking about how you want them delivered. Most suppliers offer a range of methods so it’s worth asking. Some will offer bags or crates which can be craned off, even over walls and fences whilst some may use large scale freight suppliers who will only drop at the curb. If you live down a narrow road or the actual work is a long way from the curb, you might end up spending a long time carrying stone through the garden!
Which Stone Can Take the Weight? It actually depends on the base
One question suppliers, architects, designers and landscapers all over the country hear is “will I be able to drive my car on this?” In short, the answer is yes!
Stone is a very hard wearing material that can take a lot of weight, reclaimed York stone will have been originally laid hundreds of years ago only for it to be taken up and used elsewhere – most likely lasting longer than the bricks used to build your house. Natural stone is so durable it will outlive its owners easily!
When it comes to true load bearing potential it’s actually more to do with the base rather than the thickness of your stone – its best with a ‘full bed’ – make sure there aren’t any air pockets and your base is solid and sound, such as concrete.
What’s better? Imported or Local? Where should my stone be coming from?
Many people like to know where their stone is coming from but this has led to some confusion in the marketplace. York stone, long heralded as the pinnacle of natural paving, simply implies the area that it’s come from – Yorkshire! The stone itself is actually sandstone, and the additional expense of Old York when compared with other sandstones is largely down to the fact that there is large labour costs attached to locating and efficiently removing the old flagstones from their previous application.
With New York and other British stone the additional expense over imported items is usually down to the higher labour costs and taxes we have here in the UK. Indian imported stone paving is much more affordable due to the size of the operation in quarrying, cutting and dressing. The majority of it is just as good as anything you could get in the UK and there is much more to choose from. However, there is some bad quality stone out there, so it’s worth checking before you buy – if the corners crumble under your hand, it’s not the best!
The problem with Pea Shingle/Gravel
Gravel, also known as shingle and stone chippings, is a popular product for driveways and paths due to its affordable price, range of attractive styles and ease of installation. It can also protect homeowners against uninvited guests, with a crunch underfoot of anyone walking through. One of the most frequently asked questions is what size gravel should I use?
The problem with smaller varieties is migration – anything smaller than 10-12mm will be likely to be moved by cars and feet very quickly, migrating onto your road, grass and even inside the house. Chippings bigger than 20mm can be difficult to walk on, so the optimum sizing is between 14mm and 20mm – we’ve also heard that the smaller the chippings, the more cats see it as one big litter tray!
Secondly make sure you look at the shape. Rounded, smooth stones, often seen in pea shingle, are unsurprisingly much slipper and again migrate faster. Instead, look for angular varieties. Shaped more like crocodile teeth, angular stone chippings effectively ‘lock’ in to each other so you won’t end up refilling your driveway after 12 months. Laying on a slope? You can always use a plastic gravel grid to reduce migration.