Concrete pavers are long-lasting. No one disputes their decades-long staying power. But as with all investments, a little maintenance can go a long way. All pavements get dirty, and interlocking concrete pavement owners want to keep great pavement looking great. From discolored pool decks to driveways marred by oil leaks and tire marks, contractors are rising to the demand for sprucing up pavers, especially high-visibility residential applications.
Contractors today are landing residential and commercial paver restoration projects installed 10, 15 and 20 years ago. “When they first came out, concrete pavers were being sold as [practically] maintenance-free,” says Rich Colletti, founder of Seal n’ Lock, a Florida manufacturer of concrete paver sealing products. “That’s what people believed at the time.” But as they aged, the UV light, environment and surface wear made them not look as good as when they were new.
All pavements are at the mercy of nature and use. However, it’s how they age and what can be done about it that’s important. Older paver projects can be restored economically and quickly. Today, there are a host of solutions that contractors can use to develop revenue opportunities from existing and new clients.
Additionally, the capital investment isn’t as high as that required to equip a paver installation company. The biggest upfront expense is equipment used for power washing and cleaning to remove efflorescence and stains, and for applying sealers. This investment is augmented by the redeployment of existing equipment to repair pavers, including pullers, pry bars, mallets, screens and the like.
Contractors say it’s a good supplemental or standalone business, and it’s growing.
“You do a paver installation, with everything according to ICPI guidelines, but they still need to be maintained,” says Pat McCrindle, east coast regional sales manager and technical sales rep for Global Sealer Technologies (GST) International, who started a maintenance and repair company after several years of installing pavers. “The investment comes back quickly to make you more efficient and effective. It’s a very natural progression to get involved with maintenance, particularly in markets with older paver projects.”
A Product Evolution
In just a few decades, a host of products and methods rose to meet the demand for paver maintenance, cleaning and restoration. Treatment of pavers might include applying a colored seal—yellow, red, green—allowing owners to redesign their installations, or a specific product to protect against mold, moisture or chemical stains.
From water- and solvent-based sealers to penetrating and surface sealers, polyurethane and acrylics, there is a sealer solution for every climate and installation. Many are compatible with polymeric sand. “If you look at 15- to 20-year-old pavers, they’re structurally sound, and they will last another 20 years,” says Al Dorais, president of Techniseal, a maker of sealing products based in Candiac, Quebec, Canada. “We can take old pavers and bring them back to life.”
Contractors report that while interest is increasing among newer clients who are opting for cleaning and maintenance plans that begin shortly after installation, there’s a substantial market for clients with older installations looking for the “wow factor” of restoration.
Here are some case studies.
Case 1: The Facelift
When Omaha, NE, homeowner Reid Kenedy contracted the installation of a concrete paver patio over 10 years ago, he couldn’t have imagined how it might respond to the harsh climate. Fortunately, a local contractor was able to offer restoration services. “Normally we do our sealing right as we finish the job,” says Justin Hampton of Paver Designs LLC in Omaha. “But we installed a patio more than 10 years ago, and the pavers had lost their original color. We were trying to come up with a way to restore it.” The 400 sf (37 m2) red and black patio provided a home for outdoor enjoyment and activity while enduring hot, humid Midwestern summers and cold winters.
Hampton recommended a colored sealing product. Kenedy had several extra pavers remaining from the original installation, which they used as a test for the new treatment. They waited 10 days after the test application and decided to move forward with the entire patio. “It made all the difference in the world,” Kenedy says. “They look better today than they did when they were first installed.”
The concrete pavers’ color was restored and the patio has not required additional maintenance since the sealer was applied.
Case 2: Body and Fender Work
Name it, and this 10-year-old Howell, NJ, patio endured it: snow, rain, heat, moss, fading and settlement. Owner Greg Varner initially imagined surface restoration was in order, but the patio required some repairs, too. “The repairs covered every aspect of pavers without replacing them,” Varner says of his repair and restoration, completed by Rob Densieski of Paver Restoration Inc, in Freehold, NJ. The patio had also become a safety hazard. “It’s a high traffic area,” Varner says. “People tripped constantly.”
The 920 sf (85 m2) patio received more than just restoration and spanned services Varner didn’t know were available. “It was a total restoration including cleaning, polymer sand placement and sealing of steps, patio and walkway,” says Densieski, who completed the work in fall 2013. In addition to cleaning and restoring the existing pavers, some were pulled up and moved to relay the shape that had been desired initially—but never fully realized—for the multi-color, multi-shaped patio. This was inexpensive compared to repairs on cast-in-place concrete surfaces that require cutting and replacing with a patchy result.
“We didn’t know this was available,” Varner says. “I called around to landscape and hardscape companies. No one wanted to touch it. They only wanted to rip it out and redo it. I wanted it cleaned, but also wanted it to be fixed.” The project was completed over a week and a half including cleaning and sealing plus the patio expansion with new pavers. “It looks brand new,” Varner says.
Building a Business on Restoration
The concrete paver industry is quickly realizing the potential business from aftermarket products and services. McCrindle began his maintenance business with an initial investment of $4,000. Today, he has a $30,000 trailer with top-of-the-line equipment, including diesel-heated power washers and electric reels. Service contracts are offered to new customers as well as to those with older paver projects. A maintenance schedule is developed for new customers depending on environmental factors and intensity of use. “Patios need some maintenance,” McCrindle says. “Any real estate investment has a maintenance schedule. You paint and repair your house. For pavers, we offer a two-year service contract with a renewal.” The result is a patio that looks perpetually new.
Of the 10 billion sf (930 million m2) of pavers in the U.S., less than 2 percent are sealed. While most don’t need sealing, there is still a significant market. “The growth potential for the market is huge,” McCrindle says. But education is a hurdle, especially when it comes to sealing pavers right after they have been installed as a means to prevent problems, repairs and restoration down the road. Dorias of Techniseal agrees. “It’s about raising awareness.”
Contractors are doing their part to spread the word. For Densieski, the launch of his business came after talking with a paver distributor nine years ago who told him that everyone is installing pavers, but no one is taking care of them. “For the first two years, it was an add-on to my full-time employment,” Densieski says. Now, restoration is 95 percent of his business. “We’ll install new projects, but we don’t go out looking for them anymore,” he says.
Others have been slower to expand into restoration, but they know it’s becoming a lucrative and essential business line. “Historically, we did not push a lot of cleaning and sealing, but we are now looking at it as a mandatory part of the business,” says Charissa Farley of Farley Interlocking Paving in Palm Desert, CA, now in the process of adding a maintenance unit to the business. “We are learning and growing and investigating what’s appropriate and when, not just for residential maintenance but also for maintaining streets. This includes vacuum cleaning permeable surfaces and selecting different types of products for removing stains on municipal paver projects.”
In the same way that waxing and washing a car keeps it looking new, or replacing mulch will keep landscaping appearing fresh, by explaining the benefits upfront, contractors are finding that customers are open to maintenance to keep pavement looking brand new.
“People are spending thousands of dollars on hardscaping,” Densieski says. ”You spent all that money, you want to maintain it to keep your investment looking beautiful.”