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Stone or concrete pavers create a solidly attractive entrance  December 12, 2005

Chicago Sun-Times, Apr 24, 2005 by SUSAN BANKS

Choosing material for a walkway, patio or steps can put a homeowner between a rock and a hard place -- literally.

Hardscape -- walls, walks, steps, patios or other permanent fixtures in a home landscape -- can make or break a landscape design.

One of the first choices is also the most important, because it will last the longest: What will be the basic building material -- natural stone or cast concrete products such as pre-formed pavers and wall units?

Both can be installed without mortar; some pre-formed wall systems, in fact, interlock. While concrete products are sure to have a long life span, natural stone, having already been around thousands of years, is the clear winner in any longevity contest.

It's pretty clear which is the favorite at Glacier Stone in Glenshaw, Pa. Mike Raible and Pete Biernesser, childhood friends who went into business together, own the company. They've been in the stone business for 10 years, but have had the yard in Glenshaw for the past four.

Biernesser takes care of the design end of the business, and Raible keeps a handle on the day-to-day operations and also does the bidding. The property, a long, narrow slice of land, serves nicely as a showcase for their inventory, which is sandstone and flagstone, much of it from their own mountaintop in Eastern Pennsylvania.

"We do a lot of things nobody else does," said Biernesser.

So far, they've built a huge lake and stocked it, used 157 tons of stone to construct a very large wine cellar, and have put in countless ponds and waterfalls. They are particularly known for the rock bridges and caves in their water gardens.

Whatever the size or price of the job, Raible said their hallmark is that the end product will always be proportionally correct and look like it belongs.

With a little motivation and encouragement, Biernesser said, many people are surprised to find they can do hardscapes themselves.

So, just how much does natural stone cost? According to Raible, natural gray top rock sells for $100 to $150 a ton; flagstone goes for $200 to $300 per ton. Boulders that might be used as a focal point in a landscape are priced anywhere from $50 to $700. Delivery cost is additional. And it goes without saying that labor would be additional.

Concrete pavers have been around for decades, but in recent years, changes in technology have made them more attractive and long- lasting, according to Robert Welling, vice president of the Landscape Products Division of R.I. Lampus Co. in Springdale, Pa.

Lampus has been churning out concrete products since 1924. It got its start manufacturing concrete block -- which it still does -- then veered into the paving and wall unit business in the mid- 1970s.

These days, the company holds the trademark on Omni-Stone, which is the name of their entire line of paving products, but probably most connected with zigzag shaped, interlocking paver. The name has become synonymous with the pavers, whether the company makes them or not. They also manufacture a wall product called Versa-Lok, which is a solid, pinned, retaining wall system.

The company produces paving stones in 12 shapes and 10 colors, a far cry from the institutional gray units of yesteryear. The retaining walls come in eight colors.

As the paving market heads toward squares and rectangles and away from zigzags, Lampus has recently introduced a product that is tumbled in large cylinders, giving the block a more weathered look.

The tumbled units are more expensive than the regular block. That's because, said Lampus president Richard Jucha, all of the tumbled or "weathered" block requires extra handling, sorting and stacking. Customers can expect to pay about 50 percent more for this product than they would for a more traditional block.

Lampus does not install its products but will recommend contractors that have been trained using its systems.

So what will these units cost you? Pavers are sold by the square foot. Most go for about $2.40 per square foot; the tumbled blocks go for about $3.70. Delivery is extra.

Joe Izzi, owner of Precision Paving of West View, Pa., runs a company that installs only Lampus pavers and retaining wall systems. Izzi, who has been doing this work for 28 years, believes pavers are the way to go because they will outlast both concrete and asphalt in the hardscape.

Although the "weathered" stone is more expensive per square foot, that doesn't mean having it installed will be half again more expensive. Izzi said labor for installation is about the same for both types of units. If you choose a more labor-intensive pattern, it may cost more in installation, but said Izzi, labor will never be double.

Izzi said there is little risk in doing it yourself because if you have a failure, you can repair it without losing the product. The same can be said of stone.

Scripps Howard News Service

Copyright The Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.

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