Nov 16, 2018

Brick Paver Joint Sand: Facts & Fiction

Sealing vs. Poly Sanding brick paver joints

After being in the brick paver business for 36 years now, I have been able to experience the true facts and results of sealing or poly sanding brick pavers & paver joints. The number one request in our industry by clients is that they want a "permanent" solution for paver joint sand. Unfortunately, this request is not totally achievable or feasible with any brick paver joint approach.

Lets start by saying that brick paver joint sand is the most essential part of brick pavers. Paver
joint sand is the essential part that keeps brick pavers "locked up" laterally and helps reduce the erosion or deterioration of the sub base (below the brick paver).  Keeping brick paver joints filled also "helps" and "inhibits" the growth of organic materials like weeds, grass, moss, etc.. . this is NOT absolute.  Paver joint sand is the number one maintenance need for brick pavers and also the most neglected!

Prior to the last 15 years, using just "regular" paver joint sand was the norm. Like any industry, the development of products has evolved.  Brick paver sealants and polymeric (bonding) sands were developed to meet consumer demands and help improve performance of the brick pavers & paver joints.  In this post, I will help guide you to a educated decision of which process or product may work best in your individual situation.

Below are my opinions and conclusions from "real" results over the past 37 years of experience and research using these products. My results are drawn from executing decades of paver maintenance programs.  My goal is for you to make an informed decision on which approach is best for you and the optimum performance & appearance of your brick pavers.  I have done brick paver work in both Michigan & Florida and though the climates are extremely different, the performance of brick paver joint sand is very universal.  I understand there are many varying opinions from other contractors, product manufacturers, and online posts that may contradict with my assertions.  As I have always told my customers & potential clients, if you agree with a contradicting opinion, please move on or hire the contractor that best fits your own conclusion.

FICTION: There is a "permanent" solution for my brick paver joints so I do not need to sweep sand or I will never get any weeds, grass, or moss in my brick paver joints again!

FACT:  There is NOT a "permanent" solution for brick paver joint sand!  Routine joint sand maintenance for brick pavers is essential and required for optimum performance of your brick pavers.  The whole brick paver system is based on a flexing and floating system whereby it moves to the effects of winter frost/freeze thaw cycles, water erosion, wind, foot or vehicle traffic, and slight earth movements.  The brick paver joints take the brunt of these movements and climate effects.  This is an outdoor structure that will require joint sand replenishment on a routine maintenance program.

FICTION:  Sealing my brick pavers & paver joints or Poly sanding my paver joints, I will not have to maintain my brick pavers anymore!

FACT:  Again, there is no permanent solution to brick pavers joints, but sealing or poly sanding your brick paver joints will "help, reduce, or inhibit" the need for frequent paver joint maintenance or the occurrence of weeds, grass, & moss in the joints.  Sealed or Poly sanded paver joints will still slowly settle, erode, crack, and disappear as time goes on.  In Michigan, winter freeze thaw cycles are the biggest culprit.  In Florida, heavy thunderstorms are their demise.  Water erosion over your pavement (brick pavers) is the biggest contributor to paver joint sand maintenance.

FICTION:  If I have both sealing and poly sanding done for my brick pavers, I will have better results!

FACT: WRONG!  It is highly recommended not to do this process.  Here are few reasons why.
  • You never want to mix sealer with poly sand. You never know if the chemical make up of these products will be adverse.  If there is an adverse reaction, it will not be reversible without total replacement of the damage brick pavers and paver joints.
  • Sealer can improperly puddle and cloud up.  If you were to use poly sand in the joints, you must properly wet the poly sand to let it set up.  You cannot use the sealer as the wetting agent for poly sand!.  Once the poly sand is set, sealer cannot properly soak into the paver joints and will puddle or accumulate in the paver joint which will lead to clouding and/or yellowing.
  • Using both products is redundant.  Both sealers and poly sands are made to work strictly on their own. Using them together does not add any additional performance.
  • Cost vs Benefit:  If you are to use both these products together, the cost of doing both options far exceeds any benefit you would get.  

FICTION:  I do not have to CLEAN my brick pavers &  pavers joints prior to re-sealing or re-poly sanding joints

FACT:  FALSE.  You always have to CLEAN your paver joints prior to applying sealer or re-
sweeping in poly sand.  The only time you do NOT need to prior clean paver joints is when you are doing "touch ups" within a couple months of the initial work.  When it comes to re-sealing, you cannot just seal the brick pavers and paver joints with dirt, soot, and organic matter on the surface of the pavers or in the paver joints.  The same holds true with poly sanding the paver joints.  Crumbling, cracking, molding old poly sand needs to be removed and remaining poly sand needs to be cleaned thoroughly. The degree of cleaning for both options will depend on the current condition of the brick pavers and paver joints.  Our customers that stay on a 2-3 year cleaning and re-sealing (or re-poly sanding) maintenance program reduce the cost of cleaning from the initial restoration because the cleaning time is faster and less invasive.

FICTION:  Sealing or Poly Sanding is most of the cost of restoring my brick pavers.

FACT:  Excluding any repair or re-leveling work, cleaning (or prepping) the brick pavers and paver joints is a little over half the cost of a restoration project. In particular, the paver joints are the hardest and messiest work.  The more severe the paver joints that have grass, weeds, moss, etc.. the more time, effort, and clean up is involved.  Prepping for sealing or poly sanding is more time consuming than actually sealing or poly sanding the joints.

FICTION:  Once I seal my brick pavers, I have to seal every 2-3 years.

FACT:  FALSE.  If you decide that you did not get the benefits of sealing that you envisions, you can just let the sealer wear off your brick pavers.  Most brick paver sealants last 18-36 months depending on weather & climate during this time period.  The biggest reason for re-sealing on a routine schedule is to keep the appearance of the brick pavers consistent.  Areas that are exposed more to sun, wind, rain, traffic, etc.. will wear quicker and areas that are protected will last much longer. This same process will hold true with poly sand in the paver joints.  To keep your brick paver structure protected and the appearance even, the recommendation is to re-seal (re-poly sand joints) every 2-3 years.  The difference from 2 to 3 years really falls on the customer's preference.  We routinely contact customers the 3rd year as we feel this is the optimum time to have this service performed.  Many customers like the fresh look done every 2 years to keep a new appearance up to date or they have a special event that year.

FICTION:  Sealing my brick pavers will make them shiny and slippery.

FACT:  This is not true if you use the right brick paver sealants. High gloss solvent (chemical based) brick paver sealants are no longer the norm.  Over the past 5 years there has been an increased movement to use high quality "water based" sealers.  Water based sealers are not only environmentally safer, they produce a more natural appearance and perform much better with paver joint sand stabilization.  The brick paver sealants are less slippery as they do not create a heavy pills on the surface.  Any wet surface can have some slip but water base sealers help keep the texture of the surface in tact.  The "matte" finish is the normal now for outdoor brick paver structures.  In 2017 and 2018, we used 100% water based "matte" finish brick paver sealants.

FICTION:  After having my initial restoration work done on my brick pavers, I can wait until 2-3 years later to have any maintenance work done.

FACT:  Paver joint maintenance is an ongoing process with brick pavers.  The "in between years", the seasons between cleaning & sealing (poly sanding), should have seasonal (usually Spring) sweeping of regular paver joint sand to keep voided joints filled.  This maintenance program service is our largest brick paver service.  Except for customers that do it themselves, most of our customers take advantage of this seasonal service.  We begin every Spring in Michigan with this service for our current clients before taking on any new clients!

FICTION:  Sealing my brick pavers and paver joints is more expensive than just poly sanding the joints!

FACT:  FALSE.   I have done a cost analysis of both processes over the years using product cost and labor time that concludes the cost is about the same .  The cost of cleaning & prepping is the same in both options.  You cannot just clean the joints for poly sanding and not the brick pavers too.  So, the cost of cleaning in either restoration choice is constant.  Without going into complicated details, the cost per square is very close when using either product. This is why we charge the same restoration cost whether you use sealer or poly sand for your brick paver structures.  Keep in mind that poly sand is not used for modular retaining wall systems (block & caps for steps, walls, & patio retaining walls) but with sealing you get the added value.

I usually advise my customers to do the sealing option for their brick pavers & paver joints.  The main reason is that you get the same results with paver joint sand stabilization but sealing gives your brick pavers added surface protection and color enhancement.  The costs being pretty much the same, this is a no brainer decision.   For customer who are concerned about having too much "sheen" to the appearance, we are able to dial in the mix of the high quality brick paver sealant we use.  We can reduce the solids in the sealer somewhat to give a more "natural" appearance to the brick paver surfaces but need to make sure a good balance in the mix so not to deter the joint stabilization effect.  There are some circumstances where the poly sanding option fits best but this is on an individual basis.

  • Make sure when restoring your brick paver structures you contract with a qualified "brick paver contractor" to perform this task.  Using a landscaper, lawn service, or handyman service can be a disaster.  Lake of experience, knowledge, and patience can result in a poor or non-reversal effect that you will pay for dearly.  In our case, we actually are solely focused only on brick paver repair & restoration services, no longer design & installation.  Our resources, training, and scheduling adhere to this specific service. Flexibility & patience is key to a good sealing or poly sanding job especially with weather variables.  Larger companies want your business, but due to the lower profits of your work, they do not prioritize in their schedules.
  • Sealers and Poly Sand products should NEVER be purchased at big box stores!  Not only are they inferior in quality but they are not totally specific to high density concrete brick pavers. We purchase, as you should if doing yourself, sealers & poly sand from brick paver specific manufacturers and suppliers.  If your brick pavers are sealed or joint sanded with inferior cheap products, the bad results may be irreversible. 
  • Make sure that the contractor you are using does a 2 coat process when applying sealer.  This 2 coat process is not sealing twice (returning when first coat is dry).  This 2 coat process is spraying a "flood" coat first to allow the sealer to properly soak into the paver joint sand.  Then shortly after, spraying a second coat to adhere to the surface of the brick pavers.  Keep in mind this is using a high quality "water based" sealer.
  • Make sure that the contractor is NOT using a Poly Sand product with "cement" used as the major bonding product in the sand. This is a complete NO NO! Products using Portland cement as the bonding agent will surely leave a "haze" on your brick paver surfaces. We use a high quality polymer bonding agent based product that does not leave any "hazing" appearance and gives the best joint stabilization in the market!
  • The level of joint sand is always "down" in the joint, NOT flush with the top of the brick pavers.  Optimum is 1/4" down but this level varies due to the levelness of your brick pavers and the style of brick paver.
  • Joint sand is for the brick pavers to keep them locked up, NOT wall caps seams & gaps which are glued in place.
  • Make sure the contractor you are using does a "follow up" service! A couple of years ago we decided to improve our customer service to include a one-time follow up and inspection service to do some touchups after the initial work is done.  Because there will always be some initial settling of joint sand when cleaning & sealing (or poly sanding), we return within about a month to inspect and touch up any problem areas.  The other benefit is we are able to see if there is any concerns from water run off.  We routinely find spots where water from the roof, gutters, or landscape exceedingly erode the joints.  We are able to inform customers of an issue so they can address appropriately.