Help us build a foot path.
October 9, 2009 10:58 AM   Subscribe

How can I build a footpath from a door to the street that's economical and weather-resistant?

At my place of work, our main door is on the side of the building that leads into an empty lot. We would like to construct a footpath from the door to the street (a distance of roughly 19 feet). This previous question is helpful since there is a bit of growth in the area.

The building is located in eastern Canada and is 100 percent guaranteed to get pounded by the elements, especially snow, during our crappy winters.

What's our best option? Bricks? Stones? Are we able to do this ourselves or are we better off hiring a professional? I work at a nonprofit, so we'd like to do this as economically as possible. Thanks!
posted by futureisunwritten to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IMHO, if someone is going to have to shovel snow off of it, concrete is the only reasonable choice.
posted by Bruce H. at 11:01 AM on October 9, 2009

You can usually find used bricks on Craigslist for close to free. Stone or concrete will set you back a bit, and require a little more expertise. Aside from the bricks, you'll need landscaping fabric, sand or rock dust and probably some edging to keep everything in place.

But yeah, anything but concrete is a pain to shovel.
posted by electroboy at 11:02 AM on October 9, 2009

Do you own your building, or are you renters? This may be need to be approved by the landlord before you approach any town council for permits (if needed).

My suggestion might be (and I don't know much about snow) would be a footpath made of recycled tyre rubber - they sell it in loose, strip, and circular form around her for "mulch" but it's available in other larger pieces to cover playground surface areas.

Of course, that's only for surface - you'd still need a stable underside that a snowblower (do they use heat?) wouldn't get stuck if it gave way. If that's even how snow is usually cleared.

And find out what the landscapers who care for the area use; if they chemically prevent growth in and around the 'walkable' areas (existing and new), you don't want those chemicals pooling, if they use a flame thrower or other kind of weed burner it might not get along with the tyre overlay.

And you can get growth on the tyre underlay. It needs to be swept-kept to deter growth.

Maybe pavers over a solidly-packed foundation.

I'd say your best bet is to talk casually to whomever is responsible for landscaping at your location and see what ideas they have of what works, whether they get the commission for it or not (if they can do something like that).
posted by tilde at 11:05 AM on October 9, 2009

Sidewalk blocks (large, flat, 3x4-foot concrete bricks) are very inexpensive, and they're large and regular enough to shovel. You'd need to dig a shallow trench and use gravel to level and fill in the gaps, but sidewalks are obviously shovel-able.

Also, it's October. Hurry.
posted by rokusan at 11:13 AM on October 9, 2009

If you're going to lay anything that you want to stay intact, a firmly-compacted sub-base is absolutely essential. Tony McCormack's site, although UK-centric, is probably the most detailed and helpful resource on the subject.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:26 AM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Two words: frost heaves. Pavers, bricks etc? Do it right and dig dig dig, fill with gravel, sand, level off, tamp down (google the instructions). It's hard work.

Somewhere I just saw a magazine article that recommended a blow torch (IIRC) as a quick ice removal... tempting for my granite steps.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:34 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

How muddy is the area? It's taken several years, but some flagstones I put down have essentially become level with the ground in a location that tends to get a little swampy. Mere snow has not caused issue. If it isn't muddy, flat stepping stones should do well.
posted by adipocere at 12:08 PM on October 9, 2009

Best answer: Seconding what rekusan and TWinbrook8 said. Frost will heave most things in Canada. Even if compacted properly, they can still heave over time. The patio stones are the best choice for low-cost and something you can shovel. You might even find some used ones ( garage sales or the like) or someone giving them away. My neighbor just asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted about 10 of them, no charge. As others have said, it is getting late in the year. At least if they heave, you still have a larger area to scoop with your shovel than if the sidewalk were smaller stones or bricks. Plus bricks (most) are made for vertical surfaces (walls), not flat areas. They'l more than likely absorb the water and crumble. Thats why chimney's crumble, the repetitive heating and freezing of the water in winter.
If the sidewalk gets a lot of sun, it will melt light snow thats left on after you shovel. I usually go over my patio stones with a broom and then let the sun melt the rest.
The torch ( again, TWinbrook8) might work, but it could get costly over a few snowstorms and wet freezing weather. The sun is cheaper if its available.
posted by Taurid at 12:12 PM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding "firmly compacted sub-base" if you lay pavers or even, as we did, large stones embedded in the ground (Will Last Forever). What this translates into at Home Depot, Lowes, or whatever store you go to is sacks of something called "paver base".

I loved laying those stones. But, in your position, I think I'd definitely hire someone. It's pretty time-consuming.
posted by amtho at 8:28 PM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bricks look nice, but in my experience should only be used in low-critical applications such as a garden walk. If you need cheap, bricks. If you want it done properly, you want to get proper "pavers" which have a 2x1 dimension ratio and fit together neatly in various patterns.

The next step up is square "Belgian pavers". I think you can get them in 9x9 and 12x12 sizes. I'm going to use these to replace a flagstone walk or two. Anyway, the larger the better for shoveling and frost heave. At this point in the season you could put them down and stand a little heaving for one year -- it's better than mud -- and fix it when the weather's better.

Concrete will be "easier" to shovel than any of these but it's certainly easier for amateurs to lay pavers versus concrete, especially if you have a bunch of people.
posted by dhartung at 9:03 PM on October 9, 2009

Response by poster: I'm the only employee this time of year, so I'm responsible for doing all the maintenance or finding the most economical options for getting things done for us. Sadly, there are no landscapers on the payroll. We don't have a snowblower either. Ah, nonprofit life. We do own the building, though, so we're free to do this our way, and there's plenty of great suggestions here - thank you all so much!

Also, it's October. Hurry.

I'm thinking it might be wise to wait until spring, especially since it's a really low-traffic area and there's a bigger main door that is open right out on to the sidewalk when we're open to the public. Any hard work and money that goes into this right now will be invisible once the Newfoundland winter hits.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:46 AM on October 10, 2009

I'm in Toronto. We hired a small contractor who does home repairs. I usually run from these kind of people, but found an honest man with good subcontractors. We had the front walk dug up and a wider, solid concrete path laid for far less than interlocking brick. Nthing the advice about laying pavers. If it's not done right, it's a nightmare after a couple of years with heaving, weeds, mud - you name it. BTW, if you're renting, can the landlord do this or at least contribute? He should have provided clear, safe access to any space that he's renting.
posted by x46 at 9:34 AM on October 10, 2009

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