Ground Cover: Permeable Pavers

As a kid, did you ever stand outside looking up into the sky when it was raining with your mouth wide open? As an adult, ever wonder what happens to those raindrops once they hit the pavement?

It’s a journey fraught with perils when rain happens to land on a city street, sidewalk or any paved surface where it gets carried into storm drainage systems. On the way it collects spilled oil, de-icing salts, pesticides, bacteria from pet waste… and well, you get the idea. That precious raindrop becomes polluted water long before it finds its way back into our streams, rivers and oceans.

When rainfall hits a permeable surface (e.g., terra firma) however, it slowly percolates and replenishes underground aquifers and in the process, pollutants are more readily broken down. However, our urban landscapes are covered with impervious materials—asphalt, cement and buildings—all of which have been designed to funnel water into storm drains and treatment plants.

Even at home, cement driveways and patios often cover a high percentage of our yards, which can contribute to water runoff problems with surrounding neighbors or open spaces. Green building strategies look at ways to preserve natural resources such as water and energy during the design and planning phases of home building. When it comes to site development and landscaping, a solution and eco-friendly alternative to hardscaping are permeable paving systems that allow water to soak back into the earth. 

Interlocking plastic grid systems (photo above) can be filled-in with gravel or grass and are loading bearing, making them ideal for driveways or spaces where you want to park a vehicle but don’t necessarily want to pour concrete. 

Pavers made from stone, clay or brick allow water to pass through gaps between each paver (as shown above) but be forewarned, these systems are often more expensive due to the labor costs involved in their installation. On the other hand, they will increase the curb appeal of any home due to their classic, estate-look.

Gravel is one of the least expensive permeable surface options but you can expect more maintenance issues down the road due to ruts and erosion after heavy rains and snow removal is a challenge on this surface as well. Unfortunately, for some, permeable paving systems are not for the DIY crowd. Grading with heavy equipment and surface preparation are critical components to making any permeable system effective and long-lasting. In addition, you will want to work with a landscape designer and contractor that understand your soil and weather conditions to help you choose the best permeable surface for your driveway or patio.  


  1. Another helpful post, Tracy. I'd never really thought about this, but I'm definitely going to look into these now for my New Hampshire place - should be just perfect! Thanks for the ideas.


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