More and more of us are moving to live in our backyard and outdoor spaces. Sometimes, we don’t want to turn to professionals to get the work done. Sometimes, a good DIY project can be more satisfying than hiring a seasoned professional. Other times, DIY is simply a more affordable, practical, or accessible approach. One common DIY backyard project is installing a pea gravel patio.
The pea gravel patio is a common invention that offers a lot of flexibility and functionality. Endorsers love its accessibility, no-nonsense functionality, and its price point. Pea gravel patios can absolutely serve their purpose in your space. However, pea gravel is far from the perfect material, and presents challenges to homeowners over time.
What is Pea Gravel?
Pea gravel is composed of small, smoothed stones a ¼ of an inch smaller in overall size. In other words, about the size of a pea! General sizing can range from ⅛ of an inch to 1.25 inches in diameter. Larger pea gravel is used less often. This material is available in a wide range of tones and colors from neutrals like white and gray, to earthier tones like reds and yellows. A mix of colors may also be used to create visual interest.
Cities and homeowners use pea gravel often for a variety of outdoor functions. From landscaping, to garden beds and construction, uses are wide and varied. Pea gravel is great for walkways, increasing permeability, or giving a more natural organic feel to patios.
Pea Gravel Patio Pros
There’s a good reason for a rise in pea gravel popularity, and the list of pea gravel patio pros is notable. The material is popular in overseas locations such as the UK and has been for a long time. However, the trend was largely overshadowed by poured concrete in the US. The tides have begun to change, however, and pea gravel’s long list of benefits reveals why.
Pea Gravel Cost—Highly Affordability
For DIYers, avoiding the high costs of professional labor and material per cubic yard is a driving force. Pea gravel meets these needs in spades. Whether you are buying in bulk or only need a small amount, decorative pea gravel demands between $30 to $50 per ton. Cost per square foot varies based on size, color, and overall quality.
Looking to complete a larger scale project? Bulk pricing is usually available, especially when buying from local landscapers or large landscaping companies. Generally, costs amount to between $220 to $365 per 200 square feet.
When you compare this to other hardscaping materials on the market, the difference becomes clear. In contrast, 200 square feet of poured concrete will generally run homeowners between $800 to $1,600 when all is said and done.
Easy To Find
Pea gravel’s appeal also comes in its broad accessibility. No matter where you live, it’s likely that a store near you is selling large gravel bags. Gravel can be purchased everywhere from Home Depot and Walmart, to local landscaping companies, to online retailers. Overall, this material is usually never farther than a few clicks or a car ride away.
Of course, homeowners shouldn’t jump on the first material they see. Take your time to browse selections and find a size and color that makes sense for your space. Different projects demand different material, and pea gravel patios are no different.
Many hardscaping projects are customizable when done by professionals, but only up to a certain point. Materials such as pavers and concrete do offer a great finished look, but they are limited by dimensions, weight, and the terrain. It is difficult to lay pavers or concrete on a sloped or uneven surface. Pea gravel evades this issue.
The pour, smooth, and go nature of pea gravel patios allow them to take on any shape, and cover any surface. Control is in the hands of the homeowner. Pea gravel patios make it easy for initial projects to be expanded, or larger projects to be scaled back. There is not the same sense of overall finality to a finished result.
Permeable and Eco-Friendly
Homeowners are growing more and more eco-conscious as time goes on. This may also be contributing to the surge in pea gravel popularity. Hardscaping options such as concrete may look great and offer a finished appeal, but they aren’t so great for the environment.
A solid patio surface such as concrete patios and driveways do not offer permeability. This means rainwater is not allowed to soak into the ground. More often, it becomes runoff that floods storm drains, pouring lawn chemicals and other debris into area ponds.
Because pea gravel patios are composed of unlocked components, they are incredibly permeable. Rainwater is allowed to travel down through the surface of the patio and soak into the ground below. This permeability is also why gravel is prevalent in construction and mass landscaping projects where creating additional runoff is a concern.
Easy To Repair
Other solid surface patio options such as pavers and concrete are hard to fix. Cracks, heaving, weather, and wear all take their toll on other patio materials. It is a matter of when, not if, a concrete patio will need to be maintained or repaired. And these services are costly.
While pea gravel patios will certainly need maintenance over time, it is decidedly uncomplicated. Common problems such as unevenness and loss of rock density can be simply fixed by raking and pouring more pea gravel. Repair is as accessible and affordable as initial installation.
Pea Gravel Patio Cons
While there are many benefits of using pea gravel in your backyard patio, there’s also a reason why not everyone is doing it. While pea gravel remains one of the most accessible and affordable materials on the market, it also comes with its own unique set of complications.
If you’ve ever walked a gravel pathway, you’re likely familiar with this reality. Gravel spreads–easily. Even when precautions are taken, it is almost inevitable that pea gravel will find its way off your patio and in other areas of your lawn.
The migration of material may not be bothersome for some homeowners. Others, however, likely don’t appreciate the idea of picking up small stones while mowing or walking in bare feet. This is why the best gravel patios implement formal borders around the hardscape area.
Even then, pea gravel will shift within its intended area. A formally level patio can quickly become dented and uneven after a month or two of heavy foot traffic. The unevenness can set back the aesthetic appeal of the space, as well as create issues with furniture leveling and daily use. Still, if that happens, it’s always affordable to simply add more gravel when needed.
If you love the feeling of being barefoot in your yard on a summer day, a pea gravel patio could be at odds with this vision. Most pea gravel is smoothed to avoid any dangerous and painful hard edges. However, even smooth rocks are less comfortable to stand on that completely flat and level concrete.
The more compact and even you are able to get your pea gravel, the more comfortable you and your guests will be going barefoot. But if you are someone who rarely finds themselves outside without shoes, this could be a non-issue.
Damaging to Furniture
If you’ve recently installed a patio, you’re bound to be outfitting it with patio furniture. This is where many people encounter their first complication. To the naked eye and even underfoot, pea gravel can feel fairly level and stable. Patio furniture is a different story.
Placing patio furniture on pea gravel is a challenge. Pea gravel creates ample opportunity for sinking, shifting, unevenness, and even damage to your outdoor pieces. The result is an off-kilter table, scratched up patio chairs, and general frustration. While this is a real concern for DIYers, there are a number of things you can do to improve this situation.
Weed Growth Happens
When packed tightly, weed growth isn’t always a huge issue on a pea gravel patio. In fact, some view this as one of the many pea gravel patio pros, and it’s why many families use pea gravel to line along trees and garden beds. But it doesn’t always prevent unfriendly faces from poking through. When that happens, you need a base layer. Landscape fabric to the rescue!
To reduce instances of weeds, make sure to lay your pea gravel patio on top of landscaping fabric. Landscaping fabric helps to create an additional thin layer or weed barrier between the pea gravel and the ground underneath. This helps to prevent weed growth.
Complicate Snow Removal
Pea gravel is a great all-season option for many. It does not expand and crack in cold weather, or shift due to change of temperature. However, it does present an issue where other hardscaping materials do not.
Snow removal on a pea gravel patio can become an unexpected headache. Shoveling over a surface of loose rocks can result in picking up pieces of your patio or disrupting the shape or evenness.The heavier and wetter the snow is, the more problems will appear. For many, however, the ease and affordability of yearly repair is worth the minor headache a few months of the year.
Pea Gravel is Affordable, Customizable, and Easy to Install–But It’s Not Perfect
It is easy to see why the pea gravel patio has grown in popularity over the last decade. They provide homeowners with an affordable solution to outdoor living in the form of a manageable and customizable project. They are also eco-friendly and cost effective to maintain. Still, they are not perfect. Unevenness, migrations, and discomfort underfoot are all inevitabilities of pea gravel in application.
To determine if a pea gravel patio is right for you, ask yourself whether or not the savings and flexibility outweigh the drawbacks. If the answer is yes, go ahead and pick up a bag. If the answer is no, a professional contractor is probably only a phone call away.