While paving, be sensitive
Natural materials should be given first preference.
When you say ‘paving the way’, it is not necessarily a verb denoting action, but also a metaphor towards our future, either sustainable or not. Paving may not contribute to climate change in a big way, but in its own small way, appropriate paving will mean much to the immediate environment. The domination of manufactured materials today, coupled with the designer images, have led to the decline of other options.
The most eco-friendly paving is possibly not paving at all, which can be an option even today. Traditionally, every house would have a small patch around the house called plinth protection, considered very important then due to the slow setting foundation mortars. Modern foundations in majority of contexts do not get affected by surface water near the building wall; hence this concrete path can be avoided.
In cities, hardly anyone steps out without wearing footwear, which means we can walk safely anywhere. Yet, we pave every possible place. Even when people walked without footwear, the grounds were not covered, proving that we can leave much of our surfaces unpaved. Many villages continue the practice of applying cow dung.
If paving is unavoidable, natural materials should be given the first preference. India is a country with variety of stones such as granite, kota, cudapah, tandoor, dholpur, sandstone, laterite and many more. Every natural stone, without fine polish, is suited to be used outdoors against rain and sun. Besides having the lowest possible embodied energy, they are re-usable and go well with most kind of design styles.
Brick-on-edge is among the most economical and durable options to pave outdoors, which lets water percolation in the gaps, provides an anti-skid surface and goes well with the context, especially if it is a garden. Terracota tiles are also anti-skid and economical, providing a good touch for the bare feet. However, they are unfit in public areas with high wear and tear. They are durable in semi-open areas such as covered paths and gazebos. For areas of high footfall, open jointed stone slabs can be tried where slabs are placed with a few inches gap in between. The gaps support grass, allow percolation, enable easy replacement and are reusable.
Typical problem arises where we park the car, especially within the house site. Plain cement concrete floor could be the cheap and best option, but it stains over years. So, pigmented concrete floors can be tried to conceal the stains. Using broken pieces, we can produce in situ ‘china mosaic flooring’ which also comes at low cost. It only needs little skill to produce a neat looking surface.
Nowadays, interlocking concrete pavers are popular, though they are not eco-friendly. A variation therein, perforated pavers with holes in between ensure both percolation as well as performance.
Many more material options can be found in every region, but the challenge of eco-friendly paving does not lie in material, but in the very decision – should we pave or not.