YOU CAN LOOK AT THE OUTSIDE OF a house and tell instantly if its owners are interested in today’s green technology. No matter how old the neighborhood itself may be, the telltale signs of the house may be solar panels on the roof, or a cistern collecting rainwater from the gutters. You might find drought-resistant native plants in the yard and a hybrid car in the driveway.

Take a closer look at that driveway. You might have missed another green item that even this eco-conscious homeowner may not be aware is an asset. I’m talking about the clay pavers that make up his front porch, walkway, or driveway. Although they may have been installed 25 years ago, they’re a true “green” construction material that meets every criteria of today’s understanding of the word.

Whether or not this customer already has clay pavers, he’s a good candidate to buy more of them.

Consumer demand

Clay pavers are highly marketable to today’s “green” consumer. But their appeal isn’t limited to people who drive hybrids; they’ll fit nicely into any hardscape project a customer wants. And, more than ever, customers, green or not, want landscape projects.

Consumers are always being told that outdoor spaces, such as patios, can be just as important to a home’s value as gourmet kitchens or luxury bathrooms. Smart Money estimates that landscaping and hardscaping can increase a home’s market value by as much as 15 percent. According to the National Organization of Realtors, outdoor rooms can deliver 77 percent return on investment at sale time, and they’re less expensive per square foot than room additions and kitchen or bath remodels.

“Homeowners know that designed landscapes add value to their lives, as well as to their property,” said Nancy Somerville, executive vice president and CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). “They’re interested in livable, open spaces that are both stylish and earth-friendly.”

According to ASLA’s 2014 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends Survey, consumer demand remains strong for attractively designed residential landscapes that are perfect for entertaining and relaxing. The survey also shows continuing popularity for both sustainable and low-maintenance design.

Landscape garden structures, terraces, patios and decks scored high in desirability in the ASLA survey, at 97.7 percent. Outdoor living spaces, defined as kitchen and entertainment areas, were second most popular, coming in at 92 percent.

Permeable paving came in at 78.9 percent, reduced lawns at 72.6 percent, and recycled materials at 65.1 percent.

Clay pavers can play a role in all of those types of projects, both in new construction and in renovations, either commercial or residential.

They’re the epitome of sustainability, as they’re made out of nothing more than clay and water, the most abundant building materials on the planet, and they last virtually forever. They’re recyclable at both ends of their lifespan, as new clay pavers can be made from old ones, and old pavers can be recycled at the end of their intended use. The colors are natural, not created with pigments or dyes, and permanent, all the way through.

They’re versatile and mobile. Should a homeowner’s wants or needs change, clay pavers can be moved and repurposed. If a planned addition will encroach on an existing clay-paver patio, they can be taken up and reused on a new patio or walkway. If underground drain lines or electrical conduit need repair, or should a tree root push some pavers out of place, they can be removed and reset later.

Using clay pavers also helps preserve the classic look of traditional clay brick, while protecting the environment at the same time.

Today’s pavers: standard, thin and permeable

The two kinds of clay pavers used most often in hardscape projects are called standard and thin. Standard pavers are installed on a base of compacted crusher-run gravel and sand, with additional sand swept into the joints. Thin pavers are in stalled atop existing poured concrete pads, with heavy-duty roofing felt underneath to cushion the pavers and prevent rocking against the concrete surface.

In recent years, a third kind of clay paver has hit the market: permeable pavers. These are installed on a base of graduated aggregate without fine particles. The permeability is not through the face of the pavers themselves, but in the voids between them. Rain falls on the pavers, enters the voids and is stored beneath in the aggregate, where it is held briefly until it seeps into the ground. Permeable clay pavers were developed out of the current concern for water conservation and prevention of stormwater runoff, both of which can be mandates for new construction.

Because permeable clay pavers enable stormwater to filter back into the soil, instead of draining into streams and rivers and picking up pollutants along the way, they often satisfy state and local stormwater management requirements.

Builders using them can potentially qualify for LEED credits in four ways: stormwater design; reduction of heat island effect/non roof; recycled content (both of which depend on the color chosen); and use of regional materials.

They’re stronger now

Because modern clay pavers are continually tested for strength and water absorption, they’re durable enough for any climate.

It hasn’t always been this way. Clay pavers are made of the same material as face brick (the brick used for walls). But bricks are not pavers.

Many years ago, pavers were made at the end of a season’s production run of bricks, at the end of a calendar year, just before winter set in. The pavers were then stored in the brickyard until the following spring, from the existing inventory.

Both bricks and pavers were fired when landscapers would order them for the same length of time, at similar temperatures. These bricks worked fine for walls, but weren’t highest quality clay-brick pavers is durable enough to withstand being installed on the ground and subjected to freeze/thaw cycles or the weight of vehicles.

That’s no longer true. More than 30 years ago, new engineering standards called for firing clay pavers at hotter temperatures for longer times. Today, the compressive strength of the more than 12,000 pounds per square inch, even far greater than poured concrete.

This means that today’s clay durable than yesterday’s. It also pavers are much better and more means that buyers who’ve purchased recycled pavers, made before the new engineering standards were in place, should be aware that they might not last as long as newer ones. If a design calls for a paver that looks old, there are several lines of modern pavers that have been distressed for that “vintage” look.

These might be a better choice in terms of both price and value.

Incorporating segmental paving into existing landscaping businesses

Incorporating segmental clay paving into your existing landscape business can be accomplished by partnering with an already established, reputable brick-mason business or paving contractor. You can learn from his experience.

There is also formal training available, such as is offered by the School for Advanced Segmental Paving, among others. There may also be classes in paver installation at a trade school in your area. The school might be a good place to ask for advice—or even recruit future employees.

You can also take advantage of programs offered by trade associations such as the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute. Contractors can also get valuable training at the annual Hardscape North America trade show.

If you decide to get into this market, gather your tools. You already own the most important ones: a pencil, paper and a calculator. These are more vital to paving businesses than access to compactors, brick saws or open credit lines.

You’ve got homework to do. While the economy is recovering, as it is right now, many customers—even those of modest means—will focus on improving existing dwellings instead of moving or building new ones. There’s always going to be a certain segment of people with the money to do it. Another strategy is to expand your brand to include higher-end landscaping services targeting wealthy customers.

At the jobsite, keep in mind that you can rent much of the equipment, such as compactors or brick saws, until you can justify longterm leasing or purchase. When estimating jobs, the biggest mistake that contractors make is to price them by the square foot, versus estimating each job’s costs.

Think instead about how big the job is, how much cutting will be involved and whether or not you have access to the jobsite. Consider:

— How will you move the materials in/out?

— Where are the utilities located?

— What if the customer chooses a more expensive paver and you’ve already given them a price?

— How much is your overhead, and have you figured that in along with a reasonable profit?

— Are you working alongside a general contractor, and do you know what his schedule is as to when certain things will happen, so you can build that into your schedule?

— Have you purposefully scheduled in extra time for unforeseen delays, like bad weather?