The History of Permeable Pavers
As our country’s urban development continues and cities get bigger, stormwater runoff becomes a relevant issue to address. Traditional concrete and asphalt paving systems get in the way of rainwater seeping into the soil as nature intended, and traditional drainage systems across major U.S. cities are overtaxed. This problem became so extreme in Atlanta in 2010 that stormwater literally exploded manhole caps off of manholes. A solution was needed, and it was needed fast. Enter in permeable pavers, an old eco-friendly paving system that the U.S. is now implementing in major cities.
Permeable Pavers - The New Kid on the Block
Permeable pavers, porous pavement, and pervious concrete paving systems are all becoming more frequent across the country. For example, permeable pavers are being used in Chicago, Illinois through the city’s “Green Alleys” program. This program includes the use of recycled construction materials and permeable pavements to resurface Chicago alleys. Permeable pavers are cropping up in Atlanta, Georgia as well, following the 2010 infrastructure and population boom that the city experienced. Other, major U.S. cities are beginning to utilize permeable pavers in driveways and parking lots to counteract flooding problems in the cities' severely over-taxed stormwater runoff systems.
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Paving Systems through the Ages
The technology of permeable pavers is not new. But it is relatively new in the U.S. In fact, our neighbors in Canada and overseas in the U.K. have used porous paving systems for decades. The first concept of creating porosity in paving stones was innovated in the 1800s in Europe. As Europe went through its own industrial revolution, European cities (always more tightly packed than American cities) saw a need for a stormwater runoff solution before the U.S. did.
Inventors in the U.K. experimented with making paving blocks that had different sizes of gravel in the blocks, intended to allow for water seepage through the block. Once implemented, permeable pavers solved big problems for already-congested European cities. These were cities that had major stormwater runoff problems, especially in the tight-packed corridors of London.
Pavers - The World’s Oldest Paving System
But this is only the tip of the iceberg in the history of pavers. Going back thousands of years, pavers were being used as a form of paving and roadbuilding since Ancient Egypt, circa three-thousand years before the birth of Christ. While the individual paving stones of this era were not exactly “porous” on a stone-to-stone basis, the design of such paving systems made Egyptian roads shed water by allowing rainwater to seep through the cracks between each paving stone.
All Roads Lead to Rome with Cobble Stone Pavers
Such pavers appeared again in Roman times circa 300 B.C. when Roman road builders used cobble stone pavers in their roadbuilding process. The Romans saw the value of utilizing cobble stones and flag stones with cracks between them to allow for water seepage beneath the road. These roads were so well built that some Roman roads are still in use today as historically protected walking, hiking, and bicycling paths.
Permeable, Porous, and Pervious Pavers
Nineteenth-century bricklayers, masons, and road builders saw many uses for pervious building materials. In Europe, the concept of permeability in concrete and brick was not only used in building roads and sidewalks, but also in making load-bearing walls and infill panels in certain buildings.
Permeable pavers made a strong comeback in the U.K. a second time during World War II when cement was scarce. It was this return of permeable pavers in the rebuilding of Post-World War II London that earned this technology attention from U.S. road builders, masons, and the federal government.
Post-World War II America Paving Roads
Post-World War II United States was a hustle and bustle of efforts to increase our country’s infrastructure. The threat of a Nazi land invasion of the U.S. during World War II had been a very real concern, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower committed a large degree of his presidency to revamping U.S. infrastructure. A big portion of that project went to road-building.
President Eisenhower wanted to ensure that American military forces could be transported across the continental U.S. quickly if there was ever such a threat to our safety again. This resulted in increased roadbuilding efforts, primarily on U.S. interstate highways. Such efforts on a nationwide scale introduced the concept of permeable pavers to U.S. builders. Some permeable paving systems were implemented at that time. However, the idea of permeable pavers did not really take off until this century when major U.S. cities began to experience stormwater runoff problems.
A Historic Environmental Mission in Permeability
It wasn't just President Eisenhower's desire to increase the U.S. infrastructure that introduced permeable paving systems to the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency saw permeability as a great opportunity also. As permeable paving systems advanced in Western Europe and began to touch down in Eastern Europe, Americans started to catch wind of this brilliant technology for its environmental benefits.
Permeable pavers were first put to use in the U.S. in the 1960s as the Environmental Protection Agency found it necessary to address rising water tables in Texas, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Fast forward several decades and permeable paving systems boomed in interest in the U.S. once again about eight years ago when cities like Atlanta, Buffalo, New Orleans, Rochester, Nashville, Orlando, and Miami started to experience major real estate construction and “over-paving” issues.
The Appeal of Permeable Pavers Today
In the present day, permeable pavers are becoming quite popular for the purpose of addressing water runoff, for innovating eco-friendly paving systems, and for creating aesthetic appeal in driveways and parking lots. Traditional drainage systems had been flooding for some time in cities like Atlanta, Buffalo, New Orleans, Rochester, Miami, Birmingham, Memphis, Jacksonville, Orlando, Nashville, and New York plus many others where sewer systems were failing, and old paving systems were simply not cutting it anymore. In came permeable pavers for roads, sidewalks, load-bearing walls, and other structures to address those runoff problems.
Permeable Pavers, Best Practices for Water Management
Permeable Pavers offer the best practices for water management. A permeable driveway acts as a drainage and filtration system of its own, filtering out pollutants and allowing for the safe passage of water back into the soil. Permeable parking lots offer the same benefits, including better use of a commercial space. With permeable paving systems in a parking lot, water retention ponds and rain gardens are no longer necessary, allowing for maximum efficacy of building potential on any given commercial lot.
Permeable pavers provide not only the most aesthetic paving experience but the best investment and the best environmental approach to paving that is possible. This technology is thought to be the untapped brilliance of twentieth-century paving methods, a technology that we are now starting to fully realize. With permeable pavements, overtaxed and over-flooded cities like Atlanta are now experiencing better water runoff throughout. With a permeable approach, we can reduce our literal “footprint” on Mother Earth and create aesthetic paving systems in the process.
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Want to know more about permeable pavers?
Check out our brief FAQ section below. Or if you're ready to move forward, feel free to give us a call at (615) 266-6360 to speak with our staff.
- Will my homeowner's association allow for permeable pavers?
- Most likely. We can't speak for every HOA in the Nashville area, but we have yet to come across an HOA that did not allow for permeable paving systems. In fact, they usually encourage them.
- How do permeable pavers "save people money?"
- Any residential or commercial property is responsible for its own water runoff. Such means that if stormwater runoff from your home or business is flooding storm drains, street gutters, or local water retention ponds, it'll be your responsibility to address it. That is why you often see rain gardens and water retention ponds installed on larger properties. Those property owners are addressing their stormwater runoff issues. With permeable paving systems, however, the paving systems serve the dual purpose of not only being a beautifully paved surface but of directing water through the paved surface and into the land beneath, just as Mother Nature intended.
- Are permeable pavers safe to walk or drive on in the rain?
- Absolutely. Permeable pavers are safer than traditional poured asphalt or concrete, as water does not pool on them, thus creating slipping hazards. Permeable pavers will be wet during a rainstorm, yes, but well-maintained pavers will not usually be slippery or slick.