Brett Landscaping discusses the current issues facing installers and end-users of porcelain

Here Andrew Gill, Marketing Manager at Brett Landscaping, discusses the current issues facing installers and end-users of porcelain in the UK.

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here have been several trends which have affected landscaping design and specification over the last five years or so. Some, such as a greater adoption of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS), are driven by functionality. Others, like the rising popularity of porcelain paving, are the result of a greater combination of factors.

Whilst there has been consistent interest over the past three years, porcelain is still viewed by some specifiers, designers and contractors with a degree of apprehension. The consensus amongst this group seems to be that porcelain is being held back by its reputation for being difficult to install over a Type 1 sub-base, which is a common installation method in the UK.

Man-made porcelain paving, heated in a kiln to extremely high temperatures, gives the tiles a number of properties that make them highly attractive as a garden, patio or driveway material.

One advantage of porcelain is that it is hard-wearing. This means that the moss, lichen along with everyday stains and dirt which naturally accumulate on paving over time does not adhere to the material easily. This means that porcelain paving can be maintained easily with a mild detergent and a stiff brush to keep it looking pristine. The fact that porcelain is man-made also offers a more subjective advantage in that it has a more consistent colour uniformity than natural stone, which can have a wide variance even if taken from the same quarry.

In these regards, porcelain offers a great aesthetic, similar to more desirable landscaping materials like natural stone, but with a host of great benefits that makes the man-made alternative difficult to ignore for end-users, designers and specifiers alike.

Add to this the ability to create differing aesthetics such as different types of stone or even timber planks and you have a highly attractive product indeed. That is why we offer a variety of porcelain paving in our domestic range to reflect interest in this material.

Until now the difficulty of installing porcelain has been unavoidable, as it is the result of the properties of the material itself. The characteristics which give porcelain a number of advantages also creates issues for installers. The problem lies in the impermeability that results from porcelain’s density. Whilst this means that the material is resistant to staining, lichen growth and moss accumulation, it also means that porcelain is vulnerable to Britain’s cold weather patterns as a permanent bond to fix the slabs is hard to achieve.

Anyone who is familiar with installing porcelain paving will tell you that it is prone to coming loose from the cement substrate during the colder months. This is the result of freeze/thaw cycles weakening the bond between the substrate, which holds water, and the surface slab.

Each time the substrate freezes and thaws, the moisture inside of the structure used to hold the slabs in place expands and then contracts, putting strain on the bond holding the porcelain in place. With porcelain, this freeze/thaw issue can become a major problem, especially in a temperate climate such as the UK.

It has been suggested that applying a primer to the back of the slabs before adhering them to a mortar base helps – but what is really required is a drainage mortar base to eliminate the risk from freeze-thaw. Although now a common practice in Europe, this approach is unfortunately more difficult and also adds significant cost to the finished paving.

Fortunately, there is now an easier and more efficient way of enjoying all the benefits of porcelain, without having to deal with all of the potential problems.

The new GeoCeramica porcelain paving range from Brett Landscaping deftly avoids the problem of bonding porcelain to the Type 1 sub-bases commonly encountered in the UK, whilst on the surface providing the end-user with the beautiful porcelain paving tiles which have become so desirable.

Each GeoCeramica porcelain surface slab is inseparably bonded directly to a drainage mortar base during the manufacturing process, creating beautiful paving which will last for years. Crucially for contractors, GeoCeramica can be installed as if it was a regular paving slab. A bed of sand is all that is required to lay GeoCeramica over a conventional Type 1 sub-base.

The implications of this innovation are significant. Contractors and specifiers can recommend beautiful porcelain paving for their projects with the confidence that they are reliable and will not become a point of contention with end-users and clients in future. Furthermore, clients may be more enthusiastic towards using porcelain for their projects, safe in the knowledge that the material will not cause them problems.

Another innovation that GeoCeramica brings to the UK landscaping market is Bluestone, a 60mm-thick slab, which means that for the first time porcelain paving can be used on a driveway. This creates new aesthetic opportunities for creative architects to exploit. Combining the 60mm Bluestone with the 10mm and 40mm thicknesses available across the rest of the range allows for the use of porcelain both inside and outside of the home, allowing designers to create a truly striking inside-outside aesthetic.

All of these innovations equate to a product which is simple and quick to install for installers, and desirable for consumers. This means that we can now enjoy the benefits of porcelain such as simple maintenance and great style, in all seasons, with no need to worry about the paving coming loose.

The introduction of GeoCeramica could well change the way that porcelain is viewed as a material, whilst giving designers and specifiers more options. A great leap forward for a material held back, until now, by practicality.

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