Winter Care of Natural Stone

23rd February 2017 2:38 pm No Comments

With the usual predictions of the longest and coldest winter for decades, many installers and homeowners will be looking for products and advice on how best to protect their hard landscaping installations. Here Malcolm Gough, Business Development Director at Natural Paving Products (UK) Ltd gives merchants advice on what some of the most common problems their customers will encounter with natural stone installations in the winter period and how best to prevent and treat them.

Landscaping projects using natural stone often represent a significant investment, so initial protection and on going care and maintenance is extremely important to ensure the longevity of an installation’s aesthetic appeal and functionality. Although natural stone is extremely hard wearing and a relatively low-maintenance landscaping choice compared to grass and other planting, it is still susceptible to damage and staining if not properly installed and maintained, particularly in the winter months.

At this time of year, frost can cause considerable damage to less durable landscaping materials. Interestingly, one of Natural Paving Products’ new developments for 2016 will be a star rating system in its brochures to help customers pick the right stone based on its performance in areas such as frost resistance.

The durability of a hard landscaping installation can be further improved through the use of a high quality sealant. Not to be confused with coatings, sealants are designed to penetrate deep into the stone itself in order to offer long lasting protection. With protection held within the substrate, sealants offer a much longer life expectancy than coatings. In addition, some high quality sealants are UV resistant and importantly, are breathable, which means they will allow trapped moisture and salts to escape naturally (which I’ll come on to shortly).

It is also worth looking out for sealants that are both hydrophobic and oleophobic, meaning they provide protection against water and oil based contaminants. These sealants will offer extra protection during the winter months when it is particularly wet or when vehicles are more likely to be parked for long periods of time on driveways.

Coatings on the other hand are designed to sit on the surface of the paving. Superficial coatings will need to be reapplied on a regular basis, which can lead to a build up of layers over time that actually changes the appearance of the stone.

Another key consideration at this time of year is finding products that can be used in all weathers and applied immediately after installation. Most sealants for example require newly laid stone to ‘settle’ for a minimum of three months before application, but this leaves the stone exposed to the elements and vulnerable to discolouration from vegetation, birds, pets and spillages. Also, many jointing treatments can only be used in dry conditions, which can be a significant problem at this time of year. Our Pavetuf range includes a number of products that are not affected by the weather or settling in periods and can instead provide immediate protection.

Something else that can alter the aesthetics of a hard landscaping installation is a common problem known as efflorescence. This is the appearance of white marks on the surface of the stone after installation, which is actually caused by calcium carbonate that has risen through to sit on the surface of the stone paving.

Although it is a very common problem, many people try to treat efflorescence incorrectly and end up making the problem worse. Power washing and abrasive brushing will only cause more damage and staining as it can unblock the pores within the stone – instead a salt neutralising solution should be used. There are a number of these available but the best, like the Pavetuf Salt Eraser, will penetrate deep into the stone without harming the substrate, removing the problem and providing lasting protection. However, it is important to note that efflorescence can only be treated effectively if a fully breathable sealant has been used as this will allow the salt to rise to the surface – if a non-breathable sealant has been used, the efflorescence will be trapped in.

Another problem that is more prominent in the winter months is rust marks from patio furniture that has been left out in the rain. Obviously the best protection against rust is to remove and store furniture while it’s not being used, but understandably this is not always possible. In the event that staining does occur, fast action is essential. We’ve found that the best removal products are those that are specially formulated to convert rust compounds into a water-soluble solution, like our Pavetuf Rust Remover. These types of remover will pull out the rust that has penetrated the surface of the stone, allowing it to be simply washed away.

Finally, it is important to find a supplier that can offer a complete range of high quality maintenance and protection solutions. Not only does this make things simpler for the merchant but it also makes recommending products much easier as solutions from the same range will compliment each other.

Natural Paving Products’ Pavetuf range includes two fully breathable sealants in invisible and satin finishes that can be applied as soon as the stone is laid; a variety of cleaning products, including General Cleaner, Deep Cleaner, Rust Remover and Green-Off Cleaner; a Salt Eraser that removes efflorescence and prevents its reappearance; a high quality, Sand Crete sealer that also acts as a joint hardener, protecting against sand loss, weed growth and staining; a jointing compound that requires no mixing and can be used in wet weather conditions and a rapid setting jointing mortar.

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