Concrete vs. Masonry: Which One You Will Need for Hardscaping

Flooring
Concrete and Masonry
Outdoor Additions
By Alex Mikayelyan November 19, 2021

Terminology is very important in DIY. Getting the wrong tool, construction equipment, or material could be the difference between a completely successful project and a disastrous one. So, it’s important to know your construction terminology if you are looking to dive deeper into the world of DIY and design. And speaking of design, one of the most important design elements of any house is the landscape that surrounds it.

If you’re planning on doing a hardscaping project around your home but don’t know which material would fit the bill, then knowing the difference between concrete and masonry is a great place to start. Both these construction materials are beloved by contractors and homeowners alike and for various reasons. While it’s hard to say which of these is overall better — and it may just be that there is no overall better one — there are certain benefits that you may be more than pleased to hear about, and you could use this to make your decision.

Concrete

Why Concrete Is One of the Most Trusted Construction Materials On the Market

Why Concrete Is One of the Most Trusted Construction Materials On the Market

The best way to differentiate between the two materials is to look at how they are made and with what. For example, concrete is a relatively simple mixture of water, cement, and depending on the kind of texture you want the concrete to have, sand, gravel, or loose rocks. The cement itself is created in a factory, but the concrete is typically mixed on-site depending on the volume of the material that is needed. If large quantities of concrete mix need to be transported, it is poured inside a huge concrete mixer truck which mixes the material as it drives to its destination.

Advantages of Concrete

The Many Benefits of Concrete

The Many Benefits of Concrete

One of the main reasons why concrete is such popular construction material is because it is very economical. Manufacturing, shipping, and mixing it costs very little; and in the end, you get a very durable material. It’s also very easy to transport in large bags for ready mix concrete suppliers, as opposed to other, bulkier materials such as steel girders or wooden beams — which would require a large flatbed truck to move around.

It’s also quite moldable, which is advantageous to anyone looking to create unique forms and shapes for their hardscape. You can mold mass concrete into anything you want and into any shape as long as you have the right cast for it.

Once the concrete has cured and hardened — which does not take more than a day or two to fully dry — it becomes one of the most durable building materials one can work with. Since it is not broken up into several pieces like masonry typically is, it can be considered structurally more sound, making it a better option for laying foundations, creating walls, or even support beams for various construction projects. In hardscaping, it can serve as the perfect material for your patio flooring.

To further cement concrete as one of the best building materials for hardscaping, it is also water and heat resistant, which means it will last longer and won’t succumb to the elements as time goes on. When it comes to flooring, concrete is a no-brainer since other than a few very infrequent cracks, it will barely take any damage. Also, since it is one flat surface, it is easier to clean and maintain, something that cannot be attributed to cobblestone floors or other masonry surfaces.

Disadvantages of Concrete

Why Concrete May Not Be The Best Option for Certain Hardscaping Projects

Why Concrete May Not Be The Best Option for Certain Hardscaping Projects

While concrete may be durable, there are much more durable concrete alternatives to look into. They may not be as easy to work with, as moldable, or as versatile as concrete, but if you’re looking for something that is peak durability, concrete is not always the best choice.

While the maintenance costs on concrete are generally quite low, it does crack quite a lot. This isn’t so much a question of maintenance costs as it is the maintenance itself. If you feel that even the smallest cracks on your concrete surfaces would completely ruin your hardscape, then consider using it in limited quantities or finding an alternative material.

So, while concrete may be more cost-effective — and it is very effective against water and heat — it is still not the perfect option for those looking for durability and longevity. Concrete is weaker than materials like steel, it will need maintenance regularly, and it may simply not be strong enough for certain projects and applications. Also, while it is moldable, it is not always aesthetically pleasing to look at as it is just a plain slab of grey construction material. If you’re looking for something that has more complexity to it and a greater focus on design as opposed to practicality, there is another option for you.

Masonry

The Long History of Masonry

The Long History of Masonry

Masonry is this aesthetically pleasing option. This is a craft that involves laying some sort of brick or stone onto a surface and using mortar to keep it in place. This mortar is a construction-grade adhesive and is created from cement, the very same ingredient that goes into concrete. The process involves spreading some mortar onto a surface and then lining it with bricks to create a very sturdy structure. There is a myriad of bricklaying techniques that have been developed over the 6 thousand years that masonry has been around, ever since clay bricks became a viable construction material. And it’s safe to say that after thousands of years of perfecting the craft and creating new technology and methods, masonry has become one of the most reputable and reliable crafts in construction.

Advantages of Masonry

Why Masonry Is a Good Option for Hardscapes

Why Masonry Is a Good Option for Hardscapes

The first major advantage of masonry is how aesthetically pleasing it is. There are almost limitless possibilities with masonry, as you can choose from a countless variety of brick colors, shapes, the material of the bricks themselves, as well as the bricklaying patterns. And all this you can mix and match with other techniques and styles to create something that is entirely your own and personalized to fit your aesthetic preferences. So, while concrete is very moldable, but not easy to get attractive shapes and forms with, masonry offers a lot more breathing room in this regard.

Also, bricklaying is not very hard to do. While concrete you would need to know the proper techniques of not only mixing it, but also spreading it around, and smoothening it, bricklaying is actually much easier to do yourself. If all the bricks are the same size and shape, you should have no trouble laying some basic patterns and shapes — and even combining different colors to create some contrast and heterogeneity.

Much like concrete, masonry is very strong and can hold up an immense amount of weight without cracking or breaking. This makes it a great material for hardscaping, especially if you are looking for patio paver flooring. In this regard, both concrete and paver are great options if you’re looking to accommodate a lot of weight. This is why a masonry building is among the most durable structures.

And finally, masonry is great for anyone looking to spruce up their backyard and garden. Since concrete is liquid, it is not as easy to work with when accentuating various features of the garden. Masonry, on the other hand, allows you to get into all the nooks and crannies thanks to the separate bricks which you can lay in any pattern that works with your hardscaping plan. This is why you will find that many of the garden walkways, half-walls, and other hardscaping features are lined with pavers, as opposed to being a square piece of concrete. 

Disadvantages of Masonry

The Reasons Why Working With Masonry Isn’t Always Easy

The Reasons Why Working With Masonry Isn’t Always Easy

But masonry is not without its own set of disadvantages. First and foremost, it’s somewhat expensive. For a 12x12 patio flooring, you may need anywhere from $2,000 upwards of $7,000 to cover the whole surface. Compare that to concrete, which can cover the same area for a fraction of the cost of masonry — from $800 to $2,500. So, if you’re looking to spruce up your landscape, try more cost-effective masonry alternatives.

Masonry maintenance can also be a real pain. The advantage of concrete is that it is one large surface, so cracks and crevices are rare unless the surface breaks. Masonry, on the other hand, is basically nothing but crevices in between the bricks. While they are filled with mortar initially, at some point that mortar is going to flake and break away, allowing plants to grow between the cracks. Now the problem isn’t so much the weeds and plants themselves as it is to get rid of them. Since they grow in the cracks, using a handheld lawnmower or a bush trimmer is not going to be completely effective. While there are special tools to help you pull these weeds out, the maintenance is very time and energy-consuming for many homeowners.

Another disadvantage to masonry is the installation. While the actual process of bricklaying is not as difficult as laying cement, the process of transporting bricks is. They come in large batches, usually delivered on a palette. However, unlike bags of cement, you can use to make concrete with, these batches of bricks are super heavy and typically require a forklift.

Written by
Alex Mikayelyan

Written by Alex Mikayelyan