The Top 5 Walkway Design & Installation Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

Brick stepping stones on a pea gravel walkway

Designing and installing a walkway is one of the most complex and challenging landscaping projects you could undertake.

While it’s possible to save money by doing it yourself, expert assistance is invaluable. If you do intend to install your own walkway, you need to plan and then plan some more.

In our experience, every DIY project has its pitfalls. There are so many factors involved in these projects that most homeowners won’t ever consider until it’s too late.

At Design One, we’re here to help you save time and money and experience less frustration. In this blog post, we’ll cover some of the most common DIY walkway installation mistakes we’ve seen and how we can help you avoid them.

#1 Not Considering Your Existing Landscape Elements

a brick walkway with shrubs next to itWhen choosing materials for your walkway, select ones that complement your home’s existing architecture and landscaping in terms of style, size, and color.

Typically, people create walkways using poured concrete, concrete pavers, brick pavers, natural stone, or gravel. All these material options are versatile, but how you use them makes a huge difference.

Consider these questions:

  1. Do you want the walkway to be the focal point of your landscape? If so, you probably want to consider stamped/stained concrete, brick pavers, or natural stone.
  2. What other hardscaping elements do you have? What materials are they made from? Generally, you don’t want to have hardscaping elements made from a wide variety of materials. (E.g., you don’t want to have a concrete retaining wall, a brick walkway, and a stone pond.)
  3. Does your home have a modern or an older/traditional style? Concrete is versatile and can be stained to match the style of your home, but brick provides a timeless look that can’t really be matched.
  4. What color is your siding? If it’s a neutral color, like white or even beige, you will have more options, but essentially, you want to ensure the walkway material’s color complements the color of your home.
  5. Do you have brick or natural stone siding? If so, use brick or stone materials for your walkway. If you want your walkway to be the focal point, there are still ways you can make its design stand out.

If you don’t have an eye for design, *please work with a professional.* It’s easy to make mistakes during the material selection part of the project. You don’t want to find out midway through installation that the walkway’s design isn’t working out.

#2 Ignoring Drainage & Slope

A flooded brick walkway with a large puddle.

How will water drain around and under the walkway? If you haven’t thought about that question, that’s another sign you need to work with a professional.

If your new walkway isn’t sloped appropriately, it won’t be able to shed water correctly. Melting snow and heavy rainfall can cause water to pool up, increasing the likelihood of ice formation, general slickness, damage to your landscaping, and even harm to nearby structures.

So, starting at the base during the excavation process, plan your walkways to slope away from your house a minimum of one inch for about every four to six feet of run.

Do not slope primary walkways more than 2% (unless they’re primarily intended for wheelchair use). Slopes greater than 2% are much more dangerous to walk on when they’re frozen or slick from rain. If your terrain demands more than a 2% slope in given areas, consider adding steps to transition between lateral runs.

#3 Skipping or Not Spending Enough Time on Base Preparation

The success and integrity of a walkway begin under the surface with the initial excavation, an extremely labor-intensive process. Generally, you’ll need five to seven inches of well-constructed base for a residential walkway, although you may need to go deeper depending on your soil type.

If you’re deadset on doing this yourself, follow these tips:

  • Ensure a proper slope for the finished surface during excavation.
  • Spend extra time to ensure the bottom of the base is well-compacted.
  • Consider renting a flat-plate vibrator for the job instead of using a hand tamper.
  • After compacting the base, inspect it closely and address any abnormalities.

Take your time with each compaction effort, ensuring a solid, properly sloped surface. This is imperative because it will significantly improve the quality of the finished product. Spending extra time and effort during base preparation will yield a much longer-lasting, aesthetically pleasing walkway.

If this sounds like a lot of work—it is. Depending on size, it can take hours, even up to a day. Unless you enjoy labor-intensive work, this is one of the reasons why we recommend working with a hardscaping team.

#4 Inadequate Edging

inadequate landscape edging

Effective walkway design also includes edging. Without it, paver spreading, aggregate sinking, and other shifting issues will likely develop. Edging also establishes a clear separation between the path and the landscape, prevents grass and weed overgrowth, and makes it easier for people to see where they’re supposed to walk.

Your pavers or other top layer of walkway material should be installed on layers of bedding sand and crushed stone and then held firmly in the intended position with proper edging material.

Walkway edging should also be incorporated along the entire perimeter unless the walkway is up against a solid surface like a curb, driveway, or wall.

Again, take your time planning—and as always, if you’re not sure what to do, consult a design professional.

#5 Choosing the Wrong Materials

We’ve already discussed materials a bit in this blog, but we can’t understate it—the materials you choose matter, and your choice shouldn’t just be based on the material’s price point.

Think about the climate you live in, the architecture of your home, and the expected foot traffic, and then make material choices based on those variables.

Here is a more in-depth breakdown of some of the materials we discussed earlier:

Most ExpensiveLeast ExpensiveGreat for Heavy Foot TrafficNaturally UV ResistantBest Moisture ResistanceAesthetically VersatileEasiest to Install Hardest to Install
Natural StonePea Gravel/Crushed AggregateConcrete Pavers, Poured Concrete, Natural Stone & BrickStone & BrickConcrete Pavers & Poured Concrete (when sealed) ConcretePea Gravel/Crushed AggregateStone

So, if you are really on a tight budget or committed to the DIY approach, pea gravel is going to be the best option for you. However, know that it may need to be replaced or maintained more over time, especially if you live in a wet climate, the walkway is in an area that receives direct sunlight, or if you expect a lot of foot traffic.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for something long-lasting or more aesthetically versatile, look into brick, stone, or concrete, depending on your home’s architecture and available budget.

Consult With a Professional Today

Installed walkways are exceptional home improvement projects that can add a ton of value. The catch is that the walkways need to be designed and installed properly. And, with so many design layouts and material choices available, it’s tough to execute this type of project seamlessly, especially if it’s your first time.

There’s no shame in asking for help – if you’re considering installing a walkway, talk to our team at Design One. For over 30 years, we’ve designed and installed all types of hardscaping elements, including walkways, for customers throughout Southeast Michigan. You can view our portfolio to see some of our past projects—we can work with all types of materials, including brick, stone, and concrete. If you have general questions about walkway projects or have some ideas in mind, please contact us today to request a free consultation and estimate.

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