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Sustainable Stones: Using Reclaimed Hardscape Materials in the Landscape

By Gavin Johnston, Stone Farm Living

Used bricks are widely available, as landscape architects have reused both face brick and paving brick on new projects. Face brick is generally more porous and absorbs more water while paving brick is hard fired and denser than face brick, adding to its lifespan.
Photos: Stone Farm
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Rain bird
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Designing and installing new landscapes with an eye toward being “green” has certainly become an important part of our industry. One way to make a project green is by using reclaimed or recycled hardscape materials in landscape construction.

The most obvious green reason to use reclaimed materials is that these materials are being recycled and put to another good use. A less obvious one is that many materials can be found locally and thus, less energy is used to get them to the jobsite. Stone is a great material to use in that it is a forever material and if installed properly will last a very long time.

Once you have decided to use or look for reclaimed hardscape materials the question becomes what materials are available, what can they be used for and how do you find them? The most common and available materials are curbing, cobblestones, brick and salvaged stone from buildings. These materials are generally the by-products of street and bridge repair and from building demolition.


Smaller curbing that was originally used in commercial property development has been reused as paving material at this residence. The smaller size of this material is attractive because of the lower cost per square foot than standard curb.


Probably the most popular and versatile hardscape material to re-use has to be street curb. The earliest curbing was installed more than 100 years ago and is generally 8-inches across the top 16 to 20-inches deep and found in lengths up to 8 to 10 feet. This material was hand split and from all the years of wear has a great patina. This standard sized curb can be reinstalled as curbing of course, but is most often reused as a landscape step.

Newer smaller curbing was developed later for use in commercial property development and can be used in a variety of ways as a paving material. Junior curb is 4 to 6-inches across the top, 12 to 14-inches deep and comes in pieces 2 to 5-feet in length. The smaller sizes make for easier handling and a lower in cost per square foot than standard curb.


Cobblestone projects can reuse the material in the same way that is was originally used – as a paving material. One attractive benefit of reusing cobblestone is that the tops of the stone have been worn smooth and have a tarnish that will not be found in new material.


The first paving materials known to be used by man were introduced by the Romans for their roads, and in some cases those roads are still being used today! In America, cobbles were initially brought over from Europe as ballast in the ships. As the country started to industrialize, cobbles were quarried locally and used in city streets and industrial mill yards. After asphalt was developed, cobbles were no longer used and in most cases were just paved over. Now, when roads are redone these old stones are rediscovered.

When using antique cobbles expect there to be a greater variation in size than when using the newer imported cobblestones. Most cobblestone projects reuse the material in the same way that they were first used, as a paving material. The tops of the cobbles have been worn smooth and have a patina that just can’t be found with new material.


On this project, larger street curb – 16 to 20 inches deep and 8 to 10 feet in length – has been reused as steps on a pathway at a private residence. This type of curbing can be more than 100 years old.


Used bricks are probably the most widely available material across the country and the most misunderstood and misapplied material as well. When bricks are created they are either made as a face brick (for chimneys and wall cladding) or as a paving brick. Face bricks are generally more porous and absorb more water. In areas where there is a freeze and frost cycle, face brick can crack after a short period of time. Paving brick are hard fired and denser and can last as a paver for hundreds of years.


Granite building blocks have been reused in a variety of ways, including: as a retaining wall; steps and patio pavement; and as an irregular pavement. Many reused building blocks have their origins in projects such as building foundations, sills and walls of buildings.


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In the earliest days of the development of American cities, granite was used as foundation material, lintels and sills and even as the walls of buildings. As these buildings, bridge trestles and other structures succumb to fire, neglect and obsoletion, this material becomes available for reuse.

In New England where I am from, one of the most majestic and versatile materials is the granite building block.

These blocks come in a variety of shapes and sizes and a range of colors. Having been exposed to the elements or even just the air for over 100 years, the weathering adds a lot of character.

While not all of the materials highlighted in this article can be found in all parts of the country, much of it can be and I am sure each region has its own materials that can be found and reused. There are a few ways to locate these types of materials. Generally the people who need to get the material out of the way are the first link in the chain. These contractors include demolition companies, road builders and bridge repair contractors. While these companies do get the material needed often you need to act fast and generally you need to buy in truckload quantities. As the market has developed, there are now a handful of national players and several regional ones that buy, store, sort and package these materials for use down the road.

Whatever your project is, with a little bit of planning and creativity, recycled and reused hardscape material can often add a bit of flair and will help make your project green.

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October 20, 2019, 8:13 pm PDT

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