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Cobblestone paving in Santarém, Portugal.

Permeable paving is a range of materials and techniques for paving roads, parking lots and walkways that allow the movement of water and air around the paving material. Although some porous paving materials appear nearly indistinguishable from nonporous materials, their environmental effects are qualitatively different. Whether pervious concrete, porous asphalt, paving stones or bricks, all these pervious materials allow precipitation to percolate through areas that would traditionally be impervious and instead infiltrates the stormwater through to the soil below.



In new suburban growth, porous pavements protect watersheds. In areas already built out, old town centers, redevelopment and reconstruction are opportunities for environmental rehabilitation. Permeable paving is an important component in low impact development, a process for land development in the United States that attempts to minimize impacts on water quality, and the similar sustainable urban drainage systems in the United Kingdom.

The infiltration capacity of the native soil is a key design consideration for determining the depth of base rock for stormwater storage or for whether an underdrain system is needed.

Advantages of permeable paving

Diagram of a Permeable Paving system.

Permeable paving surfaces have been demonstrated as effective in managing runoff from paved surfaces.[1][2] Large volumes of urban runoff causes serious erosion and siltation in surface water bodies.

Permeable paving surfaces keep the pollutants in place in the soil or other material underlying the roadway, and allow water seepage to groundwater recharge while preventing the stream erosion problems. They capture the heavy metals that fall on them, preventing them from washing downstream and accumulating inadvertently in the environment. In the void spaces, naturally occurring micro-organisms digest car oils, leaving little but carbon dioxide and water; the oil ceases to exist as a pollutant. Rainwater infiltration its built-in stormwater management, is usually less than that of an impervious pavement with a separate stormwater management facility somewhere downstream.

Porous pavements give urban trees the rooting space they need to grow to full size. A “structural-soil” pavement base combines structural aggregate with soil; a porous surface admits vital air and water to the rooting zone. This integrates healthy ecology and thriving cities, with the living tree canopy above, the city’s traffic on the ground, and living tree roots below.

However, some permeable pavements require frequent maintenance because grit or gravel can block the open pores. This is commonly done by industrial vacuums that suck up all the sediment. If maintenance is not carried out on a regular basis, the porous pavements can begin to hold large amounts of water and cause flooding. With more advanced paving systems the levels of maintenance needed can be greatly decreased, concrete block permeable paving requires no more maintenance than regular concrete paving as the grit between the blocks enhances the filtering properties of the pavement. Also, in a large storm event, the water table below the porous pavement can rise to a higher level preventing the precipitation from being absorbed into the ground. The best way to prevent this problem is to allow for adequate rain water run off at the pavement design stage.

Disadvantages of permeable paving

Runoff volumes
Permeable pavements are designed to replace Effective Impervious Areas (EIAs), not to manage storm water from other impervious surfaces on site. Use of this technique must be part of an overall on site management system for storm water, and is not a replacement for other techniques.

Pollutant load
Highly contaminated runoff can be generated by some land uses where pollutant concentrations exceed those typically found in storm water. These "hot spots" include commercial nurseries, recycling facilities, fueling stations, industrial storage, marinas, some outdoor loading facilities, public works yards, hazardous materials generators (if containers are exposed to rainfall), vehicle service and maintenance areas, and vehicle and equipment washing and steam cleaning facilities. Since porous pavement is an infiltration practice, it should not be applied at storm water hot spots due to the potential for ground water contamination. All contaminated runoff should be prevented from entering municipal storm drain systems by using best management practices for the specific industry or activity.CRD Watershed Best Practices

Weight & traffic volumes
Reference sources differ on whether low or medium traffic volumes and weights are appropriate for porous pavements. For example, around truck loading docks and areas of high commercial traffic, porous pavement is sometimes cited as being inappropriate. However, given the variability of products available, the growing number of existing installations in North America and targeted research by both manufacturers and user agencies, the range of accepted applications seems to be expanding. Some concrete paver companies have developed products specifically for industrial applications. Working examples exist at fire halls, busy retail complex parking lots, and on public and private roads, including intersections in parts of North America with quite severe winter conditions.

Permeable pavements may not be appropriate when land surrounding or draining into the pavement exceeds a 20% slope, where pavement is down slope from buildings or where foundations have piped drainage at their footers. The key is to ensure that drainage from other parts of a site is intercepted and dealt with separately rather than being directed onto permeable surfaces.

Cold climates may present special challenges. Road salt contains chlorides that could migrate through the porous pavement into ground water. Snow plow blades could catch block edges and damage surfaces. Sand cannot be used for snow and ice control on perveous asphalt or concrete because it will plug the pores and reduce permeability. Infiltrating runoff may freeze below the pavement, causing frost heave, though design modifications can reduce this risk. These potential problems do not mean that porous pavement cannot be used in cold climates. Porous pavement designed to reduce frost heave has been used successfully in Norway. Furthermore, experience suggests that rapid drainage below porous surfaces increases the rate of snow melt above.

Some estimates put the cost of permeable paving at two to three times that of conventional asphalt paving. Using permeable paving, however, can reduce the cost of providing larger or more storm water BMP’s on site and these savings should be factored into any cost analysis. In addition, the off-site environmental impact costs of not reducing on-site storm water volumes and pollution have historically been ignored or assigned to other groups (local government parks, public works and environmental restoration budgets, fisheries losses, etc.) The City of Olympia, Washington is studying the use of pervious concrete quite closely and finding that new storm water regulations are making it a viable alternative to storm water ponds.[3]

Some permeable paving products are prone to damage from misuse, such as drivers who tear up patches of plastic & gravel grid systems by “joy riding” on remote parking lots at night. The damage is not difficult to repair but can look unsightly in the meantime. Grass pavers require supplemental watering in the first year to establish the vegetation, otherwise they may need to be re-seeded. Regional climate also means that most grass applications will go dormant during the dry season. While brown vegetation is only a matter of aesthetics, it can influence public support for this type of permeable paving.

Traditional permeable concrete paving bricks tend to lose their color in relatively short time which can be costly to replace or clean and is mainly due to the problem of efflorescence.

Efflorescence is a hardened crystalline deposit of salts, which migrate from the center of concrete or masonry pavers to the surface to form insoluble calcium carbonates that harden on the surface. Given time, these deposits form much like how a stalactite takes shape in a cave, except in this case on a flat surface. Efflorescence usually appears white, gray or black depending on the region.

Over time efflorescence begins to negatively affect the overall appearance of masonry/concrete and may cause the surfaces to become slippery when exposed to moisture. If left unchecked, this efflorescence will harden whereby the calcium/lime deposits begin to affect the integrity of the cementatious surface by slowly eroding away the cement paste and aggregate. In some cases it will also discolor stained or coated surfaces.

Efflorescence forms more quickly in areas that are exposed to excessive amounts of moisture such as near pool decks, spas, and fountains or where irrigation runoff is present. As a result, these affected regions become very slick when wet thereby causing a significant loss of “friction coefficient”. This can be of serious concern especially as a public safety issue to individuals, principals and property owners by exposing them to possible injury and increased general liability claims.

Efflorescence remover chemicals can be used to remove calcium/lime build-up without damaging the integrity of the paving surface.

Types of permeable paving surfaces

Installation of porous pavements is not more difficult than that of dense pavements, but it is different, and its different specifications and procedures must be strictly adhered to. Nine different families of porous paving materials present distinctive advantages and disadvantages for specific applications. Here are examples:

Pervious concrete is widely available, can bear frequent traffic, and is universally accessible. Its quality depends on the installer's knowledge and experience.

Porous asphalt is mixed at conventional asphalt plants, but fine (small) aggregate is omitted from the mixture. The remaining large, single-sized aggregate particles leave open voids that give the material its porosity and permeability. Under the porous asphalt surface is a base course of further single-sized aggregate. Porous asphalt surfaces are being used on highways to improve driving safety by removing water from the surface.

Single-sized aggregate without any binder is the most permeable paving material in existence, and the least expensive. Although it can be used only in very low-traffic settings such as seldom-used parking stalls, its potential cumulative area is great.

Porous turf, if properly constructed, can be used for occasional parking like that at churches and stadiums. Living turf transpires water, actively counteracting the "heat island" with what appears to be a green open lawn.

Open-jointed blocks are concrete or stone units with open, permeable spaces between the units. They give an architectural appearance, and can bear surprisingly heavy traffic, particularly Interlocking concrete pavers.

Resin Bound Paving is a mixture of resin binder and aggregate. Clear resin is used to fully coat each aggregate particle before laying. Enough resin is used to allow each aggregate particle to adhere to one another and to the base yet leave voids for water to permeate through. With resin bound paving you have a strong and durable surface that is suitable for pedestrian and vehicular traffic in applications such as pathways, driveways, car parks and access roads.

See also


  1. ^ Brattebo, B. O., and D. B. Booth. 2003. "Long-Term Stormwater Quantity and Quality Performance of Permeable Pavement Systems." Water Research. 37: 4369-4376. doi:10.1016/S0043-1354(03)00410-X
  2. ^ United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Washington, D.C. "Field Evaluation of Permeable Pavements for Stormwater Management, Olympia, Washington." Fact Sheet. October 2000. Document No. EPA-841-B-00-005B.
  3. ^ City of Olympia, Washington (1995). "Impervious Surface Reduction Study." Final Report, May 1995. Department of Public Works.


  • Ferguson, Bruce K. (2005). Porous Pavements. Boca Raton: CRC Press. ISBN 978-0849326707.  
  • "Alternative Pavers" - U.S. EPA - Stormwater Program
  • National Conference on Sustainable Drainage (UK)
  • NOVATECH - International Conference On Sustainable Techniques And Strategies In Urban Water Management
  • "Porous Pavement" - U.S. EPA

External links



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