What is Bluestone
Bluestone is a blanket term for different kinds of natural stone used in both landscaping and hardscaping. The word bluestone was first used in Britain to refer to the various foreign stones found at Stonehenge, but the term has been expanded to what we commonly hear today. Depending on your location, the term “bluestone” will mean different things.
In Victoria, Australia, and New Zealand, bluestone refers to basalt, a type of igneous rock with durability similar to granite that typically comes in shades of dark grey to blue. In Canada and the USA, bluestone typically refers to feldspathic sandstone. In the Shenandoah Valley, Hainaut quarries in Belgium, and quarries in Country Carlow, Ireland, bluestone actually refers to a type of limestone. And last but not least, it’s simply slate in South Australia.
All of these stones have similar purposes in landscaping and hardscaping and can be utilized in a variety of ways.
Landscaping with Bluestone Pros and Cons
Bluestone rocks have several pros and cons when it comes to landscape projects depending on your location and the type of bluestone that’s commonly found there.
If you live in an area that refers to bluestone as either slate or sandstone then you’re looking at an extremely durable stone, with a Mohs hardness of around 5-7. Both of these materials have been extensively used in building projects from slate pavers to sandstone column bases. Being natural stones, both sandstone and slate can endure the elements. Basalt can be slightly less durable with a Mohs hardness between 4-6, while limestone is the softest between 3-4.
Bluestone universally is a non-slip material, which is one of the most important qualities when choosing a stone for outdoor spaces, especially including stairs and pool decking. This quality is due to their texture being gritty and grooved, providing a surface that will keep friction even when wet.
You might wonder if bluestone is permeable, and you’ll be in luck to find out that it has a very low water absorption rate. Anything below 8% is considered excellent, and all types of bluestone fall within those parameters making them highly weather resistant.
Being comprised of natural stones, bluestone will be available in a variety of dimensions and thicknesses, and with their dark grey to blue colorations, they are well-suited for nearly every project. Bluestone is considered an affordable natural stone compared to other natural stones, though it is still more expensive than composites and engineered materials like concrete and brick.
Regardless of what kind of bluestone you get, they’re all natural stones with naturally unique appearances, patterns, and shapes. This can make it a challenge to install unless you get it cut to your specifications, adding an additional charge.
Types and Grades of Bluestone For Outdoor Use
I’ve previously gone over some of these materials, so I’ll provide a quick description and some differences that give them the name bluestone.
Slate is known for low water absorption, and durability, and is a commonly used stone in landscaping for its sleek colored appearance and furrowed texture. Australian slate found in stone quarries in Adelaide Hill’s is considered bluestone and has a rich history of producing beautifully colored stones.
In the US and parts of Canada, we find feldspathic sandstone, produced in roughly 150 different quarries across the continent. Depending on where you get the sandstone from its hardness ranges from 4-6, has an excellent non-slip texture, and can be extremely durable, even being used as the base for Roman columns.
The limestone that gets the name bluestone is found in the Shenandoah Valley of the US and Soignies, Belgium, and three separate quarries in Ireland. This style of bluestone will typically have a smoky indigo hue and may even contain fragments of marine fossils.
In Bendigo, Australia, they refer to a type of basalt as bluestone. During the 1850’s this type of basalt was one of the favored building materials during the gold rush. This style of bluestone was extensively used as cobblestone.
Bluestone Landscaping Ideas and Common Uses
Bluestone is an extremely versatile stone for landscaping construction – even more so than other stones since it’s “technically” four different kinds of stone – and can be fit into nearly all applications while maintaining a standard of beauty.
1. Exterior Kitchen Countertop
When designing your exterior kitchen one of the first things people tend to consider is what they’ll use for a countertop, and you can’t go wrong with bluestone. Regardless of what type of bluestone you choose (though my preference leans toward slate and sandstone) the natural texture and appearance will have your guests raising their eyebrows. I would opt for a sandblasted or polished finish to keep cleaning easy and prevent any bacteria or mold to build up in the crevices.
2. Fire Pit
When it comes to designing your fire pit there are two schools of thought: a stone grey classic option which will have people immediately intuiting its purpose, or something with a bit more flair that may have your guests questioning what it is. Using a deep blue basalt or a lilac sandstone for your firepit will have it standing out like a beacon within your yard. If you’re like me and spend lots of time around the fire pit, then sprucing it up with a bit of color can bring that something extra to tie your backyard together.
The patio is the stage of your backyard, bringing your friends and family together to enjoy a barbecue, a beer, or simply enjoy the sun. You’ll be satisfied knowing that bluestone is good for the patio and that the inclusion of bluestone paving will add both aesthetic and monetary value, as natural stone pavers are one of the most sought-after appearances. When it comes to patio design I opt for darker colors which will hide any spills or stains that may accumulate over time.
4. Water Features
A water feature can be a focal point for your backyard, especially if you’re focusing more on garden accents rather than patios or terraces. The deep colors of natural stone tend to emerge when wet, and bluestone is no different. The dark blues swirled with greys, or the earthy oranges of the more rustic variants will add beautiful touches to your landscape.
Bluestone slabs for stairs are an excellent choice. Their durability holds up over prolonged use, they aren’t prone to chipping or cracking and can endure exposure to the elements over long periods of time. If you are worried about replacing them down the road then I would suggest choosing a common color such as grey or brown.
6. Retaining Walls
Retaining walls are features used to reinforce soil, and divide your yard into more usable segments. Regardless of which bluestone is available to you, all of them can make an excellent material for a retaining wall. You may feel that your backyard is being choked by a hill, subtracting from your available space, but you can add more functional space by turning a hill into a terrace can instantly relieve this issue. Retaining walls are typically built with billets, thick-cut natural stone bricks, but if you’re looking for a more economical option while still maintaining the appearance of natural stone then you can implement capstones on the top.
7. Pool Deck
No pool is complete without pool decking, the surrounding material purposed for absorbing excess water and preventing you from slipping. A pool deck can make or break the composition of your pool, adding a much-needed accent for both looks and safety. You almost always want to choose a color that stands out giving you the ability to see it in low-light conditions. You’ll also want a non-slip surface for your pool decking so choose a finish that maintains the natural texture of the stone, as it’ll provide more friction.
8. Garden Edging
Garden edging serves a dual purpose in both underlining your garden as well as preventing unwanted weeds. Bluestone is a durable, easy-to-clean natural stone that can stand guard against your flowerbed while adding some visual appeal. Bluestone has enough color variants that you can pair it with whatever you choose to grow if you’re looking to keep the colors within a palette.
There are some people out there that think of the pathway as a simple functional necessity of your backyard, but it can be so much more than that. Your bluestone walkway can be designed to help guide your guests throughout your backyard, add character with their natural look, and all while preventing you from slipping.
Bluestone driveways are durable, and sturdy, and will add serious curb appeal to your property. These natural stones can stick out drawing eyes from the street, and if sealed properly can be almost zero-maintenance.
While it may seem intuitive that bluestone is… well, blue, the actuality is that it comes in a variety of colors. Bluestone is more versatile than the name appears, and if you’re looking for a high-quality natural stone that’s both durable and gorgeous, then bluestone could be for you.
This is the quintessential color when the name bluestone comes to mind. It’s an off-blue, sometimes iwth hints of turquoise, that (depending on the stone we’re talking about) is two-toned much like slate. It’s typically darker, closer to lake blue than ocean blue, which I think makes it more universally applicable than lighter colors.
This color of bluestone still has hints of the aforementioned blue but is considerably closer to the grey hue. This coloration is easy on the eyes, blending into adjacent concrete or brick if it’s on your property while still maintaining a hint of blues that allows it to stand out from the more neutral colors.
Natural stones come in all shapes, textures, and colors, but grey is the essence of stone. This coloration can blend in with almost any aspect of your home or landscaping features, is extremely common (which means easy to replace), and is typically one of the less expensive options.
This earthy coloration is dominated by browns, greys, and tans, with the occasional hint of rust or greens. The colors tend to swirl throughout the stone like food coloring dropped into water, giving the stone a natural and warm feeling. This color is excellent for landscaping around the gardens or as a pathway.
This iron-rich coloration comes in colors like Nevada red and rust-orange. It’s considered a rarer color of bluestone that can be well-suited for locations with more desert-like qualities such as California or Arizona and looks wonderful beneath palm trees or beside desert succulents.
This more eclectic coloration of stone is comprised of greys, blues, and tones of lilac. It has a regal appearance, adding an amount of class to your landscaping designs, and I could picture it as a perfect choice as bluestone garden edging along your flower bed or even as pool decking.
Select Your Finish
This style of finish is made by cutting your bluestone slabs into varying shapes and sizes. This type of cut and finish will come in a mix of rectangles and squares, usually with a width between 1.5 and 1 inch. This style lacks the uniformity of some other cuts, but that gives it an iconic look that can make an eye-catching arrangement.
Gauged bluestone is a thermal pattern that has been created using precision milling including laser-guided saws. This high-quality bluestone can be cut extremely thin, which won’t be used for pavers but would be excellent as a capstone for your projects.
Natural cleft bluestone has been split apart as opposed to sawn into slabs. This leaves an exquisitely natural texture to your bluestone as it breaks away in layers. If you’re looking to add a more natural appearance and add some character to your landscaping designs. This kind of cut brings the innate qualities of the stone to the front, allowing its natural qualities to be placed in the forefront.
This type of finish refers to a bluestone that has been hit with intense heat from a torch followed by brief periods of cooling. The high temperatures cause the surface of the stone to pop and bubble, leaving dimpled pits and a surface that could be compared to a golf ball. This thermal process will erase any damage caused by being quarried and is a common look for rougher stones. This style of finish is great for any barefoot activities, as the dimpled and textured surface provides the natural stone with an even more slip-resistant texture.
This style of finishing is achieved by sanding down the surface of the stone with finer and finer grit until you have a glossy and mirror-like surface. This style of finish would typically be used for exterior kitchen countertops.
The process of sandblasting is becoming more and more popular. The process of sandblasting involves spraying high-pressured sand at the stone leaving a lightly textured surface and an overall interesting element to the stone itself. This is another excellent option for stairs, a patio, and a walkway.
Snapped edge stone is one that has been broken at abnormal angles to reveal rough and irregular textures. This type of stone would typically be used for retaining walls that are looking for a rougher texture. The processing steps require a hydraulic press to snap the stones into large “flakes”.
There are a few key components to keeping your pavers from deteriorating.
Let’s say you just installed your fresh bluestone pavers, your first step is to seal them properly. Natural stone tends to be porous, which means that dirt, debris, and moisture can fill in the voids which can cause fractures during the freeze/thaw cycle. You’re going to want a natural stone sealant to seal in these voids and reapply every 1 to 2 years depending on your conditions.
You’ll also want to regularly clean your bluestone pavers, as preventing any problems will save you a potential headache in the future. Consistent sweeping is the first step in your new routine. Removing debris from your stones will remove the opportunity for them to sink deeper into your stone. If you’ve been barbecuing with your friends, burger or rib drippings splashed against your patio pavers, don’t take out the bleach or any strong chemicals. Simple dish soap and warm water should be sufficient to clean your pavers when applied with a little force and a brustled brush.
Cost of Bluestone
You may be wondering “Are bluestone pavers expensive?” and the answer is complex. They’re certainly more expensive than concrete or brick, and as natural stones, you have to pay for being quarried, transported, and milled. With those factors in mind, bluestone pavers can cost somewhere between $17 and $25 per square foot, which is on the higher end for a natural stone.
Starting simple with a 45 sq. ft walkway: if you intend on installing one yourself, the pavers will cost you between $765 and $1125, which can be considered expensive when compared to other natural and man-made materials. If you plan on having them installed the labor could end up costing you an additional $150 to $250, depending on the setup of your design.
Moving on to the patio, this will require a lot of work and calculation if you want it to look perfect. There are two ways to install a patio, the mud-set method and the dry-set method. The mud set method will require you to lay down a sub-foundation of concrete which will act as a leveler for your bluestone pavers. The construction of this foundation should cost roughly $900 for a 160 sq. ft patio, followed by an additional $2720 to $4000 for the pavers. Add on $500 to $600 for labor and you’re looking at somewhere between $4220 and $5500 for a patio.
The next project we’ll go over is the installation of a retaining wall. This is a big job that requires heavy machinery, labor, and lots of material. You’ll be able to source out cheaper bluestone since you aren’t looking for countertop quality, so your material costs will come down, but the labor will go up. An 80 sq. ft retaining wall can cost between $6000 and $14000, which will include labor and material prices. Having installed retaining walls myself, I can tell you that this is a big job that requires precision and hard work.
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