What is Sandstone
Sandstone rock is what’s known as a “clastic sedimentary rock”. Sandstone can come in nearly any color and is commonly used in landscaping and hardscaping. It is one of the most versatile stones that can be used in the outdoor space. The appearance of sandstone varies so much that you can find a look that suits nearly any backyard without difficulty. Not only that but it’s extremely durable, resists weathering and foot traffic, and will stay looking natural and pristine for years. In addition, if you’re on a budget then sandstone could be a more affordable natural stone than other options.
It’s more affordable because it’s so widely available in nature. The answer to the question “Where is sandstone found?” is simple: everywhere. This stone can be found in a range of settings such as rivers, deserts, and beaches. Locations such as the Grand Canyon, the Appalachian Mountains, and the Sahara Desert are all notable locations with predominant accumulations of sandstone. It can even be found at the bottom of the ocean.
Is Sandstone Good for Outdoors – Pros and Cons
The sandstone that you would want to use in your backyard should have a hardness between 6 to 7 on the Mohs scale, this means you would need at least a steel nail to leave a scratch on it. This makes it an extremely durable stone, withstanding typical traffic and the occasional accident.
The appearance of sandstone is another huge benefit to your backyard as well as potential curb appeal. Sandstone comes in a menagerie of colors, styles, and textures. Sandstone characteristics remind me of bringing a hint of the desert to your backyard. This suits the appearance of your classic California look, but can also bring a unique contrast to a greener backyard.
While sandstone hardness is considered relatively high, it’s still not impervious to damage. Unlike granite, some sandstone can be scratched more easily than others. If you’re intending on using it for something like a walkway then it being scratched should be fine. If you’re using it for a patio with furniture or barbecues being moved around or housework being done it could cause a few scratches.
Another added benefit is that if your stone does become damaged it’s relatively easy to replace as there’s an abundance of sandstone all over the world. Unlike travertine where if you damage it, there’s a chance you’ll never be able to find a matching piece as it typically comes in sets that come with the same look. Sandstone on the other hand is not intended to share the same consistency in its appearance and if you source from the same location then you could easily find its replacement.
If constantly exposed to the sun, then sandstone will begin to fade. While some may find this a con, I personally like the look of fading stone more because it adds character and distinction to the pavers.
Now onto some of the cons. Sandstone is considerably porous with an absorption rate between 2 and 8%, which is on the high end and is considered unfavorable. A lower water absorption will help preserve your stone, preventing salt attack and freeze-induced cracking. Sandstones porous voids can also become breeding grounds for molds, and retain stains from oils.
Sandstone Landscaping Ideas – Common Uses
Uses of sandstone vary greatly, and due to its properties, its use in backyard and landscaping projects is commonplace. It’s durable, inexpensive, replaceable, and well-suited to weather the elements. If you’re wondering what sandstone landscaping rocks are used for, you’ve come to the right place.
Sandstone retaining walls, or solid block walling, are features used to reinforce soil, provide support to slopes, and can be designed for other structures such as terraces. They make your backyard area more functional by giving you usable space for further projects like patios or walkways. Sandstone makes an excellent retaining wall, typically built with sandstone logs, blocks, or billets. If you don’t want to use it for the entire wall, then you can simply cap it with sandstone blocks to maintain the appearance and reduce the cost.
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Of the many uses, I find the sandstone patio to be the most appealing. As mentioned earlier, an exposed sandstone patio over time will begin to fade due to the sun, which I believe will give it character and style. Another bonus of using this stone for your patio is that it’s quite easy to clean and is slightly resistant to harsher chemicals. I consider sandstone patios to be as ageless as the quarries they’re cut from and they can massively boost the appeal of your backyard.
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Outdoor Seating for Fire Pit
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Choosing to build your fire pit seating out of sandstone would be a wise decision. To start, sandstone textured surface will provide grip, even after being sealed, so no matter the weather your sandstones won’t get slippery. Sandstone remains cooler than other natural stones, and its porous matrix will allow it to absorb the heat keeping it even cooler during hot summer days.
Image credit: Jay@MorphoLA
As one of the first things your guests will experience, your walkway is the artery of your backyard and the lifeblood of your setting. Using sandstone as your walkway pavers brings enough character to embellish the entire backyard with rustic, desert-like decor, and will be an unforgettable addition.
Image credit: Sydney Sandstone Cutter
Garden edging can be more than just decoration, it can help elevate your garden bed from weeds, and distinguish plant and flower beds apart. The wide range of colors and characteristics that sandstone provides will give you enough garden ideas to fit your and your neighbor’s garden. Who knows, after they see yours they might even ask for help with theirs?
Utilizing sandstone as your block steps is an excellent choice. They won’t warp, they’re durable enough to withstand foot traffic. The earthy look of natural stone steps might have you considering if you want to step on them at all.
Types of Sandstone
Sandstone not only comes in a variety of colors but types as well. From the countless different quarries, the chemical makeup of sandstone will impact its durability, color, and what it should be used for.
Image credit: James St. John
This type of sandstone is predominately made from quartz minerals reaching levels sometimes as high as 90%. This type of sandstone pavers is what’s typically used in construction as some of the weaker ones wouldn’t even stay intact during transportation.
This type of sandstone has a considerable amount of clay or silt. The composition of materials gives the stone a lighter color, either beige or brown.
When the sandstone has more than 25% feldspar we call it arkosic. The colors of this stone will be reddish brown and feel somewhat sandy when freshly cut.
This type of sandstone is typically not as hard as others. You wouldn’t want to use this type for landscaping as it’s considered brittle and weak around the edges. The chances of this type of stone breaking are high and can leave sharp fragments in your yard. Stay away.
White, granulated sandstone which can be very hard and brittle. Due to the nature of this stone, I would also stay from this for anything other than ornamental.
If you search for sandstone you’ll often come across one particular subtype of sandstone, the Indian sandstone. This is renowned for its wide range of unique colorations and styles. This stone is imported from all over India and is considered extremely durable.
When asked the question “What color is sandstone” images of the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and Angel Arch come to my mind. All these locations vary in colors from reds to tans and are predominately composed of sandstone. Their particular appearance can be found all over continental America as well as the world. Let’s go over some of the common colors you’ll find.
Tan or sand-colored is the quintessential color of sandstone pavers. It’s the most common in appearance, instantly recognizable as sandstone, and blends in well in more arid regions. This color brings enough to the table that it stands out, while still remaining muted and natural in its environment. This is the classic vanilla of sandstone and is well-loved by many, myself included.
Red sandstone is the cousin of tan. It gets its coloration from red hematite, as well as constant oxygen exposure giving it that brick-like appearance. The hematite forms over the eons as the minerals rich in iron will begin to oxidize or rust, and eventually coat the quartz in a paint-like film of red. Architects love this stone for a reason, its stand-out look draws the eye immediately. If red suits your home, then this stone is for you.
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What doesn’t look good in black? Black sandstone gets its coloration from the inclusion of carbon, graphite, magnetite, or other organic materials that can shift the color toward dark grey or black. Black is always considered sleek, it’s a timeless appearance that won’t show wear
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Grey sandstone is typically a mixture of lighter and darker greys and hints of light blue. I would use this sandstone if I intended to create a natural look, either as a pathway or a driveway. It will create a nice contrast with your lawn or your garden, creating a coherent and ordered appearance as if the stone was always there and simply grew out of the ground.
Image credit: PavingDirect.com
This unique variation of sandstone is composed of layers upon layers of pastel-colored sediment. This beautiful mixture of colors brings a unique pattern to your backyard and appears as if someone was painting a landscape with stones. While more expensive, if you’re looking for something to add curb appeal or increase the value of your property, then this style could be for you.
Select your Finish
Once you choose what color of paver you want for your landscaping needs you’re still going to need to choose a finish. I’ll go over some common finishes with you and my suggestions for their best application.
This is the most common finish you’ll find on sandstone pavers. The natural cut is achieved by simply cutting the stone to size and leaving it as is. This style of finish gives you a slightly rough texture like compact sand and it maintains its rustic appeal. I would consider this for walkways but may be too gritty for anything barefoot.
Honed sandstone is finished by grinding the cut stone to a smoother surface. This is created by sanding it down with finer and finer abrasives until you’ve achieved your desired texture. The final result will still have texture for grip, but won’t be as smooth as polished.
Brushed sandstone is created by brushing the surface of the stone which creates textured grooves and artificial weathering. The brushing process can also reveal variations in colors beneath the stone and has good slip resistance. This could be a good option for something like a patio or terrace.
Sandblasted, or buff sandstone, is the process of spraying high-pressured sand at an object, creating minuscule pits, and exposing the stone beneath the surface. The resulting granular surface offers excellent slip resistance and maintains a natural appearance.
The process of tumbling involves placing your pavers into a drum full of abrasive materials like coarse sand alongside water, which then vibrates or rotates mimicking the natural weathering process. This results in pavers that have rounded edges with a textured and smoothed-down surface. Tumbled sandstone is a natural look that is perfect for landscaping.
Polished sandstone creates an extremely smooth, glossy surface. This smooth sandstone will be polished down and buffed with finer and finer abrasives until the desired sheen is achieved. While there may be niche uses of this in landscaping, I would personally avoid it. It’s too smooth and prone to slips, and even the glossy surface could catch an errant ray of sunshine into your eye. Polished sandstone is best left for the interior.
While I’ve covered the mud-set method and dry-set method of installing pavers in my other article on travertine, I’ll quickly cover the installation method for creating a retaining wall to give you an idea if it’s something you’d like to pursue. Keep in mind that sandstone blocks are extremely heavy to work with, so you may need some assistance installing them.
The easiest way of setting up a retaining wall is called the dry-stack method which doesn’t require any mortar, cement, or other binding agent. Take your largest and heaviest stones and separate them into their own pile, you’re going to use these as the base foundation.
Using wood stakes and mason line you’re going to set up a level line, a quick rule of thumb for determining the size of your wall is the width should be half the length. Now you’re ready to excavate the area. This task is doable by hand, though if you value your back I wouldn’t recommend it. Dig down roughly 1 foot and create a level trench, leaving at least 6 inches of space behind the wall for drainage rocks.
Once this task is complete, add your landscaping fabric and begin laying your stone. Make sure it’s even, I would recommend renting a power tamper, and with each layer add coarse sand or gravel. When you’ve stacked your wall to the desired high, fill in the backspace with drainage gravel and tamp it down.
Now that you’re near completion lay down soil above your drainage gravel, and finish the build with your capstones. Trust me, this is all easier said than done.
You may be wondering how to clean sandstone pavers. There is a myriad of ways to maintain the life of your sandstone, all of which are equally important and, if skipped, can result in undesired consequences. My advice for sandstone care is that prevention is always the best form of medicine
If you’ve just installed your new sandstone pavers then it’s imperative that you seal them properly. Sandstone is a porous material, allowing dirt, debris, and liquids to seep in or fall within the pits. Using a sealant on your pavers enters those pores and creates a protective barrier, preventing any unwanted intrusion. This should be done annually. Any natural stone sealer would be a sufficient sandstone sealant.
It’s best practice to regularly clean your sandstone. Sweep them off and follow up with a damp mop or cloth to remove the dirt and grime. There may come a time when you’re facing a nasty spill or stain, something that won’t simply come off with water. In this instance, a simple dish soap will suffice. Apply warm water and soap to the pavers and scrub with a bristled brush. This should alleviate any stains.
Cost of Sandstone
When it comes to sandstone, there are a variety of factors that will end up determining how much you spend on your backyard projects, DIY or otherwise. Quality, color, and finish will all affect the price. If we’re taking the average cost per square foot, then sandstone pavers will run you between $10.00 and $15.00 dollars.
Let’s start with something simple like a DIY sandstone walkway. The average length of a walkway should be around 45 sq. ft. The pavers themselves will run you roughly $300 to $350, which is relatively inexpensive compared to other natural stones. If you were to install them yourselves, you’d be looking at adding another $150 to $200 in labor.
Now we move on to the patio, the podium of your backyard from which you can appreciate your hard work. If you intend to do a mud-set method the cost can begin to add up. You’ll need the solid substructure, usually poured cement which can cost you up to $900 for an average-sized patio around 160 sq ft. Once this is dried and established then you can begin work on the patio itself. The material cost for a patio will cost you roughly $1100 to $1300, and around $500 to $600 in labor. While this may seem like a sizable sum, it’s good to acknowledge that a well-designed patio can considerably increase your property value.
A project that may be beyond the scope of DIY is the pool deck. Setting up a pool deck yourself is a monumental task, especially if you have curved pool edging or other abnormal shapes in which you’ll need to cut the stone. Depending on the size, a pool deck can accumulate up to 900 sq. ft for a large-sized pool. For material costs, a pool this size would run you between $6500 and $7500, with labor adding on an additional $3000 to $3600.
After installing your pavers you’ll need to seal them. You can purchase natural stone sealant for around $100 to $150 which should cover 500 sq. ft.
Limestone vs Sandstone
You may find yourself online browsing different natural stone pavers and ask yourself which one is best. One of the stones commonly compared to sandstone is limestone. We’ll go over the differences together and by the end you can hopefully make a more informed choice.
Sandstone is considerably easier to work with. If you’re hiring for a custom landscaping job, the labor for working with limestone could end up costing you a bit more. Sandstone is also more dense than limestone, making it a better contender for things like retaining walls and foundations. Limestone ever-so-slightly edges out ahead when it comes to scratch resistance.
Moving on to maintenance, sandstone is far easier to clean as its chemically inert. While I wouldn’t go ahead and start pouring bleach on your sandstone, it will fare better than limestone which can react with strong acids. When it comes to the water absorption index sandstone is slightly more absorbent, though both are considered water-resistant. Both materials would work well around pools or ponds.
As far as affordability is considered, sandstone edges ahead, especially if you can pick up locally sourced sandstone which won’t factor in the travel costs. In the end, both are excellent building materials for your backyard and when going toe to toe it may simply end up being a matter of preference.
Jordan, S. (2020, October 16). Limestone vs sandstone paving. Simply Paving. Retrieved May 19, 2023
Quartzose Sandstone Archives. (2021, November 21). iDesignWiki. Retrieved May 19, 2023
Pebbly sandstones and conglomerates, University of Kentucky. Retrieved May 19, 2023
How to maintain and protect Sandstone pavers. (2022, February 10). Stone Depot. Retrieved May 19, 2023
Sandstone. (n.d.). Minerals Education Coalition. Retrieved May 19, 2023
7 Reasons to Choose Sandstone For Your Outdoor Space. (2022, June 2). RK Marbles India. Retrieved May 19, 2023