They're popular for driveways in Europe and Japan. Are pervious pavers ready to take America by storm?

"Storm" is the key word when talking about this type of paving stone. A growing government concern about storm water runoff is prompting more interest in the United States in what are known as "pervious" or "porous" pavers. These paving blocks have holes in the middle to allow water to percolate back into the earth, rather than run into overloaded sewer systems. Picture lattice embedded in the ground.

David Smith of the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute says in some areas, using these pavers can allow you to build a larger home.

He cites the East Coast's Chesapeake Bay region as an example. Land within a thousand feet of the Bay shoreline has been designated a "critical environmental area." Smith says that means when someone wants to build a home, the total amount of impervious material they may use is restricted.

Impervious materials are those that don't allow water to penetrate, such as roofs, sidewalks, and conventional driveways and patios. Since surfaces covered with pervious paving material allow water to soak in, you can spend more of that impervious allowance on your house, and less on the driveway.

Legal considerations aside, Smith says some people just like the look of the rain-friendly paving material and don't want "ugly asphalt. You can put grass or gravel in the openings. When grass is used, that's a lot prettier and cooler" and "blends in with the environment."

According to Smith, pervious pavers allow a house to be "more visually dominant than the driveway."

Pervious pavers are most commonly used in the U.S. for things like fire access roads and overflow parking lots. However, Smith says holey paving stones are growing in popularity for residential use because they're "very practical in coastal areas, near bays, near lakes. Wherever there's sandy soil they work extremely well."

Smith says cost varies depending on the size of the area to be paved and its location. However, as a ballpark estimate, he says the pervious pavers will run about "two to three times higher than asphalt."

EP Henry Company of Woodbury, New Jersey, is among the U.S. firms that manufacture pervious pavers. Mark Fuss, vice president of sales and marketing, agrees the pervious pavers are more expensive than asphalt and "certainly more expensive than poured concrete." However, he says they have some big advantages.

Fuss says the pervious pavement is "relatively maintenance free. You don't have to coat it every few years like asphalt." Of course, depending on the look you want, you may have to get used to fertilizing and mowing your driveway.

In addition, Fuss says the pervious pavements are typically "three times stronger than a poured sidewalk." Remember, he says, "they started out for fire trucks."

How long will they last?

"Longer than you or I," jokes Fuss. He adds, "typically we say the life span is 30 years."

Another environmentally friendly paving option is "permeable" blocks. These are laid out to allow drainage between the blocks. One manufacturer is Unilock in the Great Lakes region. Unilock dubs its pavers "Uni Eco-Stone" to highlight the product's ability to allow "natural drainage and migration of water into the earth below."

The CONCRETE Network.com points out both porous and permeable pavers can be good alternatives in remote areas. The Web site also says both can easily be removed for underground utility repairs.

Should you decide to give pervious, porous or permeable paving blocks a try, Fuss says it's easy to find someone to install them. The work is now being done by specialists known as hardscapers, as well as some landscapers who are trying to extend their business season. Fuss says do-it-yourselfers also can install the block. According to Fuss, the biggest drawback of laying the stone yourself -- "it's heavy."

Will pervious pavers take America by storm?

Fuss says his company plans to introduce at least two new styles designed to be more pleasing to the eye for residential use. As he puts it, "We feel this groundswell coming."

No pun intended.

Carol Ochs is a Washington-based reporter who covers new home trends.

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