Polymeric Sand

Updated on May 2, 2018
Source

Polymeric sand is a building material that fills and binds paving joints—spaces between units such as concrete pavers. It is officially described as dry joint sand stabilizer.

Online it's called all sorts of things that revolve around pavers (to know why see History) polymeric sand for pavers, filling gaps between pavers, paver leveling sand, paver locking sand, and the like. One guy termed it "outdoor grout."

In my article I will also call it poly sand or abbreviate it as PS.

"It's just sand mixed with glue-like polymer" (p. 39, 2011, "Sticky Sand For Pavers," Family Handyman).

What Is Polymeric Sand?

Polymeric sand is an innovation of the 21st century to provide building materials that are aesthetically appealing and well functioning. Now some science.

Many small molecules called "monomers" chemically align along a carbon (organic) backbone to form a large molecule or "polymer." As I understand, resin or unfinished plastic combined with additives transforms into a compound. Sand (aka silica) adjusted in the lab (calibrated) added to polymer material creates a dry bonding formula. This composite (of mostly sand) when activated by a catalyst (water) becomes a paving grout that hardens to stabilize joints between masonry pavement units.

Although materials science, physics, and engineering are beyond the scope of this article, manufacturers (10 major ones at the time of this writing) continue to develop proprietary polymeric sand products for set purposes. This signifies that some of the ingredients are trade secrets—tested and tried for pave setting solutions.

According to the Old House Journal (2009) these "proprietary blends of sand, dust, and polymer allow moisture to move around the stones" (p. 69) and not erode the foundation causing stability and move-ability. Polymeric sand is easy to buy and use. Periodic maintenance other than sweeping or blowing off debris is less of an issue. Chores such as pulling weeds and spraying insects are practically nil. Color options are available, too.

On the flip side, over time mold or mildew might creep onto it. Mother Nature ensures that no outside surfaces are maintenance free.

Masonry Yard Paver Display

Polymeric sand between a medley of paver shapes & sizes.
Polymeric sand between a medley of paver shapes & sizes. | Source

Before Installing Paver Joint Sand

What's the best polymeric sand to buy? Well, that depends on your circumstances. Do your homework and source the best selection.

  • Warm up by watching three instructional videos to begin educating yourself. You can start with the "How To Install" one below. Read online forums and blogs for opinions. Get familiar with manufacturers and brands. Learn PS terminology and read SDS and TDS literature (see blurbs). You can make homemade poly sand or blend polymer and sand yourself. You can also purchase pre-mixed bags or hire a professional to handle the job.
  • Start a checklist (see Table 1). Include what's pertinent to your outdoor project. Take and pin pictures, too.
  • Talk to qualified experts—landscape designers, masonry suppliers, hardscape contractors—and ask them to share their knowledge about polymeric sand. Bring your checklist and pictures to help zero in on possibilities. Borrow samples.

My dad always says that you get two out of three: Quality, Reliability and Price. Go with the first two for the superior product.

Is All Sand The Same?

This blurb defines two ASTM types of building sand.
This blurb defines two ASTM types of building sand. | Source

Table 1. Polymeric Sand Checklist

Factors
Comments/Examples/Questions
Paving Type
Clay bricks, cobblestones, concrete pavers, natural stones
Joint Size
Narrow/Wide 1", 1.5", up to 4"
Coverage
How many square feet is your pavement project?
Surface Use
Driveway, patio, pool area, terrace, walkway, other
Traffic
High/Low Foot/Vehicular
Distributor
Contact Info
Manufacturer
What PS brand does your local suppllier carry?
ASTM
C-144 joint sand comparable?
Color
Beige, grey, other
Exclusions
Moss, mildew, other
Dust free
Yes/No
Haze free
Yes/No
Leaf blower
Yes, it's needed, or Not
Overlay
Is surface built above concrete slab? Yes/No
Packaging
50 lb. bag, pallet, custom
Product material
Polymeric Sand or Polymeric Stone Dust
Pre-mixed
Yes/No or DIY
SDS
Read Safety Data Sheet?
Safety precautions
Wear gloves, mask; Rinse with water first aid.
Samples
Available?
Self healing
Yes/No
Setting time
1 hour, 24 hours, other
Storage
Is packaging intact?
TDS
Read Technical Data Sheet?
Temperature
Above freezing 32 degrees F
Watering
Once, twice, more
Warranty
Residential 15 years, Commercial 1 year
What else?
ADD YOUR OTHER NOTES
Keep on ongoing list of facts when sourcing polymeric sand materials.
This blurb defines a Safety Data Sheet.
This blurb defines a Safety Data Sheet. | Source
This blurb defines a Technical Data Sheet.
This blurb defines a Technical Data Sheet. | Source

Polymeric Sand Samples

On the counter is a tier of samples of polymeric sand (for pavers) and polymeric stone dust (aggregated for natural stones) inside with details on the bottoms.
On the counter is a tier of samples of polymeric sand (for pavers) and polymeric stone dust (aggregated for natural stones) inside with details on the bottoms. | Source

Figure 1. Applying Polymeric Sand

Cross section of poly sand application between concrete pavers.
Cross section of poly sand application between concrete pavers. | Source

Table 2. Typical Dry Laid Patio Process

Stage
Activity
Planning
Imagining
 
Researching
 
Designing
 
Sourcing
Constructing
Excavating
 
Backfilling
 
Edging
 
Laying paving units
Finishing
Filling joints
 
Sealing top (or not)
 
Planting around perimeter
Maintaining
Weeding
(not as much with PS)
Replenishing fill
 
Sweeping & Leaf Blowing
A general strategy of how to go about building outdoor flooring the dry set way.

How To Apply Polymeric Sand

Everything now hinges on work that has already been properly completed (see Figure 1 and Table 2).

Be prepared.

  • Watch the forecast. Will the weather be favorable over the next 24 hours (no rain)? What is the temperature range (above freezing, 40-70º F is ideal)?
  • Gather building materials and safety equipment (see Table 3) and place into a wheelbarrow to have all items handy at the project site. Next, I like to put the bag of polymeric sand in a new (or clean) mixing tub (mason pan) and cut the top open with scissors. If extra product spills, there is a place to capture it and also a spot to put your bag down if necessary.

Most important: Are paver tops and sides completely dry?

  • Step 1. Spread polymeric sand in sections. With a push broom sweep it into all seams of your paver surface. In smaller areas, pour in more from a clean yogurt cup and use a hand broom.
  • Step 2. Settle the sand by compacting with a hand and/or plate tamper (with rubber pad to protect pavers).
  • Step 3. Sweep and compact (steps 1 & 2) two to three more times until crevices and voids are filled.
  • Step 4. Thoroughly inspect the pavers and broom sweep or leaf blow residual sand off top. Otherwise, once wet, the sand will stick and be problematic to remove.
  • Step 5. Gently spray joints in increments to activate the molecular bonding of the polymeric sand. Keep the hose nozzle on shower. Start at the lower part of the patio and work up. Do not under or over water. Let sit for 15 minutes.
  • Step 6. Repeat showering (step 5).
  • Step 7. Leaf blow off residual surface water to prevent hazing.
  • Step 8. Stop. Poly sand needs time to cure. Wait 24 hours or whatever time frame the tech specs recommend.

Note: These are the basic steps for most jointing sand applications. However, please follow the manufacturer's specific PS product instructions on its TDS or back of the bag.

Table 3. Supply List

Machines
Materials
Tools
Safety Equipment
Leaf blower
Polymeric sand
Hose with nozzle
Dust mask
Plate compactor
Water source
Hand broom
Eye goggles
 
 
Hand tamper
First aid kit
 
 
Mixing tub
Knee pads
 
 
Push broom
Work gloves
 
 
Rubber mallet
 
 
 
Scissors
 
 
 
Wheelbarrow
 
 
 
Yogurt cup(s)
 
You will likely already have some of these items on hand.
Gently shower paver joints filled with poly sand. Do not stream.
Gently shower paver joints filled with poly sand. Do not stream. | Source

Video: How To Install Polymeric Sand

The next video animates the process of how to fill joints with polymeric sand. Earlier I suggested that you watch at least three.

This one does not mention a specific brand. Most do. It is informational rather than promotional; short yet covers key steps. If a picture says a thousand words, a video does even more.

Poly Sand Alternatives

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Moss planted between concrete blocks.Mulch between stepping stones. Grass between stepping stones. Wet-set method: Mortar between clay bricks.
Moss planted between concrete blocks.
Moss planted between concrete blocks. | Source
Mulch between stepping stones.
Mulch between stepping stones. | Source
Grass between stepping stones.
Grass between stepping stones. | Source
Wet-set method: Mortar between clay bricks.
Wet-set method: Mortar between clay bricks. | Source

Figure 2. Types of Jointing Sands

Alternative jointing sands (clockwise from top left) include C144 mason sand, white bar sand, grey polymeric sand and beige polymeric sand.
Alternative jointing sands (clockwise from top left) include C144 mason sand, white bar sand, grey polymeric sand and beige polymeric sand. | Source

What Is The History of Paver Sand?

The evolution of polymeric sand is a twofold convergence: The history of polymers AND concrete masonry. First, the latter.

We have the Romans to thank for inventing natural cement concrete 2000+ years ago. Roads such as the Appian Way were built of stone foundation held together with lime mortar then covered with lava rocks and gravel joints. Workers even used a beetle tool to tamp material into place.

In 1824 Britain a stone mason heated clay silica and lime calcium together. When activated by water, the material (Portland cement) hardened as it cured to create an amazing compound that changed the world: Concrete rediscovered! Cement, sand and water also formed a bonding paste to mortar joints together.

By the early 20th century lighter hollow concrete blocks were being machine made. Influenced by Dutch practices, in the 1970s the National Concrete Masonry Association began promoting "customized concrete masonry" and by 1987 concrete paving units were becoming more popular in America.

Meanwhile, polymers had early roots. Laozi (6th century BCE China) and Epicurius (3rd century BCE Greece) had inklings about order within components in motion called self-assembly. By combining rubber tree sap with crushed morning glories to form balls, rubber bands and sandals, Mesoamericans unknowingly practiced polymer science.

By the 1830s scientists were experimenting with cellulose content from plant fibers. In 1870 a natural polymer celluloid was in production. The first synthetic polymer Bakelite was invented in 1907. Synthetics continued to be developed. Synthetic rubber during W W II and nylon, Kevlar, and Teflon in the 1950s.

It was just a matter of time before polymers were used to innovate building materials for the construction industry. For filling joints masonry sand (see Figure 2) and ground granite stone dust were previously applied. Sometimes cement was added to joint sand, which did not hold up during freeze thaw cycles.

Combining polymers and joint sand happened in the hardscape industry in the early 21st century. Proprietary formulas prescribed over these last decades have become more diversified, specific, and effective.

Another Masonry Yard Paver Display

More pavers interlocked with polymeric sand including a circle pattern patio.
More pavers interlocked with polymeric sand including a circle pattern patio. | Source

What Else To Do With PS?

Have an outside garden railroad? Toy train set in the basement? Some miniature train buffs use poly sand for ballast under tracks.

Toy Trains

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Miniature train (HO scale) inside with polymeric sand ballast.Garden train (LGB) outside with polymeric sand ballast.
Miniature train (HO scale) inside with polymeric sand ballast.
Miniature train (HO scale) inside with polymeric sand ballast. | Source
Garden train (LGB) outside with polymeric sand ballast.
Garden train (LGB) outside with polymeric sand ballast. | Source

"They [dry joint sand stabilizers] are convenient for application by homeowners" (p. 5, 2018, ICPI: Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute, EPH Tech Spec 5) .

Our Completed Paver Patio and Walkway

It's time to add landscape lighting, plant more, and set up outdoor furniture.
It's time to add landscape lighting, plant more, and set up outdoor furniture. | Source

Last Minute Reminder: Dry, Dry, Dry

Work under dry conditions. Everything—all materials, supplies and you.

Conclusion

I'll close with a few Polymeric Sand I Likes:

  • I like the field. It's a result of centuries of building technology ever changing and improving aesthetics and efficiencies. It will be fascinating to follow the future of this material.
  • I like the neat look when it's completed. Finishing joints with polymeric sand looks so polished. Definitely advantageous for formal front walks and terraces.
  • I like to take a break from building AND enjoy my work. Don't you? In this case PS means I love you because I have less maintenance to do afterward.


Questions & Answers

    © 2018 hardscape

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, dengarden.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://dengarden.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)