If you haven’t heard about one of the latest innovations in paving, you haven’t been watching enough TV. Since last September, Cobble Systems has been featured on “Blog Cabin,” “Flip this House,” “I Want That,” “Rock Solid” and “Victory Garden.”

So, what’s all the fuss about? With Cobble Systems paving mats, it’s relatively easy to achieve the look of old-world cobblestones. Developed in Holland in the early 1990s, this alternative to pavers involves casting large rubber molds from original granite cobblestones, which are filled with color through granite aggregate concrete. The individual stones are then connected with a patented, cast-in nylon grid. After seeing the successful launch in Europe, a pair of American entrepreneurs brought the product across the big pond.

Cobble Systems, American style

In 2003, Tal Shuford combined his construction background with Bill Harmening’s successful experience with multiple startup companies to offer the product in the United States. Their plant, located in Moore Haven, Fla., opened in February 2004; today the company has 35 employees. The product is shipped throughout North America, the Caribbean and Mexico via a dealer network and direct sales.

Shuford said Cobble Systems offers several advantages, the first being a natural stone look at a reasonable price point. Because it is made in a wet-cast operation, minute details can be embedded. The product has an 8,000-PSI design strength; it meets American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards C140, C67, C150, C33, C979 and C1028-96.

A big plus for landscape construction firms is apparent when installation begins. The product comes in large sections: straight and fan designs come in 5-square-foot sections; the half-circle pattern comes in 7.5-square-foot sections. This helps speed up the installation process. The sections are 1-5/8 inches thick and weigh in around 70 pounds for the straight and fan designs, half-circle sections weigh 105 pounds. The straight design also comes in a .75-inch thickness. Individual cobble blocks (12 by 6 by 3.75 inches) are also available. The styles may be mixed and matched at installation to create unique designs.

At the present time, the product is only available in single colors created from the lone manufacturing plant, but with the product’s early success and ongoing development, that may change in the future. Colors available now are rustic red, charcoal, sand and terra-cotta.

“An unplanned benefit is the fact that the product is extremely permeable,” Shuford said, adding that today’s emphasis on green building makes that an important feature. “There has been somewhat of a move away from hardscape in favor of green space, so this has worked for us.”

Shuford said the product is ideal for indoor and outdoor applications. Driveways, interior flooring and erosion control are a few of the common uses. And, yes, it has been used for cobblestone streets. It was recently installed on a street in the small town of Rosemary Beach, Fla., replacing pervious concrete. The concrete tended to collect sand and actually had to be vacuumed to maintain functional pervious quality. Shuford said the Cobble Systems street was such an improvement that town leaders are considering using it throughout Rosemary Beach.

Installation

Installing Cobble Systems is similar to brick pavers or natural stone. For exterior use, generally the 1 5/8-inch product is used; when paving over a finished surface, such as an old patio, walkway or interior floor, the .75-inch thin cobble is a better choice.

The base is prepared as with a standard paver installation, with a 6-inch base course with an aggregate base of soil cement or paving fines. Soil subgrade and base compaction are critical to proper installation. Special attention should be given to achieving compaction standards adjacent to edge restraints, catch basins and utility structures. Bases for pedestrian areas and residential driveways should be compacted a minimum 98 percent of standard Proctor density. For vehicular areas, compaction should be at least 98 percent of modified Proctor density. Bedding sand, or concrete sand under concrete pavers, should conform to ASTM C33 or CSA A23.1 with no greater than 1 percent passing the No. 200 sieve. Masonry sand for mortar, limestone screenings, stone dust, waste screenings, masonry sand or limestone screenings should not be used for bedding sand.

Correct poor drainage, improperly compacted trenches, debris and improper gradients before installing the Cobble Systems mats by placing stones up. Borders should be installed first to Ensure proper design layout. To install continuous mats remove half stones at ends using pruning-type sheers. Stones should be cut using a stone splitter, concrete saw or wet saw.

A compactor should be run over the stone surface and wet the application prior to filling the joints. Once cleared of debris and water, the joints can be filled with epoxy grout, coarse sand, stabilized sand or fine gravel. Stabilized sand or coarse sand is not recommended in vehicle traffic areas.

The .75-inch cobble is appropriate for interior use. The paver sheets are secured to a prepared surface with an adhesive such as thin set mortar. Joints are filled with sanded grout or saltillo tile grout.

Marketing Cobble Systems

Using a combination of magazine and TV ads, along with a Web site and e-mail communication, Shuford, the company’s vice president, is presenting his product to consumers and related businesses. He said that the exposure on network TV evolved through trade shows.

“At a builders’ show in Las Vegas in early 2004, a representative of HGTV expressed interest,” Shuford said. However, there was a problem. The producers were considering a product installation for their show to be filmed in late January, but Shuford had no product from the plant to use. The manufacturing plant wouldn’t begin output until early February.

Fortunately, the HGTV folks remembered Cobble Systems and later arranged an appearance on “I Want That.” From there, the invitations kept pouring in, an unusual and valuable opportunity for the young firm.

“These shows did a wonderful job of mass marketing for the company,” Shuford said. “The expenses for labor and materials that we incurred were nothing compared to the cost of similar advertising.”

He said the innovative nature of the product spells a bright future for Cobble Systems.

“Even with the slowdown in the economy, we are seeing an increase in specified projects and sales.”

Learn more about Cobble Systems online at www.cobblesystems.com or by phone at 877-238-8663.

The author is a freelance writer based in Greensboro, N.C.