Inside the 2019 HNA Installer Championship

Hardscape contractors from across the country competed regionally throughout the year to win travel packages to Hardscape North America in Louisville, KY to battle against the best of the best. Competing for over $15,000 in prizes, regional winners were pitted against one another — along with walk-on hopefuls — to race against the clock in a test of craftsmanship at the seventh annual HNA Installer Championship held on Oct. 17-18.

Highlight reel from the regional and national HNA Installer Championship series.

When the masonry dust settled, the Belgard Master Craftsman team from Segmental Systems Inc. of Spokane, WA emerged victorious for the second consecutive year. The team received a prize package valued at approximately $11,600. The package included a cash prize of $2,550, an iQMS362 16.5″ Masonry Saw with a diamond blade, a Weber MT CF3 forward plate compactor, their name engraved on the HNA Installer Championship Cup, and a return trip to HNA 2020 to defend their title yet again.

“I’m thrilled,” said Dan Hughes, owner of Segmental Systems and member of the winning three-man team. “It solidifies that we excel in our craft. No one has ever won two years in a row. No one thought we could do it. Now, no one has won it three years in a row. Let’s what happens.”

Josh Brownlee, Dan Hughes and Jason Mucciaccio receive their first place award, presented by ICPI Director of Engineering, Robert Bowers.
The Segmental Systems Inc. three-man team of Josh Brownlee, Dan Hughes and Jason Mucciaccio receive their first place award, presented by ICPI Director of Engineering, Robert Bowers.

The two-time national champion team of Hughes, Josh Brownlee and Jason Mucciaccio have been competing together in the HNA Installer Championship program for several years, winning the Northwest Region title every year since 2016. That title came with travel expenses and free entry into the national competition, where they competed strongly each year.

“The first year, we missed the championship round by one point. The second year, we missed it by three points. The third year (2018), we won with an exclamation point, setting a record high score in the preliminary round and beating the competition by more than 50 points,” Hughes said.

ICPI judges score an installation during one of the preliminary rounds on Oct. 17.
ICPI judges score an installation during one of the preliminary rounds on Oct. 17. Teams were all given the same design and were scored on speed, safety, quality and craftsmanship.

For the preliminary round of each competition, teams are all given the same design, which they don’t see until the day of the competition. However, teams have creative control in the final round, which is where Segmental Systems shines due to strategy that begins months before the actual competition.

“Josh is a really good artist, so he creates the design,” Hughes said. “While we’re at work all day long together, we talk about what will set us apart. He understands pavers and can draw in CAD and freehand. He knows how many cuts we can get done in the amount of time we have. In his design, he makes sure we’re using the other half of that cut somewhere. Our paver scraps won’t fill up a one-gallon bucket. He plans so well, there’s very little waste.”

The team is a well-oiled machine, having worked together on a near daily basis for the last eight years. Collectively, they have about 60 years of installation experience, with Hughes having been in the industry for 30 years, Mucciaccio for 18 and Brownlee for 12.

Jason Mucciaccio of Segmental Systems makes paver cuts during the preliminary round.
Jason Mucciaccio of Segmental Systems makes paver cuts during the preliminary round.

“Cumulatively, we’re the oldest team there,” Hughes said. “We have a lot of experience doing what we do and know how to work smoothly as a team. Before they say go, we have a good game plan.”

Each member of the Segmental Systems team has a specific role. Hughes handles much of the heavy lifting while Mucciaccio focuses on making cuts and Brownlee focuses on safety, design and managing the team.

“Josh is our eyes and the voice of our team, like a director,” said Hughes, who believes that strategy is a large factor in their success. “A lot of people don’t utilize their third man like they should.”

Segmental Systems Inc.’s winning hardscape design from the final round featured a large fleur-de-lis, the symbol of King Louis XVI of France, the namesake for Louisville, KY.

The final round was held on Oct. 18. In a nod to the hosting city, Segmental Systems’ winning design included a large inlaid fleur-de-lis in the paver field, with a seat wall flanked by two spiral columns. Although the team did not practice installing the inlay, they did do a practice run on the columns before heading to HNA to determine which degree of twist to use at each level.

“Fleur-de-lis are everywhere in Louisville — street signs, cops badges — it’s a symbol of Kentucky that’s very recognizable. Plus, it photos well,” Hughes said about the team’s inspiration for the design. “No one else has come close to doing anything like this. We figured, if we could pull it off, we stood a great chance of winning: go big or go home.”

Brownlee, who Hughes notes is passionate about art in many forms, has already begun formulating ideas for next year’s competition.

“Josh was sketching ideas on the plane ride home. He started the fleur-de-lis on the ride home last year,” Hughes said.

It remains to be seen whether any of this year’s finalists will return for a rematch with Segmental Systems in 2020. However, event organizers did note that this year’s competition was the closest scoring in HNA Installer Championship history. Although Segmental Systems had a healthy 15-point buffer with a score of 423, the race between second, third and fourth was extremely tight. General Pavers AOJ finished in second place with a score of 408, garnering a cash prize of $1,300 and an iQ 360XR 14″ masonry saw with fully-integrated dust collection plus accessories. General Pavers took third place with 405 and was awarded a cash prize of $650. First-time competitors, fellow Belgard Master Craftsman WaterQuest of Albuquerque, NM placed fourth with a score of 403.

CONTRACTOR’S CORNER: Greetings from HNA 2019!

The hardscape industry event of the year is here! Hardscape North America is held annually at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. Co-located with the Green Industry and Equipment Expo and spanning the interior and exterior grounds of the KEC, the combined trade shows are a mecca of innovations covering every aspect of the hardscape and landscape industries. The event is also the launching point for outdoor living design trends heading into the upcoming year.

As platinum sponsors of the event, Belgard has a prominent presence at the show with an expansive 2-story interior booth of nearly 4,000 square feet in total. This year’s booth showcases the new Collections by Belgard with hardscape installations, 3D lightbox renderings, and interior design displays that illustrate the unique style of each of the five collections: Heritage, Legacy, Metropolitan, Environmental and Porcelain. These Collections group products together in a way to simplify the hardscape design process to more easily coordinate outdoor living spaces with a home’s architectural and interior design style. The booth also incorporates a plethora of biophilic design techniques to illustrate ways to incorporate this rising trend into hardscape designs.

Talk a virtual walk through the Collections by Belgard experience of our HNA indoor booth.

Belgard also has a prominent presence in the outdoor exhibit area of the show with a Belgard demonstration booth plus sponsorships of the HNA Installer Championships and the Hardscape House educational demonstrations.

Get a peek inside the Belgard outdoor booth and Belgard sponsored events in the Hardscape House.

Follow more of the HNA happenings on our Facebook page.

CONTRACTOR’S CORNER: Hardscape Installation Labor Saving Ideas

Across the nation, labor shortages are affecting the hardscape contractor industry, making it more important than ever to make efficient use of crew time. Even if the labor shortage isn’t impacting your market, crew efficiencies are a crucial part of profitability. These tips can help contractors turn jobs faster, reduce the length of disruption for homeowners and maximize business potential.

Take advantage of wall construction innovations.

Often, extensive cutting is involved when building a freestanding wall, especially when needing to create curves or include channels for utilities. By using a wall product that offers a back-to-back installation platform, like Belair Wall® 2.0 or Diamond® 9D 2.0, significant time can be saved on installation. Belgard also offers the innovative U Start Base Block, which allows the base course to be installed 63% faster than with standard wall construction techniques.

2.0 wall installation compared side-by-side with a traditional wall system.
Get a head start on wall construction with U Start Base Blocks.

Invest in paver-placing tools.

Hardscape Paver Installation Labor Saving Ideas
AIRLIFT® tool by PaveTech®

Clamps, vacs, cups and other lifting equipment options have exploded in recent years. Not only will they save labor, they will also increase efficiency and reduce the chance for injury or fatigue. With larger format pavers continuing to grow in popularity, these tools will become essential to every hardscape crew. Companies like Probst®, Mquip® and PaveTech® offer a variety of paver placing equipment that can save valuable hours on the jobsite. For a special Belgard discount offer on paver-placing tools, click here.

Install modular outdoor living units instead of custom builds.

The Belgard Elements™ line includes three different series of modular outdoor living units that are not only beautiful, but engineered in a controlled setting, have a warranty, are shipped in pre-built sections and can be installed on a gravel base or slab within hours versus days or weeks. Typically, when an Elements product is sold, they are part of a larger outdoor living installation. Elements are a great way to add incremental value, increase the size of your projects and flip projects much more quickly.

Install a fireplace with 8 man-hours versus 80.

Save installation time on fire features by using prepackaged kits.

Hardscape Paver Installation Tips
Weston Stone® Linear Fire Pit Kit

Unlike the Elements products, fire pit and fireplace kits are completely constructed on the jobsite. The benefit is that they come prepackaged with all the blocks and hardware needed for the installation. This simplifies ordering, minimizes waste and cuts, and speeds installation by eliminating the guesswork. Kits that can be installed within hours include the Belgard Weston Stone® line of fireplaces and fire pits and the Eagle Bay® Dublin™ Traditional Fireplace Kit. Belgard also offers smaller hardscape fire pit kits through Lowe’s, like the Ashland Fire Pit Kit.

Consider machine-laid pavers for larger jobs.

Hardscape Paver Installation Tips Ideas
Lay multiple pavers at a time.

Machine-laid pavers have typically been reserved for commercial projects. However, with the labor shortage, they are something that should be considering for medium and large-scale residential projects as well. It doesn’t take long to recoup the cost of a paver-laying machine when you consider the average costs of a laborer, complete with Workman’s Comp, health insurance, vacation time, gear and other costs.

Use larger format and modular pavers.

Hardscape Paver Installation
Lafitt® Rustic Slab

Modular design and the use of large-format pavers are two outdoor living design trends that continue to grow in popularity. Due to fewer cuts and easier laying patterns, both trends present an opportunity to install large outdoor living spaces with a fraction of the labor that a classic small-format paver or curvilinear design would take. 

Overlay concrete instead of removing it.

Paver overlays present a tremendous opportunity to provide an updated look without all the expense of a complete renovation. It’s critical, however, to make sure the concrete is in good shape prior – as the quality of the base will impact the final product. Techniseal® DriBond™ is a great product to use for overlays and can be used for 30, 60 or 80mm pavers. Once the base is cleaned, simply screed a thin layer (3/8”) of DriBond, place and cut the pavers, and then flood them with water to activate the mudset. Typical driveways, for example, can be overlaid in a day or two with almost no mess or disposal. 

Installs like sand, sets like concrete.

Choose pavers and wall products with false joints over natural stone.

Homeowners still love the look of natural stone. However, natural stone can be time-consuming to work with. Many Belgard paver and wall products offer the look of natural stone with natural textures and false joints that mimic multiple pieces within a single piece. These systems can be installed in a fraction of the time with less expensive labor rates as compared to masonry. Products that offer false joints include Mega-Arbel® pavers, Diamond® 9D Virtual Joint wall and the Tandem® Wall System.  

Get the contractor’s point-of-view on installing the new Tandem Modular Block system.

Paver Edging Options

Long-lasting beauty is the primary reason a homeowner chooses Belgard pavers for a patio, driveway, walkway or pool deck. To create the most attractive look, and to ensure longevity of each project, it’s important for pavers to be edged properly.

Paver Border Design Options

There are numerous options for paver patterns and border designs. Alternatives include everything from a simple lay with no border to intricate contrasting borders or raised edgers. An emerging trend is to entangle the paver field with the surrounding landscape in what is known as biophilic outdoor design.

  • Irregular shaped Paver Edging
  • Porcelain Paver Edging
  • Paver Edging No Border
  • Paver Edging Contrasting Border
  • Paver Raised Edging

Paver Edge Restraints

 Paver Edge Restraints

No matter which border option is chosen, the paver field should be secured with paver edge restraints. Techniseal® offers rigid paver edging in 8-foot sections or coil edging in 40-foot rolls that can both be cut as needed during installation to fit the paver field. For curves, restraints can be snipped at the top if needed for additional flexibility. Galvanized spikes hold the restraints in place, securing pavers to prevent future movement. Once sand and sod have been added, the restraints are hidden underground to create a nice clean look. In the case of a stepping-stone design, restraints are not necessary unless each “step” in the design includes multiple pavers. Pavers that abut a wall or concrete slab do not require edge restraints on the abutment side.

Poured or Troweled Concrete Curbing

According to the homeowner, this hand-troweled concrete curbing began to decay and crack only a couple of years after installation.
A better curbing option would be to use curb pavers.

Some contractors hold pavers in place with either poured or hand-troweled concrete curbing, however this practice is not ideal. Although acceptable by ICPI standards, it is not recommended in northern climates. This type of concrete curbing can also be an unwise choice for moist climates or areas with expanding clays. Over time, the concrete edging can crack or chip away, detracting from the look and reducing the stability of the paver field. For those who like the clean look of a poured concrete edge, the better option would be to use manufactured concrete edgers like Melville™ Curb, which have a higher strength and are designed for this specific purpose. Manufactured paver edgers and curbs should be held in place with standard paver edge restraints, like any other paver border.

Securing Steps

There are various options for forming steps at the edge of a paver field. Retaining wall block provides an excellent option for this, as it is designed to hold the earth back and provide stability. In addition, the coordinating retaining wall cap units are designed to provide a finished look with an aesthetically pleasing exposed edge. Bullnose coping is also an excellent option for step edging and provides a clean look that can be used to coordinate with planters and pool coping. However, most coping units are lightweight and should be secured in place with mortar or masonry adhesives to provide stability. For a more uniform look, the pavers used for the paver field can also be used to edge the steps but will also require mortar or adhesive for stability. Heavier materials like wall cap units, paver step units or large natural stone slabs will be heavy enough to stay in place without requiring additional reinforcement. When using porcelain pavers to form steps, framework and adhesive will be required.

  • Retaining wall steps paver block edging
  • Large paver step edging
  • Bullnose coping step edging
  • cobble paver edging
  • Porcelain paver edging steps

2017 Outdoor Living Contractor Wish List

In addition to our homeowner audience, the Outdoor Living by Belgard blog is read by many of Belgard’s industry partners. This week’s blog is a nod to those hardworking professionals who create beautiful outdoor living spaces. With that in mind, we offer season’s greetings to our designers and installers with this year’s favorite picks of gadgets, tools and gift ideas for the Belgard Professional.


VR is no longer just for gameplay, but can be a powerful design and sales tool. With the Belgard Design Studio‘s new Virtual Reality platform, you can immerse a client into the design of their future outdoor living space. Simply slip a smartphone into VR goggles to see a 360-degree view of the design as though standing in the actual future space. Contact your local Belgard rep to learn more about receiving your own Belgard VR goggles.


This handy tool will be integral in turning jobs faster in 2018. Earlier this year, Belgard debuted the revolutionary new Techniseal® DriBond™ Advanced Dry Mudset for laying thin pavers over existing concrete, thus eliminating the need for concrete demolition and removal. A concrete cup grinder will help level and prep the slab for the overlay process, allowing contractors to take advantage of overlay opportunities. The concrete cup grinder can also be used for a host of different hardscape applications and is a versatile tool that all crews should have in their toolbox.


Those who read the Contractor Wish List each year know that we regularly recommend buying an aerial video drone. Well, with good reason. The technology continues to improve and get easier to use, making it a must-have for the savvy designer or installer who wants to showcase their work on a website or social media platform. Each year, PC Magazine does an in-depth report on the best drones of the year. Click here for their 2017 favorites.


Large-format pavers are a tremendously popular trend in contemporary patio design, which can be back-breaking work to install. Pav Mor® offers a full line of paver-placing tools that help to both reduce injuries and speed installation. Many of their models work off of a standard air compressor, but the one shown is this photo is a battery-operated model that can allow the freedom to function far away from an outlet.


There’s an old saying that states, “The cobblers children have no shoes.” Many an outdoor living professional has neglected his or her own backyard to spend time beautifying other people’s homes. But the Weston Stone® Fire Pit Kit is so easy to install, the kids will not only have shoes this year, but will be roasting marshmallows to boot.

Project Profile:
Heated Permeable Pavers

In colder climates, it’s not uncommon for driveways, walkways or patios to be installed with either a heated pavement system or a permeable pavement system to help control ice buildup. This homeowner, however, chose to combine the two systems into one to create the ultimate ice-management pavement system.

The heated permeable paver driveway immediately melts and drains snow and ice. A heating coil is hidden beneath Belgard Eco-Dublin® permeable pavers, which are laid at a 45-degree angle to the house to add visual interest to the elegant design. Decorative poured concrete curbing coordinates with the charcoal paver accents and sits atop edge restraints, adding both stability and a finished look to the pavement system. Matching curbing also lines the landscape beds throughout the property.

Benefits of a Combined Heated/Permeable Pavement System

With a heated pavement system, snow and ice melt immediately to prevent accumulation, but if the surface is not graded properly, or if the pavement settles or degrades over time, there can be pooling or other issues. In comparison, a permeable system allows melting snow to drain into the joints and down into the subsurface rather than remaining on the surface and refreezing into ice. Typically, a plow clears the bulk of the snow, ice melt is applied, and the water goes away. However, with a combined heated permeable pavement system, plowing or ice melt is typically not needed. All snow or freezing rain that hits the surface melts and drains immediately. Plus, concrete pavers are more durable than poured concrete or asphalt, ensuring increased longevity of a properly working system. After two winters, the homeowners report that the system is performing beautifully, with no water or snow accumulation whatsoever.

How Does It Work?

Heating cables are laid out in the bedding layer, beneath the pavers. Two heat/moisture sensors, each about the size of a tennis ball, are installed in the pavement to automatically turn the heating cables on when there is both precipitation and a below-freezing temperature. When the system is on, it takes a lot of electricity to heat the 4,300 SF drive and walkway, necessitating the addition of a 400-amp pedestal to operate the system. However, because the sensors require both moisture and freezing temperatures, the system is rarely on.

The pavers are seated on a bedding layer of aggregate that protects the cables.

Installing the System

Although, the system was planned to include only 18” of excavation, abnormal site conditions required 36” of excavation. A variable base of aggregate was then installed – 27” of #2 stone, 4” of #57, and 2” of #89. A heating cable was installed within the #89 stone layer. In order to maximize the amount of heat transferred from the heating cable to the pavers, the stone separating the cable and pavers needs as much contact with both as possible. Crushed stone with fines transfers the most heat, but doesn’t drain, so it isn’t used in a permeable installation. Instead, the heating cable manufacturer, Warmzone Radiant, recommended smaller drainage stone (#89) because it has more contact with the cable and transfers more heat than larger stone. The crew also took extra care during the handling and installation of the cable to safeguard the protective coating and ensure long-term functionality of the system.

A heated permeable paver walkway coordinates with the driveway to create a dramatic entrance to the front of the home. The heated Eco-Dublin pavers provide a safe environment for guests and can eliminate the need for snow shoveling and deicing agents.

.   .   .

2014 HNA Project Award Winner – Residential Concrete Permeable Pavers

Design/build Contractor: Grindstone Hardscapes, Josh & Kristen Graczyk, Owners
Location: Grand Island, Nebraska