Much like a set of keys that find their way into cracks between couch cushions, UltraMix Paver Joint Sand from TechniSoil seemingly disappeared from sight in late 2017. But what happened? Where did it go? I will shed some light on the subject here (and help you find some of the last remaining bags), but first a refresher course on UltraMix Sand and how it came to be in the first place. It is but just one of the many interesting company stories I like to tell, and another supporting factor for our tagline; Innovation for Modern Landscapes
I spent the better part of a decade working as a hardscape contractor in Northern California. You name it, paver patios and walkways, retaining walls, staircases – my company built it. When it comes to pavers, the long-running standard in the business when it comes to joint material is polymeric sand. I’ll save you from the sorted, boring details here but this is a great article explaining what polymeric sand is and how it’s used. After years of using polymeric sand to joint my paver projects, my lack of patience with its ability to stain my beautiful pavers finally hit critical mass. That, and the fact it rarely matched the color blend of my pavers was enough to push me to exasperation.
Side Story: One fateful, albeit funny, experience I had with polymeric sand probably taught me a more painful trade lesson than most others. As a very new and green hardscaper, I took on a small flagstone project for a customer. For those of you who have never installed flagstone, it is widely regarded as one of the most tedious and labor intensive of hardscape jobs. At any rate, I used bag after bag of polymeric sand to joint my flagstone patio project. I meticulously swept it in nice and flush, wet it all down to activate the stabilizing polymer, and marveled my work. Then, two weeks later, the customer called to ask what happened to the sand joints? What did they mean ‘what happened’? When I went back, it was a mess. To my complete dismay, the joints were patchy, blown out, and just plain ugly. The sand had bridged in the joints, only crusted in certain areas, and flowed out of every open orifice. It looked awful. To fix it (and this is where it gets fun), I had to crawl around on my hands and knees with a screwdriver and a ShopVac. Yep, scraping away congealed sand globs and vacuuming it all out. It sucked, literally and figuratively. The solution on that particular day was decomposed granite. NanoPave JSS didn’t exist at that time, but man oh man would it have helped me avoid this poly-mess.
Fast forward almost ten years from my flagstone folly and I was working in research and development on a new sand product at TechniSoil. Company Founder and President, Sean Weaver, and I had spent a number of rap sessions dishing on polymeric sand. The powdered polymer stains pavers. It is prone to crusting when water activated. The colors are awful! Homeowners invest thousands of dollars into their pavers, most of which offer rich color blends designed to complement the house and surrounding landscape. But somehow, polymeric sands only come available in what I affectionately termed as “butt grey” and “butt tan” color options. That’s because both, are butt ugly. Let’s face it, when you get dressed in the morning you select matching clothes to avoid embarrassment at work. Why then, would we purposely mismatch colors with our pavers?
Sean was able to develop a process where we chemically infuse color into a specific gradation of sand geared towards jointing pavers. From there, we culled an extensive list of color patterns used by the top paver manufacturers, such as Belgard, Pavestone, Calstone, and Unilock. It was a long list, something to the tune of 20-30 blend options. We then narrowed that list down to 18 of what we considered to be premium color blends for matching pavers. There were some wild and cool varieties too. New England Moss, a serpentine green affair. Brick Red, for all those walkways and patios constructed with actual bricks (by comparison to interlocking pavers). And, there were the traditional mainstays as well, Charcoal, Craft Paper, and Heather Gray. These would become a new line of jointing sands designed to give homeowners, contractors, and architects a choice.
Like some of the niche products we manufacture and distribute to landscape and hardscape supply dealers across the country, UltraMix was not an overnight success. There was a lot of interest, primarily from architects and savvy contractors who now had options. But our tried and true Authorized Dealers needed more time. I cannot blame them really, a retailer’s job is to sell products, so they naturally gravitate towards the industry standard products that sell without much “selling” needed. It is far less involved to simply say “The polymeric sand is over there” compared to asking the end-user detailed questions about their project. Despite the slow, initial rollout, UltraMix gained steam. Dealers and end-users even called to ask if we would consider making them a custom color blend (a program we considered). After all, innovation is fun, often times sexy. UltraMix was innovative.
We saw a big spike in UltraMix Paver Joint Sand sales not long after we finished shooting the first episode of BackYard Basics, a YouTube series that focuses on DIY projects around the home or office using a variety of TechniSoil brand products. Episode 1 entitled “How to clean and restore a brick paver patio in a few hours” featured NanoPave JSS in conjunction with UltraMix Paver Joint Sand. The 2-in-1 joint stabilizing and sealing liquid locks up regular joint sand (not polymeric) and seals the paver stones in one application. We even used a blend of two different UltraMix Sand colors that perfectly matched our elevated patio project. It struck a chord with the audience because it took what appears to be a daunting and complex project, and transformed it into a DIY paver patio makeover that can be completed in one day over the weekend.
So, you’re probably asking by now – what was the fate of UltraMix? Well, here is a lesson in supply chain. We had a fairly local source for sand component of UltraMix. Clean, pure, and consistent, and, in the highest performing gradation based on our testing in the research and development phase. Other components were sourced and the production process took place on our own campus using, among other things, a $60,000 batch mixing assembly line system. Although 50 pound bags can be cumbersome to produce, store, and ship, UltraMix was a unique product based in our core principles which, quite simply, are to create innovative new products to enhance today’s modern landscape trends.
Then, in the snap of your fingers, it happened. California experienced intense and lengthy rains for months on end. This, on the heels of one of California’s worst ever droughts. Flooding was rampant, but one of the more notable stories came out of the town of Oroville, CA. In 2017, water levels in Lake Oroville were rising at an alarming rate and the Oroville Dam spillway was crumbling under the load of so much water. Experts from all across the country were frantically calculating whether the dam itself would either collapse or be overrun with rising water. Simultaneously, the spillway was eroding away but operators had no choice but to keep the flow at or near maximum output. The city was being evacuated for fear that the dam itself would soon give way. Although there was extensive damage from flooding and the Oroville Dam crisis is considered one of the most catastrophic near-misses in U.S. history.
When the rains slowed and the water settled, reconstruction efforts began. Efforts to rebuild the Oroville Dam spillway, quite literally a gigantic concrete water slide, required tremendous amounts of resources. Much of those resources were to batch tons and tons of concrete, more notably in our story, sand. As demand for sand skyrocketed to keep the concrete flowing, our supply started to deteriorate. Unfortunately for us, it deteriorated to the point that new shipments could not pass quality control standards. The fix was in, UltraMix was doomed.
While products get discontinued all the time in just about every sector, we had not discontinued a single product line during our run in business. But, all great streaks come to an end and the day came in mid 2017. In a department head meeting, we unanimously decided to pull the plug on UltraMix Paver Joint Sand. Production ceased, remaining inventories were consolidated, and we began communicating with Dealers and end-users on the decision.
Is UltraMix gone forever? Perhaps not. In recent years, we have witnessed a phenomenal boom in reboots. Movies, TV shows, throwback products, and the like. Maybe we will see an UltraMix resurgence? Who can say? For now, we say so long to a true pioneer in modern hardscaping. For those of you still searching for remaining inventory, there are a few scattered pockets of the multi-colored sand bags. Contact your local Authorized TechniSoil Dealer for more information or visit one of our online eCommerce Dealers.
For more information on TechniSoil brand products, visit TechniSoil.com or any one of our social media channels. We have videos, FAQ sections, installation guides, project photos, and so much more. Of course, if you come up with that question that just can’t be answered – shoot us a call or email by visiting our Contact Us page.