The most popular type of patio surface these days is one made of clay brick or brick-shaped concrete pavers that are loose-laid upon a base of compactable gravel covered by a sand layer. Poured concrete is still an alternative for a patio, but pavers are both more attractive and more suitable for DIY installation. This technique, called a "sand-set" patio, can also be used for slate, flagstone, and other natural stone, but brick or concrete pavers offer the huge benefit of being uniform in size, allowing for precise installation and a variety of patterns.
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The joints between bricks or concrete pavers can be mortared—this was once the standard technique for laying down brick paving surfaces—but these days, it's much more common to lay them loose, then fill in the gaps with a fine-textured paver sand that fills the cracks and locks the pavers into place. Done correctly, this creates a very durable, stable surface, and one that also can be fairly easily repaired if any bricks are damaged or an area begins to sag.
Brick Paver Patio Considerations
The two most important elements of successfully laying a sand-set paver patio are getting the layout and pattern right and creating a building site that is very flat but also slightly pitched so that water can run to one side. One of the advantages of a sand-set patio is that water will seep through the sand joints, but you should still make sure the overall patio slopes away from the home at a pitch of roughly 1/8 inch per foot. This means that a 10-ft.-wide patio should be lower on one side by about 1 1/4 inches. You don't have to be too obsessive about this, but do take pains when you are creating your patio base to make sure the gravel sub-base and the sand bedding layer are slightly pitched away from your home.
There is disagreement over whether the pavers on a sand-set patio should be treated with a sealer after installation, and as part of routine annual maintenance. The best advice is to follow the suggestions of the paver manufacturer regarding this. In particular, patios made from traditional clay brick may require sealers. A sealer can also offer the benefit of helping to keep the sand locked into the joints; on the other hand, sealer can hinder the ability of water to seep through the patio joints and into the ground, as intended. A sand-set patio that has been sealed may actually be prone to more water problems.
Installing a large patio, especially one with a very unique or unusual pattern, is a complicated process, and you should study up on how it is done. This article will give an overview of the process, but you should also consult the installation literature provided by the paver manufacturer.
Things You'll Need
Drawing materials and graph paper
Long 2 x 4s for layout
4 ft. level
Compactable gravel (enough for 3- to 6-inch layer)
Paver edging material (optional)
Coarse sand (enough for 1-inch thick layer)
Brick or concrete pavers
Masonry saw (if needed)
Hand tamper or rented power tamper
Eye protection and particle mask
Step 1: Create a Working Plan on Graph Paper
Begin by measuring your patio site, then use these measurements to draw a sketch of your patio to scale. Remember that choosing a relatively flat and level site will make your work easiest. Next, choose the type of pavers you want. Pavers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and materials. Paver manufacturers may offer literature with ideas for different patterns you can use, and the layout you choose will determine not only the quantity but also the kinds of materials you need. A basic square or rectangular patio will be relatively easy to lay out and install, while one with curves or rounded edges will require a substantial amount of cutting of pavers. Order your materials now. It's always best to order about 5 percent more than you will need to account for mistakes and breakage.
Step 2: Set Up Layout Strings
Lay out the patio on the building site, using stakes and strings and using your planning drawing as a guide. The easiest way to do this is by driving vertical stakes into the ground then using layout strings to outline the boundaries of the patio. If you are installing a curved patio, use a garden hose or ropes to outline the contours of the patio.
Step 3: Excavate the Patio Site
Use a shovel and rake to remove lawn grass and smooth out the bottom of the patio site. The excavation should be about 1 ft. wider than the planned patio to give you room to work. The depth of your excavation should be about 6 to 8 inches to allow for the gravel sub-base, the sand bedding layer, and the thickness of the pavers. This is a considerable amount of work, so having helpers is a good idea at this stage. Take pains to get the excavation site as flat as possible, as this will make the next steps much easier. A long straight 2 x 4 can be used as a straightedge to judge the flatness of your excavation site. While the surface should be flat, it should also slope away from the house at a rate of 1/8 inch per linear foot.
Step 4: Install the Gravel Sub-Base
Lay a 3- to 6-inch layer of compactible gravel over the bottom of the excavated area, spreading it evenly. Use a long 2 x 4 as a straightedge to judge the flatness of the subbase, and use a level to make sure you are maintaining a slight slope away from your house to facilitate drainage (about 1/8 inch per foot).
Step 5: Compact the Gravel
Use a hand-tamper or rented power tamper to firmly compress the gravel layer. This is an important step, as you want the firmest base possible for your patio so that it does not shift or sag over time.
Step 6: Add Landscape Fabric
Lay landscape fabric over the patio site. This will keep weeds from growing up through the pavers, and it will also provide a barrier between the sand and the gravel. Overlap sheets of fabric by at least 6 inches.
Step 7: Install Paver Edging
Although it is possible to simply butt your patio up against surrounding soil, installing a plastic paving edge with stakes will help confine the sand base and may improve the stability of your patio over the long term. Most paver edging can also be bent to conform to rounded patios. Install edging per the manufacturer's instructions; this typically involves staking the edging to the ground with large metal spikes.
Step 8: Prepare the Sand Base
Spread a 1-inch layer of coarse sand over the landscape fabric to form the bedding layer for the pavers. Use a long 2 x 4 as a "screed" to level and smooth the sand, and make sure to maintain the slight downward pitch (1/8 inch per foot). This is a tricky part of the process, but taking pains to get it right can spell all the difference in the final results. Use a long 2 x 4 and 4-ft. level to judge the slope of your patio base.
Step 9: Lay the Border Pavers (optional)
If you are using a contrasting type of brick or a different pattern for the edge of the patio, install those pavers now. Use a 1/8-inch spacer to maintain a uniform gap between pavers (if the pavers don't have integrated spacing lugs on their edges). On slightly rounded patios, you can lay the pavers so there is a wedge-shaped gap between them; for tighter curves, you may need to use a masonry saw to cut them into shapes that will conform to the curves. If your design does not include a contrasting border, you'll simply fill in the entire patio with field pavers (Step 10).
Step 10: Set the Field Pavers
Set the field pavers, beginning at one side of the patio. Following the design you've selected, begin applying the paver bricks in one corner of the patio and fan out in all directions as you go. Use a rubber mallet to lightly rap on the pavers to "set" them into the sand. Use a 4-ft. level or 2 x 4 straightedge to make sure the surface is remaining flat as you go. At the far side, you may want to reposition the paver edging (if you used it) to minimize how many pavers you need to cut.
Step 11: Install the Cut Pavers
If your design requires angled pavers or partial pavers, use a power masonry saw to cut them. As you reach rounded borders, you can position full pavers and mark the edges where they will fit against the border pavers. Then cut them with a masonry saw (available at tool rental stores). Cutting pavers is a very loud and dusty job, so make sure to use ear protection and a particle mask.
Step 12: Fill the Paver Joints With Sand
Spread out fine-textured paver sand over the paver surface with a push broom, sweeping the sand back and forth in opposite directions until the joints between pavers are completely filled. Use a hand- or power-tamper to pack the pavers down into the base layer as the sand settles into the joints. Add more sand, as needed, to completely fill the joints. Soak the surface by spraying it lightly with water. Let the surface dry for a full day, then add more sand and tamp again if necessary. Sweep the patio surface clean.
Step 13: Seal the Pavers (optional)
If the paver manufacturer recommends it, use a liquid sealer to seal the surface of the pavers and the joints. This will be recommended for some types of pavers—especially clay or brick pavers with porous surfaces—but it is optional in any case. Sealers can usually be applied with a pump sprayer. Repeat the sealer application at the recommended interval—usually annually. For sand-set pavers, the recommendation will usually be for a water-based rather than solvent-based sealer.
Check with your local government and homeowners association before beginning this project, as permits may be required in some areas.