Introduction: DIY Concrete Paver Patio
Our back yard was basically unusable when we moved into our house a few years ago. The previous owner had used recycled rubber tire mulch as a ground cover, which our toddler was always trying to eat. It looked ok in the real-estate pictures, it didn't work for our family. We decided to renovate, and make this space more usable.
Our homeowner's association has a review and approval process for 'exterior modifications' and so I created a sketch to include with the project description. There are two main considerations for this type of project 1) the substrate (base material) and 2) drainage. Once I had the initial plan, I set out making a shopping list (bill of materials) and had to have the budget approved by my client (wife).
Doing the planning up front was really helpful, since when we got the project approved and it was go time, it was really easy to do all of my ordering. I budgeted about $2950, and came in at about $2780 when it was all said and done. Compared to a quote from a landscaper of $9,000, it was a easy decision to do it myself.
- Rumblestone Mini Brick Pavers (Home Depot)
- Crushed Gravel (21A, 3/4" gravel + stone dust)
- Bedding Sand
- Polymeric Sand
- Landscape Adhesive
- Plastic landscaping border
- 2x 10' 1" OD PVC pipes
- 2x4 screed board
- Transfer Shovel
- Landscape Rake
- 140lb Plate Compactor (Rented from Sunbelt Rentals)
- Deadblow Hammer
- String Line and Line Level
- 5-year-old apprentice
- 1-year-old inspector
Step 1: Calculating Area and Ordering Materials
The existing grade of our back yard sloped about 18" from our back door to the gate. This is good for drainage, but not very nice for a patio. In order to make up the grade change, I had to calculate not just the area of our patio, but the volume. After taking some measurements (a 30' tape measure was really helpful), I found the area to be approximately 220 square feet.
I used bricks that were 1.75" depth, and knew I wanted there to be a 2" step out of the house onto the patio. I wanted at least 4" of crushed stone and 1" of bedding sand. That, plus building up the area by the fence to the same level, required about 4.33 cubic yards of base material. and about 20 cubic feet of sand. A screen shot of my calculations is included, but this is pretty specific to my backyard and design, so you will want to create your own. I also way overestimated the amount of bedding sand I would need - the stone yard sold it by the ton, not by the cubic foot or cubic yard, so I had to buy way more than I needed.
I took the area of my patio, (220sf) and divided by the square foot coverage of each brick (0.2) square feet to arrive at the estimate of 1250 pavers (note that I'm rounding here, and my spreadsheet has a lot of unnecessary precision). I added a 10% overage to account for breakage, and then divided by the number of bricks per pallet to arrive at 3 pallets. I knew I would have a lot of bricks left over using this method, but I wanted all of the bricks to match, and not have to buy another batch later that may be slightly off.
Step 2: Scheduling Delivery
We live in a townhouse, so I needed to be very conscious of where I put my materials until I was ready for them. I thought I would order the bricks for delivery one week after the substrate and bedding material were delivered. On paper, it was perfect. But then the bricks came 10 days early.
The 21A crushed gravel (3/4" gravel mixed with stone dust) and the sand was delivered a few days later, and unfortunately, I had to work around my pallets of bricks. If I had a larger yard, I would have marked out where to deliver so that each of these materials were out of each other's way. It is important to note, the closer you get this material to its point of use, the easier the project will be. I had to wheelbarrow every pound of gravel, sand, and brick about 100' to the job site, and it was tough.
In all, the bricks were about 3 tons, I had about 4 tons of gravel, and 1 ton of sand. All moved by wheelbarrow. It was a lot of work.
Step 3: Demolition
I used a WasteManagement Bagster to dispose of the yard debris I wanted to get rid of. I removed all of the rubber tire material, the old plants, the raised bed and top soil until I was down to bare earth. This was pretty well compacted. I debated running the compactor over it again, but opted not to do so. During this stage, I called 811 miss utility to have them mark all of the communications, electrical, and natural gas infrastructure in my back yard. I didn't excavate too much of the soil below the rubber tire stuff so that I wouldn't disturb these utilities.
Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures during this part.
Step 4: Laying the Base Material
After demolition, I started bringing in the crushed gravel and spreading it around. I used a square nosed shovel (transfer shovel) and a garden rake to spread it around in approximately 2" layers (lifts). After covering a large portion of the area with 2" of gravel I used the plate compactor to compact the gravel into a hard surface. The compactor I rented had a water tank on it, which helped to keep the dust down, and the gravel was slightly wet due to some rain on the day it was delivered. One could also use a hose to moisten the gravel if needed.
You need to do the compaction in layers (lifts) because otherwise you won't get enough compaction and your patio will settle over time.
I set up stringlines across the back yard, making sure they were level, and then measured down at points to ensure I was building up enough base material to have a reasonably level patio at the end. You want your patio to slope at least 1/4" per foot. I had a four foot level, so I taped a 1" block of wood to the end, that way I new when it was level I was attaining the right slope. I didn't come up with this trick on my own, but I can't recall where I heard it the first time. Probably This Old House or "Essential Craftsman" on YouTube. Getting this part level is incredibly important, you will never have a better opportunity to level your patio than while laying the base material.
Step 5: Laying the Sand and Starting the Pavers
Once you're fully compacted your crushed stone and ensured it is roughly level (accounting for drainage), you can start laying the bedding sand in a 1" layer. The best advice for this came from YouTube - use two 1" OD pvc pipes to check the depth, then screed across using a 2x4. This worked pretty well, though it took some getting used to.
Once your sand is in place, it is important not to walk on it or compact it, this supports the bricks, and the bricks interlock with the sand keeping them into place. I started laying the bricks in a herringbone pattern. It is a little more sleek and modern looking than a running bond pattern, but a little more challenging in the corners and around obstructions.
In the photo, you can see the sand, PVC pipe, and screed board, as well as the initial few bricks. I got into a rhythm of screeding, then laying about 20 bricks, then going back to the brick pile for another load of bricks; it was pretty fast once I got going. Each brick was knocked into place with a 3lb deadblow hammer; I found that it worked pretty well, and I did not break nearly as many bricks as I'd anticipated.
By the end of Memorial Day Weekend, I was about 80% complete with the patio; I had to do some edging, and then use some Polymeric Sand in the joints. The second and third photo show the 80% complete patio.
Step 6: Edging, Laying the Polymeric Sand
I had to rent a concrete saw and blade from Home Depot. This was my first time using such a monster, and it was not easy to keep a straight line. This part of the job was done a week after the first part, and I had moved my excess sand and bricks on to the patio and out of the common space so my neighbors wouldn't complain. I then had to work around these obstructions with the concrete saw, and that made the results a little sloppier than I'd hoped.
The concrete saw was electric, and had a hose attachment to reduce dust. If I could do it over again, I'd have tried to rent a gas powered saw. The cord was always in the way, and the water dripping from the hose erased the chalk line I was trying to cut. There's probably a better way to mark a cut line than chalk, if water is going to be used.
I used bricks in a running bond pattern around the edges of the patio, 2 rows in some areas, and 1 row in other areas. I mix and matched some of the cut-off bricks to make sure that there was enough room and to compensate for the obstructions. This was pretty time-consuming, but resulted in a much nicer finished product.
The Polymeric Sand has some sort of water activated chemical that bonds the bricks together. I had more of this than I needed, but coverage varies based on the width of the joints between your bricks. There are pretty specific instructions on the sand, so I followed them exactly in order to ensure the patio turned out well. I was shocked at how well the polymeric sand finishes the job. It makes look complete, as you can see in the pictures.
I had built some minor retaining walls to support the base material and also to define the two steps to get from the drainage swale behind the house to the level of the patio, so I built those steps as well.
Step 7: References
I did a lot of research before building my patio - here are some of the better resources I found:
This video was my primary inspiration and how-to. Mike Montgomery puts good videos together, and this project is fire. I only wish I could have done as good a job as this one. His video is worth a watch. @modernbuilds
Participated in the