Building a paver patio is one of the greatest things a homeowner can do to improve the
value of a home while simultaneously creating a place for family memories. It’s how Stephens
Contracting LLC got started, and although many patios require retaining walls, fencing, and
maybe a sidewalk or two, for purposes of this article, we will focus on a simple patio that can be
constructed off the front or back of a house. These are suggestions and not meant to serve as a
guarantee of a perfect finished product as each project is unique in its challenges.
The first consideration is size. What is the goal of the planned patio? Is it to
accommodate a grill and perhaps a table and chairs? It’s best to lay out how one plans to use
the space. I suggest using a measuring tape and some spray paint on the ground to place
planned furniture and layout walkways. And here’s something that comes from doing these
projects day in and day out for more than twenty-five years… always go bigger. No one has ever
asked me to make their patio smaller – just about everyone asks me to make it bigger. If a table
is near the edge of the patio or close to a house, it needs to have room for a chair to be pulled
out. There has to be room to walk around that table and the standard three foot walkway feels
very confining – make it four feet. A good rule of thumb is to plan your patio and then go a third
The next consideration is pitch. A patio must be pitched away from the house. Does the
ground pitch away or towards the house. This will also determine if retaining walls are needed,
and if so, should a drain be considered? A good rule for pitch is that for every linear foot of
paver run, the slope should drop by a ¼ inch. So, if your patio run is twelve feet, then it should
drop by three inches from one edge to another to provide for proper drainage.
Once size and pitch are considered, one needs to plan the excavation of soil. This is
where some of that middle school math comes in handy because one needs to plan a step
down from the house and also excavate to a depth that will accommodate a few inches of
crushed stone followed by a few inches of modified (crushed concrete). This no hard rule here
on how much of each. It depends on the type of soil and whether it’s recent or settled fill.
Bottom line is the modified concrete needs to be tamped down prior to placing your pavers.
The smoother and firmer the surface, the easier the placement of the pavers.
Selection of the pattern of the paver for your hardscaping project is one of the fun parts
of the project. There are ots of styles for lots of patterns and lots of different textures. There
are some simple life rules that apply. One gets what they pay for - so don’t skimp out on this
part of the process. You will be looking at the surface of your paver patio for as long as you live
there. I don’t recommend strict patterns like soldier or herring bone because pavers will shift in
time. Go with a more random pattern that is forgiving to minor movements and consider a
different color border because a finished edge is like framing a picture – it’s just needed.
Place the pavers using a rubber mallet and level for a consistent surface. Tap down on
each paver and work out away from the house. Run your pattern a little one way and a little the
other way expanding out evenly and have some premeasured checkpoints to make sure you
aren’t running off to the left or right. One can never have too many checks in balances whether
it’s in government or laying pavers. These can be in the form of string lines, line levels, or even
just marks in the surface. Check frequently because no one likes to cover the same ground
twice upon discovering a mistake.
Finish steps include beefing up the border with an edge that is just below the surface of
the ground and covered by topsoil. I’m not a big fan of a plastic or metal edging as it lessens the
finished appearance and eventually flares out and creates gaps for weeds and shifting. I prefer
a cement lip that is hidden by grass or gravel. Then use sand, preferably a polymeric sand, to fill
in the cracks and help the stones stick together as a unit. A final tamping completes the project
and gives one a smooth and flat finish.
Now get out that furniture, fire up that grill, and invite me over for the first meal
because I just gave away the secrets for free!
From the desk of Brent Stephens…..
PS Pavers and hardscaping can be addictive once you get started. They lead to further projects
like paver driveways, decorative retaining walls, decks, fencing, firepits, pools, outdoor
kitchens, sidewalks, and even a bulkhead if you are on the water. That’s why I’m in business –
building one oasis at a time.