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Proper Paver Patio Construction

February 23, 2009

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Concrete pavers have come a long way in the last decade. Back then, they were essentially a compromise product: if the client wanted a patio and didn’t want a concrete slab, but couldn’t afford stone, pavers were almost as good. Now, however, the manufacturers have really stepped up their game. Aesthetics and quality have actually pushed pavers into the role of design choice, as opposed to budget alternative. For me, the top paver brands available in Northern Virginia are Techo-Bloc, EP Henry, CST, and Belgard. I’ve also heard some good things about Rinox, although I have yet to use them myself.

One of the biggest selling points for pavers has always been ease of installation. Once your base and bedding layers are set, pavers do go down very easily. However, base prep is critical to the success of your project. Any mistakes with your base will be visible in the finished patio in the form of high spots, low spots, or an entire patio that looks like an ocean wave. The very first paver walk I installed over a decade ago had that problem, because I rushed my base prep. I have to say, I didn’t enjoy laying those pavers twice.

The standard for paver installation is set by the Interlocking Concrete Paver Institute. If you’re planning on building the patio yourself, they have excellent step by step instructions here. Most paver manufacturers also provide product and technical guides to assist you with installation; ask your supplier for one. In my experience, these are some of the most important considerations:

  • Maintain a grade away from your house. Pavers with polymeric sand joints act just like a solid concrete patio. If they slope towards the house, all that water will go right towards the foundation.
  • You really can’t go too thick on your base material. Use common sense- obviously, base material’s not free- but four inches is the minimum.
  • Spend the money to rent a plate compactor. I used to work with an absolute moose of  a man, who was convinced he could get adequate compaction from a hand tamper. We put it to the test; he was wrong.
  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions on everything you use. Efflorescence is a normal occurrence with a concrete product, and they make cleaners especially for pavers. Mix the cleaner as directed, or you may damage your pavers.
  • Take your time. A project like this will always take longer than you plan. Don’t decide to lay a patio the day before your Fourth of July barbecue.

Proper design can make a huge difference in your finished product. Cuts are one of the more difficult tasks to do properly, so I’ve designed patios with almost no cuts. My personal best is a 400 square foot patio with only 43 cuts.  Obviously, if you want to save some money and get the satisfaction of doing your patio yourself, I can design it for you to help you get the most function from your space. I can also help walk you through layout and construction if you feel you’ll need just that little bit of a push. Or, if you decide that it’s above your skill level, I can certainly recommend a good contractor. No matter how you decide to proceed, a new paver patio can be a great addition to your outdoor living space this spring.

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