DEAR TIM: I have decided to use patio pavers to build a nice outdoor space. Installing patio pavers seems easy enough. I don't want to make a mistake, so can you tell me how to install patio pavers? What method would you use? What should I be concerned about if I want a patio that looks good and is as maintenance free as possible? Kay H., Rochester, NY
DEAR KAY: Just before I was married, I got my first taste of patios made with paver brick. My future mother-in-law wanted a red-brick patio and discovered some used paving brick for the job. I installed them using some common sense and lots of luck and sweat. The full-sized brick were set on a compacted base of dry sand mixed with cement. Believe it or not, that patio looks like the day I finished it, and that was 35 years ago!
Since then, the concrete industry got involved in the patio business. I distinctly remember when colored concrete interlocking paving brick became the belle of the ball. They were the rage, and are still quite popular. But I feel the mortarless concrete products do not have the character of a real paving brick made from clay. When you go the next step and add mortar in between red-clay paving brick, you really have a classic look.
But constructing a brick patio in such a way as to create a traditional look takes skill and lots of time. I know, as my wife had me do this on our two patios as well as our front sidewalk at two different homes!
The first time I did a paving-brick job at my own home, I tried a new method of setting the brick in sand. It was a dismal failure. Weeds grew in between the brick and each time it rained, the water would bring sand up to the surface from between the small cracks. This sand got tracked inside our home making a mess of things. Then when the moles showed up and pushed up the brick, that was the final straw.
I tore up that sidewalk and taught myself how to install patio pavers over concrete. The sidewalk and patio I did at my second home are still in fantastic shape today, and get all sorts of compliments from the present owners as well as the neighbors.
My suggestion to you is to talk with friends and go see if you can visit different patios that have been down for 20 or more years. See what they look like after Mother Nature has had her way. One of the things I do not like about the colored concrete paver patios is the color-fade issue. The pigmented cement paste does wear off the sand and gravel in the concrete, and when this happens the color appears to fade. This color change is actually caused by you seeing the true color of the aggregate in the concrete.
This is but one reason why I prefer traditional clay-brick pavers. The color never fades, as the clay is the same color through the entire brick. When you purchase paver brick that have been fired to resist weather, the color is locked in and does not change. The clay in the brick actually becomes like rock, and weather and oxidation seem to have no effect on the appearance of the brick.
To achieve a traditional look for your patio that will not produce loose sand and is mole-proof, you mortar the brick to a concrete slab. This process is time consuming and expensive, but it produces a stunning look that can last decades with no maintenance other than an annual cleaning to remove dirt and any algae.
The key thing to remember is that all new patios look really good once they are complete. But I feel you should think about what will it look like in 10, 15 and even 25 years. Why not invest in a patio surface that will have a rich and traditional appeal and be one that requires virtually no work once it is installed? That is what I have at my home and you could never convince me to install anything other than traditional clay paving brick.
Installing any hard patio surface will be lots of hard work. There are new tiny excavating machines that allow you to dig with ease. Be sure to visit a tool rental store to see what kind of machinery will allow you to do the work with a minimum of effort.
If you decide to pour a concrete slab that will serve as the foundation for your patio, be sure the concrete is at least 4-inches thick and has steel rods in it. The steel minimizes cracks and holds the concrete together in one giant piece. The rods need to be in the center of the concrete and spaced at 2-foot on center both directions. The steel mat should resemble an empty crossword puzzle.
Be sure to slope the patio away from your house. The slope should be about one-eighth inch per foot. This slight slope will give the appearance that the patio is level, but is enough that water readily will flow out into the yard.
Before you pour the concrete, think about installing any underground utilities. Now is the time to run conduit or new downspout drain lines.