"I built a patio..."

 I Built a Patio

Summer months, beaches, barbecues...

...drinks by the fire, and all that good stuff that comes within the small window of enjoyable nights. Of course I couldn’t just enjoy those on the deck. 

“I want patio furniture.” The wife says.

“We don’t have a pat-” I interjected.

I stopped short there. I already knew where this conversation was going. Patio furniture can go on a deck. I mean, it is deck furniture really at that point but I wasn’t about to argue semantics. Before I could even argue that we don’t have space or money to spend on a patio the puppy dog eyes and the tears began. I don’t know whether it was love or I’d rather pick a different battle but I had a tape measure in my hand and was beginning the process of patio installation. 

 DIY patio design


There are several contributing factors to patio installation


that ensure a long-lasting area for your family to enjoy sitting by a fire pit or propane fired table. When the kids are in bed and the nights are cool, no better time to curl up on the patio couch, fire up the table and enjoy a glass of red wine. Let’s begin the “how to” on patio installation and design.

I, by no means, am an architectural genius or engineer. As a result, this is a straight forward square or rectangular patio installation guide. There will be tips that go into detail about the installation but for now remember that I built a patio that’s rectangular. The best place for your patio is off a deck or right out of a doorway to the outside. This could be anywhere from a basement door, kitchen door or some door at the back of the house living room that spills out to a deck. I have one both off a deck and in a corner of the yard. My wife knows that whatever we decide to do I bring it to the extreme. 


The first thing to consider when planning a patio is location


This mainly includes contacting Dig Safe to ensure you won’t be digging near any underground utilities. Once you’re in the clear to start digging, use marking paint to create a basic shape for your patio.

Using marking paint I outlined the rectangle shape of the patio 8 inches wider than the patio I wanted to install. This allows for edge restraints and imperfections in the squaring the box for laying the patio blocks. Having an even square patio is crucial if you want it to look straight against any surface it will lie next to. After marking the edge of the patio use an edging tool to cut out the perimeter. Remove grass from inside the box and discard appropriately. Most landscape supply stores will take your excess fill for free. If you don’t own a truck, renting a pick up with a 3000lb capacity will work. Be sure to coordinate removing fill and picking up patio bases to avoid extra trips, which costs extra money. Once all the grass has been removed continue digging about one foot below the surface. If you are digging on a grade dig ten inches to one foot (depending on paver height) below the lowest point. Use excess dirt to fill any low spots in your yard and patch with grass. 


Now that the box has been dug you should have a one foot hole in the ground that is 8 inches wide on all sides of the patio you want to install


I usually take a 2x4 6 foot stud and begin scraping the ground to removed large imperfections in the removed dirt. This is known as screeding. The level of the dirt is important but not crucial as eventually it will be leveled with base material. At this point you’ll need base material and a plate compactor. To find out how much base material you’ll need remember for a traditional bed of what’s known as hard pack 6 – 8 inches of hard-pack base is needed. To find this you’ll need to find the cubic feet of required bed to fit in your patio hole. 

Hard-pack is measured in yards, which requires you find the volume as follows: (LxWxH)/27 However, you will calculate inches to feet for height. Here is an example.     

 patio building requires hardpack

The patio is 16 feet long and 9 feet wide giving you a square area of: 144 sqft

Since you’re probably in New England like I am, 8 inches of hard-pack is good for stabilizing in the winter months. To convert inches to feet for cubic feet height measuring: 8 inches / 12 inches gives you .666666666 feet.

Therefore 144 sq ft x .6666666 feet gives you 96 cubic feet you’ll need to fill with hard-pack. Hard pack is measured in cubic yards. A cubic yard is found: 3L x 3W x 3H for a total of 27 cubic feet.

Going back to the original formula we see (16x9x.66666) = 96(rounded up) ft cubed.
96 ft cubed / 27 ft cubed = 3.5.

You’ll need 3.5 yards of hard pack to achieve 8 inches. 



Now that we have the amount of hard-pack we need, the next step is to either have it delivered or pick it up


Honestly, get it delivered. Shoveling all that hard pack to save a few bucks is tiring and can lead to a sore back. Trust me I know! Not to mention they can dump it close to the work site. Do not have them dump it in the hole. I’ll explain later.



Here’s some quick math:

Each bag is .5 cubic feet meaning you’ll need 54 bags of sand or hard-pack to form a yard(27 cubic feet).

54 bags at average of 4 dollars a bag is 216 dollars. 1 yard at 216 dollars times 3.5(mentioned earlier) is an astounding 756 dollars. 

Order one yard from a landscape supply store for an average of $30 a yard, which equals $105 for the hard-pack. Even with delivery fee maybe of $50. 

Do the math: 756/155

Yeah, that’s 4.877 times the amount and you’re bringing all those bags back and forth. No thanks. Order the hard-pack from a landscape company.


Once you have rented the plate compactor and have the hard-pack use the plate compactor to pound the dirt in your work site until you can walk on it and not leave a foot print embossed in the dirt. Sometimes that’s unavoidable especially if you don’t have a 1000lb compactor like the professionals. After pounding the dirt begin bringing wheelbarrows of hard-pack to the corners at the furthest point working your way back. Rake the piles smooth and almost level. Run the compactor over your hard-pack and repeat this process until all the hard-pack is used. 

One point to make is 8 inches of hard-pack will be compressed to about 7 inches to 6.5 inches when fully compacted. This is important when you measure for the blocks you are using. Sometimes block thickness varies and it is important to make sure you know the thickness of the blocks when making the initial hole for the hard-pack. 

For example: Paver block is 2.5 inches, leveling sand is 1.25 inches, and hard-pack is 7 inches after compaction. This means the holes should be 9.75 inches. Here I would use 10 inches for total hole depth. Excess hard-pack or sand can be used to cover the remaining .25 inches but often times it’ll work out fine.  If you are building to a deck stair make sure the rise of the last stair to your patio is equal to all other stair risers in sequence to the patio. I took the PVC pipe and placed a stone on top of it to make a reference point for the correct pipe size I needed.


Now that the hard pack is in it’s time for the leveling sand - this step is crucial to a level, properly graded patio


Since the hard-pack isn’t always 100% smooth manufactured sand or stone dust will fill in any imperfections and make a smooth level surface for your patio. Earlier I mentioned graded patio. This means the patio is lightly tilted to one side to allow water runoff. You don’t want water just hanging out on your patio. Usually the patio is graded towards a hill or at the very least away from your house or deck. How do you level, smooth and get that great patio look!? Read on!

Now to level, smooth and grade your patio is quite simple. Don’t let the importance of this step scare you. Much like the hard-pack order in what’s known as manufactured sand or stone dust. This is superior to sand because it settles and locks itself into place unlike sand which has no cohesion. ALSO DON’T BUY THIS FROM A BOX STORE EITHER!!! Once you see this in action it’ll be a breeze. So how do you build up a 1 inch or 1.25 inch bed of sand that is level and consistent? PVC Pipe. 

Yup, that’s it. Here you’ll take the pipe, cut to size, and lay on the hard-pack. Make sure the pipes are all level horizontally and graded slightly vertically and vice versa if you are grading 90º from the centerline of the deck or door. Using a level measure the pipe in three spots along the length of it horizontally and two spots diagonally to ensure the pipes are level. Use hard pack, nails or other supports for the pipe to get them level and graded. Once they are all level pour in wheel barrows of the stone dust form the back and work your way out. Allow stone dust to overlap the pipes in the back and middle. Screeding from the furthest point back to the front will level the sand and create that super smooth base for your patio. Keep about a five gallon bucket of the stone dust handy to fill in where the pipes were.


Now that the sand is in place you’ll need to make a square box using string.


This was the most difficult task for me since I didn’t really understand the concept of the string until now. Using 3/8 x 12” spikes take two spikes and place them as close as possible to the edge of whatever fixed point you’ll be working with. That is the width of the final dimension of the patio. These are your reference points so make sure they are equal distance from the reference points. Now take one spike and measure out however long your patio is going to be to the finished edge. Make sure the spike is 3/8” aft of the final dimension. You do not want the spike on center. The edge of the spike is what you want your block to be touching when you are done. From the other spike you set earlier measure out the length again. You should now have 4 spikes in place. To ensure the spikes are square take a tape measure and measure inside edge to edge diagonally making sure both points are equal. Now that all four spikes are square tie a string at one end and go to the next spike. Tie the string off there but do not cut it from the roll. Using a line spirit level lower or raise the string so the string is level and repeat this for the remaining spikes. What you created is a starting and ending point for your pavers. Using a square make sure the string is square to itself. Set the height of the string to the finished height of the paver. When you place your pavers on the sand bed place them so they kiss the string. You don’t want to manipulate the string so it says straight. Lay out the pattern and you’re almost done! 


 "Remember that patio layouts are just like tiling. You need to fill the gaps for a finished look..."

"Remember that patio layouts are just like tiling. You need to fill the gaps for a finished look..."


Last but not least!


Once the pavers are set you’ll need to fill the spaces with sand. Remember that patio layouts are just like tiling. You need to fill the gaps for a finished look, to protect the patio from ants, and eliminate weeds trying to grow up through your pavers. Use a polymeric sand that’s made for your width selected between the pavers. Many companies already provide this gap as part of the casting. Follow the manufacturers instructions carefully. Sweeping, tamping, and watering the sand correctly will provide a long-lasting connection between pavers and a barrier against the elements.


Well I built a patio


There were many steps to learn along the way but overall level of difficulty I’d put at a 2.5 out of 5. Watch plenty of how to videos and follow advice from the experts at the supply store where you’ll be buying your pavers and bases. Doing this project by myself saved me over $2,000 in labor costs from a landscape company. It did take two weekends, which was a drag, but I also saved $2,000. Total for this project was $1100 including rentals, delivery and other miscellaneous items needed to finish a patio. Not bad for a novice I’d say and the wife was pleased with the end results.


If I did it, you can too!


If you have a custom hardscaping project in mind, but don't want to take it on yourself, Sidekick Home is here to help. Contact us for all of your home improvement needs.