Why does a new patio excite us so much? It’s partly because we are creating more outdoor living space, and we know deep inside that time spent outside is healthy. We get to design and create the space to fit our needs and budget.
For relatively little investment, we gain a major asset. And a new patio is one of the most DIY-friendly home improvement projects you can think of. If you can lift and kneel and persevere, you can probably put in a new patio. Or, you can hire someone to build the dream space you envision. Either way, you win.
How Patios Work
Building a new patio requires 4 major decisions:
1. Where will the patio go?
2. How big will it be?
3. What material will you choose for the surface?
4. What material will you use for the substrate?
Location, Location, Location
The most common location for a patio is adjacent to the house, and for good reason. You have a built-in sun and wind barrier, and a patio awning or other cover can easily attach to the existing structure.
You also have easy access to the house for bringing food and other supplies in and out. But a patio could well be set apart from the house, deeper into the yard, surrounded by plantings. In this case you are intentionally detaching yourself from the home, which could be therapeutic, imparting the feeling of a retreat or secret garden. In this case, a freestanding pergola or roof can add coziness and shade.
So ask yourself: Do I want attachment, or detachment? Let that be your guide.
Bigger Is Not Always Better
Many factors factor into this decision. A larger patio will give you more living space. But it will also cost more money and require more labor. What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to host parties of 30 people out there? Go big. Or do you want an intimate space for reading and visiting? Go small. Do you want to add value to the home without going to extremes? Go medium.
While you always imagined a brick patio, you see that bluestone is an option, or even concrete. A good starting point: Is there any other hardscaping on your property? If you have brick planters out front, it would be nice to continue the theme with a brick patio out back. If your front walk is lined with sandstone boulders, a sandstone patio might tie in beautifully.
Choosing a material that is mined or quarried nearby usually feels naturally in sync with the geography. For more inspiration, walk around the neighborhood and see what your neighbors have done with their hardscaping. To help you with your decision, here are some popular choices:
- Red Clay Brick: Nothing is more charming than a red brick patio, and this will be the historically correct choice for some older homes. The bricks’ light weight and uniform shape make them DIY-friendly, as long as you keep the pattern simple. Scour the Internet for people giving them away. Watch how to install a brick patio.
- Brick-like Concrete Pavers: Pavers that look like brick but are made of concrete are better suited for patios than traditional clay bricks because they’re harder and less likely to crack. They also come in larger sizes, which speeds up the installation time. The best DIY option is to create a design that doesn’t require many pavers to be cut.
Bluestone: Premium bluestone is a deep navy hue and heat treated to add texture and reduce slipperiness. For a less costly alternative, consider full-range bluestone, which has shades of pink, gray, and brown left by mineral deposits, or buy irregular bluestone sold in 1½-ton pallets. Slabs 1½ inches or thicker can be dry-laid; thinner stones require mortar. When done right, the patio’s joints fit so tightly that the surface is smooth enough to easily roll out carts,
acharcoal BBQ grills, and anything else on wheels. See the installation here.
Freeform Flagstone: Particularly appropriate for the Southwest, a flagstone patio with a cleft finish, (created by splitting the stone into natural layers)
,is a sure winner. The relatively wide gaps between flagstones can be planted with creeping thyme, a good-looking, low-growing groundcover that doesn’t require mowing or much watering and stands up to foot traffic.
- Poured Concrete: While this seems like the simplest of all patios, it can be tricky to pour a large patio without substantial concrete mixing equipment. Preparing the site is crucial here, as a concrete slab can crack without proper underlayment and reinforcement. For this reason, it’s usually a job for professionals. A DIY option is to build a grid of treated lumber and pour one section at a time with a rented concrete mixer.
- Existing Concrete: Nothing ruins the look of your well-kept yard like an old concrete slab patio that’s past its prime. No need to break it up and haul it away (unless it’s in the wrong place and the wrong size). You can cover it up with a swanky new layer of stone or pavers.
A long-lasting patio is like a long-lasting paint job—it’s all about the prep work. If you lay pavers on a haphazardly considered base, the stones could shift and become a tripping hazard in just a few seasons.
There are two ways common ways to build a brick patio: dry laid and mortared.
- Dry Laid: “Dry laid” consists of laying pavers directly on a bed of compacted sand or crushed stone. The pavers are butted tightly together, then sand is swept between the joints. This method allows you to easily remove pavers if you ever need to repair or alter the patio. All dry laid pavers will spread over time if not held tightly by a solid border. That could be achieved with a concrete perimeter footing, or with pressure-treated landscaping timbers that are held in place with rebar “pins” and connected to each other with special fasteners.
- Mortared: A mortared pavement provides a flatter, longer-lived surface, but it’s harder to put down. You generally start with a crushed-stone base that is topped with a 4-inch-thick concrete slab. When the concrete cures, you press the pavers into a 1/2-inch-thick mortar bed troweled onto the slab. The 3/8-inch spaces between the pavers are filled with mortar.
Start Your Patio Project Here
Before taking on a large patio, consider a smaller hardscaping project to hone your skills. Maybe you want a walkway from the house to the patio location, or a walkway in another part of the yard that will coordinate with the future patio. Maybe you want a fire pit in a small patio away from the main patio. Watch how to build a fire pit. How about a brick planter? After the smaller project is done, you may approach the larger project with added confidence and skills, or you may decide to call in a pro.
The ideal patio project will be problem-free. The best way to avoid complications is with good planning. Here are some common issues:
- Uneven stones or pavers: This can happen if the substrate is not sufficiently deep or compact. The worst case scenario happens when an overeager DIYer lays pavers or stones on bare ground. Be sure the substrate is solid before laying your surfacing.
- Weeds between stones or pavers: Weeds have a right to exist, but not in the middle of the new patio, please. A good layer of garden cloth beneath the crushed granite or sand will take care of the problem before it starts.
Cracked concrete: This can happen in a poured concrete patio if the correct spacers are not in place
.; the larger the slab, the more likely. That’s a good reason to call in a pro for more substantial jobs.
Tips to Keep in Mind When Hiring a Pro
Hiring a pro can expedite the job and reduce your stress if you
’re pressed for time or lack the necessary skills. Here are ideas to consider:
- Get local references from your friends and neighbors to find a well-reputed hardscaping contractor. If you see pros working in the neighborhood, stop and chat. Observe their operation. Do you like what you see?
- Check for licenses and insurance to make sure your professionals are covered while they are on your property.
- Ask to see a portfolio of their work or ask for recent local references to contact. Rather than asking yes-or-no questions of the reference, ask for the strengths and weaknesses of the contractor and/or workers.
- Be sure to provide easy access to the patio site for t
heworkers and their equipment. If you have prized plantings, surround them with caution tape if necessary.
- Do some design research before you call in the contractor and be clear on what you like. Make a list of your desires and rate them in importance: Your favorite stone? The ultimate size? An outdoor kitchen? A fire hearth? A pergola?
- Be clear about your budget communicate it to your contractor or designer right away. They can then deliver a proposal that won’t get you craving what you can’t afford.