Concrete Paver Patio in BackyardCredit: J. SalvadorCredit: J. Salvador

Backyard Landscaping Ideas: Install Your Own Paver or Flagstone Patio

Replace Your Lawn With A Hard Surface That's Neat and Practical

Patio installation: practical, step-by-step techniques for homeowners.

If you are planning to take on the job yourself then let’s get started. Following are the basics of installing a new patio.

STEP 1: Mark your patio area.

Once you know what you want the finished area to be shaped like you will need to mark off the area, use a spray paint can to draw the area on the ground or even lay out long bamboo stakes or an old hose as a rough outline of the area.

STEP 2: Excavate.

Your first thing is to picture and get clear on what the finished grade will be. Then it’s math time.  You can easily calculate the required depth by adding the thickness of the paver or flagstone material, add 1 inch for the sand layer and the base material depth with should be 6" depth for the most average installations. In most cases we are talking about 9"-10" depth necessary in total. Moving that much soil material can be quite difficult as the material weight can quickly turn into many tons. I would suggest that the easiest move is to hire a dumping container that will get dropped off in your yard, with a hinged door you can open and roll a wheelbarrow right into for dumping. The cost may seem high but it is worth it.

This part of excavation can take days on its own depending on the size of the patio. Make sure to excavate out an additional 6" on each side of your patio perimeter to provide a solid base that will not collapse. Try to avoid digging deeper than the required depth to avoid disturbing the soil below, as you do not want to cause unwanted settling. Create a 2% slope away from the house or building for correct drainage. A 2% grade is equal to a drop of 2 cm per meter length. 

STEP 3: Staking.

Next is to install stakes at the edges of the patio or walkway. Tie strings at the desired finished level. Showing the depth for crush, for sand and the final pavers or flagstone is a handy technique for filling in layers. Use a tape measure to measure off each level. Make a mark with spray paint once all the stakes are in the ground. 

STEP 4: Base materials.

When preparing the base you will need to have the correct volume of crush (crushed rock) and sand delivered to your house. I find the easiest way to know how much material you need is to take a measurement of the patio area: Length x Width in feet always rounding your numbers up (better to overestimate). You can then take the info and Google “sand calculator” on your computer and use one of the simple measuring calculation tools that will let you know exactly how much material you will need. You can then place your order for delivery of the crushed rock and sand. You will need to wheelbarrow in the crush to the patio site. A good tip to remember: when dumping the material into the new patio area, try to not collapse the outer edge you have made. Rake and shovel your material into place in layers, no more than 4" thick at a time, watering in the material at regular intervals. Keep going around ‘till you reach the desired height on the marker stakes. The base should extend 6" past the perimeter of the markers, to provide a solid base for the patio. An ideal base for wet climates is 6"-8" of crush rock, for dryer areas sand can even work fine. 

STEP 5: Compacting the crush base for your patio.

For the best results use a plate compactor to flatten the base properly. You can rent one from a local equipment rental shop and for a few bucks most of them will drop the machine off for you and that’s when you get them to demonstrate how to operate then machine for you. Once you figure out the machine make sure to keep the surface area flat by moving back and forth. If the location does not allow for a plate compactor you can use a heavy hand tamper that you manually have to pick up and drop down on the material a thousand plus times but the final result is still not as good as the plate compactor.

STEP 6: Installing edging around your patio.

The easiest, most cost and time effective technique is to use L-shaped plastic edging to secure your patio in place. The edging can be curved and cut to match your design. This type of edging joins together and is then spiked into the ground to keep it in place.

STEP 7: Installing the sand.

I find that the easiest way to lay out sand is to use a 1" pipe as a quick thickness guide. Cut two lengths of pipe and place the two lengths of 1" pipe parallel to one another in the base area you are filling with sand. Use a shovel to place coarse sand between the pipes. It is best to refrain from dumping using the wheelbarrow as it makes the leveling process more difficult. Using a 2 x 4 wood plank, slide the wood along the pipes to smooth out the surface of the sand. Check the final height by placing a paver along the edge. It should sit just above the finished grade. Now that the sand is in, you can remove the pipes and fill the gaps with sand using a small trowel.

STEP 8: Laying the pavers and flagstones

It is best to begin in one corner and work outward from there. If you are creating a circle pattern, always start in the center and work outward. Try to avoid upsetting the flat surface of the sand when placing the new pavers down. Slide each paver down with the new paver sliding up against the side of the already placed paver. Lay out the pavers to create your desired design. 

When laying flagstone, I like to unwrap the pallet that they will arrive on and carry in all the pieces to the outside area of the job. I then place the pieces in the patio area one by one and work out the best look, fit, colour match and final shape that I can get from my pieces. Once you are happy with the placement of your pieces you can work the flagstones one by one into the sand. You will find yourself sometimes removing stones, sometimes adding them somewhere more fitting. A hand trowel and small bucket of sand can be used for adding or taking away sand. Your goal is to get the correct final grade (2% slope away from structures) and level from your flagstone. 

STEP 9: Cutting and shaping the pavers and flagstones

Please remember to always wear your eye and ear protection when operating the cutting machinery. If you have straight edges in your design and need to cut the pavers the easiest method for all straight cuts is to snap a chalk line over the top of the pavers and then use a guillotine cutter to make the cut. These can be rented at an equipment rental store. For curved edges, it is best to cut the pavers with a wet saw, which can be a little intimidating, but if used properly is quite simple. This machine can also be rented.

If you have to shape your flagstone, it can be chiseled and broken to size using a hammer and chisel. Or, a hand-held circular saw with a masonry blade on it also works well for shaping the stones.

STEP 10: Final compaction

If you have installed a paver patio, you can once again use a plate compactor and take one pass over the entire paver area. Next, shovel clean sand onto the top of the pavers and sweep the sand into the cracks between the pavers. This may take awhile to really get worked in. Then make one final plate compactor run and you are done.

With your flagstone, once the pieces are in place you can sprinkle water over the area to help the sand settle. Then bring in more materials (either the crushed rock or sand) to finish off between the stones. If you are planning to plant woolly thyme or other ground covers, try to keep that in mind when making your stone placements. Clear out a pocket of material in the space where 2 or more of the stones meet up and fill it with a good quality earth, then plant the wooly thyme in the soil. Just remember to keep it watered, and the ground cover roots in more easily through sand than crushed rock. Keep in mind that the sand filler can be quite messy compared to the solid crush rock material. 

Once you have completed the patio install you can clean up the edges either with new sod or for garden beds by installing some new decomposed mulch to make the edge clean and beautiful.

Concrete Paver PatioCredit: J. SalvadorCredit: J. Salvador