Creating patio with pavers involves digging, lifting

Q: We plan to build a patio. I prefer interlocking pavers, but my wife wants to use concrete. I know concrete is much faster, but I think the pavers will look better. How hard is it to install the pavers?

A: It’s plenty hard. There is a lot of digging and lifting, as well as the renting of heavy equipment. The paving system is a multistep process that takes several weekends, whereas concrete is done in an afternoon.

There are many design options with either method. Concrete can be stained and or stamped, while pavers come in a choice of colors, shapes and patterns. If you want to put a screeching halt to a couch potato lifestyle and occupy yourself for a while, then pavers are for you.

Start by marking out the area for the patio. One way is with string and stakes, another is to spray paint a line marking the area. You will need to add a 4-inch base for the pavers to sit on, which means removing any sod or dirt. Now you can enlist the help of many pizza-starved friends (or rent a small excavator) to dig out the area.

Calculate the depth to dig by measuring the thickness of the pavers and adding about an inch of sand and about 4 inches of crushed rock as the base. We’re talking about removing around 7 inches of dirt, and this makes for quite the pile of dirt, so have a plan for how to get rid of it.

With the area dug out, compact the soil with a motorized plate compactor. They rent for about $100, but it is money well spent.

After compacting the soil, lay down a barrier of geotextile fabric that will help hold the whole works together if there is any movement under the fabric.

Now, break out the wheelbarrows and move the aggregate base into the area. You will load about 4 inches of the base into the area, compacting it as you go. Sprinkle a little water on it to get the base moist (but don’t saturate it) and then run the compactor over it.

Keep in mind that you want to slope the patio away from the house, generally an inch for every 4 feet. Measure the slope by using stakes and stretching string between them. Use a line level on the string and make a mark on the stake farthest away from the house at the perimeter of the patio. Calculate the distance between the house and the edge of the patio, then move the string an inch down the stake for every 4 feet.

The next step is to install an edge restraint around the perimeter of the patio. Made of concrete, metal or plastic, it holds the pavers in place. If you are using plastic or metal, the restraint must be staked into the ground at least 12 inches deep. (By the way, anytime you are doing excavation work, it’s best to contact Call Before You Dig by dialing 811). The edge restraints should follow any curves or straight lengths of the patio.

The final step before laying down the pavers is to spread an inch of sand on top of the aggregate base and smooth it over. Use washed concrete sand. To measure the depth, you can lay 1-inch pipes and then pour the sand on the patio.

Use a 2-by-4 and pull the board across the pipes to smooth the dirt at the proper depth. Then remove the pipes and fill in the areas where the pipes used to be. Make sure the sand is perfectly smooth.

Now you can lay the pavers. If there is a fun part to this project, this is it; this is when the project comes together.

Depending on what pattern you’re after, stretch string lines; it’s a guide to mark not only the edge of the pavers to keep them straight but also to control the height. You will have to add additional strings as you go, but start out at the perimeter of the patio and work your way toward the house. This will leave the sand undisturbed as you work.

Place the pavers into the sand; you don’t need to twist or slide them in. As you approach the edges you will have to cut some pavers. Lay all the whole pavers first and then do the cutting. Use a masonry saw to cut the pavers. Things will get dusty and messy, so wear eye, ear and breathing protection.

After all the papers are in, bring out the plate compactor and run it over the pavers to set them in place. The compactor will push the pavers down while leveling out the tops of the pavers. It also forces sand upward into the joints from underneath.

The final step is to fill the joints from the top. Sweep some sand (the same sand you set the pavers in is fine) over the tops of the pavers until the joints are full and then run the compactor over the pavers. This will settle the sand and you can repeat the process until the joints are solid.

Now, you’re ready to chow down on some pizza, if your friends left you any, of course.

Mike Klimek is a licensed contractor and owner of Las Vegas Handyman. Questions may be sent by email to Or, mail to 4710 W. Dewey Drive, No. 100, Las Vegas, NV 89118. His web address is

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