How to Lay a Patio: A Beginner's Guide
A patio is a great feature for any outdoor space; it provides you with an al fresco dining area, a place to relax and enjoy the good weather, and it improves the appearance of any garden by providing some visual texture and variation.
A lot of people who want a patio but don’t want the expense of professional landscaping may wonder, ‘can I lay a patio myself?’ The answer is yes, you can, but using good quality materials and properly preparing the space first are essential. So, how do you lay a patio? Here’s our beginner’s guide that anyone can follow.
Step 1 – Preparation
Some beginners may not have all the tools and equipment required to lay a patio, but you can hire the equipment you need from a number of different hardware companies or builders merchants.
The first thing you need to do before you can begin to lay a patio is to prepare the area. This includes checking the area for any underground pipes or cables using a cable avoidance tool. If you find any of these, you will need to get a professional to relocate them or choose a new location for your patio.
Next, you will need to mark out the area for your patio, which you may want to do by placing your patio slabs on top of the ground in the desired shape. To mark out the area, you can use builder’s line and pegs. This area should be slightly bigger than your desired patio size to ensure a solid foundation.
Step 2 - Excavation
To prepare for laying your patio, you will need to dig out your marked area so that you can lay a sub-base, which serves as the foundation for your patio slabs. You will also need to dig the area with a fall, which is a very slight slope that allows water to drain off your patio effectively.
This fall should always be angled away from your house or any property walls. For textured paving slabs, the fall should be a 12.5mm level drop per metre. For flat paving slabs, the fall should be a 16mm level drop per metre.
As well as the fall, you need to account for the total depth of all your materials to determine how deep you need to dig. A good depth for your sub-base material is 100mm, additionally, 50mm should be allowed for mortar, and then the depth of your paving slab needs to be accounted for so that, when everything has been laid, the top of the paving slab is roughly level with the ground.
Carefully remove the turf with a lawn edger, as you may want to use this later to fill any gaps, then excavate the area to the desired depth. Mark some wooden pegs at the required heights for your sub-base and then hammer them into the excavated area, and check they are level. Repeat this process every 1m, ensuring that each row accounts for the fall identified earlier.
Step 3 – Laying a sub-base
Using an appropriate sub-base or hardcore material, fill the area up to the top of the pegs that you placed for your sub-base fall, using a wheelbarrow to transport the material. Once you have filled the area, use a plate compactor to compact the sub-base material flat and in line with the top of the marker pegs. You may need to add more sub-base and compact it again to reach this point.
Step 4 – Laying the mortar and first slab
Once your sub-base is completed, you will need to use wooden pegs once again to mark the correct height and fall of the mortar and paving slabs combined. Place these pegs in the corners of the sub-base, just outside of the desired patio area.
A mortar mix is made from one part cement and four parts sharp sand, and this is what the paving slabs will sit on. Using either a cement mixer for larger amounts, or a mixing tray for smaller quantities, mix your mortar to a soft, but not runny, consistency.
Lay the mortar to a height of about 60mm in one of the highest corners of the sub-base area, enough to support the first paving slab. Wet the back of the first paving slab and lay it carefully onto the mortar. You can then adjust the position of this slab by carefully using a piece of timber and a club hammer so that it is level with your guide peg. Use a trowel to cut the mortar beneath the slab so that it sits flush with the edge.
For beginners, this part of the process may be a little daunting, but you have two hours to use the mortar once it is mixed, which gives you plenty of time to reposition the slab. A primer may be required for certain paving to help it bond to the mortar.
Step 5 – Laying the rest of the patio slabs
Once you have laid your first slab, you will want to make spacers from small pieces of timber that ensure an even gap is left between slabs. Place the first row of slabs in the direction of the slope, using the same method you used for the first slab, and drive the spacers between each. Use a spirit level as you go to check the patio is flat and the fall is correct.
Lay the rest of the patio slabs in the same way, and then leave it for 48 hours so that the mortar can dry. You may want to cover the patio with a tarpaulin for this time, especially if rain is forecast.
Step 6 – Jointing the slabs
Once the mortar has dried, remove the spacers from between the slabs. Now you can apply the finishing touch – jointing your patio. Depending on the size of the joints, you will want to use either sand (very small joints), a dry mortar mixture (medium joints) or a wet mortar mixture (large joints).
Work the mixture into the joints using a brush or a trowel and press them down firmly with a jointing tool. Smooth off all the joints and clean off any excess from the slabs.
So, there you have it – a beginner’s guide to laying a patio. Anyone can lay a patio themselves, but it does require careful handling and preparation. If you are at all unsure or not confident, then it is best to seek the assistance of a professional.