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Paver patio a perfect DIY project

Q: I'm planning a paver patio. Because of the harsh economy, I can't afford to hire a contractor. Will brick pavers make a durable patio, or should I choose concrete pavers? What's the difference? Patio pavers look great, but are they difficult to install?

A: My wife and I have had paver patios at our last two homes, and I have one at the home I just bought in New Hampshire. Our brick-paver patio at our old home has been in place for more than 20 years, and it looks as good as it did the day I installed it. It has been coated with thick ice in the winter and baked in the sun in the summer, and the brick and mortar are wearing like iron.

A concrete paver is not much different from a brick paver. The common concrete pavers used to build walkways, steps and patios are made from smaller stones, coarse sand, Portland cement and colored pigments. The pigments are what create the earth tones you see in these products, but the color eventually dulls. The colored cement paste wears off the top surface, and the pavers develop a faded look as the color of the small stones and coarse sand becomes evident.

You don't have this color issue when you use brick pavers. The clay that's mined and formed to make the pavers is the same color all the way through. As the bricks wear, the color remains uniform.

Be careful to buy the correct pavers. Buy from a real brickyard and make sure the pavers carry a severe-weathering rating.

The pavers that resist severe weather for decades are fired longer and sometimes at hotter temperatures. This process actually transforms the soft clay into an artificial stone. Bricks fired long are so hard and strong they hold up to truck and car traffic when used in roadways.

When you install the pavers, you need to make a choice: You can set them in sand (or in a sand and Portland cement mix), or you can mortar them directly to a concrete slab. My paver walkways and patios are all mortared to steel-reinforced concrete slabs. This is by far the hardest and most labor-intensive method, but I used it for a reason.

My first experience with pavers was a patio I built for my future mother-in-law. I set up pavers on top of compacted damp sand blended with Portland cement. The sand bed was 4 inches thick, and I leveled it by dragging a straight 2 by 4 across the top. The bricks were set directly on the sand, then fine sand was swept into the cracks. Those patio pavers have been down for 37 years, and they look fantastic. Over time a few high and low spots have developed, but they add character to the patio.

A few years after this job, I tried to set thin pavers just on sand. It was a disaster. The brick drifted around on the sand, ants brought the sand to the surface, weeds grew between the brick, and we constantly tracked sand into the house.

On my next job, to make sure pavers stayed put, I decided to mortar them to a concrete slab. As you can imagine, this requires more excavation depth, expensive concrete, lots of help to place the concrete, and hours of mixing mortar and carefully laying the pavers so they are in the same plane and shed water. I strongly advise you to experiment so you can see how much work is involved.

Tim Carter is a licensed contractor. To view previous columns or tap into his archive of information and sources of building materials, go to You can write to Tim Carter at P.O. Box 36352, Cincinnati, OH 45236-0352.

Paver patio a perfect DIY project 04/10/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 10, 2009 4:30am]
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