How to Install a Paver Patio

Decks may get all the attention, but patios are often the rock-solid choice for creating outdoor living space. They're functional, attractive, durable, affordable and truly DIY-friendly. And you can choose from a variety of materials — poured concrete, natural stone, concrete pavers, brick pavers — to achieve whatever look suits your taste.

We built this patio out of brick pavers for several practical and aesthetic reasons. Our project site was a condominium, and the finished patio's appearance had to be compatible with the other units. (The door's threshold was so close to ground level that it made building a wood deck impractical.) We chose brick pavers because they are easy to lay in a variety of attractive patterns, and a paver patio requires little maintenance – occasional washing and adding more sand to the joints. Furthermore, we needed to complete the project quickly and on a tight budget, making these pavers a logical choice.

Backyard before new patio is installed.

Create your patio plan
As with any project that alters the appearance of your property or requires digging, you should check whether a permit is required and get a list of the accompanying construction standards, and if necessary, seek approval from your homeowners' association. Before you start, be sure to have the locations of underground utilities marked (

You can make a paver patio as large and complex as you like, but we designed this one to be small -- less than 250 sq. ft. -- and simple to make it DIY friendly. First, you'll need to measure the area and mark it with stakes and string to visualize the size. Next, use the measurements to make a plan drawing of the project so you can estimate how much material you'll need, including landscape fabric, sand and gravel. If you're building a larger patio, it may require curbing or larger pavers to retain the smaller pavers.

We created a detailed plan of the patio before beginning construction. Although there were small changes to the final project, the plan provided a good starting point.

For this project we used 2-1/4 x 4 x 8-in. tan permeable pavers made by Boral Bricks. These pavers exhibit slight color variations that create visual interest. Unlike typical construction bricks, pavers have spacing tabs on the edges so water can drain between them.

When you're planning a patio, consider factors such as the location of downspouts, the landscaping bordering the edge (if it's grass, you might want a flush curb) and whether you'll need an underground drain to prevent water from pooling. Depending on the size of the project, the soil conditions, drainage requirements and expected load, a deep base layer of large gravel may be needed.

Organize your patio building tools and materials
Although it may not seem to be a high-priority consideration, the way you receive, store and handle the materials for your patio can make the difference in whether the project goes smoothly or goes sour. You'll have to either arrange for the supplier to transport the materials across the yard (and protect it with plywood) or cart them yourself. For this project, we had everything unloaded on the driveway and then used a garden wagon and wheelbarrows to move materials to the backyard as needed. (Many rental centers offer power carts that are ideal for moving heavy materials.) We also had the deliverer place the materials in the order we would use them: gravel in front, then sand, pavers and finally polymeric sand (for the joints).

To get started, you'll need basic yard tools such as a shovel, a spade, a rake and a hoe. In addition, you'll need a tamper, a 4-ft. level and a string level, a straight 8-ft. 2x4, a rubber mallet, a push broom, landscape marking paint, landscape fabric, construction adhesive, work gloves, kneepads and safety glasses. We also rented a masonry wet saw to cut some of the pavers that abutted the border.

Dig the patio base
Once you've established the patio boundaries with stakes and string, mark the perimeter with landscape marking paint (because you won't trip over paint lines) and then remove the string and stakes. You'll need to find a good place to relocate the soil you dig up — you may be able to reuse some of it to adjust the grade. (Be sure to use a hand tamper to compact it.) To prevent the pavers from settling too much, try not to disturb any more soil than is necessary.

Mark the border with landscape marking paint and dig a 10-in.-deep trench; then start excavating the site. Because a utility line ran under the project site (note the orange marking paint), we had to dig carefully to ensure that we didn't cause damage. Be sure you have a place to relocate the excess soil.

Trench the perimeter to about 10 in. below grade to establish the outline and grade; then continue digging, but not quite as deep. We excavated the rest of the area about 7 in. below grade. Don't worry about being precise; you'll create an even surface later with the gravel and sand layers.

Once the excavation was complete, we covered the site with landscape fabric. This optional step inhibits plant growth and makes the site a little less messy to work in.

Install the patio compacted gravel base
We used Class II limestone gravel as the base material. Spread the gravel evenly to about a 2-in. depth.

Use Class II gravel or an equivalent material for the patio base. Spread the gravel with a garden rake turned so that the tines face up. Spread two 2-in. layers of gravel, using the tamper to compact each layer. Sprinkle some water on the area to help bond the gravel and keep down dust.

Repeat the process with another 2 in. of gravel. Rake the gravel and check with the level (or a string level) to be sure the base is level parallel to the house but slopes slightly away (1 in. every 10 ft.) for drainage. Fill or remove gravel where needed.

Check the grade with a 4-ft. (or longer) level. The grade should slope down from the structure about 1 in. every 10 ft.

Lightly sprinkle the base with water to suppress dust; then use the hand tamper to compact the gravel. For a larger patio, consider renting a gas-powered plate compactor.

Add the patio sand base
Next, add about 1 in. of coarse sand. Be careful when raking and leveling the sand because you'll set the pavers directly on top of it. The easiest way to maintain an accurate level of sand is to place pieces of 3/4-in.-dia. pipe on top of the compacted gravel. Then spread the sand and use the pipes as rails to screed off the excess sand. Use the 2x4 to screed the sand flat and level. The pipes establish a uniform depth of sand that follows the compacted gravel base grade that you established. Moisten the sand slightly and you'll be ready to add pavers.

Install the pavers
We started with the border and leveled it; then we worked from the house toward the border, laying a basket-weave pattern. A rubber mallet is useful for setting the pavers flush with one another. Pull up any pavers that aren't flush, and adjust the sand underneath. Be sure to check often that the work is level. You may occasionally need to make adjustments with the 2x4 screed.

We laid a basket-weave pattern starting against the structure and then worked our way toward the border. Adjust the sand under the pavers as needed.

A masonry wet saw allows you to cut pavers to the size and shape needed for your project. These saws are available at most rental centers.

After the field of pavers are placed and leveled, use a hand tamper over a small, flat sheet of plywood (to spread the tamper force over a larger area) or a power tamper (no plywood necessary), to set the pavers. Work from the house, moving back and forth and out toward the border.

Some parts of the border on our patio needed a second row of pavers, and we secured them with construction adhesive. Depending on how well the patio and soil drains (or doesn't), you may need to create a dry well or two next to the border. This is simply a trench or hole filled with gravel that siphons water away from the patio.

To finish, sweep the polymeric sand into the joints. This sand expands the first time it gets wet and locks the pavers together. It's important that the sand dry thoroughly after wetting, so you shouldn't do this step if rain is imminent so it doesn't wash out.

The final step is to sweep polymeric sand into the joints. This sand expands the first time it's exposed to water and locks the pavers into position.

Although relatively simple and DIY-friendly, building a patio can be physically demanding. Once you're finished, take time to sit back, relax and give your sore muscles a break.

A paver patio can dramatically improve the appearance and functionality of your outdoor living space. In this case, it also helps to shed water away from the structure's foundation. Building a patio like this is a relatively simple DIY project that can be completed in a weekend or two.