By Jeff Benziger
Like all newer homes built in modern Valley subdivisions, the home we purchased in 2015 came with a cramped backyard. The previous owner kept the yard in grass, which struggled to stay green due to the poor water penetration of the clay soil.
We figured that entertaining guests on the grass, with trampling feet of family and friends, would do the lawn in. Always a do-it-yourselfer, I began thinking about installing my own patio in the corner of the yard, connected by a brick pathway to the back door slider. The more I looked into it, the more the project seemed doable. We decided on a paver brick patio and felt the size of 14 feet by 14 feet was perfect for the yard. The project would take some time, several weekends perhaps.
Since there is a vast choice of types of paver brick, I spent time in local home improvement stores checking out the best looking and best quality brick for the value. I chose Basalite’s tan/brown colored 4” x 8” Holland brick paver, which is 2-3/8” thick and cost about 44 cents apiece. During the project, I had calculated how much brick I would need – along with cost – and had it delivered on pallets to my home.
The patio needed to be slightly higher than the grass so the first task was to excavate the area of the grass as well as the dirt going about 7 to 8 inches deep. The dirt removed from the site was used to fill in low spots on the property. A steel rake was essential to level the spot. To ensure the ground was level, I rested a 2” x 4” stud on the ground and set a plumber’s level atop of it. If spots weren’t level I’d shave more ground with a flat shovel.
Because the plan was to run a brick sidewalk to the patio, I needed to carefully sledge-hammer the small cement slab the builder poured at the slider. To prevent breakage of the glass slider, I propped up a piece of plywood against it for protection.
After doing some internet research and consulting with a Ceres landscape supply, I learned that I needed to order several yards of paver base – essentially a mixture of rock, dirt, sand and recycled concrete. It was recommended that the base be at least four inches thick. The material was delivered outside the yard, which meant hauling it into the backyard by wheelbarrow. For hours I got a good workout lifting, shoveling and raking out the base as level as possible.
With the paver base raked into relative levelness, the next step was compaction. The last thing you want a finished paver brick patio to do is settle with bricks becoming dislodged or have the surface become uneven. I rented a compactor from the local building materials store for several hours. The machine is powered by a gas engine, and isn’t hard to operate for a person of average strength. It is, however, heavy to offload from a pickup. A relative came over to assist as well as keeping the surface watered to keep down the dust and help settle the rock base. Before use of the compactor, the paver base was a bed of sharp rocks was jagged and uneven. I was impressed how the compactor vibrated and flattened the paver base into a solid surface. Bricks, however, are not set on paver base but on a flat and level bed of sand. Math skills came in handy as I calculated how much sand I would need delivered to lay it at a depth of 1-1/2 to 2 inches. A helper and I laid down two parallel PVC pipes on the flattened base and wheelbarrowed in the sand. We then used a long 2×4 to level off and screed the sand, by moving it back and forth motion atop the pipes, pulling the excess sand toward us. Any low spots were filled in with more sand and another screed.
Until this point this project was hard work but the actual laying of the brick was definitely the most fun and rewarding part of the project. I was surprised how fast the placing of pavers occurred. They fit in perfectly but occasionally a light tap from a rubber mallet set them firmly in place.
Because I used thicker and larger landscaping blocks as my border for a bold perimeter, some cutting of brick with a masonry blade was required for a fit. This was the most challenging part of the project.
It’s recommended – and I followed suit – to use plastic rails to be staked into the ground along the patio perimeter to keep the bricks from becoming displaced in time.
The final step was to sweep a polymeric sand to fill in the cracks between bricks. Once the sand is wet, it hardens like “cement” to keep weeds from popping up. Application can be a meticulous exercise since you don’t want any of the sand and polymers to bond to the brick surface. Thus, thorough sweeping of the bricks will ensure the sand remains only in the cracks, not on the surface. Gentle spraying of water ensures the sand will not be displaced and will harden in the cracks. Aggressive watering can wash out the sand and cause the polymers essential for bonding to float out and spread a milky substance on the bricks so caution must be exercised.
The patio project was a challenge but it was done nicely at a cost much less than had I contracted the work. Anyone wanting to do their own project should do the research necessary and devote the energy and ambition required. For me, the satisfaction of sitting back on the patio with a cold brew in the evening is increased tenfold knowing it was personal design, muscle and hard work that put it there. ■