With planning and a little work, the perfect patio


September 03, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

There's nothing like a cool summer to remind you how pleasant it is to sit outside and watch the wonders of nature -- like how high your grass is getting after all the rain.

If you don't have a designated place to sit outside, you might think about putting in a brick patio. It's an old-fashioned and attractive addition to a yard, a perfect spot for outdoor dining or entertaining. Besides, brick patios are perfect homeowner projects. They're not at all hard to build -- as long as you don't mind a little digging, hauling and sand stomping.

Start by figuring out a design. There's nothing wrong with a simple square or rectangle, and those spaces are generally the most versatile when it comes to placing furniture. The next step is to decide on a brick pattern. This is the fun part; the pattern can be straight courses, a square "spiral," up-and-down or diagonal herringbone, or whatever strikes your fancy.

Once you've decided on the pattern, figure out how many bricks you'll need. If you have some spare bricks, try laying out a section of your pattern so you can count how many bricks cover a square foot. If that doesn't work, figure five bricks per square foot; or ask the brick purveyor for help. Be sure to get a few extra. When you choose bricks, remember that old bricks look nice, but may not be glazed. They can absorb water and can also crack.

The other major raw material is sand. Brick patios can be laid in mortar over a concrete base, which is how the city of Baltimore lays brick sidewalks. A brick patio laid over concrete won't move or sink, and if the slab is straight, the bricks will be, too. However, it's a lot more difficult, and you may need professional help.

The simpler choice is to place the bricks on a 2-inch bed of sand. Sand-bed patios may not be perfectly straight, and may need to be adjusted -- a brick or two reset after a hard winter -- but they're a lot easier to build. The sand supplier should be able to help you figure out how much sand you need. (Though if you are mathematically inclined, you can multiply the square footage of your patio by 2 inches to figure cubic feet.)

Mark the outlines of the patio with stakes and string, making sure the corners are square. Then dig out the dirt inside to a depth of 6 inches. Once the dirt is gone, tamp down the surface of the hole with a hand tamper (a metal plate on a stick), or a roller.

If you're not using a concrete base, the patio needs some sort of border to help hold the bricks in place and to keep the sand in. The border can be concrete, pressure-treated wood or a small concrete footing with bricks set into it on end.

The simplest is the pressure-treated board. Set boards in the hole and drive pressure-treated stakes along the outside every 4 feet or so, driving stakes below ground level. Then use a drywall screw to secure the stake to the board. Fill in the outside gap with dirt, covering the stakes. Use a level to check the border edges; you want the patio to slope away from the house, so water runs off.

Pour in a layer of sand, dampen it and tamp it down. Continue filling until the sand is 2 inches deep and thoroughly tamped down. To ensure the surface is level, pull a long board across the sand at the right depth to set the bricks. You can notch the ends of a board so it rests on the edges of the border. If the patio is too wide for a single board, install a temporary center board, level it, and run the long board along each section separately. Then remove the centerboard.

Now it's time to place the bricks. Start at one corner, putting each brick down and tapping it into the sand with a rubber mallet. If you've tamped the sand sufficiently, moving around on it won't disturb it much. If you get a divot, tamp the sand back in place as you go.

When all the bricks are in place, scatter dry sand over them, then wet it down and sweep it into the joints between the bricks. Keep spreading sand, sprinkling and sweeping, until all the joints are full.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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