Building a patio that stands test of time

Ask The Builder

June 01, 2008|By Tim Carter

Can you tell me how to install patio pavers? What method would you use? What should I be concerned about if I want a patio that looks good and is as maintenance-free as possible?

Just before I was married, I got my first taste of patios made with paver brick. My future mother-in-law wanted a red-brick patio and found some used paving brick for the job. I installed it using common sense and lots of luck. The full-sized bricks were set on a compacted base of dry sand mixed with cement.

Believe it or not, today that patio looks like it did the day I finished it, and that was 35 years ago. Since then, the concrete industry has gotten involved in the patio business. I feel the mortarless concrete products do not have the character of a real paving brick made from clay. When you go the next step and add mortar in between red-clay paving brick, you really have a classic look.

But building a brick patio in such a way as to create a traditional look takes skill and lots of time. The first time I did a paving-brick job at my own home, I tried a new method of setting the brick in sand. It was a dismal failure. Weeds grew in between the brick, and whenever it rained, the water would bring sand up to the surface from between the small cracks.

I tore up that sidewalk and taught myself how to install patio pavers over concrete. The sidewalk and patio I did are still in fantastic shape.

One of the things I do not like about colored concrete paver patios is the color-fade issue. The pigmented cement paste does wear off the sand and gravel in the concrete, and when this happens, the color appears to fade. Actually, this color change is the true color of the aggregate in the concrete coming out.

This is but one reason why I prefer traditional clay-brick pavers. The color never fades, because the clay is the same color through the entire brick.

To achieve a traditional look for your patio that is mole-proof and will not produce loose sand, you mortar the brick to a concrete slab. This process is time-consuming and expensive, but it produces a stunning look that can last decades with no maintenance other than yearly cleaning.

Remember: Any new patio will look really good once it is complete. What you need to consider is what the patio will look like in 10, 15, even 25 years. Why not invest in a patio surface that will have a rich and traditional appeal and require virtually no work once it is installed?

Expert home builder and remodeling contractor Tim Carter has 20 years of hands-on experience in the home industry. If you have a question, go to and click on "Ask Tim."

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