Patio on the cheap?
April 3, 2010 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Landscape filter. How much prep is absolutely required when building a patio out of pavers?

I bought this house last year, and it had been a rental for twenty years before that, no yard, just a mess. Now spring is springing and I need to do something, but money is short and I can't do all that I'd like to or need to do on it.

I plan on building a patio, about 10 x 14, using 16 inch pavers from craig's list. I know how to do this job properly: stone, sand, edging ... I built a path way that way once, and though it wasn't professional, but it looked good and held up. But I probably spent more on the sand and edging than I did on the pavers.

Since I'm using large stones, is it at all possible to just lay them on the dirt? I know it won't last as long that way (but, hey, I'm going to win the lottery any day now.), and will be harder to get level, but will it be usable at all, or will it fall a part by August? (We'll probably have lots of rain in the next two months here, and then none until fall).

So, I guess it comes down to: Is this a question of cost vs. aesthetics (a hard enough decision, but one I have to make myself.), or would taking these short cuts just be a huge waist of effort?

Thanks (and I don't have to be working on the yard while I await the answers.)
posted by Some1 to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You could just lay them on the dirt... After a few weeks, half of them will probably start to rock slightly when you walk on them. Then you'll find yourself stubbing your toes or tripping because the edges no longer line up. By next year some of them will have cracked due to not being evenly supported, and you'll have weeds coming up between them. And because you haven't done any prep, you may well find that water runs the wrong way over the patio and ends up pooling around the walls of your house, causing problems with damp.

So no, I wouldn't cut corners unless you plan to move out by next year.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:29 PM on April 3, 2010

Best answer: If you really have to cut corners, put down a weed-resistant membrane and lay them on to of that on an inch of sand. Then take them up and do the job properly next year.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:30 PM on April 3, 2010

Best answer: You can lay them on the dirt for a quick and dirty solution, but it won't last the next winter, I guarantee. The sand bed, aside from being more easily levelable than dirt, allows drainage and prevents frost heave. I don't know that I'd guarantee it through a really horrific rain, either, but it will probably be fine through August if this is something you plan on fixing next year. It wouldn't be a waste to put them down one year and install the sand later, but depending on your soil conditions and what not, if you skip the sand you'll probably find yourself spending some effort on more maintenance.
posted by dhartung at 1:30 PM on April 3, 2010

How much will you save by not using sand or gravel? I think I most recently paid about $15/ton for some -- that's dirt cheap, pun intended. Unless you are buying special small bags of playground sand at a boutique store, the base materials should not be a significant part of the cost.

Addressing the work itself, using sand/gravel as the base is a lot easier, because it is so easy to smooth and compact, compared to dirt. The dirt-only base is going to look a lot bumpier to start, and much more so a year or two down the road.

So unless sand and gravel are stupid expensive where you are, my feeling is that the savings are outweighed by the potential downsides. Spend a few bucks and get a better patio.
posted by Forktine at 2:09 PM on April 3, 2010

Response by poster: I'd be using 'paver sand' from the hardware store. It's about $1.30 a bag (I think that is one cubic yard). I can't really estimate this, but I think fifty bags (?). To get a load delivered might be cheaper, but there would be a minimum charge and I don't have a place to store it. (I don't do these things quickly). But that's three small bushes or a little tree and a half.

You people are no fun, telling me what I sort of knew, rather than what I wanted to hear. But I'm off to get some sand and some weed block. Frost isn't a problem here (it got to thirty one night this year), but heavy rains are, and I fear the sand getting wash out. Would it make since to wait until next year to edge the thing? I assume that is what the edging is far, though I do have it dug below the surrounding area.

Many thanks for the help.
posted by Some1 at 2:36 PM on April 3, 2010

The substance you might be looking for is "paver base", a rough mix of sand and fine crushed gravel which packs tight, levels easily, but doesn't shift or wash away like sand.

It's usually next to the wall blocks in the garden section.
posted by Aquaman at 3:01 PM on April 3, 2010

Best answer: It's about $1.30 a bag (I think that is one cubic yard).

Just FYI, those bags are not one cubic yard. (A cubic yard is 3' x 3' x 3'; one cy of sand weighs about 2500 pounds.) I think 50lb bags of sand hold about 1/2 of a cubic foot, so it would take about 50 bags to equal a cubic yard. At $1.30 each, that's pretty expensive sand, compared to buying it in bulk.

And it isn't hard to estimate how much you will need. You have an area that you will cover with sand to a certain depth. Multiply that out, convert to cubic yards, and you know how much sand you will need. So if your area is 10x14, and you needed two inches of sand, you would end up needing just under one cubic yard of material, just like you had guessed.
posted by Forktine at 3:28 PM on April 3, 2010

Look for polymeric sand to sweep into the joints. It won't wash out in the rain.
posted by elsietheeel at 4:07 PM on April 3, 2010

You can get away without edging if you cut into the surrounding sod and it holds a nice crisp line. You'll need to excavate so the pavers are somewhat retained by the sod. That means 1"-2" of sand leveling base, and 1"-2" depth for the pavers.

That kind of excavation will require a leveling course. Plus, it's a lot of work.

It's a little easier to lay in an edge of pressure treated 2x4, or steel or aluminum edging that is designed for edging, not flashing. You won't have to excavate so deep if you install proper edging and stake it well (1x2 redwood or 1/4"steel stakes 12" deep, 24"-36" spaced)

Honestly, if you want a "usable" surface that you can walk on and put simple heavy patio furniture on...just use wood chips. A 2" to 4" thick layer will work great. Use wood and/or bark; recycled tree trimmings are ok, even if there is leafy green material in there. Don't use recycled lumber or construction waste, it will have nails in it. It's way cheaper and easier than paving or lawn. You want big chips, 2"- 6", but fine chips will work ok.

IAALA - I am a Landscape Architect, and I lived for five years in one house where that's all we had was wood chips in the yard. Weeding was easy, and there was no watering, except for an orange tree I watered maybe once a year.
posted by Xoebe at 5:01 PM on April 3, 2010

I've done this around here: Around my shed I used a single row of 24X18 pavers with two rows in front of the door. The ground is basically 1/2" of top soil over 30+ feet of assorted river sands and silt. I just cut the grass as low as I could and set the pavers down on the short grass pushing them right next to each other. That was two years ago and the pavers are basically as flat as they were when I laid them though they have sunk down a bit, no tripping hazards. One has broken but I ran over it with a plate compactor so it has cause.
posted by Mitheral at 5:38 PM on April 3, 2010

Define "level." My pavers on sandy Florida soil have been funtional (i.e. level enough) since 2005.
posted by Crotalus at 7:07 PM on April 3, 2010

I did the same thing a few years back on a rental property and when I go back to visit neighbors, I see my patio is still going strong.

What I did:

1) Dig out patio space. 4 inches deep.
2) Brace the edges with wood.
3) Anti-weed membrane, plus a thin layer of gravel.
4) More membrane (seriously, that stuff is awesome)
5) Sand
6) Paving stones.

The trick is to alternate the stones and make a pattern. Use brick and concrete or whatever, but make a pattern. It will make things look great for years to come.

The whole deal took an afternoon and about 200 bucks.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:42 PM on April 3, 2010

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