Learning how to lay a patio is a complex DIY job you'll need to set aside a whole weekend for, but it is still well within reach of a competent DIYer. As a beginner, you'll have a much easier time of laying a patio if you choose a level area away from your house and any outbuildings. However, if you do want a patio right next to the house, we cover that too. Pick a dry weekend to do the work – and ideally one that's not too hot, too.
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How to lay a patio
You will need:
- A spade
- A trowel
- A rubber mallet
- Building tape
- Wooden pegs (optional)
- Sub base aggregate
- Building sand
- Slurry Primer (optional)
1. Measure the area you want to use for your patio and mark with tape. Dig up the turf 150mm deep – that's 10cm for your sub base, and 5cm for your concrete and paving slabs. If your slabs are very thick, allow a little extra depth. If you are laying directly next to the house, the finished patio should be at least 150mm below the damp proof course.
2. Now fill the bottom of your patio area with the sub base and rake to an even depth of 50mm, then compact – you can do this by just walking over it (or you can hire a vibrating plate compactor), ensuring that you cover the entire area twice.
3. Cover with a thin layer of builder's sand. It's really important your base is completely flat and level at this point, so check that now.
4. Next, make your mortar by mixing five parts builder's sand with one part cement and adding enough water to create a dough-like consistency. It shouldn't be runny, but just soft enough to work with.
5. Dampen your paving slabs by spraying them with water from a spray bottle or lightly sprinkling them from a watering can. If you lay dry slabs, they'll dry out the concrete mix too quickly.
6. Using a trowel, place a dollop of mortar where the centre of your first slab will go. Always start in a corner and work outwards. Place the slab on top of the mortar and gently tap in with a mallet. Continue laying your slabs in rows, leaving 10mm gaps between them. For installing porcelain paving, it’s vital to use a slurry primer, which should be painted onto the entire base of the paver.
7. As you go along, check that the paving slabs are level by placing a spirit level over them. It's much easier to correct any unevenness now.
8. Leave to dry for at least 24 hours and do not walk over the patio. Once dry, finish your patio by filling in the gaps with more mortar. Mix more sand and cement in the 5:1 ratio, but do not wet, or it will stain your slabs. Fill in the gaps with the mixture using your trowel. Brush away any excess mixture from the surface of your patio.
Top tip: bear in mind that some paving slabs are extremely heavy and you may need help lifting them. You'll also find the job easier if you wear knee pads.
How to lay a patio next to a building
If you're laying a patio next to your house, you will need to create what's known as a fall – meaning that your patio will need to be slightly sloping to allow water to drain away from your house and not collect by walls.
This is done by inserting wooden pegs in a grid where you sub base will go, ensuring that the pegs go in between 12 and 16mm deeper for every metre away from the house. Pre-mark the pegs with a marker to make sure your measurements are correct.
Then, at the sub base filling stage, make sure the aggregate just covers the tops of the pegs.
How to lay paving slabs in a pattern
If not all of your slabs are the same size and/or shape, or you want an unusual pattern, always do a dry lay first – lay them out exactly how you want them on your lawn. Never lay an unusual paving pattern straight onto your base, as you're almost guaranteed to make a mistake.