By Jon Miller, Realtor®
Not all projects go according to plan. This seems to be especially true for home improvement projects. But, with a great team of willing friends we were able to build our back patio and finally, after 4 years, get some use out of our backyard. Here’s how we built it . . .
We bought our house in 2012. It was a fixer-upper, to say the least. Within 24 hours of going getting our keys we were tearing down the wall between our kitchen and dining room. We remodeled the entire first floor in about 2 months (with MAJOR help from my in-laws that included a temporary relocation to Philadelphia and all 4 of us living in our 736 square foot 1 bedroom apartment for about 6 weeks, but that’s another story). The backyard was a complete mess. My plan was to re-do it within our first 6 months. 4 years later, on a bit of a whim, I started the project. In August. During a heat wave. On a timeline.
How to Build a Patio
To build a patio, you need to excavate an area a few feet bigger than the patio will be down to about 18 inches deep. Once excavated and flattened, lay down a plastic sheet or weed barrier fabric, fill the area with about a foot of crushed stone to make a solid base. Add a few inches of leveling sand on top of that and make sure it’s nice and level, then add the paver stones on top of it. It sounds pretty easy until Home Depot drops off seven pallets of materials on your curb (we don’t have a driveway, but are fortunate enough to have an alley which allowed us to get the materials to the backyard without going through the house).
To build our 14′ x 14′ patio, the supply list included approximately . . .
- 180 bags of crushed gravel
- 140 bags of leveling sand
- 100 16″ x 16″ paving stones
My plan was to excavate the area myself and carry it all back on my own over a period of a few days. I was expecting about 3 pallets which would have taken up a street parking space, but for a day or two it wouldn’t cause much of an issue. On Thursday morning, I started the excavation. Then the Home Depot truck showed up with 7 pallets of materials, 4 more than I had expected. That’s a couple of parking spots which meant I had to get it out of the street asap.
I had been digging for a good 5 hours and got about 1/5 of the area excavated. Way behind schedule and already exhausted from digging, it was time to call in the cavalry. At 4:00, I called a few friends in the neighborhood who thankfully had the availability and willingness to help me out (oh, and it was going to rain in two days so it needed to be finished before then). Within a few hours, 3 friends had come over and we were able to get the entire area excavated.
By 8:00 pm, we had carried all of the base layer gravel to the back and had it tamped down and ready for the leveling sand to go in. By 9:30, we had carried most of the sandbags to the back. By then, we were all exhausted and it was time for tacos and beer. It was a lot of work but we had managed to get 90% of the work done in one day (so, with a little better planning this could be a weekend project).
The next day I was able to bring the remaining sand to the back and get that leveled. The best way to level the sand is to use a screed, but that requires a second set of hands so I had to get created. To level the sand, I tied a piece of rope to a 4’x4′ post and dragged it behind me, an idea inspired by the way baseball infields are groomed between innings. After that, my neighbor offered to help me carry the paver stones to the back and install them. Installing the pavers is actually the easiest part if the base is prepared well. Fortunately, this went fairly smoothly.
After two solid days of work (and the help of 4 friends), the patio was complete. The only thing to do after that was to put in some decorative edging and find a solution for the car-sized pile of dirt leftover from the excavation.
If you want to build your own patio, look into having a pro do the work. It’s certainly going to cost more, but it would be nice to sit back and watch it happen rather than to do all the work. But, if you’re like me and enjoy doing these projects on your own, know what you’ll be getting into. If you’ll be asking friends to help it will be best to have them lined up in advance. The project really can be done in a weekend but having 3-4 people to help will be critical. Or, just buy a house that already has a patio. There’s something to be said for a move-in ready home.