Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Building Patios: Not Recommended

We made a lot of patios this summer.  We're pretty much patio experts now, since we have made one of almost every kind of patio in our yard.

There is a flagstone patio, surrounding a firepit:

A square paver patio:

An enormous brick patio, now covering a vast area that the previous owner had covered with asphalt which had long since decayed, making a cracked mess that would be hard to remove and leaving the ground unlikely to successfully grow anything:

And a recycled concrete patio (that isn’t quite finished.  We will paint the pieces to look like flagstones and plant thyme in between them in the spring.):

Why the great hodge podge of outdoor flooring options in one yard?  Well, we have tried to keep these projects inexpensive by salvaging whatever free or super-cheap materials we could encounter but we just couldn't conjure up enough free/cheap products of any one specific kind to cover a yard so unreasonably huge as ours.  We took whatever we could get. 

Free Stuff
  • Flagstones, from a vendor who gave away the specimens unworthy of sale for free
  • Concrete slabs, from a new house down the street where the construction crew installed a new driveway and then determined that the driveway was too steep and ripped the whole thing out a few days later.  They were happy to bring the pieces to our house instead of having to haul them to the dump. I have no idea how they fixed the steepness problem, since they had to connect the garage on the hill to the street somehow.  Their new driveway looks exactly the same as the mistake driveway to me.
Cheap Stuff
  • Previously used brick pavers, from various people who tore out their patios and sold the bricks on We had to be sure to mix up the batches, since they were all different colors, to give the patio a look of intentional mixed tone instead of a look of "oops, we ran out of this color brick and finished the patio with this color."
  • Used railroad ties, from a real railroad. Using real railroad ties is controversial, because of their creosote content.  Most of the sources we researched considered exposure problems as most likely to occur when you are cutting and handling the ties, not after you have them in place, so we used gloves when we worked with the ties.
Full Price Stuff (Even we aren't resourceful enough to get everything at a discount.)
  • The gravel and sand layered under the patios
  • The square pavers  (If we had tried hard enough, we could probably have bought these pavers used from ksl, too, but we wanted to make a patio that could be used as a chess board, so we needed two different colors, exactly 12"x12", so buying used was more complicated.)
So, now that we have suffered the torture of paving our land in so many ways, do I have any lessons learned for the unlucky Googler who lands at this blog when they are really trying to find a legitimate do-it-yourself website? Sure. I am happy to throw out some advice.
  • My first bit of patio-building advice is the similar to the advice I give to anyone who asks me about remodeling*: Don't build a patio.  Seriously, there are big advantages to paying someone to pour a concrete patio instead of doing it yourself.  Yes, doing it yourself is cheaper, but still, probably not as cheap as you expected.  Also, concrete makes a smooth surface that is useful for all kinds of activities.  Flagstone and recycled concrete won’t come out perfectly smooth and even our brick patio has some very subtle waviness to it.  If you want concrete to be prettier, you can buy a stamp for $15 and a can of cement die for about $25.  (We stamped and stained the walkway to our front porch.)
  • Verify that your assistant is at least two years of age.  (Check birth certificate documentation, if necessary.)  My assistant did not meet this important age guideline, resulting in a variety of inefficiencies. He enjoyed working on the brick patio with me because up until the moment I finished laying all the brick, it was the world's largest sandbox. I was smoothing and laying brick in small 4 foot x 4 foot sections at a time, leaving the rest of this vast area for him to play in.  He did not want to play in sand that clearly was of no interest to me.  He only wanted to dig in whatever little square of sand I had recently smoothed.  Also, he interrupted me every few minutes demanding to be held, fed, or diapered.
  • We followed the rules and layered gravel and sand under our paver and brick patios, but found that this was not a good method for the recycled concrete patio.  The huge, heavy concrete slabs had to be moved with a rented bobcat, and they slid all over the place when my husband dropped them on the gravel.  He ended up having to remove all of the gravel before he could place the slabs.  (During this process, he tipped over the bobcat and broke our fence.  Fortunately, he was fine and so was that expensive machine, and we found some spare pieces of fence left over from when it was installed to replace the broken parts of the fence.)

*Don't remodel.

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