« Back | Print Print

Patio Planning Tips

Advice, product choices, and installation ideas.

Patio Basics

+ enlarge image Make a pretty patio the main focal point of your yard.
  • Design a low-maintenance living space to get the most enjoyable patio that's easy to furnish for seasons of outdoor living and easy to clean when not in use.
  • Make the design attractive: It should complement the house and landscape, as well as provide a comfortable living space.
  • Build a patio (most are relatively easy) within a few weekends if you're fairly handy. If you're going to do the work, check out a construction manual at the library for how-to information.
  • Don't be square. Add slabs at the corners of a concrete paver patio, for instance, to make a unique geometric form. Curves often make the best use of space.
  • Make the grade level and stable enough to support tables, chairs, and foot traffic. Ensure smooth, safe transition areas, especially along edges and in corners. Significant changes in grade call for terracing or steps.
  • Create a hidden or enclosed patio away from the house. It is one of the simplest outdoor rooms you can make. All you need is level ground, comfortable seating, and the shelter of trees and shrubs.
  • Extend a patio's usefulness with a roof or partial cover. Position the patio to be warmed (but not baked) by the sun; a southeast or southwest location is ideal.
  • Keep in mind the costs of maintenance over the anticipated lifetime of the paving material, when figuring the patio's cost initially.

Style Matters

  • Choose a style that marries the house and garden. Follow themes begun with existing building materials; build a brick-and-stone patio for a brick Cape Cod, for instance.
  • Set the tone for your landscape with hard surfaces, and soften pavers with plants. Build on this relationship. Low-growing conifers paired with sleek concrete and a simple, Asian stone fountain create an instant Zen effect.

More Is Better

+ enlarge image A patio can offer a slice of heaven.
  • Think of a patio as an outdoor room. It is more than a traditional pathway between house and garden, more than a platform for furniture, and more than just a floor.
  • Make sure your patio is big enough to allow traffic and alfresco meals. Be generous with dimensions. A 10x10-foot patio accommodates a 3-foot-square table and four chairs. Add 3 feet to each dimension to have room for extras such as a grill, a play area, or a desk for a casual outdoor office.
  • Use small pavers to make small areas appear larger.

Sticks & Stones

  • Combine one material with a less expensive one, such as stone with gravel or large concrete pavers with grass joints to create interesting effects and cut costs.
  • Color outside the lines; think of new uses for old materials. Recrete -- fragments of concrete from old sidewalks -- laid out as pavers with soil joints makes a free-for-the hauling surface.
  • Split hollow concrete blocks in half, using a masonry chisel and hammer, to make two rectangular concrete pavers from each block. Lay the split pavers broken side down in a 2-inch cushion of sand. Fill joints with sand or mortar.

Construction Tips

  • Make sure your patio materials will tolerate freezing and thawing, as well as snow shoveling, if you live in a region where the soil freezes.
  • Call your city offices and check building codes for requirements in your area.
  • Make sure the site slopes away from the house at least 1/4 inch per foot and has adequate drainage to dry quickly.
  • Outline the area with stakes and string before construction. Adjust measurements to suit the materials.
  • Leave any large areas or complicated configurations to contractors.

Top that plain concrete slab with a beautiful veneer of tile. Use 1/4-inch ceramic or porcelain tile or 1/2-inch quarry tile. Choose tile that withstands the weather in your region. Ensure proper adhesion by scrubbing the patio with a 5 percent solution of muriatic acid. Rinse well. Mix latex bonding cement into the mortar.

+ enlarge image Step 1

1. Prepare the area by staking a 2x4 edging in place parallel to the slab. Spread mortar over a small area of clean concrete, 15 square feet at a time; mortar sets quickly.

+ enlarge image Step 2

2. Use a 2x4 scree board to smooth the mortar. Gently press tile into the mortar; use spacers to place the tile uniformly. Lay a long, straight board across the tiles, and gently tap into place any that are set too high. Let the mortar set for 24 hours.

+ enlarge image Step 3

3. Spread grout into the joints using a wood or rubber trowel. When grout is nearly dry, rinse off any excess with a damp sponge. Overworking the grout will weaken it. Spray the surface lightly with water. Cover the area with a sheet of plastic, and let cure for one week.