Whom to Hire
For most homeowners, especially if the patio project is large, is complex or requires considerable preparation work, hiring an experienced landscape contractor is your best choice. If you want something more elaborate, you might also want to consult with a landscape architect or designer. You will also want a professional to install any gas or water lines, and the wiring for any electrical features.
A landscape professional will be able to handle the groundwork involved in getting any necessary permits, preparing the site and checking for utility lines, as well as doing the actual installation. Before choosing a professional for your patio project, be sure to see if he or she has experience with building the type of patio you want. As with any project, check reviews on Houzz and elsewhere, and ask for references and to see examples of work.
Installing a dry-laid patio on sand with loose materials, pavers, brick or stone can be a do-it-yourself project for experts, especially if the proposed patio is small and has a simple design. A small concrete paver patio is also an option for a DIYer. Before you start, evaluate your skill level and any prep work required.
.Design Considerations for a Patio
Where it will go. Deciding where to place your patio should be your starting point. Most patios are situated to create a transition zone between a home and the backyard. Often this spot is directly off the kitchen, which makes it ideal for outdoor entertaining. A patio adjacent to a living room or family room, paired with generously sized doors between the spaces, can create an easy transition between indoor and outdoor living areas.
Not all patios need to be located right off the house, especially those designed as a secondary feature within the landscape. Take advantage of a view at one edge of the yard, add a solid surface off a pool or spa area, define a play area or create a quiet spot in a side yard with a patio.
Your patio needn’t be confined to the back or side yard either. Adding a patio to the front yard creates a spot where you can enjoy your neighborhood and interact with neighbors..
Size. It’s smart to have an idea of how you’d like to use your patio beforehand so you can make sure it’s large enough to accommodate your needs. If you plan to use your patio for dining or entertaining, be sure it’s big enough so that getting around a table, pulling out chairs or lounging in front of a water or fire feature is comfortable.
Before you build, also decide if you want to incorporate an outdoor kitchen area, a fire pit, a spa, a water feature or lighting. These features will require some extra prep work.
Shape. A simple square or rectangular patio can serve any number of purposes, from creating a quiet spot in the yard where someone can relax to anchoring a full-fledged entertaining area.
If you’d like a little more flair, consider adding curved edges, creating a completely circular space or pouring large concrete slabs with small breaks in between for a modern take. Wrapping a patio around the side of your home can increase your usable space.
.Style. Your material choice for your patio’s surface will define its look and feel. Concrete works well for a variety of landscape styles. Brick, stone and tile mix well with both traditional designs and more contemporary looks. All of these materials, along with loose pavers, can be used in formal or more casual spaces.
You can also add integral design features, such as decorative accents, a mix of materials, or cutouts for plants or other garden features, to customize your patio design.
Material Options for a Patio
While the final look you want for your patio will be a deciding factor, different materials have specific pros and cons. You’ll want to factor in the material’s durability, longevity and ease of maintenance.
Poured-in-place concrete. Concrete is at the top of the list for many people when it comes to patio materials. It’s versatile, budget-friendly, durable and low-maintenance. It can be made to mimic brick or stone, with easier installation and a lower price point. For poured-in-place concrete, you can choose between a continuous surface or a series of large or small concrete pads. Finished shapes for a concrete patio can be square, rectangular, round, curved or even freeform. Concrete is a stable surface, so you won’t need to add edgings to maintain the shape. The options for finishes are almost endless, ranging from smooth to stamped, brushed, scored or topped with pebbles. Because concrete also can be stained or tinted, your color choices are just as varied. Concrete can also be combined with tile or wood inlays.
Poured-in-place concrete creates a solid, nonpermeable surface. You’ll need to consider and design drainage to handle any water runoff. If your region experiences freeze-thaw cycles, you’ll need to consider and design for that as well.
A concrete patio should last for decades but will require basic maintenance, including regular sweeping and rinsing with water, cleaning up spills that can stain the surface and fixing the inevitable cracks. If you apply a sealer, it will have to be renewed every few years.
Concrete pavers. Concrete pavers feel like they bridge the gap between concrete slabs and brick or stone pavers. Like a poured concrete surface, they are long-lasting and can mimic the look of brick, stone or cobblestones. Concrete pavers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can be installed in a variety of patterns to create the look you want.
Concrete pavers can be more expensive upfront than a concrete slab, but they’re often longer-lasting, less prone to cracks due to weather extremes and easier to repair. You can also find permeable pavers. These are designed to allow moisture to drain through them to the ground below. Some pavers even have cutouts designed for adding in low-growing ground covers. Loose or single concrete pavers can more easily mimic other materials, but you will need to add edging or mortar them in place. Grouting or adding sand between the pavers also will help to stabilize them.
Interlocking pavers do not have quite as natural a look or as many design options as loose pavers, but because they connect, they don’t need edging or mortar or sand to hold them together. Their multiple joints also mean that small cracks that form won’t be very visible, and that weeds between the pavers will be minimal compared with what you might find with paving materials that are more widely spaced. Concrete paver patios require the same maintenance as a concrete slab, with regular sweeping, rinsing and removing spills. If a paver shifts or develops cracks or other damage, you can simply remove and replace it without affecting the adjacent pavers. Remove any weeds that grow between the pavers.
Brick. Whether you’re looking for a classic old-world feel or a modern vibe, consider adding a brick patio. This centuries-old material can define a formal space, anchor a casual setting or set the tone for a contemporary landscape, depending on the color and layout pattern you choose.
Bricks are durable, weather-resistant and fade-resistant, although the color options and shapes are more limited than for concrete pavers or landscape stone. They can be cut to fit into tight spots, and if a single brick is damaged, you can remove and replace it. A brick patio offers more traction than a stone patio. When choosing a type of brick, check that it will stand up to the weather and wear it will be subjected to.
Bricks can be set on a sand base mixed with gravel, set on bedding sand over compacted gravel or mortared in place over a concrete base. The first option will create a more permeable installation. Once the bricks are in place, their joints can be filled with sand, creating a more permeable patio, or mortar. Regular cleaning and periodic washing will keep a brick patio looking good. Remove any stains as soon as you can, and pull any weeds that grow up between the bricks. And while moss looks charming, it can make the bricks slippery. You’ll want to clean mossy areas, especially in areas with foot traffic.
Periodic power-washing will keep bricks looking fresh. Avoid sandblasting or using muriatic acid, as they will damage the surface of the bricks. Sealing the bricks will also help keep them looking bright — you will need to renew any sealer every few years.
Natural stone. A patio built of natural stone adds a sense of permanence to the landscape. Like brick, stone has been in use as a patio surface for centuries. Cut stone will give you a more formal look, while irregular slabs create a casual and natural feel.
Although it is one of the most expensive options, a stone patio is both extremely durable and very long-lasting. And, as with brick, you can replace an individual stone that is chipped or broken. Your options for stone range from flagstone, bluestone, limestone and sandstone to marble and granite for an unexpected look. For the most natural look and a better price, choose a local stone. Another option is natural or engineered cobblestones. These are charming but not always stable. They work best in a small area that is lightly used. Stone is heavy and can easily split, making it difficult to work with. It also can retain heat. Sandstone is cooler than most other stones, but is also porous and prone to water damage. Bluestone will require a sealer, and most other stones will benefit from being sealed to prevent stains and preserve the surface. To highlight the beauty of your chosen stone, choose a penetrating sealer with a matte finish.
Stone can be set on a permeable base of compacted stone and builder sand. The space between the joints can then be filled with sand, gravel or even plants that will allow water to drain through the joints. Stone also can be mortared in place on a concrete base..Basic maintenance includes regular sweeping and rinsing off the surface as necessary. Clean spills as soon as possible to avoid staining. Periodic power-washing will add extra shine. Remove any excess standing water to prevent discoloration. Individual stones set on sand and gravel may also need to be periodically leveled.
Periodically remove any unwanted plants from between the stones. If you apply a sealer, renew it every year. While your stone surface may last for the ages, the joints can fail. Check them every now and then and rejoint or regrout every few years.
Tile. Patios built with glazed terra-cotta or clay tiles or with unglazed ceramic tiles have been around for centuries in warm-winter climates. Today, new processes have made installing ceramic tiles an option for colder climates as well. These tiles can be less expensive than other materials.
Terra-cotta tiles, especially the popular Saltillo tiles, are known for their warm earth-tone colors and natural variations. They’re a perfect match for a rustic setting or a Southwestern- or Spanish-style home.
Terra-cotta tiles are sturdy but are prone to stains and can be damaged easily, thanks to their porous surface. Keep them free of dirt and debris, and clean stains and spots when you notice them. Clay tiles, even those designed for outdoor use, can be slippery when wet. Sealing tiles (and then resealing every couple of years) to protect them from fading or staining is usually recommended. You also may need to renew the grout. Ceramic outdoor tiles come in a range of colors and finishes, and are stain-resistant. Choose unglazed tiles rated for outdoor use. You can leave them unsealed, but a clear seal will provide added protection.
Keep outdoor ceramic tiles clean by regularly sweeping and cleaning with a mixture of water and dish detergent that you spread with a broom and then rinse off. You also can use a power washer. Check yearly to determine if it is time to reseal the tiles and renew and reseal the grout lines.
Loose materials. Gravel, crushed stone and decomposed granite (DG) have the advantage of being easy to install, inexpensive and permeable. While easy to install, a patio made of loose materials is not as supportive as other materials, and the materials can spread easily and be tracked into your home. Crushed gravel also can be rough on bare feet. Even if you lay down landscaping fabric, you will still need to remove weeds periodically. Gravel can easily shift, especially if not contained by edging, and you will have to add more gravel periodically.
A gravel surface also is not as steady as other patio surfaces, so it may not be a stable surface for furniture, wheels or anyone with mobility issues. Laying gravel over a solid base can help.
Other Considerations for Adding a Patio
Permitting and codes. Before starting any patio project, check with your local building department about the necessary permits and code requirements. Regulations and requirements vary widely, even for a small on-grade patio project, and there may well be added requirements for a more extensive project.
If you belong to a homeowners association, check to see if there are any guidelines or restrictions you need to be aware of.
When to do this project. As with any outdoor project, the best time to build is when the weather is good, usually spring through fall in mild to warm climates, and when dry conditions are expected. You’ll probably want to avoid extreme summer heat, and cold-winter conditions usually preclude outdoor construction.
.How long it will take. For most patio projects, installing the finished surface material may be the easiest and fastest part of the job. You’ll need to allow time for preparing the site, including allowing any concrete to set thoroughly. If you need to get permits or are having plans drawn, expect it to take longer.
A small patio consisting of loose materials, bricks or stone can be finished in a day or two. Plan on allowing up to a week for a concrete slab, according to Rob Douglass of Texas Custom Patios in Houston.
If you’re using other materials, it depends on the size of the project and the crew, according to Daren Langhorne of Core Outdoor Living in Clifton, Virginia. He suggests allowing at least one or two weeks, and possibly up to several weeks.