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Installing the Proper Base for Concrete or Porcelain Paver Projects

 

As the saying goes, if you want something to last, be sure to start with a solid foundation. This definitely holds true for paver patios, walkways and driveways. We’ve all seen paver installations that are uneven and cracking. In most cases, the fault lies with an improperly installed base. Although soil conditions can certainly be a factor, the information below can help those do-it-yourselfers looking for insight on installing concrete or porcelain paver installations that can remain beautiful for years to come.

Standard Concrete Paver Base Installation

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Step 1 – Excavation:  Excavate all the topsoil off the area where the project will be installed.  It’s imperative to dig down to the clay or subsoil.  If the subsoil in your project area has recently been filled (i.e. as a result of new construction), it’s a good idea to compact it with a large walk-behind compactor before adding the gravel.  Otherwise, if it hasn’t recently been filled or disturbed, you can begin adding the aggregate layer. When calculating the depth of the excavation, you will need to add the thickness of the paver itself, 1” of bedding sand, and the necessary gravel recommended for the type of project you are installing.

Step 2 – Aggregate Layer:  Typically, this layer consists of crushed gravel that will vary in size from  3/4” down to dust. For walkways and patios, you will need to add 4-6” of this material. For driveways, you will add 8-12”.  If you have heavy clay subsoil, it’s also a good idea to add a geotextile underlayment. This woven layer of fabric will prevent aggregate from mixing with the soil below. This is especially important in driveway applications. In colder climates, it may be necessary to add more aggregate base material to allow for the freeze/thaw conditions present there. It doesn’t hurt to add more base material if you are unsure. Once the material has been placed, you will want to rake it off evenly.  It’s critical at this phase that the gravel be pitched away from the house to allow for water runoff.  Typically that slope will be between 1/8” and 1/4” of drop per linear foot (or more for driveways, depending on the location).

Step 3 – Compaction:  For this, you will need to rent a plate compactor with a minimum of 5,000 lbs. of force.  Most local rental companies will carry this piece of equipment.  Ideally you will want to compact in lifts (layers of gravel) no greater than 4”-6” at a time.  Doing more than that will result in an improperly compacted base.

Step 4 – Bedding Layer:  Next, you will add and level 1” of bedding sand.  The easiest way to level the sand is to purchase two pieces of 1” metal or plastic electrical pipe conduit.  Place the two pieces of conduit down, and using a 2 x 4 board, screed the sand smooth.  Keep moving the tubes down as you go, making sure to fill the voids where the tubes were by smoothing the surface with a trowel.  You are now ready to lay the pavers.

Overlays – Installing Pavers over Existing Concrete

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Thin concrete pavers or Belgard Porcelain Pavers may be placed over an existing concrete slab or a new concrete slab (4,000 psi  and 4” thickness minimum) on a sand or DriBond setting bed. DriBond will actually adhere the pavers directly to the concrete slab, similar to how thinset adhesive works for tile. It goes on as a thin dry powder (3/8” thick max). Once the pavers are installed, simply soak the pavers with water to activate it. If just using sand, you will want to install an edging restraint as shown in the above diagram.  Prior to installation, verify that the distance from the top of slab to the doorsill will accommodate the proposed paver and setting bed thickness. If the concrete won’t allow for the thickness of the new overlay material, many rental companies will rent small grinding equipment. As long as you are left with a minimum of 4”, you can remove some of the top layer of the existing concrete. The other option would be to cut and remove the concrete near the transition and re-pour it at a lower height. If the site is located in a freeze-thaw zone, consider any heave movement in your height calculation. Thickness of the concrete slab should be 4”-6” with consideration given to heavier loading (RV, travel trailers, trucks, etc.) to determine the correct depth of concrete base and any internal reinforcement.

Optional Bases for Porcelain Pavers

Porcelain pavers have the option to be installed over a standard base, permeable base, sand, grass, concrete or pedestals. For additional information on installation of porcelain pavers on these various bases, and for special instructions regarding accommodating vehicular loads, .

Preplanning for Future Home Projects

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Sometimes it’s just unrealistic to build everything you want at one time. However, you can still save yourself a lot of money and headaches by planning ahead. If you have an overall vision for your backyard that you plan to build out in phases, below are some questions you’ll want to consider before beginning the process.

SHOULD I HIRE A PROFESSIONAL DESIGNER?

If you’re talking about a large scale makeover, it’s often a good idea to enlist a landscape designer to design your completed makeover, even if you don’t plan on doing everything at once. For example, if you plan to install a pool now and an outdoor kitchen down the line, you’ll need to know where the gas and electric lines will need to go, as well as footings for any heavy items, such as a porch post or a fireplace. The added cost of a professional design can save you from having to rip up and replace sections of a patio or pool deck later.

WHAT FUTURE IMPROVEMENTS SHOULD I KEEP IN MIND?

When you’re planning an outdoor living space, think of what you would plan for an indoor living space. Think lighting, music, televisions, gas or electric appliances. Consider your local climate and think about ways of keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Installing junction boxes or live outlets where you may need electricity later will make a huge difference. Just remember that everything will be out in the elements and needs to be outdoor-rated with safety in mind.

DOES BELGARD OFFER DESIGN SERVICES?

Yes, working with a Belgard Authorized Contractor gives you access to the Belgard Design Studio, which offers over 50 free 3-D design templates and can also create custom designs with fly-through animation. However, your contractor may need to consult with a professional plumber or electrician, as needed, to plan for immediate or future utilities.

Future PhasesThe multi-faceted design above (created by the Belgard Design Studio) represents the perfect opportunity to plan a phased project. Phase I could include the patios, walkways, and fire pit. Phase II could include the outdoor kitchen’s grill station and brick oven. Phase III could include the outdoor fireplace and bar. Phase IV could include embellishments like the arbor, seat wall, TV stand, pillars, and hardscape lighting. In order to phase this out properly, before installing the patios, all future utilities would need to be run, and placement of future heavy elements would need to be fortified with the proper footings.

What You Need to Know Before Installing Your Hardscape

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So, you’ve decided to install a hardscape. We don’t blame you—they’re great! Hardscapes can add beauty and value to your home, not to mention more enjoyment. They’re versatile, convenient, and fun!

While hardscapes are a great addition to any home, the installation process can be a doozy – especially during the planning phase. With those early first steps in mind, we have some tips for planning your hardscape, as well as some questions you should consider. So take a deep breath… soon you’ll be enjoying your new outdoor living space!

Make a Plan

First things first- you need to have a plan. When designing your hardscape, make sure you plan for the entire area, even if you’re not hardscaping all of it immediately. If you sketch out the whole yard, you’ll have less to do when you want to add on projects.

Planning in full also helps with consistency. Say you’re putting in a pool. Down the road you may want to install a porch. If you don’t plan for this space, you’re going to run into issues… the porch may not be possible with the pool’s location and size, or may look funny if the pool isn’t properly placed.

In your sketch, be sure to mark off major features, like your house or that favorite tree you just can’t live without. Be aware of view lines. Your hardscape isn’t enjoyed only from the outside, but also from the inside! You don’t want to look out your window and be staring at the back of your grill…. so be aware of where you place utilities and other features.

Keep greenery in mind, too. Gardens and yard patches provide a nice balance to hardscapes. Grass gives a respite from hot surfaces in the summer, a place for pets, and a play area for children. Gardens can provide a pop of color and are a good way to implement nature into your hardscape. If you need gardening ideas, check out our gardening tips to beautify your hardscape.

Determine Your Budget

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but sitting down and determining your budget helps you make a lot of decisions about how to proceed with your hardscape. For example, can you build out the whole area? Or, would it be wiser for you to break your hardscape endeavor into smaller projects? Will you do the work yourself, or will you hire a contractor? Budget can also help you determine which materials to use.

Having trouble justifying your budget? Keep in mind that a beautiful hardscape can easily raise the value of your home. Get an appraiser to estimate the value added to your house by installing a hardscape, and you’ll be surprised! You might just find that you want to budget a bit more for that patio than you thought you did.

Choose Your Materials

Budget helps with this decision, but shouldn’t be the only consideration when choosing your materials! You should also consider durability and style. Are you going for a natural look? If so, consider incorporating wood into your design. Be sure to note that wood will require upkeep and is prone to weathering. If you’re looking for a more hands-off approach to your hardscape, you might want to choose a more durable material.

You should also be mindful of your home. Do the pavers you love match your house? Do you want to use brick, stone, or something else? If you’re not hardscaping everything at once, this might not be your only project. Choose materials that compliment your home and can be continued through other hardscaping endeavors.

Remember, hardscapes are a permanent fixture. Take your time in choosing your materials. You want to love your new space, and you want it to last. You also don’t want to break the bank!

Prepare Your Yard

Preparing your land for hardscaping is the biggest part of the installation process. If you don’t feel 100% comfortable doing this on your own, we recommend hiring a professional to help with excavation and installation.

Excavation will be dependent on the size of the project. However, there are some general principals to focus on, such as foundation. A good foundation is needed for any hardscape project, and can ensure longevity of your hardscape design. Proper compaction of soil gives your foundation stability, and helps prevent settlement and runoff damage.

Be aware of where utility and plumbing lines are if deeper excavation is necessary. Knowing this before you start digging can help you avoid a massive headache (and a large bill)!

Finally, be sure to consider drainage issues. Planning for runoff early will help avoid a myriad of issues down the road. Runoff should be contained for site use, instead of being allowed to flow all over your concrete or other hard surfaces. Consider building swales (think shallow ditches) to collect surface runoff and provide irrigation for your soil and yard.

Relax

The installation process might not be the most glamorous part of your new hardscape, but with proper preparation, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying your backyard paradise!

Article by Belgard Hardscapes

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