DIY Outdoor Living Space – Part 4: Pavers

SERIES QUICK LINKS
PART 1: PROJECT PLANNING
PART 2: FOUNDATION AND BASE STRUCTURE
PART 3: LAYING CONCRETE BLOCKS
PART 4: PAVERS
TENTATIVE SCHEDULE FOR FUTURE POSTS:
part 5: wood benches
PART 6: PREPARING ELECTRICAL AND PLUMBING
PART 7: COUNTERTOPS
part 8: fireplace finishing
PART 9: EQUIPMENT INSTALLATION
PART 10: PERGOLA

Pavers

In Part 1 we covered the basics of coming up with the design, rough planning materials, and determining space. In Part 2 we covered how to prepare the ground for foundations, running any underground conduit needed, and pouring foundations. In Part 3 we covered how to lay concrete blocks and foundations. Now we’ll talk about how to lay pavers.

As a recap, for our outdoor living space we settled on an outdoor kitchen, gas fireplace, two sitting walls, and a pergola. The fireplace top serves as the 4th pergola post and sitting walls link the fireplace to the two adjacent posts. The three posts are then wrapped in decorative stone a little higher than each seat. See Part 1 for the rough drawing.

planning

The first step is ensuring you know how you want your pavers laid out and the pattern. This needs to be done well before you order your pavers as different layouts will result in more or less cuts and directly affect how much material you order. This also affects what pavers you choose as different styles will come in different sizes, colors, and finish options.

For our project we opted to go with a bluestone concrete composite paver that came in 24″x24″ and 12″x24″ sizes. We ordered enough to complete the project based on the original layout using a basketweave pattern.

basketweaveStone we chose with basketweave pattern.

Once the stones arrived we did a dry layout to determine where we wanted the lines and orientation. Do they by starting in the center and working out. Just place enough to get a basic feel for how things will lay out when done then mark your lines. It is important during this step to ensure that your angles are perpendicular and that your lines are straight.

In our case we laid the rough form out and decided we didn’t really like the basketweave pattern and wanted to modify it to have a 3rd size paver, 12″x12″. We also decided to extend the area behind the bar to allow more room to walk once barstools are there, which required ordering more stones.

IMG_0033Pattern we decided to go with. Image from NaturalStonePavers.org.

Base preparation

To prepare for the pavers you’ll need to excavate to allow for 4-8″ of gravel and paver base, plus the height of your pavers. In our case we will have light foot traffic only so we have roughly 4″ of gravel, 2″ of paver base, then stones just shy of 2″ thick. If you plan to have vehicles, hot tubs, or other very heavy things on top of your pavers you’ll want to research to ensure that you have the appropriate depth. Note that in places where the ground freezes you’ll also need to research to ensure your project can hold up to temperatures.

We had a concrete slab where the existing, poorly graded, patio was so had to start by removing it. For this and part of the paver installation we decided to hire people. It isn’t particularly complicated work but is extremely labor intensive and was a good candidate to outsource.

IMG_0136 2Concrete being cut into sections and removed.

Once all concrete was removed we were able to excavate the remaining area and fill with gravel then paver base. It is extremely important for this to be well compacted. Poorly compacted bases will result in stones that shift and sink over time, leaving you with a ton of work to get back to a solid surface. For small jobs you can purchase a hand tamper – basically a large, flat metal piece on the end of a pole. This is physically exhausting for more than very small areas but does work. The better option for most DIY projects is to rent a tamper from a local vendor.

IMG_0013 2Excavating yard to 8″ depth, in preparation for gravel and paver base.

IMG_0023Backfilled, leveled, and tamped. Lower layer gravel, upper layer paver base.

Once you have your surface graded and tamped you are ready to start laying pavers.

Drains and other special needs

For our patio we need a drain as well. The entire reason we started this project was because the yard pooled water up against the house. If you have any special needs, like drains, you’ll want to do them before you set your pavers.

IMG_0032Drain being installed during base laying process.

IMG_0026Drain for kitchen sink being laid during paver base process.

Pavers

The final step is to lay the pavers. Start by laying the first paver in the spot you marked in your dry layout then work outwards from there. To lay the paver sprinkle a handful or two of paver base loosely where you want the stone. Then lay the stone, ensure it is level, then tap it place with a rubber mallet. Then move on to the next one. Keep going until you get to the edges and cannot put a full stone down.

Note that you’ll want a uniform surface under each tile. If you don’t have this you’ll notice the sand between pavers will start to disappear when it rains later – this is from the sand washing down to fill the gaps you left under the stone. If this happens just apply more sand in the joints.

IMG_0040 2Pavers going down in final position. 

Edges

The edges will need to be cut to fit. If you have a layout that results in the edge being parallel to the patio edge there is a simple way to ensure you have the right cut. If you have a design that doesn’t result in this search for the best way to ensure accurate cuts.

If you do have parallel edges take the stone that will go into the space and lay it so its edge lines up with the stones you had already laid down. This is the bottom tile in the image below. Then lay another stone, of the same size, on top of it and position it so that it goes all the way to the patio edge. This is the middle tile, the upsMark a line on the first stone then cut. The resulting piece should fit perfectly into the gap. Make sure you leave a little bit of room for gaps between pavers and any desired gaps between the edge of the patio and whatever it abuts.

This is illustrated in the image below. The bottom tile represents the stone that is already in place. The middle tile, the upside down one, represents the stone you want to place in the gap. The top tile is the one used to abut the patio edge so you can mark for your cut.

IMG_0577Illustrating simple measurement system for cutting edge stones.

Between pavers

Finally, once your pavers are down, either in part or whole, you need to fill the gaps. You’ll see mixed opinions between using regular paver sand and using polymeric sand. Polymeric sand solidifies more like grout once it is set and is supposed to do a better job locking the stones together, preventing insects from getting underneath the pavers, and preventing weed growth between stones. I’ve used both and found that polymeric does a great job for a few months but still tended to crack and allow weed growth. Given the higher cost I typically just use paver sand now.

To fill the gaps put dry paver sand down over the set stones then sweep them into the cracks. You want to sweep to the point where the sand is uniform on all cracks and slightly below the surface of the paver. Once you have all of them in place you’ll wet with a hose. To do this make sure you don’t have a direct spray as it will simply wash the sand out. The goal is to get the sand wet without displacing it. I typically use the ‘shower’ setting and waive back and forth.

IMG_0108Piles of paver sand, ready to be swept into cracks.

Let the pavers dry then reapply where necessary. You can always do this again any time you have sand wash away or just need touch ups in areas.

Next installment we’ll talk about creating the wood benches.

SERIES QUICK LINKS
PART 1: PROJECT PLANNING
PART 2: FOUNDATION AND BASE STRUCTURE
PART 3: LAYING CONCRETE BLOCKS
PART 4: PAVERS
TENTATIVE SCHEDULE FOR FUTURE POSTS:
PART 5: WOOD BENCHES
PART 6: PREPARING ELECTRICAL AND PLUMBING
PART 7: COUNTERTOPS
PART 8: FIREPLACE FINISHING
PART 9: EQUIPMENT INSTALLATION
PART 10: PERGOLA

DIY Outdoor Living Space – Part 3: Laying Concrete Blocks

SERIES QUICK LINKS
PART 1: PROJECT PLANNING
PART 2: FOUNDATION AND BASE STRUCTURE
PART 3: LAYING CONCRETE BLOCKS
PART 4: PAVERS
TENTATIVE SCHEDULE FOR FUTURE POSTS:
PART 5: WOOD BENCHES
PART 6: PREPARING ELECTRICAL AND PLUMBING
PART 7: COUNTERTOPS
PART 8: FIREPLACE FINISHING
PART 9: EQUIPMENT INSTALLATION
PART 10: PERGOLA

FOUNDATION AND BASE STRUCTURE

In Part 1 we covered the basics of coming up with the design, rough planning materials, and determining space. In Part 2 we covered how to prepare the ground for foundations, running any underground conduit needed, and pouring foundations. Now we’ll talk about how to lay the concrete block that forms your structure.

As a recap, for our outdoor living space we settled on an outdoor kitchen, gas fireplace, two sitting walls, and a pergola. The fireplace top serves as the 4th pergola post and sitting walls link the fireplace to the two adjacent posts. The three posts are then wrapped in decorative stone a little higher than each seat. See Part 1 for the rough drawing.

MATERIALS

Calculating the materials you’ll need is the first step of this process. You’ll need concrete blocks, rebar, mortar, and concrete. The rebar goes inside some blocks then most of the blocks are filled with concrete, adding significant strength and rigidity to the structure. For ours we filled all blocks on the ground with concrete then were more judicious on any floating ones – those on some kind of raised platform – in order to evenly space the weight out and get the best possible weight to strength ratio, which we’ll talk about below.

There are a few choices in mortar. After doing a bit of research I decided to try a relatively new (at least to me) product on the market, 1-2-3 Mortar. This product is intended to make laying mortar beds similar to applying cake icing – simply mix in the bag, squeeze out of a tube, then lay the blocks.


1-2-3_Mortar1-2-3 Mortar Commercial Video.

As is the case with many products it wasn’t quite as simple as the video made it seem. I bought a few cases of this but ended up only using two boxes before giving up and moving to regular mortar. There were four main problems I ran into with this product:

  1. It was very hard to get the mix to squeeze out. Even after adding more water than the instructions called for I was finding it very hard to keep a steady stream of mortar flowing from the bag.
  2. Once the bag was nearing an empty state there was a ton of left over mortar that was very hard to get out. I ended up cutting open both bags I used and scraping out the excess, which covered about another block, per bag.
  3. The bags did not cover as many blocks as advertised, even when mixed exactly per the instructions.
  4. The consistency was not tacky enough to stick the sides of blocks – it was a speed/timing act to get the block down before mortar fell off the side.

If you are only doing a small area this product is absolutely fine. I’d shy away from it if you have 20,000 pounds of block to lay.

What we ended up using was regular Type S Mortar mix – high strength and intended for load bearing use.

As for concrete blocks, they come in a number of sizes and you can also find custom shapes out there, though you’ll pay a premium for them. The standard sizes are 8x8x16 (hollow), 4x8x16 (hollow), and 2x8x16 (solid). You can use other sizes but most of what you should need to do can be accomplished with these standard and readily available sizes.

Note that there are a few different shapes of the 8x8x16 blocks. If you really care about all the types you can read about them here.

  • Stretcher blocks have protrusions, called stretchers, along the lengthwise walls, making them ideal for non-corner applications. These are smooth on the long faces but do not make for a smooth and nice looking short end face.
  • Corner blocks are smooth and make for a good corner appearance. These are smooth on all outward facing sides.
  • Sash blocks are just like corner blocks only they have a groove, called a sash groove, running down one of the short ends. This is intended for metal from a door, window, or other structural detail to slide into during the construction process.

Most big box stores will ship pallets of blocks to you for a small fee.

DRY STACKING BLOCKS

The next step is to lay out your blocks to ensure that your measurements and planning actually make sense. Nothing worse than getting to the end of a course only to find out your measurements were off and you have to adjust everything mid stream. During this step focus on getting the perimeter laid out how you want it, keeping in mind any conduit that you ran will need to run either to the inside or through a block.

IMG_0498Fireplace and pergola blocks laid out in “final” arrangement for rough fitting.

IMG_0496Kitchen area blocks laid out in “final” arrangement for rough fitting.

Once you have the perimeter run you can start filling in the center, if that is what your design calls for. In our case the first course is also supplying the base for the fireplace. We chose to put a few cinderblocks in there then surround them with concrete mix, then top with a mortar mix.

Once you have blocks laid out roughly where you want them mark the ground using a chalk line, spray paint, chalk, or some other means so that you can follow the lines when laying the first course.

Now you can figure out the height you want and get a true estimation for how many blocks you need. This is simple math at this point – the first course times the number of rows high you want it. We were able to order all blocks ahead of time and be within 10 blocks when we were done – out of a 20,000 pound load.

Before you move on to the next steps measure, measure, measure! Make sure that anything that is supposed to fit inside your blocks will fit as expected. I’d also recommend making wood, cardboard, or foam templates that match the size of the gaps you will need. We’ll discuss my horror story and my lesson learned below…

THE FIRST COURSE

The first course of blocks is your base and it is extremely important that these be level and solid. Take your time to lay a solid mortar bed then place each block into it according to the layout you marked in the previous step. After the first block put a layer of mortar on one end of the next block. I found that I had to somewhat sculpt this by hand to keep it in place while I laid the block. Once laid, tap lightly with the end of your trowel to set them into place, both horizontally and vertically. Finally, place a level on top of the block and make sure that it is level in all directions. If it is not, lift up, add mortar as needed, then re-set. Do this for every block. For every block after the first it is good to also use your level or some other straight edge to ensure that the block faces are on the same plane.

As you start laying your course you will inevitably end up with pieces that just don’t fit right. Or perhaps your design calls for this from the outset. You can fairly easily break blocks with relatively clean lines using a hammer and a chisel. But if you have a need to expose any of the edges you are breaking you’ll want something cleaner. In our case we used a 4″ wet circular tile saw fitted with a diamond blade. Simple mark, cut, then tap gently with a rubber mallet and the block will split.

IMG_0677My 4″ wet circular tile saw.

REMAINING COURSES

The remaining courses should be staggered in such a way that the joints are overlapping, as shown in the image below. This adds strength to the walls. It is still extremely important to make sure that each course you lay is level.

IMG_0517Kitchen area, showing staggered blocks, filled with concrete and rebar.

You’ll notice some gaps in the picture above – these were intentionally left in the kitchen area to allow for air flow, since we’ll have a natural gas hook up under the countertops.

The mortar process had a very small learning curve but you quickly get a rhythm down and can lay blocks pretty quickly. For me I used a small brick trowel. I just scooped up half a trowel’s worth of mortar, tapped it onto the top edge of the brick, then repeated until all top edges are covered in about the same height of mortar.

For the work done here we laid 3-4 courses high at a time then let them set. Once the courses were laid we inserted rebar into every 3rd or 4th opening then filled all blocks to the top with concrete. This adds a great amount of strength.

It is easy enough to test this strength out – join 4-5 blocks using just mortar then 4-5 with mortar and concrete, give a few days to set, then hit it with a sledge hammer. The concrete filled blocks are much, much stronger.

Continue building up your courses, following your design, until you get to the desired height. It is best to consider common seat, bar stool, and other heights if you are working on an outdoor living space. Make sure you take into consideration the thickness of whatever you are going to use as the top and facade for your blocks.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 7.42.37 PMI cannot find where I took this from now. Let me know if yours and I will remove / give credit.

The final course depends a lot on your design, height, and what area of the project you are working on. In our case the final course was a mixture of open core blocks, horizontally laid 4x8x16’s, and horizontally laid 2x8x16’s. We will be covering the tops of all surfaces, except the very top of the chimney, with concrete “countertops” so it doesn’t really matter whether our final course is a open or closed core block.

SPANNING GAPS

Spanning gaps took a lot of research. Perhaps there is one but I’ve yet to find a really good article talking about how to safely span gaps in cinderblock projects. If you want to put a door or window into a cinderblock wall there is a ton of information out there. But if you want to do something more complex – say, create a fireplace opening, there isn’t a lot that I’ve been able to find.

So… Let’s go through what little bit I know…

Any span must be supported properly or they will be structurally unstable. DISCLAIMER: This post is by no means an expert article but simply meant to give you enough information to figure out what direction to go in then research or seek professional support for the path you choose.

IMG_0578Our largest span was the area over a fireplace box. Gas so no chimney needed.

From my research there are two primary ways of spanning a large gap:

lintels or flat irons

Lintels are basically large angle irons, specifically sized for holding the weight of different types of blocks and brick. Make sure you get the right size for what you are working on. The one linked above is for bricks but isn’t necessarily the right size to hold cinderblocks.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 5.30.11 PMI cannot find where I took this from now. Let me know if yours and I will remove / give credit.

Using a lintel can be done a couple ways with cinderblocks. The first is to place them under the outside edges of the blocks and use them like rails with blocks laid inside to span the gap. The second is to use Lintel blocks (or, better, score and cut your own) so that you can lay the lintels with the backs of each “L” facing each other so that the upright portion of the lintel is inside the block.

For the openings in the kitchen area we had gaps where the cabinets were that we used lintels to span. In our particular case we had some odd sizing to deal with so we actually used concrete backerboard strips, topped with a lintel, with the blocks on top.

IMG_0026Opening for cabinet with lintel reinforced concrete board and blocks spanning gap.

Laying a concrete slab

This section states, “just as you would do on the ground”, a lot. See Part 2 if you don’t know what to do here.

The second method is to lay a concrete slab. This is done much like you would do on the ground only you have to supply an artificial ground until the concrete cures. To do this simply measure and cut a piece of 3/4″ plywood then secure at the right height. In our case we secured the perimeter with 2×4 cleats then put a support 2×4 beam in the center.

Once you have this in place, put the forms around the outside, just as you would if this were on the ground. The only difference is that you’ll need to secure the outside of the form to the cinderblocks.

Once you have the forms in place pour the concrete, just as you would on the ground, only now you have to haul it up to whatever height you are pouring into. Fill half way, then place rebar in horizontally. Place this in a grid pattern, ensuring that the rebar overlaps the cinderblock that is supporting the load by at least a few inches. In our case we put rebar in with 3-4″ squares in the grid – probably more than we needed but we erred on the side of caution, especially since our fireplace will also be supporting 1/4 the load of the pergola.

Once cured the structure is quite strong. I’m not too far south of 250 pounds and it holds me just fine. Note that the apparent flexing in the concrete is just where I let the front edge of my board slacked too much during curing. I really needed another support. This thing is quite solid.

IMG_0613Me standing on top of my newly cured slab.

From here the rest of the fireplace structure is the same as working on the ground, only now the ground is our slab 6 feet in the air. Continue stacking courses as needed but strategically choose which ones to fill with concrete and rebar for stability. In our case we only filled blocks that were directly above the below walls so that we could limit the weight placed on the span itself.

For our third section of the chimney we only needed a few blocks so we just used a piece of concrete backer board to hold it in. We then interlaces the blocks then filled the ones over the wall below with rebar and concrete. We’ll also add a concrete “countertop” above the concrete backer board, which will add additional rigidity and strength. Note that we did not put concrete directly over the span of the backer board – that would have been far too much weight and would have resulted in bowing at the least, collapse at the worse.

IMG_0614Dry stacked 2nd and 3rd levels of the concrete, sitting on top of our floating concrete slab.

DEALING WITH MISTAKES

So remember when I said, “measure, measure, measure”? Well, I said that because I learned the hard way.

I measured multiple times for the opening of the grill yet managed to measure wrong multiple times. As embarrassing as it is I also made a template out of wood and managed to size it incorrectly too. So I went to drop the grill into the newly finished block structure only to find that the structure was about an inch too narrow.

IMG_0579My kitchen area with wood forms, with the ones for the grill measured wrong.

Ugh. So now what? Well, I got to find out how much stronger concrete filled blocks really are. I took a sledge hammer to about a quarter of the structure and, remeasured, then started re-laying block. Only this time I actually took the grill itself and make sure it fit during the dry lay phase of the new courses.

This isn’t fun – make sure you measure. In the picture directly above the left front section, front where the grill area is to the wall, all had to be ripped out. This how I know how much stronger concrete filled cinderblock is…

So that does it for concrete block. This is a relatively short article but this is the biggest part of most projects. Take your time and think before you lay the first stone and it will all come out great. Oh yeah, and measure.

Finishing Up

The final step for us was to lay concrete backer board over the countertop so that it is ready for us to pour the countertops, though there are a few steps before that.

IMG_0016View of finished Fireplace, sitting wall, and columns.

IMG_0085View of finished kitchen – just missing a countertop.

Next installment we’ll talk about laying pavers.

SERIES QUICK LINKS
PART 1: PROJECT PLANNING
PART 2: FOUNDATION AND BASE STRUCTURE
PART 3: LAYING CONCRETE BLOCKS
PART 4: PAVERS
TENTATIVE SCHEDULE FOR FUTURE POSTS:
PART 5: WOOD BENCHES
PART 6: PREPARING ELECTRICAL AND PLUMBING
PART 7: COUNTERTOPS
PART 8: FIREPLACE FINISHING
PART 9: EQUIPMENT INSTALLATION
PART 10: PERGOLA

You’ve been Elf-ed!

So the kids were “boo-ed” over Halloween – people dropped candy off at the door with a page to print and put on the door stating we’d been boo-ed already. We then had to boo other houses.

Today the girls got together and decided to create a holiday version of this – “Elf-ed”!

If you are here you’ve probably been elf-ed. You can download the sheet you need to print by clicking the elf below.

Enjoy!

ElfClick me to download the Elf-ed sheet!