Installing Pavers

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Installing pavers? Pavers are a great way to create walkways or patios and they’re a beautiful addition to your landscape. Certified installers may better handle large projects, but we’ve created this guide for those intrepid do-it-yourselfers out there.

Step 1: Planning

All good projects start with a good plan. The first step is creating a diagram of the area you’re paving. Include all dimensions as well as current structures, such as stairs, other paved areas and, of course, your home.

We have a wide selection of pavers and our friendly, professional staff is always happy to help you choose the right pavers for your project. Bring us your diagram; we’ll show you all the pattern options and paver shapes you can choose from. A good tip to remember: certain patterns and shapes require less cutting, which saves you time.

The experts at Hydro-Scape will help you figure out how many pavers & edge restraints you need, as well as how much bedding sand, base material, geo-textile material and other items are necessary for your paving project. We’ll also help you minimize waste materials left over from cutting.

In addition to planning for the paved area, you’ll need to figure out the best way to get materials to your site. These are heavy items so ensure they’re in a safe and convenient area near your working area.

Gather the below proper equipment and tools:

  • Safety glasses
  • Gloves
  • Tape measure
  • Carpenter’s chalk line
  • String line
  • Spray paint
  • Level
  • Shovel
  • Wood stakes
  • Rubber mallet
  • Push broom
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Steel rake
  • 2 pieces of 1-inch OD PVC pipe (screed pipe), 8 feet long
  • 1 piece of 2”x4” kiln-dried lumber (screed board), 8 feet long

You will need to rent a plate compactor and a masonry saw or stone cutter.

These are the basic things you’ll need. Depending on your project size and/or complexity, you may need additional equipment and tools.

Step 2: Site Preparation

Before digging, have your local utility mark all underground lines and pipes. This is usually free of charge, but requires advance notice. You may have to mark the locations of your in-ground sprinkler system yourself.

Next, draw a line around the area you’re going to pave. Spray paint or a garden hose can be used to mark curves and other shapes. You can draw circles by placing a stake at the center point of the circle with a string attached and spray paint to mark the radius.

When setting the paving lines, square off a 90º corner. If you can’t use an existing structure for the measurement, you can use the “3-4-5 triangle” method. This is done by measuring 3 feet along a corner and 4 feet from one side. Adjust the measurements until the diagonal line measures 5 feet. The angle opposite the 5 foot line is 90º. You can also use a 24” carpenter’s square.

Note: You need to repeat this when placing the edging and laying the pavers.

Leave an extra 6 inches on each side of the paved area for drainage and edge restraints. This is not necessary in parts where the paved area runs alongside a curb, foundation, wall or other structure.

Stake out the perimeter and connect the stakes with the string line.

You’ll need to level those strings with a string line level.

Step 3: Excavation

Depending on the size of the area you’re paving, you may want to hire a contractor to do this step. They will haul away and dispose of the excavated dirt. However, if the area is small, a shovel and a lot of muscle power will work just fine.

Take out all grass, large rocks, roots and other material that would prevent the area from being leveled. Skim ½-inch off the top with a spade or flat shovel, leaving the sub-grade soil undisturbed.

Excavation depth is determined by the soil type and your project. You need enough base material (coarse gravel) under your pavers to support weight and prevent future rutting.

Excavate beyond the edge of your paved area to create a ledge on which you’ll install the edge restraints.

Determine your soil type: granular or clay. The best type of soil for your project is granular soil (gravel, sand or silt). It will give you better drainage and more soil strength. Clay soils are weaker and need a thicker layer of aggregate base.

You’ll need to figure out the elevation and slope of your finished project. It needs to be roughly ¼” above the area around it to provide drainage. The paved area needs to be sloped ¼” per foot for proper water runoff.

You can create the proper slope by setting string lines across the width of the excavation and then leveling them with a line level. Make sure the sloped side is sloping away from your home!

Lower the string lines ¼” for every foot in the width of the paved area. Example: if your walkway is 2 feet wide, lower the string lines ½”.

Tip: You’ll have to remove the string lines to compact the sub-grade soil. Mark the strings’ position on each stake. This makes it easy to reset the string lines to complete the project after compaction.

The table below will help determine the minimum excavation depth:

Project Excavation Depth Base Thickness
Granular Soil Clay Soil Granular Soil Clay Soil
Walkway/patio 7” 9” 4” 6”

If your ground is subject to freezing, increase the base material thickness by 50%. You will need to increase excavation depth to accommodate the extra base material thickness.

Remove the string lines and compact the sub-grade soil using a plate compactor. This creates a stable, firm foundation for the base material.

Step 4: Install the Base

You are now ready for the most important part of your project.

Apply a thin layer of the base material (coarse, angular gravel), compact and slope it. Repeat until you’ve reached the required base material thickness. Doing this in thinner layers reduces the risk of long-term settlement.

Ensure the perfect base installation by using the string lines and 2 x 4 as guides. Compacting the base material and guaranteeing a smooth pitched base is crucial to your success! Don’t cut corners and don’t rush!

Tip: You’ll need the following amount of base material for every 100 square feet:

  • 4” thick = 2 tons
  • 6” thick = 3 tons
  • 8” thick = 4 tons
  • 12” thick = 6 tons

Step 5: Install Edge Restraints

Your pavers will sit loose on top of bedding sand. It’s important that you secure them along the perimeter of the paved area. Curbs or house foundations work nicely, but for edges alongside grass, you’ll need to install edge restraints.

Make sure all of your square corners are 90º angles (use the 3-4-5 triangle method above). Place the edge restraints and nail them into the base material.

Step 6: Place the Bedding Sand

Also known as “screeding,” you must install a setting bed comprised of washed concrete sand and level it.

Apply the bedding sand. Smooth it, but do not compact it. Set the PVC pipes as rails upon which you will place the 2×4. Pull the 2×4 along the rails, thus leveling or screeding the sand. Make sure the tops of the pipes are 1 ¾” to 2” below your paved area’s finished elevation. This ensures that there is room for the pavers to be set at your desired elevation. Fill in the spaces left behind by the pipes after removal.

You should screed about 6-foot to 8-foot sections at a time and then set your pavers in place before screeding the next section.

Don’t walk on or otherwise disturb your freshly screeded sand unless you want to re-screed it.

Step 7: Set the Pavers

Set the pavers on top of the smooth, screeded sand, starting at the 90º angle you created in Step 2. Set them along a straight line in your chosen pattern.

Set them “hand-tight,” leaving joints between each paver about 1/8” wide.

When setting the pavers, hold each such that the bottom ¼” to ½” touches the top edge of an already-set paver. Gently drop the paver straight down. Don’t slide it across the screeded sand. Check for pattern line straightness every couple feet.

Tips: Choose pavers from different cubes and different layers. This provides an even distribution of color.

If your paved area has curves, go just past the width of the paved area with the pattern. You can cut the perimeter pavers to match the curves.

Step 8: Cutting Pavers

Now that all of your pavers are in place, you may need to cut some to fit the edges of your paved area. Measure the pavers and mark the cut lines with a marking crayon. It’s best to cut the paver in the shortest direction to get the cleanest cuts. Don’t worry if your cuts aren’t perfect. You can fill in any gaps with jointing sand.

If more precise cuts are required, use the masonry saw. Simple cross cuts can be done with the stone cutter.

Safety first! Review the instruction manuals for the saw and cutter before using. When cutting your pavers, always wear safety glasses, gloves and a dust mask.

Step 9: Compact the Pavers

Make two passes over your pavers with the plate compactor. Start at the outside and work toward the center. This sets the pavers and forces the sand up between their joints, completing the interlocking of the pavers.

Spread some extra sand over your pavers and compact them again, using the same outside-in pattern. Repeat this until all of the joints are filled with sand.

Tip: Reduce scuffing of textured pavers by using a compactor with a urethane pad. If that’s not possible, put a sheet of geo-textile or old low-pile carpet over them before compacting.