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How to Lay Patio Slabs: A Beginners Guide

Starting on a DIY project to lay patio slabs can be an incredibly fun and very rewarding experience. You can rope in family and friends to help and make it something of an event. Not only does it improve the look of your outdoor living space, but it also gives a sense of accomplishment and can even increase the value of your property. Not to mention the money saved by doing it yourself. Whether you're looking to create a cosy area for family gatherings or a great place for outdoor dining, laying patio slabs is a task that, with a bit of guidance and the right tools, can be accomplished by beginners.

Before you begin, it's essential to gather all the necessary tools to ensure the project proceeds smoothly and results in a professional-looking finish.

Here's a comprehensive list of tools you'll need:

  • Outdoor Paving Slabs: The main material for your patio. There are many styles to choose from such as Indian sandstone paving slabs, light grey outdoor slabs, limestone porcelain pavers or porcelain paving slabs. Online paving suppliers are often the best place to begin your search for something that "floats your boat".

  • Spirit Level: To ensure all slabs are perfectly horizontal.

  • String and Wooden Pegs: For marking and aligning the layout.

  • Cement and Sand: For creating mortar and filling gaps.

  • Rake: For levelling the sub-base material.

  • Builder’s Square: To maintain right angles and consistency in layout.

  • Sub-base Material: Provides a stable foundation for the slabs.

  • Bucket: For mixing mortar or cement.

  • Rubber Mallet and Wooden Block: To adjust the slabs without cracking them.

  • Spade: For digging and moving earth.

  • Sponge: To clean the slabs after laying and pointing.

  • Wheelbarrow: For transporting materials across your site.

  • Tarpaulin: To protect the sub-base from wet conditions and to cover the mortar when needed.

  • Broom: For keeping the area clean and for brushing in jointing sand.

  • Brick Jointer: For neat finishes in the mortar joints.

  • Brick Trowel: Essential for handling and applying mortar.

With this toolkit, you're well-prepared to tackle the project. Each tool is important so do not "skimp" by using a hammer instead of a rubber mallet or any other "bar room" cheats. So, roll up your sleeves and let's transform your outdoor space into a beautiful and practical extension of your home.

Step 1: Planning Your Patio

Begin by selecting the location for your patio. Create a scaled drawing that includes all dimensions of the area. Mark any permanent features such as your house, walls, fencing, manhole covers, and significant vegetation, such as trees, on your plan. Consider using a 'chessboard' layout or purchasing half-slabs to avoid the need for cutting slabs. It’s crucial to ensure your patio has a gentle slope away from the house for effective water drainage. This slope should be about 25mm for every 1.5m of patio, or alternatively, consider installing a drainage channel. Space between slabs should be 10mm-30mm for natural stone paving or textured slabs, and 10mm-15mm for straight edge slabs.

Step 2: Measuring Up

Calculate the total area of your patio in square metres. Paving slab packs typically list the area they cover. If using slabs of a single size, divide your patio area by the coverage of one pack to determine the number of packs required. If you are unsure of how many slabs to order, speak to your paving slab suppliers for advice.

Step 3: Marking Out the Patio

Transfer your detailed plan to the actual ground using wooden pegs, a builder's square, and string lines. Mark on the pegs the depth required for the base layers and the patio slabs. Ensure these marks align with any existing surfaces or manhole covers. Remember, the marks should account for the slope mentioned in Step 1.

Step 4: Preparing the Base

Remove any existing turf, plants, or old paving and excavate to a depth of about 150mm to accommodate the foundation layers. Start with a 50mm to 80mm layer of hardcoreover the patio area, ensuring it’s evenly spread and compact. Cover this with a layer of bedding mortar to provide a stable base for the slabs.

Step 5: Laying Down the Paving Slabs

Begin by laying the first slab against the house at a corner, ensuring it aligns with your string guidelines. Use a rubber mallet and a protective block of wood to adjust the slab to the correct level, maintaining the planned slope. Continue laying the slabs, checking each with a spirit level. It’s essential to purchase all your slabs at the same time to avoid variations in colour and texture.

Step 6: Pointing

After laying the slabs, allow the mortar to set for at least 24 hours before filling the gaps, or 'pointing'. Use a semi-dry mix of four parts building sand to one part cement or buy paving grout which is specifically made for the purpose. The consistency should be just moist to avoid shrinkage. Fill the gaps with a trowel and brush off any excess. Clean the slabs with a damp sponge to remove any residue.

Step 7: Maintaining Your Patio

Before sealing your patio, consult the manufacturer’s recommendations to prevent water getting in to them and the colour fading. Remove snow and ice with a plastic shovel and avoid salt, which can damage the slabs. Regularly clean your patio with a low-pressure washer and invest in quality paving accessories and cleaning products for routine maintenance.

By following these detailed steps, you can ensure your patio is both beautiful and durable, enhancing your outdoor living space for years to come.


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