Over the holidays, we were lucky enough to receive a bunch of free pavers. They were given to us by one of our parents’ neighbors. He bought more than he needed when he built his house, and they’ve been sitting in a pile in his backyard for years, so he seemed happy to get rid of them.
You can tell how old and weathered the bricks are just by looking at them, but they’re still in perfectly good shape, so we decided to use them for a small patio we’ve wanted to build for a long time. However, it takes more than just pavers to build a patio… You also need paver edging, gravel, and sand. Normally, you would purchase these items from a big box store, but we managed to procure them on our own.
Living in the high desert, the ground around our house is pretty much nothing but sand and gravel, so buying bags of that stuff from a big box store seemed like a waste of money. Instead, we took it from our land, and separated the gravel from the sand ourselves. For the paver edging, we used four old 4×4 wooden posts we found discarded near some abandoned trailers.
All together, this project didn’t cost us one cent – even the water we used was free, since it was rain water we harvested.
Now, you might not be so lucky to find the exact same materials we did for free, but with a little imagination, you may be able to find other things that can work. For example, maybe you can’t find pavers, but you know of somewhere where you can get old building bricks, concrete blocks, or urbanite – broken slabs of concrete – for free.
We didn’t set out in search for any of this stuff, we just came across it, accumulated it, and then later realized we could use it to build a patio. Regardless, if you can’t find any free materials, you can buy everything you need for probably less than a grand, depending on the size of the patio you build. If it’s a really small one, like ours, you could probably buy all the materials for less than $500.
The type of paver we used – 7.75 in. x 4 in. x 1.75 in. concrete paver – costs about 50 cents a piece; so if you know how many you need, it’s pretty easy to do the math. Our patio is roughly 8’x8′, and we used about 100 pavers.
1. First, we cleared the area.
2. Next, we dry-fit the boards and some of the pavers into place to make sure we wouldn’t have any major problems. Luckily, they were almost a perfect fit.
3. We used a landscaping rake to remove the gravel, which we piled up nearby for easy access later.
4. Then we started digging. This was the hardest part. To ensure the 4x4s act like paver edging, holding the pavers in place, we needed to embed them in the ground, which meant digging a fairly deep pit for them to sit in. We filled our wheel barrow the sand we removed and set it aside in case we needed to use it as backfill later. We ended up digging deeper than we had to, so the backfill did come in handy.
5. Once the boards were in place and leveled, we began filling the pit with about 2″ of sand. This sand actually came from another site on our property where the ground is much moister, which is why it’s so much darker.
6. We put back the gravel we took out earlier, spread it around evenly, and tamped it down with our boots.
7. To lay the pavers, we put down a thick row of sand mixed with water, and then used a rubber mallet to beat down the pavers until they were flush with the edging. It took a lot of elbow grease, but without a compactor, it was the only way to ensure the bricks got firmly impacted into the base.
The pavers have a top and a bottom, but we just used whichever side we thought looked the coolest, because it doesn’t really make a difference which way they go in.
We’re not sure how to best describe the pattern we used, but we think it’s fairly self-evident from the photos. There was a slight gap on one side of the patio, so to fill it, we simply turned a brick sideways and wedged it into the gap with the mallet, which proved to work out perfectly.
When we began getting close to the back of the patio, we realized we did not have enough space to finish with an even row, so we removed the back board, dug out a little more, finished laying the pavers, and then set it back in place. This also gave us the opportunity to give the back a bit of a lip, so the dirt behind it doesn’t get on the patio – the ground slopes upward quite a bit from front to back.
8. After all the bricks were laid, we covered the patio with sand, and swept it into the cracks. Then we doused the whole thing with water, and let it dry for 24 hours.
9. Lastly, we backfilled dirt around the outer sides of the edging, and decorated them with pretty rocks and old bricks we’ve collected.
Note: The color of the dirt will match after the backfill has fully dried.
Optional Final Step
One last thing you can do to make the patio rock solid is coat it with paver sealer. It’s kind of like coating wood with polyurethane. It gets into the cracks and turns the sand into a hard glue. It also adds some protection to the bricks.
If you purchase paver sand from the store, then you’ll likely get polymeric sand, in which case paver sealer is not necessary, unless you want to give your patio a wet look and protect it from stains, etc.
We opted not to use any paver sealer at the moment because our patio is in a covered area, protected from the elements. It’s also solidly compacted enough that none of the bricks are popping up. However, the next time we take a trip to the hardware store, we’ll probably get some, and give it a coat or two.