A Patio Slabs Guide

If you are looking for a relatively inexpensive and easy to install material for your new patio, patio slabs, also known as paving flags, may be just the ticket. In this guide, I hope to give you some of the basic information you’ll need to know when thinking about your next outdoor project using this material. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments.

The advantages of patio slabs are quite obvious – you enjoy the benefits of concrete (strength and durability) while not sacrificing much in terms of money for their installation and upkeep. The disadvantages, aside from aesthetics (how they look) are relatively few; for example, the large sizes may crack due to freeze-thaw cycles if they are not properly set on the subbase. The larger the slabs, the more likely they are to crack when the ground freezes and thaws, so keep this in mind when picking the size and shape of the patio slab for your next project. A few more disadvantages are mentioned below.

It should be noted that you can use these patio slabs on any other area in your house. Though we call them patio paving slabs, they can use for driveways, walkways, pool decks, gardens, and more. Garden paving slabs, for instance, are a great material to add to your landscape/hardscape partnership. In this article, we simply restrict ourselves to discussing their benefits for patios.

Types of Patio Slabs

Patio slabs are generally rectangular or square in shape, though other shapes may be available, such as circular and irregularly shaped. In general, if you are installing the slabs yourself, it’s best to go with the rectangular or square shapes, because they are the easiest to work with and install. The circular and irregular shapes are often used for stepping stone walkways and other more “natural” looking projects.

There are two ways to obtain patio slabs. The first is to simply buy them preformed or pre-made. This is relatively cheap, while also  easy to install, though you’ll be limited in the shapes that you have given the one kind you buy. The second way to get the slabs is to pour them with fresh concrete. With this method, they can be made on the job as needed. This provides you with custom slabs that you can use for your patio, so you won’t be boxed in to the ‘standard’ sizes.

Patio slabs come in many different kinds, sizes, shapes. In this article, we will focus mostly on the concrete variety. However, you can get slabs and many other materials. Natural stone is quite popular, while also being quite expensive. Examples of natural stone slabs include sandstone, granite, slate, and limestone.

Disadvantages of Slabs for Patios

There are few disadvantages of this material to be aware of. First, if you get in the regular concrete variety, they can be rather boring. They are gray and rather drab, so the are more utilitarian approach to creating your patio. If you pick natural stone, or at least colored concrete and other fancier varieties, expect to pay more for your material.

In addition, it may be very difficult to cut concrete paving slabs into the specific shape you want, so you may be relatively limited in the design options at your disposal. Pavers, on the other hand, can be cut and arranged in a variety of shapes and patterns. However, what you lack in design options will be made up for in the ease of installation of this material, and if you’re on a budget, you probably shouldn’t expect much in the way of luxury for your patio material anyway.

Finally, this material is relatively heavy compared to other materials if you get purchase them preformed. Thus, you may have to pay a high delivery charge if you cannot pick them up yourself. In addition, their heavy weight may make them difficult to deal with if you are installing them yourself, so be careful when working with the material.

How Much do Patio Slabs Cost?

One of the benefits of patio slabs (at least the preformed variety) is their relative inexpensiveness when compared to pavers and natural stone, such as travertine. This is because they come fully formed and ready to lay, so no pouring will be necessary. Pouring patio slabs isn’t that expensive either – it just requires some skills or the services of a contractor, which may up the price of the project. In addition, there relatively inexpensive to install, because there are fewer slabs to lay that if you had to lay the equivalent number of concrete pavers. Even though the price is lower, you’ll still enjoy many of the same benefits as paving stones, such as their ability to resist freeze/thaw cycles, while also enjoying the ease of installation and relatively lower price when compared to both poured concrete and pavers.

In general, expect to pay anywhere from $2 to $5 per square foot for the material and installation of the material – less if you are doing the work yourself. It will depend on the type of slab the purchase as well of any finishing and other tasks that need to be done to complete the work. Obviously, you will pay much more for natural stone and decorative kinds of concrete slabs.

Installing Patio Slabs

Concrete patio slabs lie in between poured concrete and concrete pavers on the scale of hardscape materials. Thus they combine both the virtues and drawbacks of each type of material – ultimately depending on whether you get the ‘pre-formed’ slabs or pour them yourself.

One of the great advantages of this material, however, is that it is relatively easy to install yourself regardless of the method you choose. Concrete pavers and paving stones have certain learning curve to them, as does poured concrete and hot asphalt. However, concrete slabs and their ilk are very forgiving to newbies. If you make a mistake, you can often simply just pick up and replace the offending slab. This may not be so true if you are using mortar and grouting to lay your slats, which is why I often suggest people to use a sand base just like you’d use for concrete pavers.

Of course, as with any hardscape installation, having a good subbase is critical to the lifetime survival of the project above. Make sure you have enough aggregate base below that has been compacted properly and is at an appropriate thickness, usually around 6 to 8 inches.

Once your base is ready, laying patio slabs is quite simple. Simply put them in the pattern or arrangement that you like, making sure that they are properly lined up with house other straight-line features of your landscape and home. In addition, make sure that your grades are correct, as you do not want any water flowing into your basement or other sensitive low-lying areas.

In fact, installing patio slabs much like installing concrete pavers, so for more detailed information on how to set up your project and do the work correctly, check out the installation section of this website. If you do end up hiring a contractor, and want more advice on how to secure the best one, check out this discussion on how to hire the best paver contractors – much of the same advice applies here.

If you want to know more specific details on how to lay patio paving slabs, contact a local contractor or home improvement store for more information. Or you could just leave some questions in the comments below!

How to Save Money on Patio Slabs

Since concrete is a popular material, it should be relatively easy to find cheap patio slabs. One way is to simply use reclaimed patio slabs that other homeowners have decided to get rid of. You can often find advertisements in online classified ad sites, like Craigslist, where homeowners will be advertising that they have slabs available for anyone who wants them. Often you can get them for free, as long as you come and pick them up yourself. Thus, if you’re looking for lowest prices possible for your materials, finding them in the secondary market is probably your best bet.

The usual way to get cheap paving slabs, if this above method doesn’t work, is to look at local home improvement stores and mason supply yards for patio slabs for sale. Obviously, you’ll want to shop around to find the best deal available. If you can buy them in the off-season, that is, in the fall and winter, you’re likely to get a better deal, so preparing ahead is probably the best way to make sure you save the most money possible.

Perhaps one of the cheapest ways, but most time-consuming, is making your own patio slabs out of fresh concrete. You’ll need to create the concrete patio molds and forms required to shape the slabs into whatever size you like. Once you do this, simply pour the concrete to fill the forms. If you don’t have much experience creating your own concrete, it’s best to do a little practicing first. Another thing you can do is pour the whole concrete patio as if you were doing a solid slab – you can then use boards or other materials to “cut” the larger slab into smaller pieces. Be careful with this method, though, because inexperience could get you into trouble if the job goes wrong.

2 thoughts on “A Patio Slabs Guide

    • Diane – if you mean without mortar to hold it all together, then yes. If you mean to ask if there are patio slabs made from other materials than concrete, the answer there is yes too!

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