How to Install Concrete Pavers Yourself

Perhaps you’ve decided that hiring a professional might cost too much or be too expensive or risky; perhaps you trust in your own abilities to install concrete pavers, or you have a friend or family member in the trade, willing to help you. How do you go about installing paving stones for your driveway, patio, or walkway? Keep reading for some great hints, tips, and secrets for concrete pavers installation, straight from the source: someone who’s done it before! Installing pavers yourself is a great way to get a discount on your own project, as the labor costs are one of the major reasons for the relatively high prices of these installations.

Before beginning your installation, make sure you have all the paver tools and materials you’ll need to complete the project. This process also assumes that you’ve already selected the paver sizes, shape, style and colorof your brick.

Note that many of these instructions also apply to other paver materials – natural stone like flagstone pavers and cobblestone, brick pavers and clay pavers, rubber pavers, and even grass pavers. However, find instructions for these particular materials, as details may and will vary.

If you are ever unsure, it’s best to consult with a professional pavers contractor who can give you advice about your specific project. You may also get contractors to do particular parts of the installation; for instance, you can hire someone to do the excavation while you act as the installer.

For visual hints and tips on how to lay concrete pavers, see the videos at the bottom of this article.

  1. Determine the area in which the pavers will be installed, whether front yard, backyard, or the side of your house. Pavers can be used in many projects, including driveway driveway pavers, patio pavers, walkway pavers, garden pavers, and more. Come up with paver designs (yourself or professionally) for how the project will look. How long and wide will it be? Will it have pedestrian or vehicular traffic? Obtain or make a sketch or plan for your paving stone installation; you can draw it out on graph paper or regular paper, just make sure you have all the dimensions and important features of the terrain marked out. Also make sure that there are no utility lines where you will do the excavation.  TOOLS & MATERIALS: Paper, tape measure, pencil, camera.
  2. You’ll want to figure out the total square footage of the installation, as this will determine how much material (sand, aggregate, pavers, edging, etc.) you’ll need for the project. Don’t look to skimp on the cost of the project by not getting enough material – this will compromise the strength and beauty of the  project.
  3. Once you’re ready to begin the project, sketch out your project dimensions in the area in your yard. You can use spray paint, for instance, to mark out the grass and soil for excavation. Add a buffer of about 8 inches along the sides of the project, as you’ll want to leave extra room around the entire project to complete the job. TOOLS & MATERIALS: Spray paint.
  4. Excavate the area to the appropriate depth (6-8″ pedestrian,9-12″ vehicular). Use shovels and wheelbarrows to remove the grass, sod, soil, and fill as necessary. You may also use a Bobcat or other machine to help this process. Make sure to remove it from everywhere you’ve marked, even the extra 8 inches that you’ve added to all the sides of the project as a buffer. Be careful to note any utility or electrical lines in the area – you don’t want to dig up a nasty surprise! Call utility companies as necessary to prevent any further problems. Note: Make sure you complete your project during the warm months, because if the ground is frozen this step may be impossible or very difficult. TOOLS & MATERIALS: Shovels, wheelbarrow, pick, Bobcat (optional), container/truck (to remove dirt/grass).
  5. Establish grade (slope) to let water flow/drain. Make sure the driveway (or walkway or patio) doesn’t pitch towards the house, as then you may have flooding. Also make sure there are no holes or dips where water can congregate. Interlocking pavers do drain naturally, and advantage it has over poured concrete or asphalt, but you still need to be mindful of where the water is going to go once you’ve installed your concrete pavers. TOOLS & MATERIALS: Level (a laser level is best).
  6. Lay lines and corners with string and stakes to mark out your intended paver installation. Don’t forget to include some breathing room (about 6-8 inches) around the entire design, but make sure to mark out exactly where the pavers are going. Make sure they are straight and parallel/perpendicular to the house, pool, or whatever reference point you are using for your design. TOOLS & MATERIALS: Level, stakes, string, tape measure.
  7. Determine the amount of materials you will require – aggregate, sand, and concrete pavers (and joint dust, if necessary). Make allowances in your order for waste and for cuts – leave some room so you order enough! It is possible to order less than full pallets. You’ll want to add 5% to your square footage for pavers to account for cuts and waste; make it 10% if your project will have lots of cutting. When you order material, simply tell the supplier the square footage of the pavers you need. Note that some pavers and color blends don’t work well with particular sized installations, particularly if they are small.
  8. Compact sub base. You will need to obtain either a hand tamper or a compactor for this. A compactor can be bought, rented, or borrowed. This step will provide you with a solid, compacted base. After compacting, ensure that the grade is correct, as well as the depth. TOOLS & MATERIALS: Hand tamper/compactor, tape measure, shovel.
  9. Spread aggregate base (3-5″ pedestrian, 6-10″ vehicular) and compact. This serves as the main layer of the paver base. You might want to add some moisture to the project before compacting to help it compact together more tightly. You might have to add more aggregate base if the ground is soft, such as if it made of clay, to ensure a more stable installation. Make sure that the grade/depth is correct. You can obtain this aggregate base (recycled concrete) at your local mason or supply yard. You can also use gravel, limestone, or any other large stone material. TOOLS & MATERIALS: Recycled concrete/aggregate base, shovels, Bobcat (optional), wheelbarrow, compactor/hand tamper, tape measure.
  10. Note that this process uses no mortar or poured concrete. This material will just crack and decay over time, damaging the integrity of your paving stone project.
  11. You may want to add the aggregate base in multiple layers instead of one single layer – some compactors can only handle 3 inches of material at a time, so make sure you keep the layer thicknesses manageable. The more time and care you put into the base, the better. Once the broad grading is done, you’ll want to go in and confirm that all the levels and grades are correct. You can use pipes and screeds to make sure the aggregate base is at the perfect level. Compact one last time. TOOLS & MATERIALS: Aggregate base, metal pipes, metal screeds.
  12. Spread 1 to 1-1/2” of sand over base and screed. You can either use fine sand or polymeric sand that you purchase from your mason supply yard or paver manufacturer. To screed, lay down 1″ PVC pipes parallel to each other, and use a wooden plank or metal plank to level out the sand. Fill in the pipe holes with sand and level out by hand. This sand base should not be disturbed. TOOLS & MATERIALS: Sand, shovels, 1″ PVC pipes, screed.
  13. Place your concrete pavers in the paver patterns according to your designs, making sure to keep them tight to each other. Carefully think out your laying concrete pavers strategy – will you start the paver installation near the edge of the house? Near another landmark? Somewhere else? Which direction will you go? This is all important to prevent future delays and problems. If you have a border, like a soldier course, you may want to start there first. Make sure you inspect the pallets to ensure you have the right shape and color of concrete pavers that you ordered. When removing bricks from the pallets, don’t just take from one pallet, working from the top down. To ensure color variety, you need to take each column of pavers (from top to bottom) from multiple pallets in order to get the right color blend. Periodically check for depth, alignment, and straightness (using tape measure, carpenter’s square, etc.). Use a rubber mallet to keep the pavers tight together, if necessary, or to level out any individual paver. Make sure you put down a wooden board where you are kneeling, or where you may be walking back and forth, in order to prevent the pavers from being smashed into the ground and thus becoming unlevel and creating holes or dips. Also keep away from the edges of the project totally, as these are the most vulnerable to weight and shifting. While you’re laying pavers, make sure to continually check on the pattern – have you made any mistakes? Catch them and correct them before you lay too many more. TOOLS & MATERIALS: Concrete pavers, mallet, level, tape measure, wooden boards, knee pads.
  14. Cut borders/other stones as necessary. Use a pencil/crayon to mark the pavers as necessary in order to make the cuts. This will be especially important if you will be installing patio pavers near an immovable structure (such as a house or pool or yard) and if you need to have any circular patterns or curves. To make smooth curves, consider using a thin piece of wood and bend it along your edge, marking each brick as a piece of this curve. Use a wet saw with a diamond blade if you will have to do a lot of cuts; if only a few are required, a dry saw will do. If cutting the bricks when they are dry, be extra careful of particles that could damage your eyes, nose, etc. Wear proper safety equipment – gloves, safety glasses, and respiratory protection. Make sure you know cutting concrete pavers tips and methods before attempting it, as you could ruin the brick or hurt yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing. TOOLS & MATERIALS: Wet/dry saw, pencil/crayon, straight edge.
  15. Put in edge restraints. There are many different kinds of paver edging, from plastic to aluminum to concrete. The best, in general, is aluminum edging. Make sure they are tight and backfilled with fill/topsoil if necessary. Pound in the spikes with your mini sledge hammer.
  16. If you are installing pool pavers, you may have to add coping or other material to surround the pool and pool deck aside from edging.
  17. You may want to give the paver project a first compacting without any more sand added to the joints. This first compacting will begin the process by which the pavers interlock.
  18. Sweep the surface clean, and then sweep in more sand (or other joint material) into the spaces between the bricks. You’ll want to make sure the sand is somewhat coarse and irregular to encourage proper compacting. There are special kinds of paver sand out there for you to use for this step if you want to. Then compact with a compactor; this will “lock in” your project due to the interlocking action of concrete pavers. You may have to compact more than once.
  19. Clear off the pavers with a gentle flow of water – make sure everything drains correctly through and across the paving stone project.

Congratulations! You’re done installing pavers, and you’ve finished your concrete pavers driveway, patio, walkway, or pool deck! Eventually, you’ll want to seal your pavers according to the instructions given to you by your manufacturer, but you won’t have to do this until the pavers have settled for a bit.

If you need more help, check out these installation videos.

First, a video on how to install the base for your paving stones:

Next, here’s how to install your pavers once the base has been laid:

How to Find Good Paver Contractors

Image by Nicholas Humfrey. http://www.flickr.com/photos/njh/201936851/

Hardscape being installed.

Selecting a good paver contractor, one who is trustworthy, reliable, and skilled, is one of the most important decisions you can make if you decide to have your concrete pavers installed professionally. We know about all the horror stories about contractors: high or unfair prices, sloppy work, or not even showing up for the job! Especially if we have no friends or people we can trust to give us references, it might be especially hard to select the best contractor available. If you have an important job – carpentry, landscaping, masonry, or anything – and need professional installation, how do you find a trustworthy, licensed, skilled contractor? Read here for some tips and questions to ask to prevent an incident where your pavers contractor doesn’t show up or does substandard work.

Where to Find Contractors

There are many ways to find contractors, all with different degrees of efficiency.

The best way to find a reliable contractor is to get a referral from a friend or family member that already used his services. This way you will already know that the contractor does a professional job, and you can check out their work in person if you visit the referrers home.

If can’t get a referral, try searching online for contractors in your area. Visit their website, if possible, to see examples of their work and find contact information. Also try searching for “pavers contractors reviews” or the “specific contractor/company’s name reviews” to find online reports from customers if they exist. This can be a great way to get an uncensored look into the company’s operations.

If this doesn’t work, try the yellow pages. This is a rather antiquated method, however, as you will pretty much be throwing darts at a dartboard in this situation and hoping to pick out a good contractor.

The final method is to ask a local home improvement store or mason supply yard for recommendations. They may be able to point you in a direction of specific contractors or at least a directory of local contractors who may be able to serve your needs.

As you can see from this picture, picking the wrong contractor can be hazardous to your project! This is how you can avoid this calamity:

Questions to Ask Your Prospective Contractors

You should always interview as many contractors as possible, both to collect bids and to evaluate their skill and professionalism. You should still ask these questions even if you get a solid recommendation or referral from someone just to cover all the bases. Some questions to ask include:

About the Contractor and Previous Jobs

  • How many years has the contractor been in business? The more experienced the contractor, the better, though of course a new contractor is not necessarily a bad one. In particular, how long have they been installing pavers?
  • Does your contractor have experience with the job that they have been hired to perform? The more experience with basic and advanced jobs (and all the potential problems that could arise) will allow the contractor to be more suited for the work. If your project (paver driveway, paver walkway, paver patios, etc.) is especially large or small, or has some challenging aspects, are they qualified to handle it? Many contractors will have photos of previous jobs, so ask to see them. Do you like their work, both the craftsman ship and the design? This is also a good way to get ideas for your own project.
  • If possible, visit some of the contractors’ old jobs. Make sure, though, that the people who completed the work for those jobs will be completing the work at your home – otherwise, what’s the point?
  • Can the paver contractors provide you with references? You could also ask around for unsolicited references, or check out third-party/commercial consumer advocates. As stated above, do a Google search as well for reviews. You could also check around with companies that sell the paving stones to see if they have any knowledge or recommendations.

Rules and Regulations

  • Do they have the proper insurance and relevant licensing to do the job? Are their workers legal? This is a particular concern in some countries where undocumented immigrants sometimes work as manual laborers. It is often best to go with companies that don’t employ these individuals. This is especially important considering Worker Compensation laws – having a laborer working off the books at your home is not good for you, the employees, or the contractor.
  • Are any particular permits required for the work being done at your home?

Training

  • Have the pavers contractors taken any official training from a professional organization in their field, such as the ICPI? While this certification is not legally required, you can take comfort in the fact that they have the newest and best methods and support at their disposal for your home improvement project.
  • Does the contractor have design skills/experience? Often their experience in jobs will give them an eye for aesthetic details. You may be able to get some great tips from your contractor to make the job even better pleasing to the eye! Their experience in creating shapes and designs with concrete pavers in particular places and for particular projects might be invaluable. If they do not have this experience, you may have to hire someone else to help you with the design, if needed.

On the Job

  • Do they subcontract out any part of the job? To whom? You could ask the same questions of the subcontractor as to the contractor.
  • Who will be supervising? Will workers be left alone without direction? How many jobs does the company take at a time?
  • What paver brands do they usually recommend? Why? Make sure you like the pavers they prefer to use before you sign on with them.
  • Will there be any damage or disruption (such as clutter or materials) on neighbors’ property? Or on town property? Where will materials and tools be kept? For example, you will probably have pallets of brick laying around your yard for a few days. Will they be on the grass? On concrete or driveway? In the street? This is all important to know before the work begins.
  • When will the project start? When will it finish? Does the company/contractor have a reputation for punctuality and reliability?

Finances and Warranties

  • Will they provide a detailed estimate, and is it free? Do they follow as close as possible to their estimate? This is where references may come in handy.
  • What are the payment terms? Many hardscape contractors ask for 1/3 at the start, 1/3 after delivery of materials, and 1/3 at completion. Ask for a detailed list of the materials, labor, and other fees that you are being charged. This will be important to compare to other proposals prepared by competing contractors.
  • Make sure nothing is left out of the contract. Do they include cleanup of your yard due to machine work and other excavation? Make sure there will be no “gotcha!” extras waiting for you on job completion.
  • Will the paver contractors provide a warranty for his/her work? How long? Is it limited/full? Does the manufacturer of the materials (such as in the case of concrete pavers) provide any kind of warranty?