Making an Affordable Concrete Patio – Part 1
What can we afford?
Mrs. ABL and I enjoy entertaining during the summer months. Our house is a bit too small for that many people to be cooped up in during the winter for proper entertaining, but when summer comes we like to let loose and have a few people over to enjoy the nice weather. The problem is the proper outdoor venue was not exactly what you would picture when you saw our patio. We have all seen the pictures of the beautiful stone patio next to the pool with the built in kitchen including a BBQ, the wood fire pizza oven and the wine cooler. The couple sits chatting in chairs by the pool sipping their cocktails while the children swim in the pool and everybody seems to never have a care in the world as they enjoy the beautiful summer day. It all seems perfect, why doesn’t everybody enjoy summer like this? I mean heck I like a good relaxing day on the patio by the pool like the next guy. What the picture doesn’t tell you is that you probably have to be Warren Buffet to afford a nice stone pool surrounding patio. Neglecting the pool, to have a stone patio with all the fixings installed can approach the cost of a small house.
Let us just assume for a minute that we cannot all afford Bill Gates style estate with the patio over looking a nice lake. We want an affordable outdoor oasis, but on a 9-5 day salary. Mrs. ABL and I researched many different types of patios and materials. Stone patio seemed a little too price unrealistic and to be blunt a little to maintenance heavy for our liking with the possible need of re-leveling. Straight concrete slabs patios are an affordable option, but require both access with a large truck (which we do not have) and leave a relatively unappealing aesthetic look (though using stamps and staining might be good options if you take this route). Large concrete/stone blocks also are a good option, they cover large areas, can have a nice pattern to them, but they cost a little more than we felt comfortable with and may still have some frost leveling issues. At last we were at an impass, we couldn’t seem to find a material that fit our goldilocks zone of price, ease of install and maintenance. Just when we were about to give up, a last minute google of concrete patio pictures gave us some inspiration, Quikrete Walkway. Sure enough, we found people with a concrete walkway that looked nice and was D.I.Y. friendly and even a few that had done small patios it looked like from the pictures. The best part, you could do each block individually and the cost consisted of only the form and the bag of concrete. Considering the form costs $20-$30 each and we could get concrete bags for ~$2 each, this was a bargin and bargins are what we like.
When I first purchased the house back in 2007, the back yard patio consisted of a 3′ x 3′ asphalt landing pad directly off the garage back door, but heck I had a back yard, so lets party. I had my first BBQ party that summer, bought a nice little glass table, 4 cheap chairs from a local discount store and was ready for some hamburgers. My friends came over and we set the table up in the grass, plopped down into the chairs, which promptly sank into the ground as we feel over backwards onto the ground…our entire yard consists of sand. Have you ever gone to the beach and tried to use a normal chair to sit down in it, yeah like that exactly in your own yard while your neighbors watch. So I enlisted the weekend warrior crew and we got to work. We were on a very strict budget, aka $0. So we took some old rectangular patio bricks from mama and papa ABL’s old patio, used some old plastic bags for weed block and made a small 10′ x 10′ patio and voila, problem solved. Ugly, but quick fix. This worked for the bachelor years, but with Mrs. ABL coming into the picture, the patio needed to upgrade from bachelor pad to couples home.
The “Ground” Work
To make a patio that would stand the test of time the foundation work can be the most important part of the project. We started by removing all of the old patio blocks and the old plastic bags that were acting as a suedo weed block.
(One Day later, all done)
Once the old patio was gone, the real work can begin. The first task is to determine the extents of the patio. We were increasing our patio footprint dramatically, going from the original 10′ x 10′ to one that was 18′ x 30′. After we staked out the new patio using some wood stakes and string line we removed all of the sod for the area and did a rough leveling of the ground.
Grading is the very foundation of your patio. When removing topsoil and any underlying soil and filling back with stone remember to grade so that the patio itself will drain away from your house and any other nearby structure. In our case we pitched our patio away from the house at 2% min. as well as pitching it at a 2%min. grade along the length of the house since the the land naturally went that way. It is very important to grade your patio so that any water drains away from the patio and the house. You do not want water sitting on your patio or against your house foundation. To properly grade your patio subgrade, use the wood stakes from your original stake out. Tie a string between your stakes and use a line level (like this one) to make sure your line is level. Then using your dimensions figure out what a 2% min. pitch would be and lower line on the downgrade stake that much and retie it. Repeat the same procedure for the other side of the patio. If you are grading in two directions like we did, start in one corner and work in both directions, then finish the final corner from either one of your second stakes assuming you are using the same pitch all the way around.
Once the subgrade is graded how you want it, it is time to compact it so that it stays graded properly and provides a solid base for your new patio. You can rent a mechanical compactor or tamp plate machine from your local stores, but we chose to to use the good old fashion manual labor technique to save a few bucks. We bought a simple plate tamper (like this one) and set about spending a few house tamping around. Remember to keep checking for your grade and making sure all your lines are still visible.
Weed Block – We don’t want grass in our nice new patio!
Once the the subgrade is compacted it is time for your weed block material. This is one area that we spent a good amount of money and bought the good quality thick weed block, there is nothing worse than seeing grass and weeds growing in the cracks in your brand new patio. Make sure that you get a weed block that still allows water to drain through it so that you do not create a pool under your patio. Due to our unique completely sand soil we did not find it necessary to dig any further, but for those of you with any other kind of soil it may be necessary to remove additional soil and put in a layer of crushed stone for a drainage layer underneath your new patio. If you are going to do that, place the weed block between the subgrade and the crushed stone to keep them separated so the stone can do its job at draining water. Make sure to regrade the stone again once it is placed.
Once your weed block is down you are ready for concrete and actually making a patio! Check back for part two of our patio making series!