11 Things To Consider Before Building a Paver Patio

We have been doing hardscape work for over 10 years. We have met with literally hundreds and hundreds of people to consult with about building new patios, repairing old patios, expanding their patios, removing their patios.

We have learned a lot of lessons.

Almost every single day we are speaking to someone in one way or another about a patio. In most cases, the process has just started and they are overwhelmed. We came up with the following 11 questions to help guide your process. These questions are typically where we start in our first meeting.

1. How do you plan to use your patio space?

We find this to be one of the more overlooked questions. We also find this to be one of the most important questions as many of the other questions will be based off of this. Are you looking for just a small, intimate area to enjoy your back yard…. or are you looking for an area where you envision yourself entertaining large groups of people? I encourage you to envision the largest and smallest groups who might be using your space. Think about seating, where people will walk, traffic flow, etc. What kind of feel do you want? Do you envision having many different “rooms” in the space, or do you envision just one single very large space?

2. How much space will you need?

This questions is very similar to how you plan to use your space. Once this question is answered, we can start to discuss what size would be appropriate. Sometimes during my initial consultation with a client, I will hear them say “I want to be at least 800 square feet.” When asked how they came up with that number, they do not have the answer. Sometimes they admit it was just a number thrown out there because their brother built a patio that size. This approach can be okay.. but it helps to dig in a little deeper to not only ensure you have enough space.. but to make sure you will not end up with a ton of ‘wasted’ space… wasted money. Do you need to have a spot for your grill? Do you want to have a lot of seating room? Do you want to have a 4 person table? 6? 8? What furniture do you envision using?

We offer 3-D design to all of our clients. During these designs, we purposely drop in furniture, grills, walls (even when you do not ask!) Yes this looks like an upsell.. well maybe it is! But this also has a purpose in helping you envision spacing and how the outdoor space will be utilized. I like to think of it when you first moved into your home and saw that empty living room. Looked so big! Then when you move the couch, stands, television, chairs.. it seems to diminish… especially if you have little ones who like to run around! We want to explore all possibilities when designing your outdoor space.

Envision the SPACING of your outdoor living area!

3. Which pavers will you use?

This question in particular is one that does not have to be answered until later in the process. In fact, I usually suggest customers to not decide on a paver selection until a design concept has been established. I have seen people spend a lot of time and energy discussing which pavers they prefer, end up frustrated and even worse.. spend even less time thinking and making decisions on the other design considerations.

FUNCTION FIRST… FORM SECOND.

Many different paver manufacturers exist. Each contractor you meet with more than likely has a ‘go-to’ brand. Most all offer a warranty and most offer many different styles. Some are similar to other manufacturers and some are very unique. We first recommend finding your ‘style’ you envision. I think many pavers can be classified in three categories: Modern, Rustic and Contemporary. Once you find your style you can then start diving deeper into the actual pavers themselves. We will always assist you in this process as not all pavers are appropriate for every application.

One of the other main factors to consider is PRICE of the paver. We can show you quality pavers that are $3-4 per square foot and we can show you porcelain tile that is more than $20 per square foot. Just a $5-6 difference in cost per square foot can mean a price difference of $3500-$4500 on a 700 square foot patio.

In case you were wondering.. our ‘go-to’ brand is Unilock. Here area a few great links:

UNILOCKS ‘ELEGANCE’ SERIES OF PAVERS

4. Do elevation changes exist in the proposed patio space?

This question is often overlooked especially for someone who has never constructed a patio, concrete slab etc. What we are referring to here is whether or not the grade of the existing lawn area gets higher or lower as you move away from the house. Patio surfaces must remain relatively flat. If the patio is extending 30ft out from the house.. and this section is 3ft lower than the house… well we are going to have some more work to do. Some projects this can complicate matters. However we love challenges! One of my favorite things to do is to use these elevation changes and create spaces that are both functional and unique. Many times we are utilizing retaining walls to either build up at least a part of the patio or to hold back the ground around the patio to keep it from collapsing.

Adding walls or creating ‘raised’ patios will no doubt add an additional cost to your project. The flatter the ground.. the less expensive your project will be.

Retaining walls were used to hold back this patio. Some of these walls were extended to ‘seating walls’ to help make the wall expense more functional and practical.

5. Would you like any built in elements such as a fire pit or fire place?

I think fire features are probably the most requested element that we encounter in an outdoor living space. Some people we meet already have decided on a type of fire feature while some have decided they did not want one. They can be round, square, rectangular, semi circlular, built into walls or built into other features. They can be wood burning, propane, natural gas.. the possibilities are truly endless.

With fire features.. like many other elements.. we recommend considering how you will use space and then choose carefully where you will add the fire feature. They are tough to move after installed!

Here is a great link to discuss the differences between a fire ‘pit’ and fire ‘place’: BAHLER BROTHERS FIRE PIT VS FIRE PLACE

6. Do any easements, setbacks or HOA restrictions exist?

PLOT PLAN

You will need to consult your Plot Plan. If you don’t know if you have a plot plan, check with your closing documents when you bought your house. It’s usually with all those other papers. You will also want to check your HOA bylaws (also possibly with your closing papers, otherwise, your HOA representative is usually happy to share them with you). Some (reputable) contractors will actually ask for your plot plan at your first meeting, to figure out if there is anything that we need to work around. There is nothing more frustrating than designing something, loving it, then learning you can’t do it because it violates an easement. The plot plan is usually pretty cut and dried, and a qualified contractor can help you decipher all the markings to ensure you don’t have any problems later. In my experience, occasionally HOAs can be another story. For the most part, as long as it’s nothing gaudy or crazy, they don’t care what you do in your backyard, and as long as you pay a $25-50 fee and submit for approval, they rubber stamp it and you are good to go. However, I have ran into a couple cases where they got pretty picky about what you can build and where, especially if you are going outside of the “build lines” of your house. 

7. Are any permits needed?

In general, paver patios do not require permits, because they are not considered “permanent structures”. That is assuming they are built per manufacturer recommendations on compacted gravel and screeded sand. When you enter into the world of decks, that is a different story, and they do almost always require a permit and multiple inspections during the construction process. As you get into more complex outdoor living areas that include electric, plumbing, and other wood structures, permits/inspections may be required, but it does vary widely between municipalities.

 It can be a little intimidating for most homeowners to deal with inspectors and municipalities; however, in my experience, they are mostly great people who, if you are trying to do things right, are willing to help. That being said, most quality contractors will just prefer to handle the permits on your behalf, including researching if/what permits are required, arranging the inspections, and dealing with the inspector(s).

8. How are you selecting your contractor?

Here is a great PDF (you might already have the brochure from us) to print off: WHY YOU CAN TRUST UNILOCK AUTHORIZED CONTRACTORS

A landscape project requires dozens of important decisions. Among those decisions are: choosing the right products, the right color and the right style. However the most important decision of all is choosing the right contractor for the job because even the best designs and materials can be ruined by poor installation and workmanship. This section I am going to talk us up a little only because we are one of less than 4 ‘Authorized’ contractors in the Toledo Area!

WHY YOU CAN TRUST UNILOCK AUTHORIZED CONTRACTORS

UNILOCK AUTHORIZED CONTRACTORS are true professionals who are experienced in proper site preparation, grading, base materials and compaction so you can rest assured that your project will look great and structurally perform for years to come. A Quality contractor will offer:

We were ‘HAND PICKED’ by Unilock

9. Will you need shade?

We always recommend to our clients (if within budget) to consider some kind of shade structure if the living area is in a very sunny area such as on the Southern and Western sides of your house. The afternoon and late day sun will be very intense and can sometimes keep you from enjoying your patio during the hot summer months. Who wants to invest into an area and then not have it enjoyable during the summer months?

The most popular structure is a pergola or arbor which are typically constructed from cedar lumber which is not only beautiful.. but rot-resistant. Pergolas and arbors can also be constructed from other types of lumber, or vinyl if you are looking for a no maintenance solution. Pergolas can be designed to provide more or less shade based on the size and spacing of the slats on top of the structure.

More options exist other than just pergolas and arbors. ‘Pavilion’ structures are one of our favorites (and most expensive). These have an actual roof and are designed to be more ‘all weather’ resistant compared to pergolas, sail-cloths, arbors etc.

Pavilion Style Structure made of lumber and wrapped with cedar

10. Should you consider seating walls and/or columns?

A seat wall, also called a knee wall, is more than a wall you sit on. A seat wall can be purely decorative, standing alone in the landscape with all finished sides visible. Or, a knee wall can act as a retaining wall, holding back soil on one side and showing off the beauty of the finished stone material on the other.  
Yet, there is still more a seat wall can do:

Some ideas to enhance your seat wall and make it your own:

Aside from the many design options, there are some practical construction requirements to consider. Seat walls average 18 inches in height, but this can vary based on site conditions and design preference. The top of a seat wall should be a minimum of 12 inches wide to give a safe and comfortable place to sit. While there are many options for capstones and wall block materials, smoother surfaces provide a more pleasant place to sit.  

Front Yard Patio area with surrounding ‘seating walls’

11. BUDGET! What is yours?

Uh-oh! Now we are getting personal. I always discuss money at the first appointment. Some people totally understand and are prepared to discuss, and some get squirrelly on me. A lot of people don’t have a lot of context and they don’t know what a reasonable investment is. I totally understand that, and in that case, I will provide a possible ballpark range (giving the disclaimer that it’s usually a “dirty” number just based on some similar projects that come to mind). That way, before someone throws out a number, they know if it’s totally out of line or not. But no matter what, it’s my goal to leave the meeting with an idea of what my client wants and at least a general idea of what they are wanting to spend.

Believe me, I understand that this is a fluid situation in many cases. It can be affected by competing projects, financing, and frankly, what you are getting for the money. Would you spend $50k if we came up with something a lot cooler and more functional than what you were initially thinking? Perhaps. Maybe we need to focus on keeping the project as basic as possible to maximize square footage for $15k in another situation. It’s really different in each case, and we need to be shooting at the same targets.

I totally understand that some people have had bad experiences in the past or might be guarded about talking money. However, through the years before I started having more productive money discussions, we designed a lot patios that were two or three times more than what someone wanted to spend because we included everything they said they wanted…except they didn’t have any idea what it would cost. Unfortunately that wasted time and led to some frustration for all parties. Sometimes people say “give us your best price”, which we do, but our best price (or heck, our direct cost) might still be a lot more than what they are willing or able to spend. A quality contractor who you feel comfortable with is going to be a partner that helps guide you through this complex process and shouldn’t be viewed as an adversary.

That’s it! Hopefully this was helpful!

A properly designed and constructed outdoor living area can bring you many years of good times and memories, and can be a great investment too. Recent studies tell us resale value is in the 90-110% range! We have built a lot of really cool living areas and our clients tell us that they love using them. Hopefully this e-book has helped you gain a better understanding of what to consider prior to building a paver patio. All these questions need to be answered, and one must realize that the process sometimes require you to revisit certain questions after another question contradicts it. If we can be of further help or if you have feedback about this book, I’d love to hear from you.