Patio Design Basics | Minnesota

Patio Perfection

Tips on Designing the Ultimate Backyard Patio

The patio is one of the main features of your outdoor living space. It’s important to plan carefully, choose the right materials, and above all, build a compact and secure base before installing pavers, stone, or concrete.

modern bluestone patio with custom cut irregular shaped stone

Planning is vital. Many of the most common design mistakes can be avoided with effective planning.

Before You Build: Plan

When it comes to designing your dream outdoor living space, planning is key. The design and placement of your patio is determined by several factors, including:

  • How you will use the space
  • Traffic flow
  • Sun patterns
  • Septic systems
  • Grading, and more

The design process should begin by asking clients about how they entertain and the average size of their gatherings. The primary goal is to create a space that is comfortable, aesthetically pleasing, and functional. In addition to how the patio will be used, it’s important to consider the unique characteristics of the site. In some cases, the best location for the patio may be farther from the house, where the sun and traffic patterns are optimal. Planting older trees, building an arbor for privacy and shade, and choosing the right furniture can all help make patios and outdoor areas habitable at all hours throughout the season.

Ultimately, the right location depends on the property. Sometimes drainage and septic issues will affect where you can (or can’t) put the patio. If the grade is steep, it’s common to include multi-level patios with different areas for eating, a fire pit, and sometimes grilling or an outdoor kitchen.

red clay brick pavers in a herringbone patio

When selecting materials, consider appearance, costs, maintenance, durability, and snow removal.

Materials: Pros & Cons

The three most popular patio materials are concrete pavers, natural stone, and stamped concrete. When selecting materials, consider appearance, costs, maintenance, durability, and snow removal.

Concrete Pavers

Concrete pavers are available in a wide range of surface finishes, colors, shapes, and patterns. The initial cost is moderate, and installation can be done by the homeowner or a professional. The smooth surface allows for easy snow removal.

Natural Stone

Natural stone, such as flagstone, has a distinctive appearance but is more difficult to install. In order for the patio to be level, the depth of the base must be adjusted to accommodate the varying thickness of the stone. Fitting irregular shapes together is like assembling a puzzle, so installation takes about twice as long. Natural stone is extremely durable and can last for centuries. Like concrete pavers, it’s easy to replace broken or cracked stones, but the irregular surface is not plowable and can make shoveling difficult.

Stamped Concrete

Stamped concrete simulates the appearance of pavers with poured concrete that has been colored and “stamped.” The initial cost varies depending on the site but is generally comparable to concrete pavers. Like any concrete slab, cracks from freezing and thawing can be a problem.

cedar mulch in a retaining wall bed with perennials

When choosing a contractor, make sure you ask how your patio will be constructed. A strong and efficient base is critical to the longevity of the patio.

Ensuring Proper Installation

Once the planning is complete, installation can begin. When it comes to patios, what you can’t see is just as important as what you can. When choosing a patio contractor, make sure you ask how your patio will be constructed. Patios that are built in a hurry on an inadequate base will fail quickly.

Best practice requires at least three separately compacted 2-inch layers of Class 5 aggregate base topped with one inch of sand.

A Compact Base will Prevent Shifting and Creeping

No matter what material you choose, a patio requires a minimum of 6 inches of compacted Class 5 aggregate base. Class 5 base is a mix of 3⁄4-inch rock mixed with “fines” which help provide a solid base by filling in the spaces between the rock. Without a stable base, pavers will separate on the inside, the outside will sink and tip, and the patio will lose its tight uniform look. Best practice requires at least three separately compacted 2-inch layers of aggregate topped with one inch of sand (too much sand will make the pavers sink). Some installers will just throw in 6 inches of base all at once and compact it in a single step. This is a common shortcut that inevitably results in settling and instability. Within a year or two of installation, the patio will start to heave and sag.

This patio features a mix of both concrete and natural stone. The result is a warm, inviting space with custom charm.

If properly installed, your paver or stone patio will last at least 30 years! So it makes sense to think through the design, choose the right materials, and invest in proper installation.

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