A few weeks ago, we were sitting on our front porch, and our next door neighbor told us she was thinking of putting a brick paver pathway in her yard. After talking with a local contractor, she said, did you know they have to dig down at least 10″? For a 2″ thick brick? We had to laugh, because yes, we’d been researching the same project for our yard! Scott and I knew that a paver patio wasn’t as simple as laying down bricks and calling it a day, as any paver option we chose would need a proper drainage layer. Not to mention, our backyard boasted more dips and valleys than all of Chicago has ever seen.
When we told her we were about to start our backyard paver project the coming weekend, she said, oh, good! I’ll wait to see how that goes before I decide to do mine. (Ha!) She followed that up with, but – wait a minute – you’re not doing it yourselves… are you? Again, we had to laugh! She’s always asking about the latest scoop on our home renovations, and we’re happy to fill her in with any projects-of-the-moment. In this case, though, we admitted that digging up 10″ of earth and grading our yard would take us far too long to do alone (never mind the research and understanding of how to grade our yard), and we wanted to enjoy the backyard at some point before summer’s end. With an incomplete laundry room still on our hands and several future yard projects before season’s end, we hired out the prep work to the same contractor that laid new concrete for us years ago. We felt more comfortable if someone else could get that sub-layer prepped more effectively, efficiently and with more knowledge, and we’d jump in once All That Digging was done. By the way? Best decision ever.
Our contractor, Antonio, met with us a few days before the project so we could show him the bricks we chose (for depth) and discuss exactly where we’d want them to begin/end. He told us that once his team got started, it would be a simple one day job. That said, a team of three started at 8AM and worked until after 6PM. Antonio still had to come back the following morning for the sand layer, but more on that in a minute!
So, what goes into laying a brick paver patio? Lots of digging. Hauling. More digging. The team dug and hauled and dug and hauled until they had an even layer of land about 8-10″ beneath the level of our existing sidewalk (you can see it there on the far right in the photo below):
With the longest part of the day behind them, they moved on to laying weed screen and began bringing in wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of crushed concrete gravel. While two of them pushed and pulled the gravel into place, Antonio followed behind with a compactor. This article is super helpful in understanding why compaction is so important.
At this point, the paver edging was nailed into the ground, too. Along the outside perimeter of the edging is where our planters will go!
The next morning, Antonio came solo to finish off the job with a layer of sand. The sand settled into the gravel, and he built it up by another inch-ish, and it created a nice, even layer for our bricks. A 6′ piece of wood (pretty equivalent to a 1″ x 5″ or similar) was used to smooth it all in place. Although we did everything in our power to not walk on the finished sub-layer for our bricks, CC couldn’t quite help but to leave her mark (seen below!).
Antonio completed their part of the job right before the weekend, so we woke up bright and early the next day to get moving on the bricks! Quickly, we learned that our two most important tools would be a good pair of gloves and a mallet. We started by first lining the whole perimeter with side-by-side bricks, similar to our inspiration photos. We were super careful to stay level with the edging, as we knew the border would set off the ‘square’ for the entire project.
We were dead set on moving forward with a classic herringbone pattern (we can’t get enough!), and we used our protractor to set up our first line of bricks at a perfect 45-degree angle. This little protractor has come in handy for so many projects around the home, whether we’re tiling, figuring out tricky trim or scratching our heads to find an outside or inside angle.
For every brick we laid, we tapped each corner with our mallet. Throughout the process, we stayed around the perimeter of the pavers or on the pavers themselves, never walking on the sand. From time to time, we’d have to sift in extra sand to keep things level, and our mallet helped us to snug every last brick into place.
Of course the herringbone pattern meant that we’d have a lot of angled cuts, but our wet saw made it painless. We used the same saw and diamond blade from our bathroom tiling project, which was a couple hundred dollar investment we found second hand on Craigslist – and worth every shiny penny.
Laying the middle was relatively quick, but similar to tiling, the hardest part was dealing with the pain! As it turns out, laying tile and brick can really do a number on your back. (We must have blocked that from our memory after 10 days of tiling our bathroom floor and walls!) It was a hot day, too, but good music made the day fly by.
We started in the far corner (closest to our garage), and we just worked our way out from there! We stored all of the bricks in our garage, so we used a wheelbarrow to transport each haul. Back and forth, back and forth.
Our plan was to fill all the joints with polymeric sand the following day, but it rained on and off. We took it as an opportunity to rinse the bricks with our garden hose, and we used a push broom to clean off the bricks that had started to haze from the mucky wet saw water. A couple days later, we had an upcoming break of three sunny days in a row, so we took it as a sign to sand!
The polymeric jointing sand hardens with water, and it gets broomed into all the cracks between the pavers. It took us about thirty minutes to cover the entire surface, also being sure to keep the surface of the bricks relatively clean.
A quick blow with our leaf blower (a tip recommended in the instructions) helped to further clear sand off the surface when held at waist level:
Finally, we could water the patio! We used the gentle ‘shower’ setting on our hose, and we found that by angling the hose upwards, it prevented puddles from forming between the bricks.
And now we have a brick paver patio! We originally picked up 2,000 bricks and 400 lbs of polymeric sand using this paver calculator, but in the end, we had 500+ bricks leftover (despite our pattern, we had virtually absolutely no waste!), and we used less than half of the sand. A pleasant surprise!
We can’t wait for these bricks to age over time, and if this backyard didn’t receive so much sun, I’d be counting down the days until we see some mossy growth. As much as we love it, it does seem to enhance the lack of greenery – coming soon! – and that very orangey fireplace. A classic case of the-middle-makes-no-sense. But! We are one step closer to our overall plans for our little urban oasis, and if you squint, can you see it, too? We’re getting so, so excited about what’s to come.