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7 Ways to Floor a Patio

Updated on February 18, 2018
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Discovering the therapeutic benefit of indoor water features with my aquarium, I soon found that tabletop waterfalls gave me the same effect

Before choosing your patio flooring style and materials, there are some important facts to consider. It is crucial that the patio floor finish should have a pleasing texture.

  • It must be a non-skid flooring and it shouldn’t have a glare. It's good to have a floor texture that appears soft and comforting, and not one that has a hard slick look like granite or marble.
  • The chosen colour must be in harmony with the materials used in the house and the garden, as well as the tones and textures of the garden foliage.
  • Whatever patio paving is chosen, it must be easy to keep clean and maintain because being an outdoor leisure 'room', the chances of having sand and mud all over the floor is quite high and there is no need to have to 'overhaul' the patio every time it gets dirty or muddy.
  • Good patios have paving that’s weather resistant to avoid unsightly buckling or cracking in cold weather, and it mustn't absorb heat in the summer months or the floor becomes uncomfortable to walk on with bare feet.

Patio with stone tiled floor . . .
Patio with stone tiled floor . . . | Source

Paving demands a good foundation and ample drainage because its foundation will always determine the lifespan of the finished task. Good drainage is achieved by sloping the patio floor away from the house and make sure that the slope is effective enough to stop rainwater from backing-up to the house through the door's floor gap.

7 Popular Materials for Patio Flooring

Here are seven of the most sought after patio flooring materials and they all come with their unique feel, textures, colours, patterns, sizes, and shapes. They are:

  • Concrete Paving
  • Brick floors
  • Wood rounds and wood block flooring
  • Wood decks
  • Quarry tiles floors
  • Flagstones (finely textured rocks used as paving)
  • Loose aggregate (gravel, pebbles, wood chips, red rock) paving

1) Concrete Paving

Patio flooring with concrete paving is hard-wearing, long-lasting and offers permanence, especially for those building their own patio.

The only snag is that concrete paving is hard work and is best left to the contractor if there are doubts about doing a good job of it.

Concrete paving which can be purchased in dry or wet ready mix forms can be constructed in more variable ways than brick because it can be:

  • Lightly smoothed
  • Heavily brushed
  • Stamped
  • Washed to expose aggregate
  • Given a 'pock' effect using rock salt for seeding
  • Surfaced with lovely smooth pebbles
  • Patterned
  • Painted or tinted
  • Swirled
  • Scored

And if after a few years you get tired of it, or have extra money to spend, the patio concrete paving can provide a foundation for tile setting or brick paving set in mortar.

It is good to note the disadvantages of concrete patio flooring if not properly installed. It will buckle and crack, particularly in hard winter regions, and if painted, it may become slippery when wet.

With painting, it fades off with time, so there will be a need to apply a fresh coat of paint ever so often, especially in high traffic areas.

Concrete patio paving with a band of blue coloured concrete
Concrete patio paving with a band of blue coloured concrete | Source

2) Bricks

Patio floors finished with bricks is one of the popular choices amongst patio builders flooring materials that provides a non-glare surface, blends beautifully with most architectural styles and harmonizes well with almost any garden.

There are thousands of combinations of colour, texture, and shapes that today's builder can choose from, and bricks produce a variety of moods, from the simple and casual to the theatrical.

Bricks are traditionally red and reddish brown in colour, but today's brick colours range from buff to bronze to gun metal black.

There are a number of basic patterns (bonds) that can be achieved with brick patio flooring, e.g. herringbone, Flemish, jack-on-jack, basket weave, English bond, running bond, etc..

If haphazardly installed, brick paving will be uncomfortably uneven and will become covered with algae growth if it doesn’t' drain well, or if set in moist heavily shaded areas of the patio.

Red brick patio flooring.
Red brick patio flooring. | Source

3) Wood Rounds and Blocks

Patio paving with wood brings a pleasant colour and texture and adds something from the forest into patios, blending well with the garden and the outdoors in general. There are several designs that can be achieved using wood paving for patio floors.

They can be built as:

  • Round discs of hardwood slabs set in random patterns.
  • Square blocks which can be set just like bricks
  • Railroad ties, which can be set in combination with other floor paving materials

Wood paving appears bold and seemingly has a durable surface, but this depends on the type of hardwood used.

For example, wood rounds or blocks of cedar and redwood will eventually have to be replaced because they have an open grain which tends to soak up water from the sand bed that wood paving is usually set on.

This causes the wood to eventually rot away and become insect infected after a few years. But this can be avoided if the wood is well treated before installing.

Wood as an outdoor flooring, though beautiful, is sensitive to weather and is, therefore, best used in the shaded portions of the patio. If not, they will eventually crack and warp in intensely sunny spots, or freeze and split in heavy winter frosts.

The best options are the railroad ties which, if pre-treated against rot and insect damage, will endure the weather changes for many, many years.

Wood Rounds (Blocks) Patio Flooring
Wood Rounds (Blocks) Patio Flooring

4) Wood Decks

Using wood decks as patio flooring is good because it is resilient underfoot, durable, lightweight and easy to install even for a do-it-yourself patio builder.

Wood decks don't retain heat the way other patio paved floors do, and because it is readily available in a variety of grades, species, and engineered woods, and even comes pre-cut and pre-assembled, they fit easily into any individual's budget or architectural themes.

The options of setting patterns and finishes are many and range from the simple to the complex.

Depending on the effect desired, deck floors can be left unfinished so it weathers naturally over time, or they can be bleached, painted, oiled or stained to enhance all other elements of the patio's design.

However, wood decks are not maintenance free and they do need periodic checks for mildew, fungus, rust stains from nails and even the occasional splinters. And unlike most patio paving materials, it is highly vulnerable to termites and fire.

In small areas, modular wood decking works particularly well, and this variety can be installed and set on sand, on level tamped earth or over a worn existing floor.

If you plan to install a high-level wood deck, it is better to get a report from a soil engineer to ascertain or certify that the ground is geologically safe before commencing with the task.

Patio Wood Deck Flooring
Patio Wood Deck Flooring | Source

5) Quarry Tiles

Kiln fired tiles will give a patio a smooth elegant look or a casual and 'rough' appearance, but either way, the warm earthy colours of quarry tiles blends beautifully with the garden's colours.

They are more expensive to manufacture than patio tiles but have a more regular shape to them.

Quarry tiles are easy to clean, resist scratches and repel stains, making them a perfect choice for patio flooring.

Another plus is that due to the nature of the material, quarry tiles will withstand heavy foot traffic and will not wear over time.

Quarry tile floors are best laid on a bed of mortar over level, firm ground. They can also be set on an existing concrete surface or on a bed of sand.

6) Flagstone Patio Pavers

Flagstones are one of the most expensive patio flooring materials to purchase, but they afford an unmatched permanence if laid professionally. Flagstones are slabs of either sandstone or limestone, depending on the region or locality.

They come in lovely soft colours like yellow, buff, gray and brownish red, which brings warmth onto a patio. And the irregular shapes and sculptured looks add pattern and texture to the whole garden's theme. This quality, however, calls for installation by a skilled expert because of proper matching, cutting and aligning calls for professional and experienced hands.

Disadvantages of flagstone use for patio floors is that its irregular surface affects the balance of outdoor furniture. Also, it is not conducive for children's games or wheeling chairs. And some types of flagstone paving absorbs grease, food, drinks (wine) or paint stains, so it's good to be sure of the quality before purchases are made.

Flagstone Paving
Flagstone Paving | Source

7) Loose Aggregate

Loose aggregate is loose construction materials that are best suited as temporary floors, or as enhancements or supplements to existing patio paving. It is good to use in the children's play area, the service yard, pathways or potting sheds.

Examples of aggregate flooring materials include:

  • Wood chips which are by-products of timber mills. They are springy underfoot, soft, inexpensive and easy to apply. They are best confined within a shaped grid with headers. They are great as protective surfaces under slides and swings in the children's play area.
  • Redrock is a kind of rocky clay material (referred to by a number of names, depending on the region), that compacts well when dampened and rolled. It is similar to decayed granite which is more expensive and can be used on its own or as a foundation for other patio flooring materials. It, however, will wear out on the surface with time, and consequently, dissolve into dust.
  • Crushed rock (gravel) provides an excellent and affordable temporary surface and it can later serve as a foundation for a harder patio flooring material. It is best used in areas of low traffic because it’s a bit difficult to walk on comfortably.
  • Smooth pebbles look beautiful, especially because of their warm tones. Smooth pebbled patio floors blend well with other materials and make a great flooring surface for stepping stones. And just as gravel, it is also best for minimal traffic flooring. A common disadvantage is that smooth pebbles and crushed rock tends to have unsightly weeds growing out through them, though a good way to curb this is by having a layer of thick plastic sheets placed on the ground before applying the pebbles or granite bits.

Loose Gravel Patio Flooring
Loose Gravel Patio Flooring | Source

Patio Flooring? You Can Do-It-Yourself

For simple patio floor upgrades mentioned above, if you are a hands-on person, you can probably do-it-yourself without employing the services of an expensive professional. It is likely you can pave the floor by yourself or with the help of, say, a partner, and though it may take a couple of weekends to finish to your satisfaction, a couple of the most arduous ones, it's a task that's worth embarking on.

For medium to large-sized patios, it is a good idea to first put your ideas on paper. All you'll require is a simple sketch which you can draw by hand on plain or better still, on graph paper. And for those who are proficient in using home design software, you can produce a quick sketch of the area in less than 15 minutes.

The drawings must be dimensioned and must indicate positions of the following:

  • Where the house adjoins the patio
  • Window and wall positions where applicable
  • Fence or borders
  • Manhole covers (if any)
  • Power supply points
  • Position of existing trees, plants, and shrubs

Tools You Need For The Task

These are the most important tools and implements you will need (depending on choice) to carry out your patio's flooring task.

  • Spirit level (plumb)
  • Cement
  • Hosepipe
  • Builder's square
  • Bucket
  • Club hammer
  • Spade
  • Sponge
  • Wheelbarrow
  • String line
  • Screeding float
  • Pointing trowel

If you plan to do-it-yourself single-handedly, it is advisable to use a patio flooring material that you can apply or install with relative ease without the need for expensive specialized tools or equipment.

How to Prepare the Floor

  • The patio floor must be a minimum of 150cm (6") below the damp proof course of the house so that rain doesn't bounce off onto the walls above.
  • Allow for a gradual slope away from the house, to ensure rainwater drains off by allowing a minimum of 25mm (1") drop in every 150cm (5') or alternatively installing a drainage channel (this is also a good idea).
  • Transfer your design to the ground using wooden pegs, builder's square and a roll of string line.
  • Mark bold lines on the pegs to indicate the finished levels of hardcore, mortar bed and the finished surface of the patio floor slabs.

Remember to allow for a gradual slope away from the house when inserting wooden pegs, and make sure the marks for the finished patio surface is at the same level with any paving existing on the premises, including all manhole covers.


Foundation

Note: Your foundation type will always depend on the kind of flooring you wish to achieve.

If there is any turf, shrubs, plants, or old paving, remove them then dig down to a depth of about 15cm (6") for the foundation. If you want a stronger solid base, depending on the type of flooring you choose, add a layer of hardcore to a depth of roughly 5cm to 8cm over the area of the patio.

Distribute the hardcore evenly with a rake while ensuring you even-out all bumps. Compressing manually may be a bit of a chore so to make the work somewhat faster, you can hire a powered wacker plate to level and compress the hardcore for a good solid base.

Next, pour a layer of bedding mortar over your hardcore base.

Again, depending on your flooring material, if it is one that requires such, use premixed mortar (paving slabs or stone floors, for instance). Alternatively, you can prepare and mix the required mortar yourself (in the right ratio) if you don’t mind the accompanying mess and hard work involved.

Mix the bedding mortar on a wide plastic sheet using a ratio of 3:1:1 which is 3 shovels of sharp sand, 1 shovel of soft sand, and 1 shovel of cement. This is the right mix. Create a centre in the mix and add water sparingly, turning it over and over until you get a lump-free wet mix. Quite a bit of hard work involved with this.

Pour enough mortar to the required thickness, so that you can set down one complete line of paving slabs. Compact well and level using a screeding float trowel.

Setting Paving Slabs

Before you laying or setting the slabs, it is advisable to check with a builder's square that the string guiding lines are square to the house , if they are not, they must be adjusted until they are.

Lay down the first slab against the house, starting at the corner. Check that it aligns with the string guideline, because it is imperative that the first slab is accurately positioned. Tap it gently to the correct level using a club hammer and a block of wood to protect the slab.

Finally, check that the slab aligns with the spirit level, allowing for the slope away from the house. Continue with subsequent slabs until all the patio paving slabs are laid down. Carry out a final check to make sure all the set slabs are level.


Pointing

This is simply filling the gaps between the slabs.

Once all your patio slabs have been laid, leave the mortar to dry for a minimum of 24 hours before filling the open gaps between the slabs with semi dry mortar. Pointing stops the slabs from slight shifts or moving, and it also prevents weeds from growing out through the gaps. However, if your plan is to grow grass between wider gaps, you may skip this part.

The semi-dry mix is made up of 4 parts of sharp sand to 1 part cement (4:1). It must be used whilst still damp to avoid shrinkage after drying out.

To know if the mix is right, test it by squeezing a handful of it. If it stays as a firm wet ball when you open your hand, and does not crumble or ooze water, then it's just right. If it crumbles, it's too dry so you need more water. If it oozes water, it is too wet. Add water or more sand and cement, whichever it is. Make sure you still stick to the same ratio of 4:1.

When the consistency is right, press the mortar mix into the gaps with the edge of a trowel. Brush off any surplus mortar before it gets completely dry with a semi stiff brush. After pointing, clean the finished floor with clean water and a damp sponge to remove all traces of cement.

It will take at least 24 hours to allow for setting and drying so don't walk on it. Foot pressure will distort the finished floor if you do.

Maintaining Patio Floors

Many home-owners with patios want to seal the patio flooring slabs, to prevent water seepage or eventual fading, but it's good to check the manufacturers' recommendations before using a sealant. Applying a sealant to some paving materials may affect the material's colour.

  • In winter, if the floor freezes, do not try to melt the ice using salt as it could damage its surface. It is best to use a plastic shovel or a stiff brush to remove ice or snow.
  • Check for loose or damaged slabs regularly, about every three months, and make sure that all the pointing in the gaps are still intact.
  • There are manufacturers instructions on how to clean stains such as wine stains, or barbeque fat, grease, chewing gum and/or bird droppings. Its good to clean them as they occur, but if they had gone unnoticed for a while, and appear set, the instructions will tell you how you can give your patio floor an intensive cleaning treatment. You can also find good information on how to maintain patio floors on YouTube.


Tips

If you are flooring your patio in the summer, it is important to ensure the mortar doesn't dry out too quickly. If it does, the pointing mortar can crack or crumble, and if you floored the patio during the colder months, ensure you protect the drying mortar from rain or frost by covering it with a polythene sheeting when done.

Being Creative with Patio Paving

Whichever variation of patio paving you choose to lay, there are limitless ways creative touches can be applied to its installation. You can create yours for a unique style because ther is no hard and fast rule about its design.

There are also ways to combine any of the materials for great effects especially if the patio is large or there are two or more patios on different levels linking to each other.

© 2011 viryabo

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    • Anita Hasch profile image

      Anita Hasch 

      23 months ago from Port Elizabeth

      I enjoyed your hub on patio floors.

    working

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