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Paving Slabs

Updated on January 28, 2015

Many homes across North America have the bones and potential to be great. With a little creativity, a few extra minutes each weekend, and some paving slabs, a cool patio can be constructed for less than a weekend stay at the shore.

Feeling free as I saunter across the smooth, cool surface of my completed patio project.
Feeling free as I saunter across the smooth, cool surface of my completed patio project. | Source

What are Paving Slabs?

Let's begin by defining terms.

Paving as an adjective describes anything as covered by or composed of a paved surface material. The word derives from pave the verb, meaning to "cover (a piece of ground) with concrete, asphalt, stone, or bricks" (New Oxford American Dictionary). Pavement, a corresponding noun, is delineated as "any paved area or surface."

Slabs often refer to continuous, hard-surface areas consisting of poured concrete sections, such as under-house foundations, front stoops, sidewalks, and patios. The term also denotes blocks, chunks, bricks, and the like.

Paving slabs therefore are both paving-covered spaces and paving-made-of units. In the context of this article, I'll emphasize the latter more frequently (and interchangeably as paving slabs, slabs, paving bricks, bricks, blocks, concrete blocks, components, or pavers).

Building with these materials brings true knowledge to light. Doing so, however, requires taking preliminary steps.

Dad, my co-worker, also enjoying the fruits of our efforts.
Dad, my co-worker, also enjoying the fruits of our efforts. | Source

Irregular Shapes and Sizes

Click thumbnail to view full-size
a. Building a display pavement out of varied sizes of flagstone slabs.b. Using a trowel to smooth the sand while moving backward.c. On hands and knees to carefully place the unevenly shaped stones.d. Positioning the final piece.
a. Building a display pavement out of varied sizes of flagstone slabs.
a. Building a display pavement out of varied sizes of flagstone slabs. | Source
b. Using a trowel to smooth the sand while moving backward.
b. Using a trowel to smooth the sand while moving backward. | Source
c. On hands and knees to carefully place the unevenly shaped stones.
c. On hands and knees to carefully place the unevenly shaped stones. | Source
d. Positioning the final piece.
d. Positioning the final piece. | Source

Uniform Shapes and Sizes

Walkway made of homogeneous shapes & sizes of pre-cut flagstone.
Walkway made of homogeneous shapes & sizes of pre-cut flagstone. | Source

Evaluate Your Exterior

Where will you place your pavement?

Walk around your property to determine where to situate your outdoor living space. Grab a tablet and take notes, sketch drawings, bubble map. This assessment becomes your ongoing outside inventory for now and into the future.

Ask questions.

  • What is the overriding purpose of building your outdoor living area?
  • What do you want to build? What do you need to build?
  • What possibilities exist? Any constraints? How will you deal with obstacles?
  • What is your climate? Pay particular attention to the frost-thaw cycle.

Narrow to three likely spots. (Tip: I'm big on the rule of three, which streamlines my decision-making process.) Observe them. Imagine what you, your friends and your family will do in each place. For example, you might be sitting rather than barbecuing in the front.

  • Do sun exposures make a difference: north, east, south, or west?
  • How are the winds blowing?
  • What other sounds do you hear? Will the humming of a neighbor's air conditioner be bothersome? Smells, too. Next-to-garbage-can areas might be unpleasant on pick up days.

Use your senses.

Then, decide on your paving site. If you're still undecided, go with the one that has either the most pluses in a 10 pro versus con list or the most urgency (as was my situation). Yes, you now know where you'll build!

Examining my property, weeds & all.
Examining my property, weeds & all. | Source
Front & side of my house.
Front & side of my house. | Source
I also extended a downspout to divert water.
I also extended a downspout to divert water. | Source

Addressing Problems

Summer rainstorms hit home hard here. For a handful of reasons the basement filled with water (see Flooding below). First, apparently the sump pump had broken many years before I moved in. Second, the window wells were leaking disasters and needed to be replaced. Third, water was gushing down from the front of the house.

This article focuses on the resolution for that last situation. The fix for it, the front water problem, turned out to be a beautiful patio.

Besides design and entertainment benefits, this home improvement would serve a practical purpose. And I needed to get on it pronto!

My dad to the rescue. He helps me with many endeavors. Who will assist you?

Flooding Basement

Click thumbnail to view full-size
a. Flooding on one side of my basement.b. Yikes, my workbench (back right) was in jeopardy, too.c. I started digging out rusty window wells where water dribbled in.
a. Flooding on one side of my basement.
a. Flooding on one side of my basement. | Source
b. Yikes, my workbench (back right) was in jeopardy, too.
b. Yikes, my workbench (back right) was in jeopardy, too. | Source
c. I started digging out rusty window wells where water dribbled in.
c. I started digging out rusty window wells where water dribbled in. | Source

Measure Your Plot

You could do this step right before digging, which is known as excavation. However, if you proceed in this order (before sourcing), your project becomes real. You activate it because you physically initiate it.

Using a tape measure, mark out your spot. Put pegs in the ground at corners and attach twine or string, making certain to create 90-degree right-angle corners (for rectangular spaces). Harken back to geometry days, jot down length (l) and width (w) to determine area. To exemplify, my space was 27 feet long by six feet wide or 27' x 6'. Area (l x w) in turn equaled 162 square feet. This calculation is important to remember.

Note: Pavement bordering a building should slant away from it by going down one inch for every four feet. This precaution keeps water run off away from the foundation.

Before Excavation

Looking at the front of my house. Notice the large boxwood straight ahead.
Looking at the front of my house. Notice the large boxwood straight ahead. | Source

During Excavation

Digging 6-8 inches is suggested. Dad & I went further to dig out that boxwood I mentioned.
Digging 6-8 inches is suggested. Dad & I went further to dig out that boxwood I mentioned. | Source

Sourcing Materials

What can you afford to build? Up your knowledge so that you can settle on quality and still remain fiscally sound. Do some sourcing, which means finding sources from which to purchase paving materials. What you put on top of your terrace is the focus (and likely your main expenditure), then everything else (all other supplies) will fall into place.

Look online and in print at images of paving slabs and patio pavements, keeping in mind your design preferences. When you find three scenes that appeal, zero in on the details. What colors, textures, sizes, and shapes stand out? Start visualizing patterns. How do two or three different variables work together? How do they complement or contrast your home's color palette(s) and surface facade(s)? Keep a list and head on out to see for yourself.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
a. Asymmetrical stones on a pallet.b. Rectangular cement blocks on wood supports.c. Paver squares in plastic packaging.d. Stack of jagged slate.e. Slab of variegated Bluestone (layered sandstone). Beautiful, yet cumbersome.f. Paving Slab Smorgasbord: Variety of materials, sizes, shapes, colors, & textures.
a. Asymmetrical stones on a pallet.
a. Asymmetrical stones on a pallet. | Source
b. Rectangular cement blocks on wood supports.
b. Rectangular cement blocks on wood supports. | Source
c. Paver squares in plastic packaging.
c. Paver squares in plastic packaging. | Source
d. Stack of jagged slate.
d. Stack of jagged slate. | Source
e. Slab of variegated Bluestone (layered sandstone). Beautiful, yet cumbersome.
e. Slab of variegated Bluestone (layered sandstone). Beautiful, yet cumbersome. | Source
f. Paving Slab Smorgasbord: Variety of materials, sizes, shapes, colors, & textures.
f. Paving Slab Smorgasbord: Variety of materials, sizes, shapes, colors, & textures. | Source

Visiting Distributors

Of all my sourcing readings, this one from my dad's Stonework publication made a succinct point: "Never buy stone without looking at it first" (Bridgewater, 2002, p. 12).

Stroll around nearby home centers and masonry yards that you've already sourced out (again rule of three). From your previous notes, inquire about your preferences of paving units and pattern groupings. It's crucial to see. And touch. If paving pieces are not too heavy, ask if you can manipulate a few. How does this or that feel in your hands?

Hopefully, you'll establish a rapport with an expert. Discuss your upcoming project and gather some samples to take home (see thumbnails below).

Click thumbnail to view full-size
a. Look at sizes, shapes, textures, & colors.b. If able, pick up and hold to test ease of use. c. This close up zooms in on a paver nub.
a. Look at sizes, shapes, textures, & colors.
a. Look at sizes, shapes, textures, & colors. | Source
b. If able, pick up and hold to test ease of use.
b. If able, pick up and hold to test ease of use. | Source
c. This close up zooms in on a paver nub.
c. This close up zooms in on a paver nub. | Source

Experiment

Do a dry run. Place pieces atop your designated paving site. How do they complement the surroundings? Fiddle around with patterns on the ground and on graph paper (see Pattern Diagram below). Once you decide on your selection(s), contact your go-to person (after all, you're now in this together). Once you know with what you'll build, elect how you'll build (dry or wet method), and you're set.

From this pivotal juncture springboards all else. Your square footage (l x w) calculation, paving unit size(s), and laying method, influence subsequent selections, calculations, and costs. For instance, paver manufacturers calibrate what percentage of different sizes you purchase, based on the pattern you request.

To demonstrate, my dad and I chose paving slabs (see Precast Concrete section) in a modified herringbone, which apportioned 60% (6" x 9") and 40% (6" x 6"). My 162 square foot area segmented into 97.2 square feet (larger slabs) and 64.8 square feet (smaller slabs). The dealer suggested an extra 5-10% error leeway, quoted sub-total paver costs, and added necessary materials, tools, and equipment. This total aligned with my projected budget.

Now, gauge your timetable. When will you be ready to build?

Pattern Diagram

Practice on graph paper (1 square = 1 inch). White = 6" x 6", grey = 6" x 9". Arrows denote diagonals of herringbone pattern. Red dashes mark starting point & one square foot.
Practice on graph paper (1 square = 1 inch). White = 6" x 6", grey = 6" x 9". Arrows denote diagonals of herringbone pattern. Red dashes mark starting point & one square foot. | Source

Precast Concrete

Some paving slabs called pavers are made of precast concrete and readily available in many colors and textures. In years past individuals hand made these pieces in molds, for steppingstones and such. Larger expanses were often decorated with patterns by running brooms across not yet dry concrete. Some folks tossed in aggregate for color and design interest. My grandfather randomly added flagstone slabs to give the concrete around his pool some zip. The point is that results were often varied and sometimes shoddy.

Two advantages of today's pavers are their consistent and interlocking qualities. The consistent part refers to ready made concrete bricks that are uniform, for example, in size and shape. The interlocking part characterizes the adhering nub (see c, under above thumbnails) in each paving unit that together create an intertwined whole space. In essence, these paving slabs become an outside pavement, and in my case, a front terrace.

I chose to work with pavers, because cost, use, and sustainability were other benefits. Being a concrete product put these slabs in the feasible category for my budget. The sizes I selected (approximately 6" x 6" and 6" x 9") were easy to handle. What's more, the dry-install method I followed was less messy (than wet) to manipulate and more green-friendly. We used ep henry pavers.

Laying Design

Starting the pattern at one corner with small & large sizes of concrete blocks, our project was clearly under way, after excavating & back-filling.
Starting the pattern at one corner with small & large sizes of concrete blocks, our project was clearly under way, after excavating & back-filling. | Source

Work in Progress

Taking a picture break on my soon-to-be front terrace, with stacks of pavers to the side.
Taking a picture break on my soon-to-be front terrace, with stacks of pavers to the side. | Source

Sharing Reflections

While envisioning a front terrace end goal, this article focused on patio stones, explained term descriptions, and outlined preparatory steps. Even though the install phase was not detailed (I intend to write another article about that topic.), my dad and I tried to convey that DIY building projects are physically and emotionally satisfying.

We asked lots of questions. Those queries surprisingly corresponded to a derivation of journalism's Six Ws: Why? Where? Who? What? How? When?

Turns out, this Q & A strategy is one way to meet before building objectives. It worked for us, and it could work for you. Happy pavement making!

Sitting Pretty on Our Paver Pavement

We did it! "Tally-ho" from Dad. Before we begin our next project, watch a sneak preview.
We did it! "Tally-ho" from Dad. Before we begin our next project, watch a sneak preview. | Source

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