For over 25 years I have been assisting homeowners and contractors with design & installation of brick pavers and modular retaining walls. Whether you are installing a brick paver patio, walkway, driveway, planter, or steps, a good guided plan is needed to insure a successful paver installation that is not only aesthetically pleasing but economical.
The PLANNING stage for a interlocking brick paver or modular retaining wall installation will be your easiest step in terms of labor, but probably the most important step. A poor plan of designing, ordering, or installing your brick paver project can lead to alot of frustration and unneccessay redo or repair.
For simplicity we will discuss a game plan for planning out the installation of a paver patio. We will also assume we do not need any steps to transition down. Start by taking measurements of the area that you want to install your brick paver patio and transfer the dimensions of the brick patio area onto some graph paper (boxes). I like to use 1 box = 1 sq.ft. (or linear foot) if the dimensions will fit on one sheet. If not, try making 1 box = 4 sq.ft ( or 2 linear feet). If your paver patio will have a curved design, use the garden hose to layout on the grass the shape & size that you are looking for. If you already have patio furniture, grill, or chiminea, place them in the patio area you mapped out to make sure you have enough room to move around comfortably. Take several reference measurements and transfer the points onto the graph paper.
Now, your first important piece of information needs to be calculated ... SQUARE FEET! This number is easily calculated by WIDTH X LENGTH = SQUARE FEET. When calculating FACE FEET for retaining walls, replace the WIDTH with HEIGHT in the equation above. By transfering your design to the graph paper, you can easily count the boxes to determine the square feet of your pavers patio, especially in a curved design. This square foot number of your brick paver installation will be the crucial information used for ordering your brick pavers, base materials, and other paver products.
The next important piece of information that you will need to know is the ...LEVEL of the EXISTING GRADE! This the level of the land in the area that you will be installing your brick paver patio. This information is very important for ordering your base materials and also important for how deep you need to dig down to install your paver base. We use a surveyors level to perform our brick paver installations but most homeowners do not need to rent one to obtain this information. Get a spool of string, a few small stakes, and line level bubble. Install a stake at the house and tie the string at the level you want your patio pavers at the house. Install another stake at the farthest point out of your patio. Pull the string from the stake at the house and wrap around the new stake while using the line level bubble on the string. Pull the string tight and wrap around the outside stake so the bubble shows level. Mark this spot on the outside stake with a marker and remove the string if you like. In the brick paver industry we will use a rule of thumb for slope of 1 inch per 10ft length. This is just a reference and you can use any slope as long as it is a "positive pitch" away from the home. The more slope you have the better but remember you do not want to create a brick paver patio that is a ramp or your furniture is leaning. 1 inch per 10ft lengths is not that noticeable to the naked eye and seems to work quite well in drainage. For our example paver patio, we will say the outside stake (patio edge) is 20ft out from the house stake. So, we will make a second mark (another color) on the outside stake 2 inches (1" per 10ft) down from the mark that was level. This will represent the height of our patio out in the yard. This is an important reference point so we can see how high our paver patio will be out in the yard. You will be able to determine whether you can just landscape up to the brick pavers or whether you will need a retaining wall to retain the patio.
The last piece of important information will come from re installing the string line from the house stake and wrapping the string around the outside stake where the outside paver patio height was marked with the slope. Now you can measure down @9-10" from this string line to reach the bottom of your digging for installing the proper paver base materials. This will answer one of the most frequently asked questions from homeowners, "How far do I dig down?".
We will go into more detail about prepping for your paver patio in Step 2 but this PLANNING stage will set the "ground work" for a better brick paver patio installation. This is the stage to mentally obsess about the details before you begin to stress your muscles with labor intensive steps, so enjoy!