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How to Begin Planning A Patio

Nov 25, 2007
The patio slab should be an integral part of the over-all plan for house and grounds. Many things affect decisions concerning size, shape and placement. How important is privacy? (Do you occasionally want to use the patio for sunbathing?) How about prevailing winds? A breeze constantly blowing across your favorite outdoor lounging chair can be very annoying. How about your gardening interests? Do you want a picture-book effect with borders of colorful annuals, or do you want to spend more time just sitting?

Imagine the patio as outdoor living space, not just as a place where you clean mud off your shoes or as a convenience area for haphazard deposits of bicycles, toys, garden tools and the family cat. Most patios today - if governing factors are favorable - are planned as extensions of a living room or family room with sliding glass doors between. This sort of arrangement provides a physical connection so that even when you are indoors you can enjoy the patio; just a few steps put you in one place or the other.

A very small patio slab is seldom satisfactory. Plan one of adequate size even if the project must be completed over a longer period of time. The important thing is to arrive at a good design by making simple sketches on paper and work toward it in small steps, if necessary. Sooner than you would expect, the job that looked so big will actually be accomplished, and you'll take a lot more pride in the results.

Why Poured Concrete?

The most common type of patio construction is poured concrete. This doesn't mean that you can't use brick, nags, or even soil-cement or loose aggregates. But concrete is a pretty good step-at-a-time material for a patio slab because the slab is usually in the form of grids.

To make the grids, a pattern of headers is set down and, consequently, you don't have to pour more concrete at one time than one of the grid shapes will take. If the grids are square - 3 or 4 ft. - two to three good wheelbarrows of concrete will fill each, and this is not too much for any amateur concrete man to handle.

Concrete is durable, fluid enough so that it can be cast in curves, flexible in surface texture and coloring. If you want a smooth patio for dancing, a steel trowel finish is called for. A surface to provide traction for footing? Simply finish the concrete with a wood float. Something along decorator lines? Washing with a strong stream of water from a hose just before the concrete sets will expose the aggregates. You can get flagstone effects with a grooving tool or striated effects with a broom.

Hand-mixing can be avoided by ordering a load of ready-mix but be sure to have help on hand when the truck arrives. If you wish, skip the concrete end of the job entirely; you'll still save about 50 per cent by doing the layout and putting in forms. Often, you can save money by working as a helper when you call in a professional mason to do the pouring and finishing.

Grid-pattern headers are usually 2x4s, either s4s (lumber that has been surfaced on four sides) or special lumber which has been planed on one edge only. Since that finished edge will be the only exposed one, the rough surface on the other three sides doesn't matter. Grid lumber should be fairly good stock; straight, sound, stud-like pieces will be easier to install.

Sometimes the headers are sliced in half lengthwise to get two 2x2s out of each 2x4. The 2x2s are set out just as if they were full size (the concrete thickness must still be the minimum 4 in.).

There is a saving in material when 2x2s are used, but small size stock can create problems unless the pieces are amply studded with galvanized nails to keep them from popping up after the pour has hardened a while and shrunk some. The amateur may find that the convenience of working with full-size stock more than makes up for the saving in lumber.

Now it is time to start making your patio!
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