Hot Topics: Grading Yard for Patio Pavers

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Original Post: Grading Backyard for Patio Pavers

elvis156 - Member

I am going to be laying patio pavers and in so doing am going to need to grade my backyard as it is uneven. I'll need to take 4-5" of dirt from a 20 sq. area or so.....

Dumb question but how can I go about doing this other than a shovel and "scraping" away dirt or shoveling unevenly? I'm not imagining being able to dig out a couple inches of dirt and still maintain a smooth base.

All this is hinging on the fact that I can purchase a level in order to accurately measure how much to excavate.

Any thoughts or input is very much appreciated!

gsr - Member

Are you talking about a 20 sq ft area i.e. a 4 foot x 5 foot patio or are you thinking a 20x20ft patio?

If it is the smaller option your cheapest bet is a shovel and a long level - find the low spot and the high spot to determine how much you'll need to dig out. It' doesn't have to be perfect but should be close - the gravel & sand base will cover up minor unevenness.

If you are talking 20x20, I'd get a bobcat or some friends. you can use a straight board to help extend the reach of your level.

I don't think it is worth buying a laser level for one project like that - The $20-40 models won't work well outside or for your purpose. Just buy a good 3-5' hand level.

troyers - Visiting Guest

As an archaeologist, I've had to dig plenty of square holes that had to be level. We use a line level for best results. Simply put a stake in one corner of the area to be leveled..attach a cord to the stake thats long enough to reach the farthest extent of the area..slide on the line level. One person holds the end of the cord so the line level shows level..the other can measure the depths along the length of the cord and make sure all the measurements are the same. This works well for larger areas that a regular level can't span. We used this method also for building up an area to set a swimming pool.

By the way, you can get a line level for about $3-$5...make sure you get a metal one, not a plastic as the plastic tends to bend on the hooked ends.

larchy - Member

You don't even need to worry about the dirt being smooth. trust me on that one. I've installed many hardscaping jobs the past few years. what you have to do is a little math. Pavers are generally about 3" thick. after that, you generally want to put down 1" of sand, and beneath that is a good 5" of compacted clean fill.

So, dig down about 9 inches from where you want the top to be. don't worry about how level the soil is. you should be more concerned about leveling out the clean fill. for this, a rake works exceptionally. Make sure to use a tamper to compact the stone. then you'll apply your layer of sand. this is where the level is MOST important.

If this is wrong, you'll to pull a section up and add more. put down two metal poles on either side, and then place a 2X4 on top to smooth the sand out. As long as you get the metal pipes level, your sand will be level. After that, its the fun part! good luck, and definitely get some buddys to help ya dig?

beneselaine - Member

pavers in cold winter climates/Minnesota

Has anyone installed pavers in climates that freeze in the winter. I heard once that you need to put some type of foam insulation in between the sand and the pavers? ANy ideas. I am planning to do a 20X 20' paver patio and "do it myself"...or do I just go ahead with black dirt leveled with a layer of sand and then put pavers on and lay a paver sand over it to feed into the pavers.

Concretemasonry - Member

grading back yard for patio pavers

Absolutely no insulation under patio unless you live north of the arctic circle.

Put dow 4" to 6" of garavel and compact it.

Put down a 1" sand setting bed and level it.

Set the interlocking pavers close together.

Install an edge retainer.

Spread fine sand over the pavers and vibrate it into the joints with a plate vibrator (rentable).

Sweep clean.

You can get instructions on-line or from you paver stone supplier. If he does not have instructions, you may be buying junk from a supplier that should not be selling pavers.

You have some good paver suppliers locally if you are buying real pavers and not just stepping stones (10x10 or larger).

beneselaine - Member

Thanks a lot--information is great. I think that was the final amount of info that I needed to go ahead and start my project. Except for the rain. Need that to stop first. Appreciate your knowledge and experience!

kgbamb - Member

Digging Elvis

Depending on your soil type and the size of your project a sod cutter and rototiller can help you excavate for your project. A lot cheaper than a bobcat. Also, make sure there are no buried electrical lines or other utilities. You should only be excavating 9" or so but you never know. Also, when you excavate my recommendation would be to excavate one foot beyond your intended boundary all the way around(if possible). This leaves you room to work and make adjustments if necessary.

I DIY'd an 9X9 patio and a walkway last fall and was very happy with the finished job. As far as a level goes an 8' long 2X4 should suffice. Check, re-check, and re-check your measurements as far as excavation, paver base, and sand goes. Everyone else's advice so far given I would echo. Also give thought to electrical near, around, or underneath your patio and to check for any necessary permits.

kgbamb - Member

Digging Elvis

One more thing. If your intended patio is near your home or garage make sure it has a slight grade or slope away from those structures. I believe 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch per ten feet is acceptable, perhaps someone else could weigh in on that. You can achieve that with the compacted paver base using stakes and a line level.

beneselaine - Member

Thanks for the additonal info. every bit helps. love it when everyone has great knowledge! thanks a bunch!

Holger Ridder - Member

You're probably long finished with this job, but...

If you have a base of about 5"gravel topped with stone dust, your stones won't come up. The pavers lift because there's water underneath. During the winter, snow melts and the water goes underground. When it freezes, the trapped water pushes the pavers up. The gravel provides the proper drainage so this doesn't happen.