Paving needn't be restricted to boring grey slabs. Make the most of the latest designs and a few imaginative techniques to create a great looking area for relaxing outdoors.
If you have just moved into a new home or are planning a major garden facelift, spend time getting to know the site before designing the paved areas. For example, which parts of the garden are sheltered from the elements and overlooking properties? Where does the sun fall through the day? Is there a slope?
Planning the patio
The next stage is to draw up a plan of the garden on graph paper, with trees, shrubs, walls and other fixed features shown. You don't have to be too exact but an accurate plan of a large project like a patio is the best way of estimating how much material you need, so it's time well spent.
Paving has come a long way in the last ten years and there are now styles to suit anything from a cottage garden to a formal town lay-out. Remember too that flagstones can be expensive and a hard-wearing lawn or shingle is a cheap way of filling areas of a new site for the short term - you can always replace these areas with more exciting options at a later stage.
Remember to include some sort of paving to storage sheds, even if it is just stepping stones. Otherwise, grass will soon become mud in the wetter months.
Plan for features you may want to add later. So if you are considering a built-in barbecue, pond or planter, leave a space in whole pavers or slabs so you don't have too much upheaval when these are added.
Break up large areas of slabs with straight runs of bricks or leave out random slabs and fill with shingle to add interest.
Before actually starting any work, make sure you check that there are no services, i.e. pipes, cables etc. buried in the area.
Setting out the patio
Mark out the site with pegs and string. The pegs should be driven into the ground so that their tops are at the height of the proposed finished level. By setting a peg in each corner, you can then build up a grid of pegs according to how large the patio is.
The level of the patio at the house wall must be at least 150mm below the damp proof course. This is usually visible as an extra wide line of mortar in the brickwork or, in older houses, you may be able to see the slate used. If your patio is built higher than this, the walls will get damp.
Fall or slope for drainage
The patio will need to have a gentle slope away from the house (1:40 for most circumstances) so that rainwater does not pool on it. For large patios, you should also have a cross fall of 1:80 to improve water run-off. Use a straight timber batten and sprit level resting on the pegs to get the level.
A useful tip here is to work out what the fall should be between the pegs concerned and then place an appropriately sized offcut of wood on top of the peg. When the batten between pegs is level, this offcut has then accounted for the necessary fall.
By measuring down from the top of the pegs, you can establish how much soil to dig away - enough for slab thickness plus the various layers of the base. String lines connecting the pegs will assist with this.