How to build a patio – a step-by-step guide to laying a garden patio

Follow our simple step-by-step guide to laying a patio. It is easy when you know how

how to build a patio
Photography/Alicia Taylor
(Image credit: Future)

Our indoor spaces are increasingly being complemented by well-designed outdoor spaces, extending the liveable footprint of our homes. 

If you're in the process of rethinking your garden landscaping, a patio could provide the ideal visual centrepiece. 

This exterior 'room' often adjoins our main home, leading off from the kitchen to create an informal dining/entertaining area.

There are a wealth of clever patio ideas to suit every taste and budget, and having a smaller garden needn't limit the scope of your ambitions for this space.

Once you've decided that a patio is the right choice for you, it's time to move on to the key considerations for the build itself, which can broadly be summed up in three words — planning, preparation and paving.

We've weaved in answers to each of these stages in our easy-to-follow how to build a patio guide, giving you the confidence to start turning your patio vision into reality.

How much does it cost to build a patio?

how to build a garden patio

Photography/Garden Club London

(Image credit: Garden Club London)

'The cost of a patio build can come in at anywhere between £6k ($7.5k) and £25k ($32k), depending on size and scope of project, with a 60/40 split between labour and materials / waste removal,' says Tony Woods, Design Director at Garden Club London.

'Much of the work is in the preparation, and correct levels and foundations are absolutely key to the longevity of the surfacing.'

He goes to recommend that if homeowners are keen to make savings on their overall build, it should be on product rather than preparation (good quality paving can range from £30-£70 ($38-$90) per m2).

What materials do you need to build a patio?

How to build a patio

Photography/Katharine Pooley

(Image credit: Katharine Pooley)

To build your patio you'll need the following main materials:

  • Hardcore (a granular sub-base that is designed to prevent your patio from sinking)
  • Bedding mortar
  • Cement
  • Building sand
  • Paving slabs

And when it comes to the last, and arguably, the most important item on the list, aesthetics are all important. 

'Stone works beautifully for both urban and country settings,' says global interior designer Katharine Pooley. 'Even in a small patio or terrace large slab limestone looks fabulous, classically elegant and completely timeless. Portland stone is a particular favorite of mine as it is light in tone but has a touch of warmth.'

How do you lay a patio? Step-by-step guide

how to build a patio

Photography/Davide Lovatti

(Image credit: Future)

Laying a patio requires both precision and patience, and each of the below steps will need to be completed in turn in order to achieve a professional finish. 

1. Plan on paper

Use graph paper to create a to-scale (1cm = 50cm) plan of your patio. When you have dimensions in m2, you can order the requisite number of paving slabs for your patio project.

A note on planning permission: While there are no restrictions for covering areas of land around your home with hard surfaces, at or near, ground level, you may need to put in a planning application where embanking or terracing are needed to support the hard surface.

2. Have a 'dry run' 

For more complex paving patterns it may be helpful to dry lay your slabs out first to check that everything fits together seamlessly.

3. Plot out your patio

Use wooden setting out pegs, a tape measure and builders string to mark out the area where you intend to build your patio, checking corners with a builders square. If placing the patio next to your home, the surface should be 150mm below the damp proof course, and you'll need to allow for a slight slope on one side to facilitate water drainage.

4. Prepare the foundation

To create a base for your patio you'll need remove any existing turf and plants and dig down to a depth that's the total of the following:

So if your paving slabs were 25mm, as an example, you'd have a depth of 155mm.

Top tip: Paving suppliers should have details of the recommended base size, and this may vary from the above, so it's always worth asking.

4. Build the base

Use a rake to evenly distribute your hardcore, before using a hired wacker plate to compact it.

5. Lay the paving slabs 

Place a section of wet bedding mortar roughly the size of your slab in the top left hand corner of your plot, place the slab directly onto it and check with a spirit level. Tap it into place with a rubber mallet if the level needs to be adjusted. Leave a gap of 1cm — you can buy leave-in-place paving spacers for added reassurance if needed — between each slab, repeat the above process, this time checking levels against the slab next to it and directly below it (once you reach that stage).

6. Point the patio

A sand and cement mixture is used to 'point' the patio, i.e. filling in the gaps between paving slabs, using a 4:1 ratio (four parts sand to one part cement). You'll need to add in a very small amount of water to the mixture to make it slightly damp. Press the mixture into the gaps using a pointing trowel. Brush away any excess once finished and sponge down paving slabs to remove any dirt or debris. Wait a minimum of 24 hours before moving onto the next step.

7. Tying everything together

This is the point where you can get creative and start planning out where you'll put your patio furniture and accessories.

'Consider adding touches of metal as a final flourish. Variegated copper planters are a fabulous addition or I love to add a metal sculpture,' adds Katharine. 'A simple orb or sphere in an urban environment works well especially when contrasted with soft leafy planting.'  

Finally, if you're unsure about tackling a patio build alone, you can find local, accredited garden designers by searching the database of organisations such the British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) or the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL).