How to lay a patio – a step-by-step guide to building a patio

Learn how to lay a patio. Follow our step-by-step guide for everything you need to know about building a patio for your home

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

Knowing how to lay a patio needn't mean you have to do it yourself, but it will give you an understanding of the process, which is important when you are considering a new look for your outdoor space. 

And if you're in the process of rethinking your backyard landscaping, a patio could provide the ideal visual centerpiece. This exterior 'room' often adjoins our main home, leading off from the kitchen to create an informal dining/entertaining area.

There is 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 to lay a patio

How to lay a patio: 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. 

You will need:

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

1. Create a plan of the patio on paper

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

2. Lay patio slabs in a 'dry run' first

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 the patio with pegs

How to lay a patio: how to build a patio

Photography/Katharine Pooley

(Image credit: Katharine Pooley)

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 patio's foundations

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 are 25mm deep, 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. Lay the patio's base

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

5. Lay the patio 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. Tie 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,' says designer Katharine Pooley. 'A simple orb or sphere in an urban environment works well especially when contrasted with soft leafy planting.'  

See: Patio planting ideas – add life to your outdoor space with plants

How much does it cost to build a patio?

How to lay a patio: how to build a patio

(Image credit: Garden Club London)

'The cost of a patio build can come in at anywhere between $7.5K/£6K and $32K/£25K, depending on the size and scope of project, with a 60/40 split between labor 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.'

See: Patio cover ideas – to create shelter, shade and privacy in the garden

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 $38-$90 (£30-£70) per m2).