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7 Different Ways to Floor a Patio

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Working as a professional interior designer for many decades, I've been involved in design-and-build residential building projects.

There are different patio flooring styles created with diverse materials and installed using varying outdoor flooring techniques. Before deciding on the type of floor you will like for your patio, you must have a clear view of the theme and style you want for your outdoor room.

The patio design is what usually determines the flooring style and materials required but there are a few things to consider. Whatever the design may be, the patio flooring must be strong, durable, and aesthetically pleasing.

Outdoor flooring idea using natural stone tiles

Outdoor flooring idea using natural stone tiles

Here are a few things to take cognisance of before final decisions. Your choice:

  • Must be a non-skid flooring finish and it shouldn’t have a glare. Being outdoor floorings, the floor must have some texture and appear comforting, unlike that hard and cold look of glazed granite and marble.
  • Must be in harmony with the surrounding colours and materials used in the interior space that links with the patio and the garden. Tones and textures must complement the garden’s foliage.
  • Must be easy to clean and maintain. Patios are outdoor leisure rooms so when it rains or snows you will get gritty sand, slush, or mud all over the floor.
  • Must be weather-resistant. The best patio floors have weather-resistant paving to avoid unsightly buckling or cracking in cold weather and must not absorb heat in the hot summer months. Outdoor flooring must not be uncomfortable to walk on, with bare feet.

Patio paving demands a good foundation and ample drainage because these two factors are what will determine any patio floor’s lifespan.

Top Materials Used for Flooring Patios

Here are some of the most sought outdoor flooring materials that are popular among homeowners, interior designers, and landscape designers. Each material has its own characteristic feel, texture, colour mix, pattern, size, and shape.

  1. Concrete (wet or dry)
  2. Burnt bricks
  3. Wood rounds and blocks
  4. Wood decks
  5. Quarry tiles
  6. Flagstones (finely textured rocks)
  7. Loose aggregate (gravel, pebbles, wood chips, red rock)

Concrete Floor Paving

Flooring with concrete paving is for those who desire a floor that is hard-wearing, long-lasting and offers permanence. But if you plan to DIY your patio floor, paving it with concrete is hard work and is best left to the professionals.

Concrete paving which can be purchased in dry or wet ready-mix forms can be used stylishly in many ways and is more versatile than burnt-brick flooring. Paving with wet or dry mix can be:

  • Lightly textured
  • Wire-brushed
  • Stamped
  • Washed to expose aggregate
  • A 'pock' effect using rock salt for seeding
  • Surfaced with smooth pebbles
  • Patterned using moulds
  • Painted, stained, or tinted
  • Swirled
  • Scored

Disadvantages of concrete paving? If it is not professionally made, it will soon buckle and crack, especially in the frigid winter regions. If concrete paved patios are painted, they may become slippery when wet. Because painting fades off with time, it will need a fresh coat of paint often, especially in high traffic areas.

Concrete patio paving with a band of blue coloured concrete.

Concrete patio paving with a band of blue coloured concrete.

Brick Flooring

Patio flooring using pre-formed bricks is a popular choice of builders. Though traditionally, brick colours were majorly red and reddish-brown, today, you will find colours that range from pale and buff to bronze, gun-metal black, and a combination of tones.

Bricks provide a non-glare surface, blends beautifully with most architectural styles and harmonizes well with almost any garden.

There are hundreds of colour combinations, texture, and shapes and today's builder is open to a vast choice. Brick floorings create a variety of moods like the simple and casual, the traditional, to the theatrical, and basic patterns (or bonds) include herringbone, Flemish, jack-on-jack, basket weave, English bond, and running bond.

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Red brick patio flooring.

Red brick patio flooring.

Wood Rounds and Blocks

Flooring with wood rounds or blocks is an unusual but pleasant choice that introduces beautiful wood tones and texture and adds something from the forest into outdoor rooms and patios. This flooring style blends well with the exterior, especially the garden.

Creations can be limitless because there are several designs that can be achieved with natural or glazed hardwood. They can be installed as:

  • Round hardwood slabs set as a random pattern
  • Square blocks of natural wood that can be set in a brick-laying fashion
  • Railroad ties - set in combination with other floor paving materials

Choosing the right type of hardwood is crucial. For instance, wood rounds or blocks made from cedar and redwood will have to be replaced eventually because their open-grain tends to soak up water from the sand-bed flooring foundation. This causes wood-rot and insect infestation after just a few years.

Wood as an outdoor flooring, though beautiful, is sensitive to weather and so is best used in shaded areas of the patio. If not, they will eventually crack and warp in intensely sunny spots or freeze and split in heavy winter frosts.

The best wood rounds and blocks for flooring are railroad ties. Because they are pre-treated and seasoned (against rot and insect damage), they can endure the weather changes for many years.

Wood Rounds (Blocks) Patio Flooring

Wood Rounds (Blocks) Patio Flooring

Wood Decks

Patio flooring wood-deck fashion is a great alternative. It is resilient underfoot, durable, lightweight, and easy to install even for a DIY patio builder.

Wood decks patio floors don't retain heat the way paved floors do, and because they are readily available in a variety of grades, species, and engineered woods (even come pre-cut and pre-assembled), they will fit easily into any budget and design concepts.

This outdoor flooring can be left in its natural state – unfinished. It weathers naturally and pleasantly over time. They can also be bleached, painted, oiled or stained to enhance all other elements of a patio design.

Wood decks are not maintenance free. They require periodic checks for mildew, fungus, rust stains from nails and even occasional splinters and unlike most patio flooring materials, is vulnerable to termites and fire.

Deck style flooring weathers naturally and pleasantly over time and can be bleached, painted, oiled or stained to enhance all other elements of a patio design.

Deck style flooring weathers naturally and pleasantly over time and can be bleached, painted, oiled or stained to enhance all other elements of a patio design.

Quarry Tiles

Quarry tiles are hard and impervious and are great as patio paving tiles. Made in similar ways as fired bricks but much harder, they give a floor a smooth, casual, and elegant look with its warm earthy colours that blend beautifully with flowers and foliage.

Quarry tiles are easy to clean, resist scratches and repel stains, making them a perfect choice for patio flooring. They can withstand heavy foot traffic and will not wear over time.

Quarry tiles are best laid on a bed of mortar over level, firm ground. They can also be set on an existing concrete surface or on a bed of sand.

Flagstone Patio Pavers

Flagstones may be one of the most expensive outdoor flooring materials on the market, but they have an unmatched permanence if laid professionally. They are composed of slabs of sandstone or limestone, depending on the region or locality.

Flagstone paving comes in lovely soft colours like yellow, buff, grey and brownish red which brings warmth into a patio. Their irregular shapes and sculptured looks add pattern and texture to the whole outdoor theme.

This material, however, calls for installation by an expert because it takes skill to achieve proper matching, cutting and aligning of each piece of slab.

The irregular surfaces may be displeasing to some homeowners because it affects the balance of furniture and wheeling chairs on the floor. Additionally, some types of flagstone patio floors absorb grease, food, drinks like wine, and paint stains, so it's good to be certain of their quality before purchases are made.

The irregular shapes and sculptured looks of flagstone slabs add pattern and texture to the whole outdoor theme of this patio.

The irregular shapes and sculptured looks of flagstone slabs add pattern and texture to the whole outdoor theme of this patio.

Further Reading:

Types of Bamboo Wood Floors (Including Maintenance Tips)

Loose Aggregate Patio Flooring

Loose aggregate is made up of construction materials that are best suited as temporary floors or as enhancements to existing patio flooring. It is good to use in children play area, the service yard, pathways or potting sheds.

Examples of aggregate flooring materials include:

  • Wood chips - By-products of timber mills. They are springy underfoot, soft, inexpensive and easy to apply. They are best confined within a shaped grid with headers and are great as protective surfaces under slides and swings in play areas.
  • Redrock - A kind of rocky clay material (referred to by several names, depending on the region), that compacts well when dampened and rolled. It is like decayed granite which is more expensive and can be used on its own or as a foundation for other patio flooring materials. It, however, will wear out on the surface with time, and consequently, dissolve into dust.
  • Crushed rock – Also known as gravel, crushed rock provides an excellent and affordable temporary surface which can later serve as a foundation for harder flooring material. It is best used in areas of low traffic because it is difficult to walk on without some discomfort.
  • Smooth pebbles - Beautiful warm toned stones that blend well with other materials. Smooth pebbles make a great flooring surface for stepping stones and just as in gravel, is best used where there is minimal traffic. A common disadvantage is that smooth pebbles and crushed rock tends to have unsightly weeds growing out through them. A good way to curb this is by having a layer of thick plastic sheets placed on the ground before applying the pebbles or granite stones.
Patio with loose gravel flooring - Gravel and smooth pebbles are popular outdoor flooring materials.

Patio with loose gravel flooring - Gravel and smooth pebbles are popular outdoor flooring materials.

Patio Flooring? You Can Do-It-Yourself

For simple patio floor upgrades mentioned above, if you are a hands-on person, you can probably do-it-yourself without employing the services of an expensive professional. It is likely you can pave the floor by yourself or with the help of, say, a partner, and though it may take a couple of weekends to finish to your satisfaction, a couple of the most arduous ones, it's a task that's worth embarking on.

For medium to large-sized patios, it is a good idea to first put your ideas on paper. All you'll require is a simple sketch which you can draw by hand on plain or better still, on graph paper. And for those who are proficient in using home design software, you can produce a quick sketch of the area in less than 15 minutes.

The drawings must be dimensioned and must indicate positions of the following:

  • Where the house adjoins the patio
  • Window and wall positions where applicable
  • Fence or borders
  • Manhole covers (if any)
  • Power supply points
  • The position of existing trees, plants, and shrubs

Tools You Need For The Task

These are the most important tools and implements you will need (depending on choice) to carry out your patio's flooring task.

  • Spirit level (plumb)
  • Cement
  • Hosepipe
  • Builder's square
  • Bucket
  • Club hammer
  • Spade
  • Sponge
  • Wheelbarrow
  • String line
  • Screeding float
  • Pointing trowel

If you plan to do-it-yourself single-handedly, it is advisable to use a patio flooring material that you can apply or install with relative ease without the need for expensive specialized tools or equipment.

How to Prepare the Patio Floor to Receive Paving Material

  • The patio floor must be a minimum of 150cm (6") below the damp proof course of the house.
  • Allow for a gradual slope away from the house, to ensure rainwater drains off by allowing a minimum of 25mm (1") drop in every 150cm (6”).
  • Alternatively, install a drainage channel.
  • Transfer your sketch to the ground level with wooden pegs and use a builder's square and a roll of string to create boundaries and construction line.
  • Mark bold lines on the wooden pegs to indicate the finished levels of hardcore, mortar bed, and the finished surface of the patio flooring.

It is important you allow for a gradual slope away from the house when inserting wooden pegs and make sure the marks for the finished patio surface is at the same level with any paving existing on the premises, including all manhole covers.

Foundation and Setting

  1. If there is any turf, shrubs, plants, or old paving, remove them then dig down to a depth of about 15cm (6") for the foundation. If you want a stronger solid base, depending on the type of flooring you choose, add a layer of hardcore to a depth of roughly 5cm to 8cm over the area of the patio. Distribute the hardcore evenly with a rake while ensuring you even-out all bumps.
  2. Compress the hardcore. Compressing manually is a chore so if you wish to make the work faster, hire a powered wacker-plate to level and compress the hardcore for a good solid base.
  3. Pour a layer of bedding mortar over the compacted hardcore base. Depending on your choice of patio flooring material, for instance, paving slabs or stone floors, use premixed mortar.
  4. Alternatively, you can prepare and mix the required mortar yourself using the right ratio (3:1:1 which is 3 shovels of sharp sand, 1 shovel of soft sand, and 1 shovel of cement). This is messy and requires some hard work if you are not a DIY expert.
  5. Mix the bedding mortar on a wide plastic sheet and form a centre in the mix. Add water sparingly, turning and mixing several times until you get a lump-free mix.

Note: Your foundation type will always depend on the kind of flooring you wish to achieve.

Before laying or setting the slabs, it is advisable to check with a builder's square that the string guiding lines are square to the house if they are not, they must be adjusted until they are.

  1. Pour enough mortar to the required thickness and set one complete row of paving slabs. Lay down the first slab against the house beginning at the corner. Check that it aligns with the string guideline because it is imperative that the first slab is accurately positioned. Tap it gently to the correct level using a club hammer and a block of wood to protect the slab.
  2. Check that the slab aligns with the spirit level, allowing for the slope away from the house. Continue with subsequent slabs until all the patio paving slabs are laid down.
  3. Carry out a final check to make sure all the set slabs are level.

Pointing (filling the gaps between the slabs with mortar) will stop the slabs from slight shifts and will prevent weeds from sprouting through the gaps. However, if your plan is to grow grass between wider gaps, you may skip this part.

  1. Once all your patio slabs have been laid, leave the mortar to dry for a minimum of 24 hours before filling the open gaps with semi-dry mortar made up of 4 parts of sharp sand to 1part cement (4:1). Use while it is still damp to avoid shrinkage after drying out.
  2. To know if the mix is right, test it by squeezing a handful. If it stays as a firm wet ball when you open your hand it must not crumble or ooze water but if it crumbles, then it is too dry and need more water. If it oozes water, then it is too wet and will need more sand and cement.
  3. Fill the gaps with the mix using the edge of a trowel and immediately brush off any surplus with a semi-stiff brush.
  4. After pointing, clean the finished floor with clean water and a damp sponge to remove all traces of the mortar mix.
  5. It will take at least 24 hours to dry properly so don't walk on the finished patio flooring within this waiting period because foot pressure may distort the finished floor.
  6. You can seal the flooring to prevent water seepage or fading. Check the manufacturers' recommendations before using a sealant because applying sealants to some outdoor flooring materials may affect the material's colour.

It will take at least 24 hours to dry properly so don't walk on the finished patio flooring within this waiting period because foot pressure may distort the finished floor.

Tips - If you are flooring your patio in the summer, it is important to ensure the mortar doesn't dry out too quickly. If it does, the pointing mortar can crack or crumble, and if you floored the patio during the colder months, ensure you protect the drying mortar from rain or frost by covering the entire surface with a polyethene sheeting when completed.

Be Creative with Patio Paving

Whichever variation of patio flooring you choose to lay, there are limitless ways creative touches can be applied to its installation. You can create yours for a unique style because there is no hard and fast rule about an outdoor floor design.

There are also ways to combine any of the materials for great effects especially for patios that are large, or when there are two or more patios on different levels linking to each other.

A comprehensive DIY guide to building patios, walkways, and outdoor steps will help you tremendously if you plan to build your patio from scratch. The guide includes sections with extensive design concepts and materials choices that may inspire and help you make a quicker decision on what to do and how to plan towards it.

© 2011 viryabo

Comments Are Welcome

Anita Hasch from Port Elizabeth on November 11, 2016:

I enjoyed your hub on patio floors.

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