Proper paving brick installation ensures long lasting results
Paving bricks are a terrific way to create hard, durable driveways, pathways and patios. It’s also true that products, tools and techniques have been refined to the point where it’s now possible for a serious do-it-yourselfer to install paving bricks that can easily endure for decades. Professional installation is still an option, of course, but it’s not essential. Either way, few other masonry products can withstand years of brutal, ground-level freeze and thaw cycles without crumbling, and this is one reason why brick paths and patios last so long. The other reason is the small size of each brick. If the earth beneath the installation heaves during winter and spring (and it certainly does here in Canada), pavers take it all in stride. The gaps between each brick lend an inherent flexibility to the overall installation. This prevents cracking of the bricks in a way that no other masonry system can match, though there’s a catch. Paving bricks need to be installed correctly to realize their full potential, and this means doing more than may seem necessary at first glance. If you or your contractor take shortcuts in the foundation, settling and misalignment of the bricks will turn all this great potential into an ugly, labour-intensive mess.
Three elements are necessary for an attractive, durable paver installation.
- First and foremost, you need a solid, mechanically-compacted foundation base.
- On top of this goes a smooth, flat layer of moist bedding sand right underneath the pavers.
- The very best paths also have hidden, plastic side support strips installed along all pathway edges, including curves.
Brick foot paths age gracefully on top of a 6-inch-deep layer of fine, mechanically compacted crushed stone. For a driveway, or a patio that will see some vehicle traffic, you’ll need at least a 12-inch-deep compacted layer because of the extra weight involved. If your pathway ends at a driveway, consider increasing the depth of its foundation in that area. You never know when someone will drive over the end of a footpath by mistake.
The best foundation material varies depending on where you live. In my region, limestone screenings are plentiful and cheap, so that’s what I use. This is a crushed stone product where the largest particle’s no bigger than about a quarter-inch across. Screenings also include very fine limestone dust in the mix. This ensures a rock-solid result by encouraging tight compaction. Crushed granite or sandstone might make more sense where you live, depending on the geology of the area. Coarse, pit-run sand works, too. Whatever you use, the purpose of the compacted base layer is not to get down below the frost line in cold climates and prevent heaving. It would take at least a 3- or 4-foot-deep trench for that, and it’s not necessary. The real role of the foundation layer is to prevent settling and shifting of the bricks, and that’s why it must be mechanically compacted. This condition is non-negotiable. Don’t even think about installing pavers without using a powered compactor. Settling will occur for sure on any kind of fresh, uncompacted fill.
Plastic support edging isn’t essential for a brick pathway, but it does offer two big benefits. Besides supporting the outer bricks invisibly after backfilling, edging also makes it very easy to accurately smooth the bedding sand evenly before setting the pavers in place. This is essential for a flat pathway that’s free of undulations. Some people install pavers without edging, but the benefits are so great and the cost so low, there’s no reason to omit them.