Any day the ground is not frozen is a good day to start a project that will warm you up now and make your back yard a hot spot this summer - a patio.
There's more than one way to lay one, and some area experts can tell you how. Some will even show you.
As a first step, Scott Brewster, a sales associate at Lowe's, recommends a walk through the block section at a home improvement store to determine how you'd like your patio to look.
"There are different types of blocks," he said. "We call these pavers or stepping stones. We have odd-shaped. We have square-shaped ones. Some of them have patterns in them. Some of them are plain. We also have thin bricks you can make patios out of."
Most stores have displays that show how the patio surface will appear when you're finished.
After you decide on the type of paver you want, you need to decide the size and shape of your patio in square feet. Most tile centers have associates and brochures to help you determine how many of each of your chosen pavers you'll need.
Mr. Brewster estimated the cost for a 10-by-10-foot patio, using 12-inch red brick square, at $177: $135 for the pavers and $42 for the sand.
Mr. Brewster and Patti Lee, the department head of The Home Depot's outside garden, said a stone or brick patio where grass now grows requires only a little planning, a few tools and some digging, leveling, tamping down, sand applying, smoothing, paver laying, sweeping and sprinkling.
OK, so it does involve work and some expense, but it's well worth it, according to Mrs. Lee.
She recommends measuring off your patio area using stakes and string to get the sides good and straight. First, you may want to build a wooden frame the size of the area, using redwood or treated lumber. The frame may be placed inside the patio area and staked on the outside to stabilize it. Aluminum edging also can do the job.
After measuring the depth of the pavers you'll use and deciding how deep you need to go, start digging out the sod with a flat-blade shovel.
"If your pavers are 2 inches deep, and you want them to be level with the surface, then you dig down three inches, maybe four inches deep," Mrs. Lee said. "You're going to make it a level surface across it."
Mr. Brewster said digging down to the proper depth is important because it makes it easy to edge around the patio later. It also keeps you from tearing up your lawn mower.
After you've cleared and leveled the site, you might want to put down a weed block to keep grass from growing between the pavers.
Next, add paver sand, which you rake and level in the excavated site. For a 10-by-10-foot patio, you will need 90 pounds of sand for a 1-inch-thick base and 10 pounds of sand for the joints.
"Then you drag a two-by-four across it to level it out all the way across," Mrs. Lee said. "That's going to get you a good level surface.
"Then you start laying the pavers from a corner. Kind of shuffle them down in there a little bit. They should be level with the ground."
Do not walk on or drop or drag stones in the sand base.
"Next, you're going to put sand down in between the joints," she said. "And that sand, once you get it packed down in there, will not move.
"The sand becomes your base. It also holds the pavers. That's why you've got to get you a good, firm base on there. Without the sand, they will start to shift."
After all the pavers are in, tamp them down with a tool called a tamper. Mr. Brewster recommends using a rubber mallet.
"And that's probably the hardest part right there, getting them laid in there and laid in there level, because when you're done, you don't want them rolling over," he said.
Put sand on top of the pavers, get a broom and start sweeping.
"You sweep it back and forth," Mrs. Lee said. "Work that sand all up in the edges. After you think you've got it all down in there, take a water hose and sprinkle it. That sprinkling packs it into the grooves and crevices. It will take several applications to work the sand down in there. And basically, once that's done, it forms like the concrete. It's solid."
Mr. Brewster said that if your patio is on a steep slope, he recommends using drainage rock and heavier paver base instead of leveling sand because it has larger granules and is less likely to wash away.
"But it's also harder to get level, compared to leveling sand," he said.
Also, if you have a really wet area, put some pipes in the base to help it drain. If you were building your patio up North, you would need a thicker base, he said.
Another way of laying a patio or walk calls for a rock base and grout between the joints, but Winston Morris, the warehouse manager at the Tile Center on Reynolds Street, recommends pouring a concrete slab first.
"If you're doing thick brick on sand, you can do that," he said. "Get it leveled out, then tamp it down, that's fine. But on a half-an-inch (paver) like we sell mostly, you've got to do a slab. Pour a concrete slab and let it cure out.
"Then you take thin-set (cement), trowel it on, set your tiles and back yourself off," Mr. Morris said. "You let it dry for 24 hours, then you come back and do your grouting. That's the best way to do it.
"You don't have cracking if you put it on a slab because ground is going to get soft and settle. I don't care what you put under it. That's the reason your slab is the best way to go."
Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.