How To Lay a Patio For Beginners

How To Lay a Patio For Beginners

A patio can completely transform your garden. If you’re looking to overhaul your outdoor space and perhaps add a new seating area for dining outdoors, paving slabs can be a really worthy investment, acting as an extension of your property and elevating the appearance of your home. 

If you’ve decided on a patio and want to learn how to lay paving slabs yourself, here at Build & Plumb, we’ve created this handy step-by-step guide to follow. 

You will need:

  • Cement mixer or alternative
  • A spade
  • A trowel
  • A rubber mallet
  • A spirit level
  • A tape measure 
  • String
  • Wooden pegs

How to Lay Paving Slabs

Step 1: Measure & prepare

First things first; you’ll need to measure and mark up the dimensions of your patio installation.

Mark out your patio

To ensure your measurements are all correct and help you decide on the placement of your slabs, it’s a good idea to lay them on the ground first, remembering to leave joint space in between each slab. Make a note of this to refer back to when you start laying.

Then, mark out the area you’ll be digging using wooden pegs and string as a guide.

Calculate the fall

It’s crucial when laying a patio to factor in the ‘fall’. This refers to a slight slope that allows for surface water to drain off your patio. 

The type of paving slab you’re using will depend on your fall:

  • If you’re using textured slabs, you need a fall of 1 in 80.
  • If you’re using smooth slabs, use a 1 in 60 fall (this is because the slabs will be slippier when wet, so they need more drainage).

These calculations just mean that for every 80 or 60 units of distance, your patio should slope down by 1 equivalent unit. For a 1 in 80 fall, this is a 12.5mm drop in level per metre and for a 1 in 60 fall, it’s a 16mm drop per metre.

As your fall will direct the flow of water, you should choose a side away from your house or any other building.

How To Lay a Patio For Beginners

Step 2: Dig the area

Once you know where you’ll be laying your patio, you can dig the area. But first, you need to calculate the depth. Typically, the depth you need to dig is approximately 150mm at the highest point. This factors in 100mm of sub-base and 40-50mm layer of mortar. You also then need to decide if you want your paving to be at ground level or slightly raised, then add this to your depth.

Once you’ve done your calculations, dig down with a spade to the correct depth. Then, tie your string to your pegs at the exact level you want your paving slabs to sit at, as this will be your guide when it comes to laying them. Be sure the string is taught to prevent drooping.

Step 3: Lay your sub-base

Next, you need to lay a sub-base, which is a layer of crushed stone or concrete. When laying your sub-base, you need to make sure you also factor in your calculated fall (12.5mm drop per metre or 16mm drop per metre). It needs to slope down gradually towards your chosen side, whether that is your lawn or a drainage system. You’ll then need to make sure this is compact and level, using a powered compactor – and remember to wear earplugs! 

How To Lay a Patio For Beginners

Step 4: Add a layer of mortar

You’re then ready to lay your mortar, which will provide a long-lasting stabilising base for your paving slabs.

You can either mix this manually or with a cement mixer. It’s usually four parts of sharp sand with one part cement, but check your manufacturer’s instructions. Then you need to add water, bit by bit and mix it until the mortar is damp but not runny and has a consistency that can be moulded.

Use your trowel to apply this to your sub-base and level it all out to 40-50mm deep.

Step 5: Lay your paving

Now you’re ready to lay your paving. Referring back to the plan you made, lay each slab in its chosen location and carefully pat them down with a rubber mallet if necessary until they’re the height of the line of your string guide. Use spacers in between each slab to ensure you’re leaving an even amount of space between each one. 

Continue this process until your entire patio is laid and even and then leave it for 24 hours so the mortar can set.

How To Lay a Patio For Beginners

Step 6: Apply jointing compound

After 24 hours, take out your spacers and fill in the gaps between your slabs with a jointing compound. This needs to be compacted into each gap, following the manufacturer’s instructions. 

This will usually take 1-2 days to fully set, after which, your patio is complete! 


Now you know how to lay a patio for beginners, you can decide if you’re ready to take on the project yourself. Refer back to these steps as a refresher before you start, but remember, if you’re not feeling confident about the task, it’s always best to seek the help of a professional tradesperson.

Yet to choose your paving? Here at Build & Plumb, we have a wide range of patio paving to suit every garden; browse our full range now to find the perfect option to make the most of your outdoor space this year. For more ways to transform your garden or spruce up your new patio, explore our full landscaping department.

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