Thinking of laying a patio? Our guide to patio costs should help you budget - and explain how to lay a patio, if you'd like to take on the work yourself!
So - what can affect patio cost?
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The style of your patio
The first variable, of course, is what you want your new patio to look like; laying a square area with cheap, large concrete slabs will obviously be much cheaper than covering the same area with a more intricate design using specially cut stone flags.
Your patio design will need to consider and incorporate your garden’s natural features like its slope, any immovable objects, and the existing plants and trees. You’ll also need to consider how you want to edge your new patio, how it will fit in with the colour and design of your home, and if there are any planning regulations in place that you need to study before starting work.
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Some sort of cover, whether it’s as permanent as a covered wooden gazebo or as simple as a patio umbrella over your table and chairs, will enable you to use your new patio no matter what the weather throws at you.
And don’t automatically dismiss the idea of paying a professional garden designer to plan it for you. While there will be an additional upfront cost, you might find they have access to materials and ideas you would never have considered, which might save you a bundle in the long-term.
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The amount of pre-patio preparation needed
Remember I said that some of the variables would be within your control? Well, this is one in which you are in the hands of the gods – and your house’s previous owners - because the best-case scenario is you’re replacing an old patio with different slabs. If the previous preparatory work on the patio was done properly, you might get away with only the bare minimum of preparation.
Otherwise, you might be in for a long slog, but if you're really keen to learn how to lay a patio and you're happy to do any of the work yourself, you should be able to cut the overall cost of your patio relatively easily.
Mark the patio out
The first job is to clear the whole area of weeds, old garden furniture, and turf before embarking on the most critical phase of the whole project: marking the patio out. The finished patio needs to be square, and Pythagoras is your best friend here!
You’ll also need to make sure your plans allow for the top of the patio to be at least 150mm (six inches) below your home’s damp-proof course when it’s fully laid, which will make sure that falling rain doesn’t splash above it and cause damp problems within.
The ‘fall’ of the patio, which is simply the slight slope away from the house that allows surface water to safely drain away, is hugely important too. The fall needn’t be huge – about 25mm every 1.5 metres, or an inch per yard-and-a-half, is ample – but it does need to be there and it needs to be consistent across the whole patio.
It’s also worth spending some time now thinking about whether you might want to install a water feature, outdoor tap, or garden shed in the future; it’s far easier – and more cost-effective - to dig a trench and lay the necessary pipes and cables now than after the patio slabs have gone down.
You’ll also need to think about whether you would prefer to align your new patio with the rising sun in order to enjoy an al fresco breakfast every morning or with the setting sun to catch the last rays of the day for an evening BBQ with friends.
The hard work starts
After marking the patio out (a job that will involve the use of lots of pegs, string, calculators, cups of tea, and scratching of heads), you’ll need to dig the workspace out to a depth of 150mm, or six inches, not forgetting to take into account where you need to top of the finished patio to end up.
This space then needs filling with an even layer of 75-100mm (3-4 inches) of hardcore, which will need tamping down firmly with a petrol-driven compactor plate, colloquially known as a ‘whacker’. These can be hired fairly cheaply and are easy to use, but it’s another cost to consider if you’re doing the job yourself. They’re also heavy, so you’ll also need to think about unloading and loading it at home.
You’ll then be in a position to cover the hardcore layer with a fine layer of sand and grit, which will need raking smooth and flat. Then, and only then, can you start to lay your lovely new patio slabs.
You’re probably thinking that this is starting to sound like a mammoth job, and you’d be right. If you take it step-by-step then you’ll be fine, but this initial preparation will probably take longer than any other stage, which is where the final bill starts to mount if you are paying someone to prep your patio for you.
Some builders and landscape gardeners will offer to cover the whole area with a weed-suppressing membrane, before snugging the slabs down on a few inches of sand. This approach will save you a lot of money and will work - for a while.
I wouldn’t recommend it though, because the slabs will start to shift and settle and will soon start rocking and wobbling; I think it’s always better to pay the extra upfront to enjoy years of trouble-free patio-use.
Don’t forget to factor labour into the cost of your patio
The labour cost will vary depending on where you live, but if you budget for between £75 and £100 per square metre for the preparation and to bed the slabs down on a mortar mixture, you won’t be too far off. (The cost of the patio slabs is on top of this, although the other materials should be included.)
Don’t forget to ask whether VAT is included, and to make sure that the quotation includes the cost of clearing up after themselves and disposing of all the waste.
Finally, get it in writing and make sure you collect at least three quotations.
Quotations vs. estimates
A quotation for a job is fixed and can only be varied by mutual agreement, while an estimate is less accurate and can change as it is essentially only a rough guess.
Some people will offer to work for a daily rate, which might work to your advantage. While the bad ones might be tempted to spin out the job to earn a few extra pounds, a lot just prefer to get paid by the day as it keeps the cost accurate; both parties can see how long the job is taking and pay/earn accordingly.
I have offered to help with the easy jobs in the past like mixing mortar, shifting slabs and heaps of sand, and digging holes. It can be back-breaking work but it helps keep the cost down and you get to keep a close eye on the quality of the work being done. That you are also learning a new skill at the same time is a very welcome bonus!
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Choosing a builder or landscape gardener to lay your patio
While there are a number of websites that rate builders and gardeners and offer the option of asking them to bid for work, most will still leave you on your own if it all goes horribly wrong.
For this reason, the very best way to find a good builder is to ask friends and family for their recommendations. I’ve also stopped at houses where the work looks to have been done to a high standard and asked them who they used.
Finally, always be cautious if they say they can start straightaway; a good tradesman will be booked up for weeks, if not months, in advance.
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Your preferred patio materials
After labour, your biggest patio cost will be the materials; while I’d never advocate skimping on the surface preparation, you can shave a surprising amount off the cost of materials if you’re prepared to be flexible and think laterally.
For a start, do you really need to buy new patio slabs? I’ve re-laid a couple of patios reusing the old slabs and the finished job transformed them; power-washing them and laying them in a wobble-free new pattern was a cheap and relatively easy way of getting a new place to sit in the sun with the minimum of expenditure.
Other ways to save money on patio materials include using reclaimed slabs rather than brand-new ones, using cast concrete or reconstituted stone slabs instead of natural stone, and installing wooden decking rather than a conventional patio.
Bricks are probably the most expensive option but in high-traffic areas like a driveway they’re unbeatable. Laying them is a highly skilled job and it is worth paying a professional if they’re to look their best.
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Pros and cons of each patio material
Pros: Stable; good load-bearing properties; long lasting; easy to lay complex patterns; patch repairs are easy.
Cons: Needs a huge amount of surface preparation to get a level surface; laying them is a job for a professional, which bumps up the cost of your patio; you’ll use around 50 bricks or concrete blocks per metre, which quickly adds up and can make them an expensive option.
Natural stone flags
Pros: Beautiful; can be chosen to suit the environment they’re being fitted in; hugely durable.
Cons: Expensive; can be hard to lay because of their weight and irregular size; reports of them being stolen aren’t unheard of.
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Concrete and reconstituted stone, flags
Pros: cheap to buy; available in a wide variety of textures and colours; the more expensive ones can look almost as good as real stone; easy to lay thanks to consistent size.
Cons: some concrete flags look more convincing than others.
Pros: cheap and easy to lay; can be disguised with a simple wooden deck.
Cons: looks cheap and easy to lay.
Pros: cheap and easy to lay, even for a beginner; can be used to hide an existing concrete slab, which saves the expense of removing it; an easy way to create a flat surface on undulating ground.
Cons: needs a lot of maintenance to stop them rotting and becoming slippery with algae; can still be slippery when they are wet.
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Cost of patio materials
The quote from the builder should include the cost of all the hardcore, sand, and cement the job will require, leaving only the cost of the paving slabs or flags to be added.
The cost of these will vary but starts at around £15 per square metre (m2) for mass-produced reconstituted stone or concrete slabs all the way up to £75m2 for beautifully aged reclaimed Yorkshire pavers.
Bricks are around £15m2 for block paving through to £75m2 for reclaimed old bricks with a hard-won natural patina.
Decking will cost around £15-25m2 for standard decking boards, plus posts and fascia boards.
All prices are plus VAT.
Patio cost-cutting mistakes to avoid
There are a few bear traps to avoid when laying a patio. Here are some of the most common:
- Buying the patio materials yourself – this might seem like an easy way to save money but doing so potentially opens you up to a whole world of trouble.
The pitfalls include actually paying more than you need to because you don’t get the same discount a professional builder will; running out mid-job, which means you’ll be the one scrabbling around to get more delivered to the work site in time; similarly, you might be left with too much, leaving you to find a way of getting rid of the excess; buying the wrong product; buying a cheap product the builder won’t warranty; and having to arbitrate between the material supplier and the builder in the event of problems down the line.
These are just some of the reasons why I always ask the builder to supply the materials too. I’m happy to try and shave the costs where I can, but not here.
- Skimping on the preparation – you will have years and years to regret the fact that you skimped on the preparation because nothing ruins a relaxing afternoon like a rocking patio slab with weeds poking through every joint.
- Future-proofing – we’ve already discussed laying down cables and pipes before laying the patio in case you want to add water features or a shed with power to your garden, but you’ll also need to consider a few more points.
These include the need to access things like underground sewerage pipes. If they run under the patio it can be tempting to lay slabs and keep your fingers crossed and hope you’ll never need to get to them. Trust me, this is false economy and the extra aggravation of installing an inspection point from day one is nothing compared to the pain and expense of lifting sections of your patio to get to it when a problem develops…
- Please do bear in mind the weight and size of the slabs if you’re going to be laying your patio yourself. It is tempting to go for larger slabs in the hope that they’ll be cheaper and quicker to lay than small ones, but your back will thank you for buying the latter after a couple of hours of wrangling them into position.
- Finally, don’t rush. Every single slab needs to be perfect and if that means lifting, and re-lifting, it half-a-dozen times then that’s the price you pay for having a perfect patio – and you’ll be able to spot a misaligned patio slab from a hundred yards away.
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How to cut the cost of laying a patio
The very best way to shave the cost of your new patio is by helping a solo builder or landscape gardener to lay the slabs. You’ll get a decent workout and learn a new skill at the same time as you save money; life simply doesn’t get much better than that! Just invest some of the money you’ll save on a few pairs of decent work gloves and a box or two of bath salts…
Other potential savings can be made by reusing your old slabs, buying reclaimed slabs, using reconstituted stone pavers, and keeping the design simple. If raising funds for your patio project is also a concern, it may be worth exploring whether your home itself could help you unlock some of the extra funds you may need.
After carefully preparing the area, you’ll want to bed your patio slabs down on a bed of mortar. You can buy premixed paving mortar but it will be much cheaper to mix your own using six parts of sharp sand to one part cement. You’ll want a dryish mix, and hiring a cement mixer (or a neighbour’s teenager) is much easier than trying to mix it in a wheelbarrow.
I use five heaps of mortar, one per corner and one in the middle, tamping the slab down with the wooden handle of my club hammer. You’ll quickly get the hang of how much you need – and remixing a batch of bedding mortar gives your aching back a rest.
It’s also worth remembering that while a patio’s odd rickety edge or uneven surface can stick out like a sore thumb in a sleek, urban garden, those same rough edges can work to your advantage in a cottage garden, adding to its rustic charm.
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Invest in your patio, don’t scrimp
If you are going to lay the patio yourself – and if it’s an smallish, rectangular one then there is no reason why you shouldn’t – it’s worth investing in some decent tools. You won’t need many, but buying good ones means you’ll be more likely to tackle future jobs yourself: a medium-length spirit level, builders’ square, tape measure, club hammer, and a large trowel should see the job done.
With care, they’ll also last you forever; just rinse them off after use, spray them with WD40, and wipe them down before keeping them together in an old bucket in your shed.
The amount of maintenance your new patio or decking will need depends primarily on where it was laid; if it’s in a shady area it’ll collect more moss and algae than one that is in direct sun.
A cheap pressure washer will pay for itself very quickly, especially if you splash out on a dedicated patio-cleaning head. This simply clicks onto the end of the lance and helps you clean a larger surface area than using the water jet alone. With or without this attachment, cleaning a patio is a satisfying, if slightly long-winded, job.
The only skill is avoiding spraying water directly into joints between the slabs, which is a quick and easy way to remove the concrete or mortar grouting.
Wooden decking needs cleaning more frequently to stop it getting slippery, but a couple of coats of anti-slip varnish once a year will give you a safe, sure foothold even when it’s wet.
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