Sunday, March 22, 2009

What You Need to Know About Sub Soil Compaction For a Paver System

The base of a patio is just as important as the patio itself. If prepared and installed incorrectly the base could lead to future failure of the paver system.

Depending on what part of the country you are in you will have to take different approaches to sub soil compaction for your paver base. There are a lot of different soil types but to keep it simple I want to focus on soil with high clay content.

My area consists of mostly a clay mix soil. For a patio or driveway we will excavate a few inches of topsoil followed by sticky clay. It seems like this clay is pretty hard and a stable enough base for a patio. The fact is that when water is introduced it is a slimy mess and will squeeze different directions to escape pressure. Having a heavy paver system place on top of it can lead to failure over the years.

How do we manipulate the soil so that it is a stable enough platform for pavers? Simple, through proper compaction.

Every Hardscape contractor has a vibratory plate to compact the base and set pavers into sand. The problem is this type of compactor is not sufficient for the sub soil. A vibratory compactor does just that, vibrates. It exerts a a low amplitude and high frequency. Most range from 1500-5500 Hz. On Grade 8 gravel and other base materials is shakes the stone to fit into each other through the many small hits it produces. Clay is not angular like the base stone and will not settle into itself through vibrations.

A rammer or jumping jack type compactor is what should be used to compact clay. Rammers use low frequency(700-2300Hz) and high stroke blows to compact material through force. It is like taking a sledge hammer and smashing it into the clay compare to a plate compactor which just drops a small weight many times.

By using a rammer in clay type soil you are essentially beating the trapped air and moisture out of the soil. You will see the ground drop an inch or two after ramming. You might even see water come to the surface.

Most contractors in my area do no compaction of the soil before putting in a patio or even driveway. I see paver systems that have failed all the time due to improper soil preparation. Most likely you will not see it in the first couple of years but eventually you will. Areas where you see it the most are around the perimeter of the house 3-4 feet out. After the house is built the foundation is backfilled with chunks of excavated clay. There is all kinds of air pockets when the backfill and they do not compact. 6 months later a Hardscape contractor comes by to put in a patio or driveway and does not compact this soil either. After a rotation of seasons you will see that 3-4 ft band sinking. If the contractor took the extra step to compact the soil this problem would not have occurred. But back they come to perform warranty work.

Yes a rammer can be an expensive tool but in the long run saves you warranty costs and keeps you customers and you image happy. I even use the fact that we compact the soil as a selling point. Most homeowners don’t know much of a paving system and are happy to get a quick education on it. This gives you the opportunity to show why you are different and why your paver system might cost more then the other guys.

If you have questions about sub soil compaction please email me or leave a comment and I would be happy to answer it for you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can You Carry 14 Concrete Pavers With Ease???

Here goes the first product review...

I found what is called brick tongs used mainly by masons. I figured they might work for concrete pavers as well so I ordered a pair.

Whenever we get stuck in a position where we have to carry pavers from point A to point B without a skid steer we just stack em up and lean them against our torso for balance as we walk. Eveyone that has laid pavers has done this and had them shift and fall. Hopefully you had your steelies on. I found a tool that makes hand carrying pavers EASY!

I came across these paver tongs in a masons magazine a long time ago so I bought a pair to test out. I had the perfect job. A residential patio that was fenced in and gates too narrow for a spider or skid steer to place pallets. We couldn't pull a section of fence so we were stuck hand carrying them from gate to rear (fortunatly I knew this before the quote so I built the labor into the cost).The pavers were Dark Holland type pavers, the clean kind you dont want to heap into a wheelbarrel and get banged up.

These tongs allowed each guy to grab 14 pavers with a quick lean of the stack. Hand carry them and set them softly to the ground. You can carry them at arms length so the weight is on resting on your bones and you don't have to muscle them around. Your chest and your chin do not get scratched up and you don't risk crushing fingers when setting them down. You also do not have to bend over as far to pick up or set down.

These tongs really save bodies and make labor quicker when hand carrying pavers. For $20 each I would highly recomend getting a couple sets per crew.
Leave a comment if you have used these and let everyone know what you think. Also, check back often for more product and equipment reviews that will make your life easier and save labor!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Reduce Your Brick Paver Cutting Time By 50%+

The following is a way that will allow you save at least 50% of your time while cutting the body of your patio or driveway.:

Most contractors will lay the majority of the body of the patio, then lay the soldier course and then cut pavers individually to fit in between the two. It's the way I started laying pavers and the way most people learn. If all you have is a table saw then it is the only way.

If you use a handheld cutoff saw then there is an easier way. Lay the body of the patio/walkway/driveway and overlay to where you plan on the soldier course to lay. Next mark out on the body of the pavers where the inner edge of the soldier course will be. To provide a smooth line when a curve is desired use a narrow piece of pvc pipe and have a guy on each end holding it in place and 1 to make the mark. You can also use a long tent pole to get more distance and flexibility. Pave Tech also makes a kit that can be used as a one man show.

Once you have the mark made fire up the Stihl cut off saw and cut all along that line. Make a mental note of what 5cm will look like on your blade so you don't cut too much into the setting sand and base. When you finish the cut pull the scraps, lay your soldier course and that's it. All the tedious cuts at the table saw and trips to and from are saved.

On the smaller pieces you will still have to use the table saw to get good clean cuts. This method will burn through a diamond blade faster than normal since you will have it somewhat in the sand. The time savings will greatly outweigh this additional cost and you will become closer to your diamond blade salesman (I know, just you wanted). This method does take a little getting used to and should only be done with someone comfortable with handling a cutoff saw. Remember safety first.

Let me know if you have any comments, suggestions, or other feedback on this method. Please use the comments section below.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

How ICPI Certification Will Get you More Jobs

ICPI is the Interlocking Concerete Pavement Institute. Being an ICPI member and more importantly a certified paver installer through ICPI has given me more opportunities to sell and contract jobs that I would have otherwise notcontracted. Being a member and Certified by ICPI gives you more credibility as a contractor.

What is ICPI?(Quoted from

"The Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (ICPI), founded in 1993 is the North American trade association representing the interlocking concrete paving industry. ICPI is considered by peer associations around the world as the leader in development and dissemenation of technical information for design professionals and contractors. Our leadership position is due to years of commitment and energy from more than 1,100 members. ICPI engages in a broad range of technical, marketing, educational, government relations and communications activities.

Membership consists of interlocking paver manufacturers, design professionals, paver installation contractors and suppliers of products and services related to the industry. ICPI offers a variety of services to its members through its vast library of technical publications, online design idea galleries, publications, paver installer certification programs and the industry's only dedicated magazine, Interlocking Concrete Pavement Magazine.

The Mission of the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute is to increase the use of segmental concrete pavement systems in North America.
To this end the ICPI strives to:
Improve paver market awareness
Improve paver installations
Enhance ICPI's member value proposition
Enhance ICPI's technical capabilities
Enhance ICPI's educational capabilities and offerings
Please click one of the links below to learn more about ICPI"

Everybody has seen a patio driveway or wall that is falling apart. There are many contractors who do not know how to properly install pavers. One of the most credible ways for you to show that you are a professional committed to the industry and educated in the installation of pavers is to be ICPI certified. Upon completion of a course and exam you are presented with a certificate and are listed on the ICPI website as a certified paver installer. You also have access to use the ICPI certified paver installer logo on your marketing materials.

Set yourself and your company apart and become part of an organization that provides the tools that contractors need to be successful. Check out the ICPI website at to see all of the other useful information for contractors.

Rising Brick Paver Edge Restraint -How To Fix

(I wrote this a while ago. It's geared more towards homeowners but maybe you'll take something from it.)

This is a common problem that most brick paver patios, driveways and walkways will run into at some point. If left alone it could cause major structural problems in the pavement system. It is fixable with the right knowledge and determination.

What is it?

Simply put it is an edge restraint to keep the pavers in place. Brick pavers form an interlocking system which gives them great strength. The pavers are laid in patterns that interlock with each other. The more pavers touching each other the better. This is why a herringbone pattern is one of the strongest patterns. Each paver touches and interlocks with 6 others. The paver joints are filled with sand that holds the pavers tight but allows some flexibility. The entire interlocking system would fail if it did not have something along the perimeter to hold everything in place. As cars turn into a driveway the weight of the car and turning wheels wants to push the pavers in which ever direction the car is moving, which would cause the pavers to separate and spread. This even occurs with foot traffic.The edge restraint is installed to hold everything together. It is basically 7-12 foot sections of hardened plastic formed usually into a 90 degree L shape. One side along the pavers and the other on the base. 10-12 inch steel spikes are driven through the edging into the base material to hold it into place. These spikes should be placed at least every foot.

Why is it rising?

There are a few reasons why your edge restraint is rising although all have to deal with the freeze thaw cycle. The most common reason is that the spikes were not driven into the base or gravel portion of the pavement system. Ideally the compacted gravel should extend at least 6” to a foot beyond the actual pavers. This insures the pavers have a solid base and will not “roll off” of the base. It also gives a great area to hold the steel spikes. Unfortunately most installers do not leave this extra space. The spikes are then driven into soil which does not have the holding power that the compacted gravel does. The yearly freeze thaws drive the spikes up easier and faster. I also prefer non galvanized steel spikes. They are quicker to rust when in the ground. The rust causes a rough surface that spreads into its surroundings causing more friction and making it harder for freeze/ thaws to drive them up.

How to fix it

Rising edging is a fixable problem if you have some time and energy. First you have to remove the old edging. Be careful not to disturb the surrounding pavers so you don’t have to relay them. Once the edging is removed you will have to dig deep enough so the edging will sit far enough below the top edge of the pavers but not so low it misses the bottom edge. You can either buy new edging or cut the spikes off of your old edging and reinstall it. (Edging for gardening or flower beds is not acceptable) If you reuse it make sure you will still be able to get a spike in every foot and especially at corners. Set your edging in place and start nailing spikes in at slight angles opposing each other. If they are all in the same direction it is easier for it to rise. Once the edging is nailed you will then have to reinstall the removed material and tamp it down.

This is the method I have found to be the most effective but remember there is no permanent solution with the freeze thaw cycles.

Please leave comments!

What Is The All Hardscaping Blog and Why Is It Here?

The All Hardscaping Blog is a way for me to share my knowledge of the industry with eveyone. This blog will have the latest landscape and hardscape industry news, reviews on new or old materials and equipment, posts on installing pavers, walls, etc... and advice on owning/running a hardscape business.

When I started my first landscape company I knew very little about the industry. I spent a lot of time asking contractors and other professionals in the industry questions, going through certification courses, manufacturer training etc... I want to be able to give back to others in the industry by sharing my knowledge. I am by no means a writer or teacher. Just a contractor with some experience in the hardscape industry hat I would like to share.

I have a lot of ideas for topics but I would love to hear from you, the readers, what questions you have or what topics you would like to see written. Please don't hesitate to use th ecomments to add your opinions or thoughts to my posts. You can also email me with thought, ideas or suggestions.

Be sure to add this blog to your favorites and check back often as you will see new posts popping up all the time. Here it goes...