Installing Brick Pavers



              Always make sure that Sunshine 811 is called at least 48 hours before the commencement of excavation. This is a free service that will locate and mark any public underground utilities such as electrical lines, communications lines, gas lines, potable water, reclaimed water, and sewer and drain lines. It’s not just a suggestion, IT’S THE LAW.

Once all the utilities have been located it is time to proceed with the excavation process. First, the area should be marked with paint. Use a square as necessary to ensure that the brick pavers will be square to surrounding buildings and structures as necessary. Using stakes and string lines determine the proper elevations and exact layout. In most cases, there should be a minimum of 1% of pitch to allow for proper drainage. This is equivalent to 1 inch per 8 feet. Ensure pitch is directed away from house foundations. It may be necessary to use channel drains, catch basins or French drains to aid with proper drainage. Once the string lines are in place, the existing asphalt, concrete, grass, earth, or existing surface should be removed to a depth that allows enough room for brick pavers and rock base. It is also important to remove any underlying surface roots and vegetation from the sub-base as this will deteriorate over time and cause settling. In cases where large trees exist close by, it may be necessary to install a root barrier to prevent roots from disturbing the base in the future. If you think you may need to route future utilities such as irrigation or electric through the area being paved, consider burying a 2” PVC “sleeve” that can be used to route these utilities in the future. It is also a good idea to test run the irrigation system at this time and inspect for damaged pipes or sprinkler heads that may be within the installation area. After the area is excavated and prepared the sub-base should be compacted with a vibratory plate compactor.


Typically, in South Florida, recycled concrete is used for brick paver base. 2” to 3” of crushed concrete is usually enough for patios, walkways, pool decks and other pedestrian areas, where 4” to 6” will be required for standard residential driveways and vehicular areas. In commercial projects, such as roadways, 8” to 12” of base may be necessary. Most small compactors only compact a depth of 3” to 4”, so it is important to install and compact your base in lifts of 3” to 4”. For vehicular applications it is highly recommended that a heavy-duty reversible plate compactor or a vibratory roller be used to achieve proper compaction. If the base material is dry, be sure to apply water to help with the compaction process. After the initial compacted rock base is installed, up to 1” of screening sand should be installed. It is very common to scratch the surface of the compacted concrete sand and use this as the screening sand. Level the screening bed to a smooth finish and do not compact. The non-compacted screening bed will aid in the final leveling of the brick pavers when they are compacted in the final steps.


                It may be necessary to use a square to establish a starting point of the brick pavers to be installed. You can use string lines above the brick paver surface or use a chalk line to snap lines every so often on the base as a reference in order to keep the lines of the pattern straight and square. Do not install brick pavers by dragging them across the base to meet the previously placed brick pavers. This will push sand in between the joints of the brick pavers and create large gaps between the brick pavers. Instead, brick pavers should be installed using the “click-and-drop” method. This technique is achieved by holding the brick paver approximately 1” above the base and contacting it with the sides of the previously placed brick pavers (click). Then, lower the brick paver down to the base (drop). When installing brick pavers that are more than one color (color blends), it is important to install the brick pavers from several pallets at a time. This will ensure an even color blend throughout the installation area and minimize the blotching of one color in any section.


                Brick pavers should be laid beyond the point where you intend to cut them. For straight edges, use a chalk line to mark where the brick pavers will be cut. For curved edges, use a very flexible, small diameter PVC pipe to create the desired curve and mark the brick pavers with a pencil. The brick pavers can now be cut in place using a concrete saw. After the edges have been cut, remove the cut pieces from the outside edge. It is now time to install the soldier course border. Cut the border as necessary to ensure a proper fit. Borders along curved edges will require “pie cuts” to eliminate gaps and ensure that border bricks fit tightly against one another.  


                The most important step of installing any brick paver installation is securing the edges. The border is where most brick paver installations fail. If the border fails, the brick pavers will lose their interlock and begin to spread, shift and sink. When using 1” remodel brick pavers over existing concrete, the border is simply thin-set to the underlying concrete. When installing full sized brick pavers over a rock base there are several methods to secure brick paver edges. For standard residential projects there are three common methods; plastic or metal edge restraints, concrete restraints troweled in place on the side of the border and concrete footer restraints placed underneath the border. Be sure to test the irrigation system before installing edges restraints and inspect for pipes that may have been broken or cut during the installation process.

                Plastic or metal brick paver edge restraints are flexible L-shaped strips that are nailed in place using spikes inserted into the base material. With this method it is important to extend the brick paver base at least 6” beyond the border edge for stability. Pros: This type of brick paver edge restraint is cheap and easy to install, especially with curved edges as they are flexible. Also, they are installed directly against the edge of the brick paver and the bottom of the restraint is level with the bottom of the brick paver which allows the proper depth to install sod, mulch or stone right up to the edge of the brick pavers. Cons: Much of the ground in South Florida is soft sand which would require the base to extend far beyond the edge of the brick pavers and much deeper in order to secure the nails or spikes used to hold the restraint in place. Also, it is possible for the nails or spikes to loosen or even deteriorate over time. In general, this method is not commonly used in South Florida.

                Troweled in place concrete brick paver edge restraints are the most commonly used edge restraint in the South Florida area. After the brick paver border is installed a small trench is cut on the outside edge of the border, usually approximately 3” to 4” wide by 3” to 4” deep. Then, concrete is placed in the trench and troweled to a smooth finish. Pros: This is the quickest and cheapest method of installing brick paver edge restraints. Cons: The top of the concrete is installed close to the top of the surface of the brick paver border, which does not allow enough depth to install sod, mulch or stone. It also makes it very difficult for landscapers to properly use edging equipment to manicure the grass along brick paver edges. Typically, it ends up being exposed and is very unsightly. The concrete is typically made using Portland cement mixed with recycled concrete sand. If the proper mix of cement, sand and water is not achieved it is susceptible to cracking and failure. Also, it is usually not very thick or deep which also makes it susceptible to cracking and failure. Typically, we do not recommend this type of brick paver edge restraint and usually only warranty this type of installation for a 1-year period. For a 10-year warranty, read the next section about concrete footer restraints under the border.

                Concrete footer restraints are installed underneath the outer border of the brick pavers. In this process a trench is dug underneath the border a minimum of 3” to 4” deep and the width of the border, which is typically at least 6”-9” wide. The trench is then filled with concrete and leveled. Then, a thin layer of thin-set mortar is applied to the bottom of the brick paver border to provide a strong bond to the concrete footer. The border pavers are installed and leveled one at a time using a mallet. If this type of edge restraint is used in a vehicular application, it is very important to ensure that the concrete footer spans the entire width of the border. If a brick paver with vehicular traffic is installed partially over concrete and partially over sand, it will be susceptible to cracking. This is because brick pavers installed over sand are designed to flex and brick pavers installed over concrete are not. Pros: This is by far the strongest type of brick paver edge restraint as it is much larger. It effectively bonds the entire edge together as one consistent entity. In theory, for any of the border to move, the entire border would have to move or break. Because the concrete restraint is entirely underground it leaves plenty of room to install sod, mulch or stone right up to the edge of the brick pavers. This method is also very beneficial in installations where there isn’t enough room to extend the base beyond the edge of the brick pavers, such as, against fences or small planters. We highly recommend this type of edge restraint and typically offer a 10-year warranty with this type of installation. Cons: This method is more costly because it requires more concrete along with an added layer of thin set. It is also much more labor intensive and time consuming.


                The final step is to install sand between the brick paver joints. Begin by spreading a dry, thin layer of fine sand, such as mason sand over the entire surface of the brick pavers. Next, use a vibratory plate compactor over the entire installation area. This will lock the pavers into place by compacting them into the bed of screening sand below and vibrate the joint sand down to the bottom of the brick paver joints. Then, sweep the sand that remains on the surface back and forth until it fills the remainder of the joints. Add more sand as necessary. Finally, use a water hose and broom to clean the brick paver surface and surrounding areas. It is not uncommon for the joint sand to settle or migrate a bit over the days and weeks following installation and will never be as aesthetically pleasing and permanent as grout. The joint sand is there to keep the bricks from moving and will do its job if it is a minimum of 2/3 of the way to the top of the brick paver surface. For a more permanent joint sand solution consider using a polymeric sand which contains polymers that will harden when water is applied. Polymeric sand will also help stabilize joint sand, minimize weed growth and deter ants and other insects.