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Front Page » May 10, 2007 » Home and garden focus » Blocks, blocks and more blocks
Published 2,535 days ago

Blocks, blocks and more blocks


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By C.J. MCMANUS
Sun Advocate reporter

Endless possibilities for anyone's yard

Store manager Wayne Clausen stands by a stack of different kinds of blocks at Sutherlands in Price. Many home improvement stores carry various kinds of blocks to be used around homes and commercial sites. The kinds that are available for various purposes is almost endless.

There is something magical about bricks and block. Maybe it has something to do with childhood when wooden and plastic blocks are forefront and center in a kids toy box. Or maybe it is the fact that one has to have only a limited knowledge of planning to make a yard look great with any of dozens of kinds of pavers or retaining wall concrete blocks.

One thing building anything of block takes is manpower. It is heavy work that can be done in a few short hours with enough planning and help or can dribble on for years if the planning gets done as the project moves along. But to offset the hard work, the cost is very low compared slab poured concrete.

All blocks are heavy. It's the nature of their composition. They are generally made of Portland cement, sand and even some gravel. Most are baked to make them hard. Small ones are limited in weight and easy to use, but take longer to lay than larger ones which require more physical labor all at one time.

People have used one kind of a block or another to enhance their lives all through history. Today people take pride in the work in their yards because of them.

These white pavers were used to support a hot tub, but there are a couple of problems here. First there is some edging in (far end) that holds the blocks secure, but none on the side. Note how the blocks are starting to drop off and become uneven in that area. In addition the dandelion weed growing through the brick shows no membrane was laid down to control weeds from growing through the cracks.

In many ways block is better than concrete. First it requires very little special knowledge to install; just about anyone with good body strength can do it. Secondly, if the homeowner puts in a patio one year, and decides the next to rip it out and move it or create something else, it can be disassembled and relocated. Very little breakage if done correctly and no wasted money.

Of course blocks can be used with concrete too, but dry laid block is a sound base for a patio, walk or just about anything.

Using block does require one thing: careful planning from the first shovelful of dirt taken out to the last block laid. But homeowners will get what they work for: a beautiful, usable, outdoor space that can last a lifetime.

For patios, a builder can use precast concrete pavers laid on a bed of sand. Depending on the planning and the need, pavers can be used to create everything from a square slab to curving paths. Pavers can even be used individually for stepping stones.

Every application is different, but many of the rules remain the same throughout the installation.

A perfect patio project must take into account the master plan of the landscape of a yard and the needs of the people living there. In some cases, where there are hills or raised terrain, decking might be a better answer.

Determine what needs to be done and then begin by drawing out a plan. It doesn't need to be fancy, but it should be detailed.

An example of square brick paver stone, in some ways much like cobblestone.

Probably the biggest mistake homeowners make when laying patio pavers is getting them level. It is almost impossible to do on most kinds of dirt that exist in a yard. The leveling capacity of soil is limited for this kind of thing, so using gravel as a base and sand as a leveler is a good way to go. Some people prefer one kind of sand over another, but all types work reasonably well.

As with building a house the base of the patio should be planned and executed well. It is the key to a long lasting patio.

That also means the height of the patio needs to be determined and soil removed where needed.

As for leveling, a long straight edge that spans the entire block face is needed. For most uses a 16 foot 2X4 with a four foot level will work very well. However, if the builder wants it to be completely level, remember there will be very little drainage. If the area will be covered by an awning that may not be an issue, but if it is out in the open, water will find low spots and eat away at the base of the support for the blocks. So for open patios it is good to have a slight slope (one inch for every eight feet of patio) to drain away the H2O. On the other hand make sure after a section is laid and has some slope that it doesn't make people standing on it feel as if they are on a downhill ski course and ready to slide off.

Another concern every home construction expert (the homeowner) should ask is what the use of a patio will be. That will determine how big a patio should be built. Generally, six by six feet is probably the smallest anyone would want to go (accommodates table and chairs) but most experts say that 16 feet long is the best in terms of use. Use determines it all. Tables, chairs, a barbecue, kids little pools, games that will be played, all should determine the size. Put that information into the planning.

Keep in mind that creativity should rule. Sure a 12X16 foot patio of white 16 inch pavers is functional, but what about spicing it up with dividing bands or another kind of paver.

An interlocking grey paver brick system.

And what about patterns and color. Blocks seem to come in earth tones, pinkish red and white. However, there are specialty blocks out there in many other colors as well.

In addition curves can add interest and grace to a patio. But curves make the job harder as well. Often to achieve the look people want with curves bricks must be cut. That requires know how and equipment.

Pavers are durable, so even some kinds of heavy use are permitted on them. Actually in some commercial high traffic areas, construction experts prefer certain kinds of pavers because with extreme weight, concrete will break while pavers flex, being individual units.

Of course that doesn't mean that someone in the family couldn't find a way to break them, but they are durable. They also withstand cold weather very well because of their expansion and contraction capabilities.

Beyond patios alone, pavers can be used for driveways, sidewalks, garden paths, landings and porches.

Cost can be low or high depending on what is used. To determine how many pavers will be needed for an area, determine the square footage, then add about five percent. If curves are present add a little more.

In the planning stage also determine where the last paver block will be set. Look at the space. Without being able to cut the blocks, one could end up with a skinny little space near the house or on an edge that can't be filled with similar block.

Under perfect conditions the sand should be about one inch thick, but a little thicker or thinner is okay. Remember that sand also locks the pavers in place. Pushing or vibrating the pavers into place will lock them down.

One thing many people forget on a paver patio is edging. Some kind of edge is needed to keep the integrity of the patio blocks that the builder wants to act as one cement slab, but that nature wants to push apart with rain and movement.

Edging can be anything from 2X4's to professional edging that can be purchased at a home improvement center.

The use of blocks also extends to paths, walkways and trails. Paver blocks can be used as stepping stones, although there are many kinds of stepping stones available commercially.

Retaining walls are also a common feature in some yards. They can be used to create terraces in a flat yard or when needed on uneven terrain. The use of retaining walls can also make an uneven yard turn into a multi-layer patio.

Retaining walls used for effect are different than those that need to be done to hold back true volumes of dirt. However, just as with paving stones the wall must be built with a good foundation. In most cases putting in a cement footer is a good idea. If the volume of dirt that is being held back is large then rebar supports should also be used within the walls to make it stronger. If that is the case everywhere a rebar is installed the bricks that it is within should be filled with concrete to make a strong reinforced pillar within the brick itself. If this is not done, in time the wall will buckle and come apart at some point, and that will be sooner rather than later.

Blocks are a good way to edge a yard, get extra summer living space or convert a drab looking space of just green grass into a pleasant playground for the family.


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