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Select the proper material for a backyard patio

Dear Ms. Builder: My backyard is in need of something jazzy. We would like to add a patio but I do not know which of the many materials to choose from. Could you offer some material suggestions to help me decide? - Sue P.

Dear Sue: There are several attractive material choices for building your patio - brick, ceramic tile, stone or pavers. A quick overview of their relative costs and installation procedures will help you determine which may fit your budget and skill constraints.

Bricks can be laid over a concrete slab or in a sand base. On concrete, bricks are set in 1/2 inch of wet mortar with 3/8- to 1/2-inch-wide mortar joints. A permanent border should be installed, such as landscaping timbers or angled brick for sand applications. The base should be 4 to 6 inches of gravel. Place a layer of plastic on top to keep weeds from growing. Follow this with 2 inches of sand.

Individually, bricks are small and lightweight for easy handling. A brick patio can be installed piecemeal at leisure. Do not attempt too much at one time. By working in small sections it is easier to maintain straight lines.

Choose the correct paving brick for your area. If the ground freezes, use bricks classified as “SW”. Type “MW” should be used in milder climates. A "strap" is 100 bricks and weighs 500 lbs. A "cube" consists of 500 bricks and weighs one ton. Bricks cost from 30 to 50 cents each.

If you have a concrete patio, you can install ceramic tiles in thinset adhesive over the concrete slab to dress it up. The joints will be filled with grout. Tiles are easy to keep clean but glazed tiles can be slippery when wet. Ceramic tiles are not a good choice for cold climates as the freeze/thaw cycle can pop the tiles loose over time.

If you decide on tile, look for ones with a low permeability rate that are approved for floors and outdoor use. The cost will depend on the type, thickness, size and finish you choose. A general figure is at least $4 to $6 per square foot.

Concrete pavers are tough, low maintenance and a dimensionally consistent product. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Many concrete pavers interlock to make installation quick and easy for a do-it-yourselfer.

The installation for concrete pavers is similar to brick. Dig the soil to a depth that allows for 3-1/2 inches of crushed rock, an inch or so of sand and the width of the pavers. Depending on style, pavers cost around $6 to $10 per square foot installed.

Stone is a natural material so each piece has a unique shape and degree of flatness. It will take longer to install a stone patio because of the irregular shapes. Slate and sandstone, often referred to as flagstone, are common examples. Be careful though, slate can be slippery when wet.

You can find stone at landscaping yards. Put a number of pieces together when shopping to get a realistic picture. Natural stone begins at about $3 per square foot, but varies by region. For good values, look for stone common to your area.

The most permanent base is a 4-inch concrete slab, which rests on a gravel bed. Set the stone on top in a mortar bed for a stable patio. It can be laid in sand or on a compacted, crushed-stone base in dry mortar mix if a permanent border is installed.

Vermont Natural Stoneworks (888-786-6390) offers the Instant Patio & Walkway system that is designed for the do-it-yourselfer. You can create a patio with a tailored look of interior tile flooring with distinctive shapes and patterns. There is a wide choice of colors of Vermont slate with clean grout lines.

Send questions to: Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.