In our last two articles we discussed decks and porches. Now we’ll take a look at patios, one more way to relax outdoors in the warm seasons.
The word patio comes from Spanish, and the original patios were paved, uncovered courtyards in Spanish homes. They made their way to North America through Mexico and the Southwest, but now can be found anywhere in the U.S., including up here in the often chilly and always stony Upper Connecticut River Valley. All you need to build one is a flat piece of ground and something to pave it with.
That said, it’s also true that building a patio takes a certain amount of care. For one thing, you need to dig out the sod and remove the many stones embedded in the soils of New Hampshire and Vermont. The key considerations, however, are drainage and a firm bed for the paving.
Patios are built right into the ground, usually right beside the house. They need to shed water, both to keep it from flooding back into the house and to keep it from soaking through the seams in the paving. That will create problems in the bed.
In our Northern New England climate, spring and fall rains, followed by a chilly night, can cause frost heaves in patios. A heavy rain at any time can wash out some of the sand between or beneath the paving. So a slight incline and tightly packed seams are a must.
One solution is to carefully lay down a bed of concrete and set the paving in that. Laying concrete with a proper slope or crown requires its own special care, but done properly, you’ll have a very long-lasting patio that requires very little maintenance.
A patio can be much more than a rectangular slab of paving. Patios can be paved with fieldstone of many types, with bricks, tiles, even cobblestones. They can be edged with boards, with fieldstone or brick set on edge, with garden edging, or with hard-packed earth and sod. They can be square, round, or just about any shape you can imagine, though cutting the paving to fit the edges may require special tools.
Though they are often set right against the house, like a deck, they can span the space between the house and garage, or be set right out in the yard – around a pool or beside a garden, for example.
If you don’t have a patch of flat ground, you can cut into a slope or build up a terrace, walling the earth face with stone or wooden bulkheads. You can also surround your patio with a wall, fence, or hedge, and even roof it with an arbor or latticework.
You can build in stone benches and tables, fireplaces, garden beds, and fountains. Or you can simply create a nice, flat, attractive space to hold a table, some chairs, and a barbecue grill. That’s the easiest and most common practice.
The advantage over a deck? You can walk right off it onto the lawn. A disadvantage? Patios can get hot in direct sunlight. And sometimes ants try to make them home.
Keep your patio swept, to avoid leaf stains in the paving, and use a stiff broom to keep moss from building up. Get rid of grass in the seams for the same reason: to keep the roots from shifting the pavers or letting in water. Moss can be a particular problem in Vermont and New Hampshire, where damp, shade, and acidic soils predominate. What with the New England winter and Mud Season, a patio will go unused for a good part of the year, giving moss plenty of time to move in and spread.
If the patio is on a sand-over-gravel bed, some of the paving may start to tip. When that happens, carefully lift out the tippers, repack the sand underneath (add more if needed), and lay the paving back down. Sprinkle loose sand heavily along the seams and sweep back and forth across them with a kitchen broom until they’re properly filled with sand. If a paver cracks, you can replace it the same way.
One thing you don’t have to worry about is paint or sealer. Ever.
So, while our cold-and-hot Upper Valley climate can be harsh on patios, care in construction and regular tending will keep it in good shape for a long, long time.