diy guide on how to install concrete pavers

How to Install Concrete Pavers Over Dirt: Detailed Guide With Photos

In Lawn & Garden by Jamie

I decided my backyard needed an upgrade. I moved into a newly constructed neighborhood and all of our backyards were rocks and dirt, and let me tell you some of the rocks were boulders, they were not easy to move. Anyway, this was my first house, I don’t have all the money in the world to buy a house and then pay 20-30 thousand dollars to have a company come and glam up the backyard space, but apparently, my neighbors did.

I decided to take things into my own hands, I wanted to build a backyard paver stone patio by installing concrete pavers over the dirt in my backyard. I had so many questions and didn’t know where to start. This is why I want to share my entire experience, from start to finish.

One thing to note is that I live in Canada and I wanted to make sure this would last through the rough snowy winters.

How Much My 10’x10′ Concrete Paver Stone Patio Cost Me

To build a 10×10 foot concrete paver stone patio it will cost $763.75, that’s what it cost me to do it myself. Remember hiring out will double or triple that number in no time. Labour for this kind of work can be expensive, and I certainly know why. It’s not easy work, you sweat, bleed, muscles ache, and much more.

If you are interested in how much this cost me here is a detailed chart of all my expenses:

Item: Price:
Gravel/Crusher Dust (1/2 yard) $17.50
Masonry Sand (1/2 yard) $42.25
Concrete Pavers (64) $440.86
Hand Tamper $49.44
Wheelbarrow $91.99
Round Point Shovel $22.99
Tine Bow Rake $22.99
Level $37.94
Orange String $9.98
Magic Sand $22.99
Push Broom $4.82
Total: $763.75

How to Install Concrete Pavers Over Dirt (DIY Guide)

On day one you need to find what pavers you are going to buy. I drove to a local hardware store (Kent) and looked at hundreds of styles sitting near their outdoor lumber section. I found these Rustica Slab Wood Imitation concrete pavers which were 15″x15″ a piece.

Doing the math, 15″ x 8 pieces=120″. Then 120″/12″= 10 feet. This means if I buy 8×8=64 pieces, I will have a 10’x10′ sized patio. I bought 64 pieces and did 2 separate loads with my old 2006 GMC Canyon. Take a look:

loading concrete pavers into truck

While I was picking up these pavers I grabbed my needed materials, which was a shovel, rake, level, wheelbarrow, orange string, and a bag of magic sand. After my second load, I made it home with 64 pavers and a bunch of supplies.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Determine Patio Location

where to build 10x10 patio in backyard

This step is often undervalued if you do not properly choose a location you might run into issues after or during installation. For example, if you build at the bottom of a slope with no drainage installed you will likely have water damage to your patio. Or you choose a spot where there are a lot of rocks and need equipment to move them, which is costly and timely. Make it easy on yourself and choose an area with as little rocks as possible and where water won’t be a problem.

When I chose an area I could see where rainwater would go, it looked like a little dry stream. I knew that it would be a bad idea to install over the area. I pushed back behind it about 5-8 feet and this also helped me know where I needed to have water flow off of my pavers towards this area, but we will worry about that later.

Where I live the backyards have a lot of rock (as you can see in the picture), try to avoid as many rocks as possible. I had an area that was mostly dirt and made it my designated patio area.

Step 2: Measure and String Area

I started raking away little rocks and moving any medium-sized rocks in the dirt. Then it’s time to grab a measuring tape. I wanted to have my patio lined up with my house deck, well close enough. I measured 33 feet from my deck (10 feet apart), which then would make the paver stone patio line up parallel to the deck. It doesn’t have to be perfect, since it’s so far away nobody will ever notice.

square off area for patio

I chopped up 4 pieces of wood to make stakes to create my 10×10 layout. I measure 10×10 and add a few inches on each side. Better to have a bit of extra space because the pavers together equal 10×10 by themselves, but there will be small gaps between each piece making it a bit bigger, it won’t be exactly 10×10 feet.

Hammer in your stakes in the designated area, make a square since we are building a box shape. Tie the string to each corner to see your patio shape. When installing professionally, you can measure off on each stake the height you want your pavers, angle, and whatnot. But for a DIY this isn’t required.

Grab your rake and clear away any top rocks and grass/plants. I found a bunch of rocks in my soil which made this process a lot harder than expected. Hopefully, you don’t…

Now we can visualize our patio area let’s dig deeper.

Step 3: Dig Down

Since our pavers are about an inch thick, plus the gravel and sand we are putting under it, we need to dig down so our pavers aren’t a step above the yard. I used my shovel/rake and cleared away any rocks, big and small so I was left with dirt. I basically created a trenched down square that was 2-3 inches deep. Some areas were deeper than others because of the slight slope downwards.

This gives us enough room to level out with the ground when finished. I still need soil and sods in my backyard so I accounted for that too. If you already have a lawn you might want to dig a little deeper to level out the pavers with the ground around it.

Just to get ahead, the depth calculations for materials are:

  • The pros aim for 6-4 inches of gravel, 1 inch of sand, then your pavers.
  • I had about 3 inches of gravel and 1 inch of sand, then the pavers.

This gives an idea of your depth and how much digging you need to do. Anyway, after having a nice dirt square we can move on to the next step.

Step 4: Tamper Dirt

tampering ground for patio

After clearing the area from rocks and other hard objects we can start tampering the dirt. We tamper to create a hard compact surface that will be less likely to move over time. Loose dirt will move and that’s not what we want with a concrete patio over the top of it.

I used an 8×8 inch tamper, if you have access to use a plate compactor go for it, but they are expensive to buy or rent. If you plan to build anything larger and want the best possible quality you might want to consider the plate compactor machine. However, to save big and for a DIY use a tamper.

Tampering is somewhat easy. Just hold on and keep slamming the flat surface on the ground. It’s compacting the soil preparing it for a long life of being covered with gravel. Just up and down, do your best to create a flat hard surface.

Also, wear gloves, I ended up having blisters after tampering for an hour or so.

Step 4: Get Gravel and Lay Gravel

Getting gravel and sand can be a challenge if you don’t have a truck. You may have to order it and get it delivered to your house. I found a company nearby that sold these products and I saved on delivery because I picked up the gravel and sand.

When I purchased I paid for 1/2 a yard, whether that’s what I got or not, that’s what I paid for. Also, I could choose between regular gravel that’s just rocks or a mixture of rucks and dust they call crusher dust. Crusher dust was a better option, it compacts much better. At the place I purchased the crusher dust gravel they used a mini tractor to pick it up and drop it in, there wasn’t any real measuring to it.

I watched him drop the gravel in and I honestly thought my truck was going to fold in half. But I made it home safe. With the masonry sand, I made an executive decision and did it in 2 separate trips.

truck load of gravel

Anyway, after getting the crushed mixed gravel, I dropped it off on my driveway placing a huge painters cloth underneath. This was to prevent making a mess and making clean up on my driveway easy, you can use a tarp too. I would drop it off right near the patio area but no vehicles can really get through to the backyard unless I drove over the neighbor’s lawn, I wasn’t going to make them mad at me.

I picked up the wheelbarrow and did multiple trips back and forth, here’s where we are now:

spreading gravel for patio

Use a rake and spread the gravel in the squared zone. At this point, you can really begin to see the shape of your patio coming together.

Step 5: Tamper Gravel

tamper crusher dust for paver base

Finally, the gravel is spread over and into the full 10×10 foot squared shape. Next, it needs to be tampered down nice and hard just like I did to the soil. The harder the better because it will become more compact making a stronger base surface that is less likely to move over time. The crusher dust gravel really tampered nicely, I could feel how strong it was just by walking over it.

After spreading and tampering all the gravel I took a little break because my blistered hands were even worse after the second tampering.

I wanted to come back for round 2, I wanted to tamper again to make things even more compact. When I returned the sun had dried out my crusher dust gravel and it didn’t feel as tight. I grabbed my hose and sprayed the area to get it ready for ultimate compaction.

spray paver stone base for compaction

The idea is to get everything damp not soaked. Causing water pools can damage the base structure so lightly water this surface. Next, begin tampering again. You really can’t tamper too much by hand, so go until the surface feel s super hard and is relatively flat. It might not be 100% flat but try your best, the flatter the base the less likely your pavers will crack in the future.

Time to pick up the sand!

Step 6. Get Masonry Sand and Spread the Masonry Sand

masonry sand for paver base

I went back and did 2 trips to get the sand. Next, I grabbed my wheelbarrow and wheeled it all to the backyard over the gravel area. There’s one thing to keep in mind, sand isn’t going to be applied just like gravel. You don’t tamper sand, we add it in and then level it out smooth. This process can be the most difficult part and most time consuming for a beginner.

The most common way of doing this is to grab a metal tube, usually an electric metallic conduit that can be found at a hardware store. I didn’t have one of these on hand and didn’t want to run all the way back to the store to look for one, I probably should have just to make it easier. I used a broomstick handle and strapping wood as a “sliding track”. Maybe not the best choice of products but it worked.

spreading sand for pavers diy

I used my level over the wood/broom tracks to create a fully flat surface. I made sure there was a very small slope towards the natural drain area. If you are building one near your house make sure it angles away from your house or it can cause water issues in the long run.

To get the smooth surface we arent pushing down or compacting the sand, the pavers will do that on their own. Just grab a flat object like a level or piece of wood and begin sliding it over the tracks, either pipe or whatever homemade object you choose, and move backward sliding and pulling the sand towards you. You can’t push forward and move forward because you would be kneeling on your progress.

This movement creates the flat level surface for the pavers to layover. Take your time and get the surface flat before you lay pavers. The more flat the surface the less likely the pavers will move and crack over time.

After finishing one area I would remove the tracks and fill them in. I used a small piece of wood that was flat and spread the sand evenly in the open gaps. Fill and continue this process until all of your surface is flat. Also, you can’t stand on the sand!

Step 7. Place Your Concrete Paver Stones

placed concrete pavers over mason sand

As you can see I placed half of my pavers before finishing the sand, and that’s ok. You can finish the sand or do half and half. I ran out of my first batch of sand and the sand business was closed later in the day, which is why I placed my pavers.

Laying pavers is pretty simple. Since the surface is already flat just lay them in order side by side. The issue with some concrete pavers is the uneven bottom surface they may have. If yours are flat awesome, but some of mine were thin on one side and thick on the other. This meant they didn’t look flat after laying them out. I had to push down on them, remove parts of sand, and really just take my time to make it look as good as possible.

My wife decided the pavers should be placed in that criss-cross pattern and she was right. It looked way better than a bunch of straight lines.

last paver stone to be added to patio

Finally the last piece, after days of hard work we can lay that last paver. But that’s not the end. We can’t forget the magic sand!

Step 8. Brush Bonding Sand in the Cracks

bonding sand for pavers

What type of sand do we put between pavers? The sand between pavers is called polymeric sand, it hardens when sprayed with water creating a bonding/jointing between each paver. The easiest way to apply polymeric sand is to use a push broom and sweep the sand across the entire surface.

sweeping polymeric sand in paver cracks

When every crack is filled up we can grab our hose and do a light spray over the entire paver stone patio. Follow the instructions of your specific polymeric sand. I used a product called Magic Sand and it required an initial wetting, which is a light spray. Then I was to wait 5-10 minutes before spraying another light amount of water. Continue additional wettings every 10-15 minutes. I sprayed 4 times and the next day it was fairly hard, almost spongy.

wettings for polymeric sand on pavers

The polymeric sand also prevents weeds and other plants from growing on your pavers which is important!

Step 9: Enjoy Your Concrete Paver Stone Patio

It is recommended to wait 48 hours before heavy traffic after installing and watering the polymeric sand. After waiting 48 hours my concrete pavers were unbelievably sturdy. I can’t wait to pick up a new fire pit, fire pit lounge chairs, and just enjoy the outdoors in my own backyard.

Read our articles for the best fire pit pieces for your paver stone patio:

10 Best Fire Pits for Roasting Marshmallows

10 Comfy Fire Pit Chairs for The Backyard

Overall, the concrete pavers look pretty nice. They are durable and sturdy to walk on and that’s crucial to a patio outdoors. I am about to go through a Canadian winter and I can let you know the outcome of the patio, I believe it will hold up strong. It has seen several rainstorms and it remains sturdy, lets see what winter can bring!


What Materials Did I Use?

You might be wondering what materials did I use? Many were in the pricing chart at the start but not everything. So here is a list of everything I needed and used during this DIY project. Yes, this is a DIY project because I did this all by myself.

Here is every item I needed and used to build a concrete paver stone 10×10 foot patio:

Gravel/Crusher Dust (1/2 yard)
Masonry Sand (1/2 yard)
Concrete Pavers (64)
8×8 Hand Tamper
Wheelbarrow
Round Point Shovel
Tine Bow Rake
48 Inch Level
Orange String
Magic Sand (polymeric sand)
Push Broom
Measuring Tape
Wood (stakes, strapping tracks, spreader piece)
Steel Toe Boots (recommended!)
Gloves
Paint Drop Cloth
A lot of water (to drink lol)

Final Thoughts

I am happy that I could put together a full detailed guide on how to install concrete pavers over dirt. The process is similar whether its dirt or not. Other surfaces may require different steps specific for installation. For example, over rocks, you might need a tractor to remove the rocks and then lay gravel over the area. The masonry sand will always be placed under your pavers.

Before I installed the concrete paver stones I thought “how am I going to do this but my self”, I doubted my ability to do this as a DIY project. But it’s not that hard, it’s just a lot of hard hands-on work. Lifting heavy objects, shoveling, wheelbarrowing, raking, and so on is hard when it’s nonstop.

Seriously, I wish you luck on your paver stone patio installation and I hope my detailed guide with photos was a bit of help. If you have any questions feel free to ask or reach out to the email at:  backyardproscontact@gmail.com

Thanks for checking in!