DIY: Gravel Patio

During our recent pandemic, I think we all have tackled some “COVID” projects.  It’s funny, a year ago we would have called it a “weekend warrior” project, now COVID project fits the bill.  Is it boredom?  Is spending so much time at home causing us to reinvent our personal living areas?  Whatever your reason or explanation, maybe it is time to reinvent your outdoor space.

I know it is currently hot and you probably don’t want to spend too much time outdoors during the afternoon.  Fall is coming, and if you work hard now, you will have a great area for some relaxing social distancing areas for you and some close family and friends.  Just keep it 6 feet apart.

So maybe you are looking at your back yard and say no one wants to hang out there.  There are weeds and it lacks grass, so when it’s wet your shoes get all muddy.  Enter the hard scape patio!  There are several different ways to create an area that can be used as a gathering spot and a grill storage area.  Depending on your available cash and the time you want to spend there are about 4 options.  Concrete, mulch, brick/pavers, or gravel.

Concrete – If money is no options, I would go this route.  It is almost maintenance free; you can stain it and it will be there for 30+ years.  Cons would be the huge price tag to get someone to do it for you or the labor-intensive amount of work you would have to do yourself to get it done.  You pay for labor on this project, not materials.  $$$$

Mulch – This is probably the easiest and cheapest option, but you will reapply mulch every year and bugs love it.  Unless it is the plastic mulch, then this is not the cheapest option and it can float away in a heavy storm.  Also, mulch can catch fire from your grill.  Not saying from experience, but I have an imagination.  $$

Bricks/Pavers – Beautiful, classy, and tons of patterns and choices.  Cons would be that it is very labor intensive, maintenance every year, and can be expensive.  Just not concrete expensive.  $$$$

Gravel – This is the cheapest option besides mulch.  Can be labor intensive, but very forgiving for the inexperienced laborer.  Depending on your rock choices, it can be very inexpensive.  Cons, rocks can move, and they can be uncomfortable to walk on, unless you choose wisely.  $$$

I ran numbers on each option and weighed the pros and cons.  For my budget and time, the choice was clear, it was gravel all the way.  The gravel I chose was cheap ($60 for a ton/pickup truck load), locks into place with little movement, you can walk barefoot on it, and most importantly my wife likes the way it looks.  What made the decision easiest was talking to the gravel supplier.  I gave them the description of what I wanted, and they directed me to Bahama #89.  This rock is ¼” to ½” in size and is commonly used on walkways, patios, and driveways.

Before I just go get a load of gravel, I must do some site work.  Whether you are going up or down in elevation for your finished grade, you must remove that top layer of 1”-2” of sod (weeds in my case).  I’m also trying to match the grade of my existing concrete patio, so my workload increased since I will have to excavate down 3 inches for my base material and 2 inches for my rock material for a total of 5 inches.

Remember to keep the existing and future ground sloping away from your house by 1/8” per foot.  I recommend when excavating, to get it close and to that slope and smooth it out on your base build up (unless your base is a rock layer, then for drainage you need to dial it in, but not perfect).  For my base, Highway 27 Dirt recommended a sandy/clay mixed base.  This stuff is pretty cheap, $20 for a cubic yard.  By taking the square footage and multiplying it by my inches (3”) and dividing by 27, I get cubic yards and had them deliver a little extra just in case.

Remember to lay down a border of your choosing to help keep the rock in place and give it a finished look.  After several wheelbarrow loads, some grade checking, and tapping for compaction I’m ready to add in my filter fabric.  For a walkway or patio, I wouldn’t buy the cheapest.  I would buy a good quality thick fabric to cut down on any erosion or future weed problems.