So You Want A New Patio? Part 2

Patios are the perfect solution for creating an enjoyable outdoor space to eat, drink, and be merry. And, if you’re looking to have one installed, it’s good to understand why a professional high-quality installation costs what it does.


In the first part of our series we looked at the costs of materials, finishes, sizes and colors for installing a patio. (If you missed it, click here: ‎)


Now we’re ready to review costs of the installations, best practices, and share our advice.


Excavation: In Chicago, the most important part of any patio is a proper base. Without a good base your patio will not last long. A proper base (as outlined below) mitigates the effects of freezing cycles which cause pavers to heave (tripping and shoveling hazard) and thawing cycles which cause pavers to settle askew or crack (tripping and costs to fix). A proper base will be compacted which eliminates as much settling as possible (tripping, water drainage, wobbly chair hazards). Topiarius’ best practice is to excavate the soil a minimum depth of 8” and as deep as 12” if the soil does not drain well.


Let’s quickly do the math . . . A 200 square foot patio with an excavation depth of 8” to 12” will yield 5 to 8 cubic yards of soil. At minimum 7.5 tons will need to be removed and disposed of / recycled.


Accessibility: Excavation can be done fairly quickly on sites with good access for a machine – figure a two man crew for a morning. But, if you live in the city and the only access to a backyard is through a 30” wide gate from the alley, expect a three person crew to spend at least one full day excavating for the base. In the city there is also time spent moving and re-parking trucks throughout the day to accommodate neighbors’ accessibility to their homes.


Base Installation: Once the base is excavated, we install a non-permeable Grade 9 gravel. It compacts well; it has a neutral pH that does not affect plants growing near it; and, doesn’t hold water (like clay). This base is compacted in 2” lifts to ensure that there are no air pockets that will settle over time. The gravel is roughly graded for pitch and leveled to ensure proper drainage. Once we build the base up to where it needs to be we install a sand bedding layer. If the pavers we are using have a consistent thickness we regrade the bedding layer to final pitch and level, compact, and then regrade a final time.


Paver Installation: It’s the next step, but what pattern do you want? The more complicated the pattern, the more cuts that are needed, the more materials it takes to install, the more time it takes to install, the more the price increases. We work diligently with customers to choose patterns that are perfect for them. Often this means a simple running bond (think brick on a house), but sometimes it means that we do that amazing herringbone pattern in a custom paver size with a granite border (amazing!).


Living-Wage Commitment: We do our best to pay our crews a good wage for this type of skilled work. It’s a win-win for us and our clients. We want our crews to be able to afford to live in this expensive city, pay for food and insurance for their families, and get to work on time. Crews paid well can focus on the job at hand and provide attentive, accurate, and conscientious outcomes, which is what our clients expect.


The adage, you get what you pay for, continues to hold true. In Chicago, most quality landscape firms are charging between $50 and $80 per hour for labor. When the labor rate is less, your final product will be commiserate with that rate.


Adding it All Up:  So what does all the labor, time, and materials add up to? Expect to pay between $25 and $45 a square foot for your patio. Once the cost of the pavers chosen (outlined in our Part 1 article), labor for excavation, labor for installation, cost of base materials, costs for disposal, and costs for the equipment needed to do the installation are tallied, a 200 square foot patio will cost between $5,000 and $9,000.


So what is our advice? Completely understand what you are getting when pricing out your patio. Not every estimate is comparing apples to apples.


Follow our check list and you should be equipped to make a sound decision.


  1. Have a clearly written contract that explains exactly what will be done.
  2. Know how deep of the excavated base will be, and what base material is being used.
  3. Review samples of the actual paving product. (Remember, there is a big difference in cost and look of the many available products.)
  4. Go to the landscape supplier’s yard with your contractor to look at options and talk price points.
  5. Understand which paving pattern will be installed. (This affects the number of pavers needed.)
  6. Talk about what the joint spacing will be between the pavers.
  7. Find out how water runoff will be addressed. (A big issue in urban environments!)
  8. Ask what you can expect from the on-site crews. Where will they eat, smoke, go to the bathroom, and are they legal to work?
  9. Find out what the jobsite will look like at the end of each day.
  10. Ask for a certificate of insurance. If the contractor doesn’t have one, DO NOT use them!
  11. Talk about how weather will affect the project time line.
  12. Understand that the installation will take longer than you want, make a bigger mess than you expect, and that is the norm for even really great contractors.


Ask questions and understand what kind of patio you will be receiving before you sign. It will make it easier to hold the contractor to their promises.