I had yet to install a paver walkway, despite owning and renovating two houses before this one. Hubs came into the picture shortly after I bought this house so it was great timing for me; maybe not so much for him! Faced with rows of underwhelming builder slabs that the previous owner lived with for over 20 years, the perfect opportunity presented itself for both of us to learn a new skillset!
Here’s an idea of how the walkway looked before (but you’ll have to imagine it without the pond because we installed that ourselves)!
You know the saying about many hands making quick work? Well, that’s true. But despite having Hubs’ help, improving the curb appeal didn’t happen right away. Without previous experience, we spent a lot of time researching and learning before breaking ground – and in our case, waiting for the right product to come along. With all those things factored in, our curb appeal evolved over a number of years before the actual front paver walkway took shape (two and a half years to be exact).
In the summer of 2005, a few months before we were married, we installed our little pond.
We added pond plants and arranged flagstone around the edges. It was the first construction project we worked on together as a couple and a sweet little addition to the front yard.
We didn’t buy enough flagstone at the time so the edging looked pretty skimpy at first. With the wedding fast approaching, we were too busy to make another trip to buy more.
The Next Spring
In Spring of 2006, we visited a stone yard to see what was available and came upon this display of fresh-on-the-market pavers (Unilock Richcliff). We fell in love with the juxtaposition of three different colours of pavers combined with black cobblestone edging.
Although the display pavers were oblong, we noticed that the display board showed them in a square configuration. How novel! Along with the black cobblestone edge pavers, we both knew right away that this was going to be our new paver walkway! Or so we thought.
When we inquired about purchasing the pavers, we were told that we couldn’t get a mixed skid for such a small job. Unfortunately each colour was an individual order with a minimum purchase. It was way more than we’d ever need for our little walkway 🙁
We were pretty deflated about the pavers, so put the front walkway project on hold until we could find something we liked just as much. It didn’t happen that year, so we diverted our attention to landscaping our back yard to take advantage of the good weather – and get more landscaping experience under our belts!
During the growing season, we made do again by focusing on plant materials to deflect from the ugliness of our walkway.
In the interim, we replaced the old brown screen door with a new white one and updated the porch light. We also painted the existing door red and replaced the doorbell (pictures further ahead). Lastly, we built several trellises; one by the front door for privacy from our neighbours (which you can see vines growing on below) and another by the pond to support a clematis vine.
Small changes can add up to big impact but with those improvements, the contrast was even more apparent. It was painfully obvious that the walkway needed a complete overhaul – and soon!
Along with the walkway itself, the step was due for some improvement too. It needed to be repositioned to steer visitors clear of the pond as they approached the front door, but also provide a bigger landing space. This original step was too small and hollow. In the first house I owned, a skunk managed to make quite a nice home for itself in that hollow space, so we planned to pour a new solid one. Take that neighbourhood skunks!
The next Spring, Hubs was eager to finally break ground on the paver walkway. While we were waiting for the weather to improve, we made a happy discovery. The stone we had drooled over the year before was now being manufactured locally and we were able to get a mixed skid. We scheduled our materials to be delivered in early March.
The plan was to dig away the soil to accommodate the height of our new stone and an underlayment of HPB (high performance bedding). HPB is the aggregate we used as a base material under the pavers. The particles are angular so they lock together guaranteeing no shifting or heaving of the pavers.
A 4 – 6″ base of HPB (not including the height of the pavers) is recommended. The stone yard also recommends landscape fabric underneath the HPB to contain it, but we didn’t use it (and haven’t experienced any problems).
Advantage of HPB
There are many advantages to using HPB. It doesn’t need compacting. It does double duty by replacing the typical sand//stone combination with only one material under pavers. We also find it a real convenience to use because only one pile of material gets delivered to the site instead of two. The walkway we’re showing you today was installed 11 years ago using HPB and it still looks as good as the day it was installed! It has never heaved or shifted in all those years of use – and brutal Canadian winters!. My mother’s walkway, on the other hand, was installed the old fashioned way with sand; her walkway heaved after only a few short years and has to be redone again.
On delivery day, we got a skid of pavers, polymeric sand and truck load of HPB. Luckily we hadn’t gotten around to repaving our driveway yet; the heavy equipment and weight of the stone is hard on asphalt!
For the HPB, Hubs prepared the driveway by laying out a large tarp.
A False Start!
With everything now on site, the next morning, hubs decided to rip out the walkway while I was away at a business meeting for a few days.
Here’s a better shot that shows how badly sloped and uneven the walkway was.
Hubs lifted all the patio stones and pounded in stakes. Along the stakes on each side went string lines so he could grade and slope the walkway away from the house. Hubs established a level line beside the walkway first, then re-adjusted the guidelines to slope 1/4″ lower for each foot out from the house to ensure water would properly drain away from the house.
He also removed the front step to get it out of the way for the dig.
When you’re digging out for a walkway – or any patio, excavate at least 6″ beyond the width of your finished surface on each side. This will stabilize the edges and provide room to install the edge restraints. We skimped a little bit on the 6″ recommendation on the left side of the walkway because the edge of our house is actually on the property line. We’re on what’s called a ‘zero lot line’ and we didn’t want any complaints from the neighbour that we were encroaching on his grass.
Tarps were pretty essential on site. Putting a tarp down on the driveway, for instance, helped keep the HPB from finding it’s way into the grass. We kept it covered with a second tarp during the course of the work to keep it from washing away.
Those tarps really did come in handy. Good thing we were prepared, because it snowed! Hubs’ work ended up being premature. He tarped up the walkway, added the step back on top and left it for better weather. This is what I came home to (surprise!!!!).
Back on Track
Pouring a New Front Step
Once the weather was much improved, Hubs once again removed the front step and started filling the graded area with HPB.
The old step was relocated to the driveway along with 50 bags of crushed stone we removed under the patio stones. After posting a ‘free’ sign, it was all spirited away by a neighbour.
He then created a plywood form to accommodate a new wider front step. He positioned it so that we could fit four full paving stones between our garage door and the side of the step. Below you can see the comparison in size between the new form and old step.
Hubs used oil as a release on the inside of the mold. He mixed and poured the cement, while I troweled it smooth. To disperse trapped bubbles in the concrete, we placed an orbital sander against the plywood and turned it on (no sandpaper necessary). The sander vibrates and helps the bubbles rise to the top which makes for a better finished product.
While the cement was curing, we covered it up with plywood so we could still get in and out of the house!
In the interim, we took final measurements of the step and had a cement topper made by a local company to cap it off.
We stripped away the form…
…to reveal a solid new step!
With the step done, hubs could continue filling the walkway with HPB.
Establish the Grade and Screed
At this point we also ran strings across the width of the walkway to keep everything even side-to side when it came time to screed the HPB.
The process of ‘screeding’ is levelling the layer of material (in this case HPB) with a straight edge. After hubs finished transferring over the HPB from the pile in the driveway, that’s when I came in to compete the rest of the work. First I laid round metal pipes into sections of the HPB, making sure they hit the top of our string lines to follow the slope.
I started screeding the HPB in the right-hand corner. I took a long straight board and dragged the HPB toward me to level it with the top of the pipes and establish the slope. At the same time as I was dragging toward me, I also moved the board in a back and forth motion across the surface to distribute the HPB evenly across the width.
If you’re not already doing squats at a gym, you’ll get a good workout laying the walkway!
When I was done the first sweep, I put my board back on top of the pipes at different distances to make sure I couldn’t see any gaps below the board. If you do find gaps, fill them in by tossing in extra HPB and dragging the board toward you once again to level out.
When I was satisfied with the screeding, I used a square in the corner of our poured step to ensure I had a good starting point.
Installing the Paver Walkway
We put down a plywood board over the HPB after screeding so I wouldn’t disturb it as I laid the pavers; it helps to evenly distribute the weight! You don’t want footprints in your perfectly level underlayment! The plywood was positioned within arms reach of the first row. When I got to the last row, I moved it back to expose a new area.
You’ll notice I’m wearing knee pads in only the picture below. I found them uncomfortable to wear so opted for a foam pad instead (which is shown in the next picture). Don’t do hardscaping without some form of knee protection; your knees will thank you!
I started laying the pavers piece by piece. I butt them tight against two edges, then lowered each one into position. A rubber mallet is helpful if you misplace a paver and need to lightly tap it into position to get it tight up against the other pavers.
It took a few hours to complete half of the pavers; when I reached the bottom edge of pond, I stopped for the day.
The next day I started bright and early and completed the remaining section, laying the black cobblestone pavers along the edges as I went.
The picture below gives you a good view of the extra 6″ that should be left around the perimeter to stabilize the edges. You can also see that the metal screeding rail is still in place beside the cobblestones. Once the pavers were complete, the rail was lifted and I filled in the gaps with more HPB.
To lock-in the walkway, I added metal restraints along all the edges hammering them into the ground with long spikes. It’s not necessary to place a spike in every hole; the spacing should be every 8″ – 10″.
We prefer metal over plastic because it’s more durable. It can also be bent around corners as you can see above and below.
To further lock the pavers in place, I swept polymeric sand into the joints. Polymeric sand gets misted with water and dries to a hard finish to ensure you won’t get weeds between the joints of the paver walkway.
I’m not sure why I’m sitting down on the job in the picture below but I guess that’s where my perfectionist tendencies came into play. I’m probably pushing the sand off the face of the pavers. Once you wet down the pavers, it sets up like concrete and there’s no getting the sand off the surface. So if you have a textured surface, like these pavers, do a thorough job of getting the polymeric sand off the surface and into the gaps!
We used the product recommended by the manufacturer of our pavers – Unilock Unicare.
By the way, you have to ensure that there’s no rain in the forecast when completing the sanding step. You should also wear a mask when applying the sand to protect your lungs from the fine particles!
Mist with Water
Apply a misting of water according to the package directions. By the time I was finished sanding, it was getting dark. We misted the sanded joints using a garden mister. A garden hose would have been better but we didn’t think to buy an attachment that could be adjusted to a fine spray at the time! Hubs helped out by refilling and pumping the mister for me to pressurize it.
Here’s a close-up of how the joints looked as the walkway was drying. The colour between the joints looked perfect!
Once the sanded joints were set up, we added soil over the HPB along the edges. To fill in the empty gaps near the grass, we planted grass seed so it would eventually fill in (you’ll see that it didn’t take long to fill in beautifully in the reveal shots at the end).
Our new cement step topper was ready soon after and we popped it onto the base we poured. We didn’t get a close-up picture of it at the time; the picture of the step below is recent. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the colour of our polymeric sand has changed; that’s because we recently re-sanded the walkway after 11 years (more on that in a future post). It’s the only maintenance our walkway has required in all that time; I told you it still looks as good as the day we laid it!
With the walkway complete, there were still things that needed attention. We reinstalled the trellis we built for the clematis. Here, you can see the spacer blocks; the picture below that shows the actual trellis in place.
We then turned our attention to finishing off the pond (see how we installed our pond). We finally purchased additional natural stone to complete the edging and hide the plastic liner!
I dry stacked the stone; it’s just like a puzzle!
All done! The trellis and the stone really add to the curb appeal, but there was still a privacy issue to take care of!
We reinstalled the front porch privacy screen to block the view of our neigbour’s garbage cans from our doorway (which you can see clearly below).
It was finally taking shape, but we still weren’t done!
With the growing season underway, we accessorized by adding some container plants. It’s ironic that only a year before, our planters provided the only curb appeal in our front yard.
Now the planters were the finishing touch – and not just a distraction from an ugly walkway!
Our clematis really took to the trellis. You can see our tips about training clematis here.
We added some plants in and around the pond too.
Like I mentioned earlier, after 11 years, the only maintenance on the paver walkway has been re-sanding the joints. It has withstood the test of time! What more can a DIY’er ask for?
Don’t forget to pin for later 🙂
After reading about how we upped the curb appeal of our front yard over time, are you ready to take on a few projects too? When it comes time, refer to this tutorial on how to resand a walkway with polymeric sand.
If you missed some of the links earlier in this post, check out our other front yard projects!
And finally, How to Beautify Your Yard with a Container Garden:
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