Concrete Patio Construction

Tips on DIY Concrete Patio Building

By Mark J. Donovan

Cement patios can create some beautiful outdoor living space. Concrete patios are more ideally suited for warmer climates where frost lines are either non-existent or minimal at worst. Cement patios are also more economical to install compared to a brick or paver patio. DIY concrete patio construction is fairly easy to do, albeit there is a significant amount of heavy work involved.

DIY concrete patio construction begins with a good sketch of your patio design, along with the right tools and lumber. You’ll also need to take a few safety precautions as concrete can irritate the skin and respiratory system.

Make sure to wear full length pants and a long sleeve shirt, along with heavy duty work boots. Also wear a pair of safety glasses and work gloves. In addition, where a dust mask when mixing the concrete, if you plan to mix up your own concrete.

Start your concrete patio construction by excavating out the topsoil. Dig down at least 6 inches. If you live in the colder climates, I would suggest digging down a foot. Make sure you have a slight grade away from the house to allow run off. Typically you should allow a grade of ½ to 1 inch for every 4 feet of run. You may want to use a couple of stakes and some string to help as a reference line to maintain the proper slope.

Next build concrete support forms to hold the concrete patio in place while it is curing. The top of the forms should either be flush with the surrounding soil grade or just slightly higher (e.g. 1 inch).

You can use 2×6 lumber to build the forms, along with some stakes to hold the form in place. If you excavate deeper than 6 inches use wider lumber.

Next, apply ¾” gravel and tamp it down firmly into place. When completed, the tamped down gravel should be within 4 inches of the finished grade of the surrounding soil. This will allow you to pour a 4 inch thick concrete patio slab.

Now lay rebar screen into the patio area. The rebar will act as a reinforcement to help prevent the concrete patio from cracking. Make sure the rebar screen is lying flat so that it does not protrude above the finished plane of the concrete patio surface.

In regards to the concrete you can either mix your own or purchase it from a concrete manufacturing company. If you decide to mix your own concrete you will need to rent a cement mixer and buy many bags of Portland cement and sand. Alternatively you can use premixed concrete. Just as a reference, to build a 10’x10’ concrete patio that is 4 inches thick you will need (57) 80 lb bags of pre-mixed concrete. That’s a lot of concrete to mix up and you really need to keep it moving when pouring a concrete patio.

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To pour the concrete patio start near the house and work your way outwards. Again, you should really try to pour the concrete as quick as possible.

Once you have poured the concrete use a screed (long straight board) to level the concrete patio surface. Slide the screed back and forth in a sawing motion working your way from the house outwards. This process helps to smooth out the concrete patio surface and level out high and low spots.

After screening the concrete patio cut control joints into the concrete patio surface. Use a mason’s trowel to make the control joints. Control joints help to prevent uncontrolled crack lines and should be made every 3 to 4 feet in the surface of the concrete patio. The control joint depths should be approximately 2 inches.

Next, float the concrete patio with a float tool. This is a long handle tool with a large perpendicular flat surface on the end. Move the float in wide arcs along the surface of the concrete patio to create a smooth finish.

After making the initial control joints and floating the concrete patio surface use a jointer tool to clean up the control joint grooves.

Carefully lay a piece of plastic over the surface of the concrete patio to allow it to cure more slowly. After about a week remove the plastic. Allow another 2 to 3 weeks before removing the concrete patio forms. It can take several weeks for concrete to fully cure and you do not want to run the risk of cracking the concrete while it is still “green”.

Finally back fill around the concrete patio with topsoil and spread some grass seed. With that, your DIY concrete patio construction project is complete and you can begin to enjoy your new outdoor living space.

For help on building a deck, see’s Deck Installation Bid Sheet. The Deck Installation Bid Sheet will teach your how to hire the right deck contractor, and help to ensure that your deck project is completed on time and budget.

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