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In the days before wood decks become as popular as they are today, the common choice for backyard retreats was the brick patio. Brick patios are still a beautiful and highly practical alternative to wood, and are very desirable both aesthetically and from a resale perspective.

There are several ways to create a brick patio, and one good option is the brick veneer. Brick veneers are “real” brick, they are just manufactured thinner then traditional bricks and are installed over a concrete slab instead of a compacted sand base, making them an easier project in many ways for the do-it-yourselfer.

Step one is to decide on the brick and the installation pattern. Your best bet is a visit to a local masonry supply retailer or wholesaler, who will have several different brick veneer styles available. Most are the standard 4×8 inch brick, although some other sizes are available, but there are typically a variety of colors and even some different surface textures available.

The dealer can also provide you with information on different installation patterns. Two traditional patterns that work very well for patios are the running bond, in which the joints between the ends of the bricks in one row meet over the middle of the bricks in the row prior, and the herringbone, with the bricks laid at a 45-degree angle. The bricks are typically installed with a 1/4- to 3/8-inch grout line between them, and there are plastic spacers available to simplify the spacing of the bricks as you begin to install them.

A brick veneer patio begins with a concrete slab that will be the base for the bricks. First, the area where the patio will go is cleared of rocks, sticks, and other debris. Rake the soil and roughly level it using a long, straight 2×4 with a 6-foot level on top, or with a transit or laser level – which can be rented – for larger areas. If the soil is firm and undisturbed, the slab can probably be poured directly on the soil. For loose or sandy soil, you will next want to add a layer of gravel as a base and compact it for stability.

Forms are next. Using 2x4s and wooden stakes, lay out of the perimeter of the slab. Your best starting point is where the new patio will meet any doorways, so that you can ensure that the slab will be at the correct height in relation to the door. Measure the thickness of one of the veneer bricks you’ll be using, add 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch to allow for the cement that will hold the brick in place, and measure down that amount from the door sill to establish the top of the slab. The slab should be level from side to side, and have a slope of approximately 1/4 inch per foot away from the house to allow for good drainage. Finish the top of the slab with a light broom finish to leave it slightly rough on top to help the bricks bond to the slab.

When the slab is dry, begin with the layout of the brick pattern. Most patios, regardless of the overall pattern of the installation, utilize a soldier course around the perimeter of the entire patio. A soldier course consists of one row of bricks laid side by side, and creates a very nice border. Taking several of the bricks, experiment with the layout until you have a good starting point and a design that works out well to the size and shape of the slab.

The bricks are installed using site-mixed mortar or with a material called thinset, which is easier for the do-it-yourselfer to work with. Thin set is a cement based dry powder that is mixed with water, often with a liquid latex additive for additional strength. There are several types of thinset available, so ask your dealer for specific recommendations. Complete mixing and installation instructions will be on the bag.

Spread the thinset using a notched trowel, working in a small enough area that you can set the bricks before the thinset you’ve applied begins to set up. This depends on the type of thinset, how thick it is being applied, how wet it was mixed, and how warm the day is, so it will probably take some experimenting. If the thinset begins to set up on the slab, do not try and lay brick over it. Instead, immediately scrape it up before it sets and discard it, then start over.

Set the bricks in the thinset according to your pattern, and press them down firmly by hand. The thinset should spread out below the brick without too much oozing up into the grout lines. Carefully watch your pattern layout and your spacing, and clean any excess thinset from between the bricks and off the tops of the bricks as you go. Bricks can be easily cut to fit the ends of the rows using a diamond-bladed masonry saw, which can be rented from the masonry supplier or any local rental yard.

When the installation of the bricks is complete, allow them to dry completely, then finish off the grout lines with mortar.  Depending on the size of the installation, you can use a premixed dry mortar that is mixed with water, or you can make your own from cement, sand, lime and water.

All of the tools and materials you need, including mixing and application instructions, are available from the same supplier where you purchase your bricks.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at