One of the main perks of initiating a new outdoor living project — one that’s built to your specifications and guided by your vision — is the simple pleasure of seeing it take shape. Once the contract is signed and construction begins in earnest, there’s no feeling quite like the anticipation of your landscape project coming to life. Even small projects carry a certain thrill for the unabashedly house-proud.
However, for the uninitiated, what follows after the excavation can seem baffling. For a while, the project may look like a mix of rocks and dirt, nary a carefully placed line of pavers in sight. The crew is preparing the base for what is sure to become a highly used and appreciated space in your landscape. Everything they’re doing in this phase of construction will push your dream outdoor living project closer to reality and long-lasting utility. Here’s what you need to know about this stage of your project.
The Importance of a Good Foundation
If you’re new to hardscape projects, you could be forgiven for feeling impatient as your contractor starts layering in gravel and compacting with heavy vibratory equipment. What you should be experiencing is reassurance. Unilock has been supplying and guiding hardscape contractors since 1972, and we know that taking time to get the base right is essential for a successful project.
Whether it’s your new paver patio or a major sports arena, proper base foundation is as crucial to a successful outcome as any other part of the project at hand. For paver projects, a well-executed base and bedding can make all the difference in smoothing the way to completion. It properly prepares the space to ensure a solid foundation, not just for construction, but for proper drainage, stormwater runoff, and the inevitable settling and shifting of terrain as the years pass. You don’t have to live in a climate with harsh freeze-thaw cycles or heavy wet weather for the ground to shift on its own. It will, sooner or later. Everything your landscape contractors do at this point is in anticipation of tough weather, environmental changes, the requirements of the beautiful pavers you’ve chosen, and the specifications of the overall project.
Before the first paver or piece of natural stone is laid, a properly compacted base should feel nearly as solid and unyielding as pavement. That base may then be topped with other layers of smaller gravel or concrete sand, all designed to accommodate drainage and settling, while also deterring weed growth.
A professionally prepared foundation is the result of using the right materials, to the right depth, with proper compaction equipment and technique. Giving the base short shrift jeopardizes every other aspect of the project, essentially putting all the effort that went into designing, planning, and executing otherwise careful stonework at risk. Shortcuts don’t last.
The Base Depends on the Project
Walls, walkways, patios, and driveways each have their own basing requirements designed to ensure a durable and successful installation. Our carefully vetted Unilock Authorized Contractors follow proper guidelines to a tee to help prevent structural and cosmetic issues for years to come.
Why might the base installation process vary with your project type? After excavation, one or more layers of base and bedding material are laid. No matter what type of base structure you’re creating, the freshly excavated and compacted subsoil is frequently overlaid with geotextile fabric or a more rigid geo-grid such as Unilock DriveGrid — these products are designed to separate the natural soil from the base and bedding layers and, in the case of DriveGrid, provide structural strength to the installation. A course-grained gravel base is added next. It’s typically a layer of what’s known as crusher run, road base, or item 4, a mix of small angular stone, fines, and dust that’s laid directly over the fabric. In some cases, contractors are turning to an alternative base installation process, referred to as open-graded base. With this approach, the crusher run layer is replaced by a clean gravel product that is void of any fines, very similar to the gravel used under railway tracks. For open graded base installations, a smaller gradation of clean gravel will be used in place of concrete sand.
After crusher run, washed concrete sand commonly provides the next layer of bedding, but it’s not the next step. Your hardscape contractor is going to make a little noise before that happens. Heavy equipment will arrive to compact the crusher run to its maximum density. The exact type of machinery that is selected varies widely depending on the base materials and thickness. Small projects may only require a hand-guided compactor designed for 3,000 pounds of force, while bigger projects can require tractor-style compactors that apply 7,000 pounds of force or higher.
The importance of proper compaction cannot be overstated. Depending on the equipment and the depth of the layer, multiple passes may be required to achieve adequate compaction of a given layer. Sometimes multiple layers of compaction may be what’s necessary to ensure sufficient and even density all the way to the bottom.
The Base of Something Wonderful
The bedding and compaction process may not seem like the most exciting part of the project from a homeowner’s point of view, but when it’s done right, with the right materials, it will lead to a lasting, postcard-worthy landscape feature.
That’s one of the best parts of owning a home — the freedom to craft your surroundings to your own taste. You have a chance to renovate with designs that evoke memories of trips abroad, photos from a magazine, or design idea catalogs like this one from Unilock or your personal accumulated style that makes your vision unique unto itself. Unilock brings that vision to life with an array of high-quality, durable concrete paver and natural stone products, created with spaces like yours in mind — nuanced colors and textures that elevate the beauty of your project, and that you won’t find anywhere else.
We partner with expert installers, Unilock Authorized Contractors, to ensure they have access to the right materials and equipment for the job, every step of the way. That partnership turns properly constructed outdoor living design plans into a finished landscape that looks more like art than engineering. They’ll lay a lasting foundation for your outdoor living project that culminates in that first time you introduce guests to your new, beautiful patio.